The Motive is Love

“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love for God and for others there is no true piety.  All our pious actions are worthless if they are not motivated by love — love for God and love for others.  This is what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees and what Paul is teaching us here.

God is love.  If we, as followers, are to reflect His nature to the world, we, too must be loving. Not just to our family and friends, but to everyone we meet, and yes, even to those who seem completely unlovable.  Not to earn God’s approval, not because He needs our love, simply out of gratitude for the grace and mercy He extends to each of us.

This goes back to Beth Ann’s post about personal piety.  Truly pious people are not looking for a reward.  They don’t need to attract attention or be held up as shining examples of sainthood. Pious people have internalized Christ’s character.  They are humble and unassuming. They are focused. The engine that drives them is simply love. Guess what?  If you think you’re pious, you’re not there yet!

Will we ever become truly and 100% pious? Not in this life.  That’s why Lutherans think of piety as an ideal, and sanctification as a process.  The more we study, pray and worship, the more we walk and talk with Christ, the more like Him we’ll become.  Love will be our motive.

 

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Piety and Me

We’ve been blogging about piety this month and my thought is this:  What does it look like in real terms?  I usually get this vision of a person standing or kneeling with their hands together as in prayer with this light shining off them or a halo over their heads.  Hmmm, maybe not.  OK, how about someone who is always doing something “Godly” like going to church, doing good deeds for others….  No…  How about a monk or a nun who never leave the convent or cloister?

Since we live in a world where we can’t all just run to the nearest convent or cloister, we have to look at this from a real-world view.  We can’t withdraw from the world and spend all our time praying to the Lord and studying the Word.  We need to support ourselves and our families.  So, what do we do?  What does piety really look like and how do we go about starting to live this way?

Let me preface this with the statement that this is my personal view on piety.  I’m still working this out in my own life, believe me, it’s a process and I know that I’ll never see an end to it.  Why?  Because there is no end until Jesus returns.

Piety is personal and is between a person and God.  A person may think that if they do an hour of devotionals in the morning and an hour of Bible study every evening, go to church 2,3, or however times during the week, that they are “pious”.  Not that doing all that is bad, that’s not what I’m saying.  But why are you doing it?  Are you doing all that to impress God?  You want a gold star at the end of the world and a pat on the head? That’s not going to happen.  Doing “works” is good only if it comes from the right place in your heart.  Doing something to impress God or others doesn’t cut it.  Jesus said it like this:

 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:5-6

I think that passage says more about personal piety than anything I’ve seen.  Pray in secret.  Just between you and God.  Stay humble.  Go to church, study the Bible, pray, do devotionals everyday or when you can.  Work it out in your life.  But keep it between you and God.  Cause when you start looking for pats on the head is when you are doing all this for the wrong reason.

False Piety #2

“Two men went up into the temple to pray;  one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee standing by himself prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”  Luke 18:10-14

The Pharisee is this parable is an example of what the Via de Cristo talk Piety talk calls “Mechanical Mike.”  He prayed, tithed and fasted because he was a Pharisee and that’s what Pharisees do.  It was part of his routine. Not only that, it made him feel superior to others, those who did not have the same training and habits.  Many “Christians” feel the same way.  They go to church every week because their parents did, their spouse wants them to, it’s good for the kids, it’s a way to make business contacts, they get to associate with nice people.  It’s just what they’ve always done. They think that being part of a Christian congregation and doing all the right “religious” things makes them an exemplary example, a pillar of the community.  In reality, they don’t have a real relationship with God and are without a clue about how to get one.

The tax collector wasn’t doing the right things, but he had the right attitude.  He recognized his sin and God’s gracious mercy. His focus was on God, not his own works.  This is a starting point for authentic piety.

It’s easy to fall into the “routine” if you’ve been a Christian for many years, we all do it.  We sing and recite the creeds, we say certain prayers by rote, we set aside our weekly offering — we may even feel pretty righteous about doing this.  The problem is, we’ve forgotten about the God we’re supposedly worshipping with our actions.

How can we avoid this sort of false piety?  One way is to periodically do an examination of conscience.  This can serve to remind us of how sinful we really are. Realizing how much we need Christ will quickly direct our attention to Him (there’s nothing like desperation to focus us).  Christian friends can help, too.  How are others praying?  Studying?  Serving?  Maybe we need to break our routine and try something new.  Christian friends inspire and admonish us.

