Anything worth doing is worth doing right!

I cannot tell you how many times I heard my dad utter these words as I was growing up. They were words of wisdom. They were also words of instruction. (And sometimes correction. :/ ) For the most part, they were words I could live by and that seemed to served me well – on the farm, in school, in the workplace. To a point. Unfortunately, I think they also led to a performance-based approach to life, which didn’t serve me so well. I became focused on doing things right.

The adage proved to be a stumbling block to my faith journey, as well. As I have mentioned previously, I have struggled with a presupposition that faith is performance-based. A performance-based view of faith affected my role as a husband, father, Young Life leader, etc. Then, about 30 years ago, something began to change for me…

(Apparently Hunter S. Thompson gets credit for the saying, but I doubt he originated it!)

Young Life has a great training program. All new staff participate in the two-year, graduate level training. Each trainee is assigned an older staff person to walk with them through the training process – a trainer/mentor. Perry Hunter, my Regional Director, served as my trainer/mentor. We spent hours at the Pannekoeken Huis in Roseville, MN, talking theology and philosophy. During one of our sessions, we started talking about the tendency of 20th century Christians to focus on doing things right (of which I certainly was one). Perry then made a statement that has radically changed my thinking and life.

He said something to the effect that we might want to focus on doing right things rather than doing things right. The statement immediately resonated deep within my soul and I came back with “Oh, it’s law versus grace. Doing things right is law; doing right things is grace.” I had been trying to live a life of grace but from a legalistic perspective. I was working so hard at getting it right.

I immediately thought of the Pharisees that Jesus encountered 2000 years ago. They really wanted to figure out how to live for God, but their only approach was to do things right (and teach others the same). I discovered that I, too, was a Pharisee. I had no grace for me and I certainly didn’t do a good job of showing grace to others. I focused on what I and they should be doing right. (Brennan Manning would always remind his readers and listeners to “stop shoulding on thyself.”)

I know from experience, the suggestion that we do right things instead of doing things right often leads to some blank stares and wondering what’s the difference. Is it just semantics? Could be, but I don’t think so. It’s very similar to Why before What and How. Discovering one’s Why is a right thing. The focus on What and How is doing things right. We’ve already discussed C.S. Lewis’ First Things. Paying attention to first things is doing right things. Doing things right is a second thing. Jesus challenged the Pharisees to learn about doing right things when he reminded them that the God they faithfully tried to live for said, “I demand mercy, not sacrifice.” (See Matthew 9:13 and Hosea 6:6)

Do we want to do things right? Absolutely, but it has to be an organic outcome of doing right things. Doing things right is a second thing and we westerners struggle to put first things first. We will be revisiting this in upcoming posts. In the meantime, ponder the implications in your context.

Sunday School Answers

Billy attended school with me during my early Junior High days. He was in most of my classes. He was also our pastor’s son. He clued me in on something in seventh grade that might have had a larger impact on my life than I might have expected.

We were part of a Sunday School class of all boys (at least, that’s what I remember). I also remember that we were a typical group of seventh graders with built-in ADHHHD. Paying attention to the teacher or lesson was not high on our abilities or agendas (I suspect most of us were not in the class by choice). Billy’s clue was related to our Sunday School class. He told me he learned from his dad that if asked a question by the teacher and unsure of the answer, “Jesus” was always a safe response – a “Sunday School answer.”

One Sunday I was particularly distracted when, toward the end of class-time, our teacher asked me point-blank if I knew the answer to the question he had just asked. I had no idea what he had asked! And I was pretty sure he knew I hadn’t been paying attention – I suspect the question was his way of letting me know. Remembering Billy’s suggestion, I said, “Jesus!” emphatically and with confidence. The teacher looked a bit surprised and said something like, “Yes! And don’t ever forget it!” Class was over. I got the answer right and I didn’t even know what the question was!


“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.” C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock.

C. S. Lewis spoke of first things throughout his writings. Just yesterday I was speaking with someone who had recently stumbled onto one of his essays that pointed readers to first things. I wonder what Lewis’ answer would have been if asked, “What is the first thing?” I suspect he would have said, “Jesus!” emphatically and with confidence. And he wouldn’t have been offering up a Sunday School answer.

Today if asked about the first thing, I answer emphatically and with confidence, “Jesus!” Many would agree with me. However, the answer begs a follow-up question: “Which Jesus?” Sounds like an odd question, but not really. One could be talking about the Jesus of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, whose job is to make us happy and show up when we need him. Or the Jesus of economic prosperity who lavishes us with material blessings. Or the Jesus we draw into our political bents to help us gain control over the ‘other.’ Or the western version of Jesus (or eastern). Or a Jesus whose main role is to simply get us to heaven. These incomplete Jesuses are a result of putting second things first – which is what he can do for us.

The first thing must be the Jesus of scripture, the real Jesus, not a ‘Jesus’ informed by culture, ideologies, or what he can do for us. The first thing must be Jesus only. Period. It takes concerted time and effort to see past the pseudo-Jesuses to the Jesus of scripture. I speak from experience. I can also speak from experience that it is worth the time and effort. It’s transformative.

It all starts with an open, honest perspective of where one is now. So, ponder for a bit: In what ways might the ‘Jesus’ you know be shaped by outside ideologies?