Don’t get stuck in a rut.  Stay alert.  Pay attention.  Be truly pious.

 

Who To Be

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” 1 Peter 1:14-16

I just started reading a book titled, In His Image by Jen Wilken, and the first chapter is about holiness. Although holiness is an attribute of God, it is also a quality we need to reflect as God’s people.  For humans, holiness means being set apart for God, devoted to God, pure in character — in other words, pious.

Most Christians want to know what God’s will is for them as individuals .  What job should I take?  Who should I marry?  Where should I live? These are things we ask ourselves.  According to Ms. Wilken, instead of these questions which all boil down to “What should I do?” we ought to be asking “Who should I be?”

The Bible does not tell us what is the right decision in every case.  However, it does tell us quite a bit about who to be in every area of life.  Here’s a quote from the book:

“Simply put, God’s will for your life is that you be holy.  That you live a life of set-apartness.  That, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you strive for utter purity of character (Heb.12:14).  Every admonition contained in all of Scripture can be reduced to this.  Every warning, every law, every encouragement bows to this overarching purpose.  Every story of every figure in every corner of every book of the Bible is chanting this call.  Be holy, for he is holy.”

If we are striving to be direct our life to God and His will for us, the other decisions will not loom so large. Piety is not about what we do.  We can be holy in any job, any place, any marriage.  The circumstances don’t matter, but who we are does.

 

God of All My Days

This song has been getting a lot of air play recently for good reason.  Casting Crowns has this song that points to piety or living your whole live toward Christ.  Just listen.  I’m sure it will touch your heart.

Examination of Conscience

In a previous post, I talked about the need for each of us to examine ourselves on some regular basis as a practice of piety.  This is not meant as a way to “earn points” with God — it is to help us see and acknowledge areas of weakness and sin so that we can mature as Christians.  This Examination of Conscience is from the Via de Cristo Pilgrim’s Guide, which is given to each participant.  Imagine it as a conversation between you and Jesus.

Think about your interior attitudes and disposition.  Have your thoughts, your aspirations, your words, your actions of this day been worthy of one of my apostles?

Have your problems overcome you again today?  How many times have you fallen?  What was the reason?  Think it over well.

Think about the means available to you that my grace my increase in you:

Morning worship, Holy Communion, altar visits.  Have you neglected to perform one or more of these means of sanctification?  Why?

How long has it been since you visited your spiritual director?  When will you go?

And what about your serving?  Couldn’t you have been more generous– more courageous– more self-sacrificing–more cheerful?

With a little effort couldn’t you have gotten rid of the obstacles which you found along the road?

Haven’t you had the time to be a disciple?  Listen to Me:  isn’t it true that for the things which really interest you, you do find the time?  I wo am your God would almost be satisfied if you would treat me as well as you treat any of your friends.

Are you with me– or against me?  At work–in your profession–at recreation–have you been my disciple?  Would you have been proud to have me accompany you through the day?

Remember that the infidelities of the “faithful’ are the infidelities which wound My heart most.  I COUNT ON YOU!  ON YOU! And you, on whom or what do you count?

Slow Me Down

It’ been said that if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. We can’t become truly pious if we’re too busy to make time for God and for others.  I have a tendency to do this.  I become so caught up with expedient things, I lose track of the things that have eternal value.  I forget that even Jesus made time to get away and rest.  I miss bits of God’s grace and the people He wants me to serve. I forget to listen for his voice. This poem is a good reminder to slow down and pay attention.  I had a very hectic weekend, so I even if nobody else needs to hear this today, I do!

Slow me down Lord, I am going too fast:
I can’t see my brother when he’s walking past.
I miss a lot of good things day by day;
I don’t know a blessing when it comes my way.
Slow me down, Lord I want to see
More of the things that are good for me.
A little less of me and a little more of you,
I want the heavenly atmosphere to trickle through.
Let me help my brother when the going is rough:
When folks work together life isn’t so tough.
Slow me down, Lord so I can talk
With some of your angels.
Slow me down to a walk.
Brother John G. Ottis