Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Category: Character (Page 1 of 5)

Glory in the Ordinary

They’re calling it one of the biggest Olympic snubs of all time.

An enormously popular athlete. Record-setter. Superb skills. Has altered the game forever. Draws huge crowds. Gazillion dollar endorsements. What’s not to like?

Wait a minute! You thought I was talking about WNBA superstar Caitlin Clark! No! I’m talking about ME!

I got skills. I got game. I gotta get me some Olympic bling!

You’re right. I’m delusional. But please, read on.

I thoroughly enjoy watching the Olympics. But watching these elite athletes in action always brings me back to reality. I’m once again reminded how ordinary I am. I’ll never be known for my athletic prowess, my competitive spirit, or for overcoming huge odds to beat an archrival. I’m plain old me.

The Olympics remind us that humans are capable of some amazing feats. They’re full of compelling stories. But they’re not representative of how most of us live out our day-to-day existence. Most of us are rather dull, unathletic, and uninspiring.

But that’s OK. What matters for us is that every day we dedicate ourselves to something worthwhile. For Christians, dedication to Christ is a sufficiently Olympian task. To follow the one who was first to finish the race (Hebrews 12.1-3) is challenge enough. What’s more, the crown for which you and I compete is far greater than all the medals, endorsements, and fame that our earthly Olympics could offer: “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9.25b).

What’s left for us, then, is to do our work and do it well. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3.23-24). 

You don’t have to be the CEO to be successful in the workplace. You don’t need to be a Hollywood couple to have a great marriage. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to find joy in sports. You don’t need a show on Food Network to enjoy cooking and eating. You don’ t need to be a millionaire to be financially secure. You don’t have to join a monastery to be faithful to Christ.

There is glory in the ordinary.

Deep Roots

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid. 
A good man will obtain favor from the LORD,
But He will condemn a man who devises evil. 
A man will not be established by wickedness,
But the root of the righteous will not be moved.

Proverbs 12.1-3

Have you ever tried to get rid of a stubborn weed or a sapling or a bush that has sprung up in the wrong place? No matter how hard you try, it seems to win. You cut it; it grows back. You spray it; it comes back. 

Why do weeds so often win? Simple. They have deep roots. If you don’t kill the roots, you won’t kill the plant, and if you don’t kill the plant, it’ll always come back. 

However, the same thing is true of desirable grasses and flowers and shrubs and trees. If they have well developed root systems, they’ll also persist. 

The third verse of the above text suggests that righteousness, by the Lord’s design, is intended to operate the same way. The first three sayings in Proverbs Chapter 12 contrast various manifestations of righteousness and wisdom against various manifestations of wickedness. The righteous love discipline and knowledge, but the evil is too lazy to learn. The righteous are blessed while the wicked are cursed. 

Then in verse three Solomon unexpectedly reverses the order: The wicked person will not be established, whereas the righteous person has a firm root. This reads much like Psalm 1.3-4 with its imagery of the righteous as a well-planted, well-watered tree, and the wicked as chaff to be blown away by the wind. By reversing the order, I think Solomon wishes to emphasize the permanence of the righteous in God’s economy. 

During the spring and summer, many of us are thinking about stubborn weeds, and with good reason. Solomon suggests that we should also think of stubborn righteousness, also with good reason. Not obstinate righteousness, but resolute righteousness. The righteous simply never give up in their righteousness, and in that righteousness, they lay deep roots.

How deep is your righteousness?

Integrity & Consistency

There’s an old story about a farmer selling a horse. The horse was stubborn and lazy and rarely helpful when work needed to be done. A potential buyer asked, “Is he a good workhorse?” The farmer replied, “It’d do your heart good to see that horse work!”

The buyer purchased the horse and within a few weeks realized it was stubborn and lazy and useless when work needed to be done. He went back to the farmer and demanded a refund. “You said it was a good workhorse!” The farmer replied, “No, I said it’d do your heart good to see it work.” 

Nobody likes to be cheated by unscrupulous vendors. Proverbs 20.10 says, Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD.”

The proverb is set in the ancient marketplace where simple mechanical devices were used for measuring. It would have been relatively easy for a vendor to use a measuring stick or a weight or a bowl that looked normal but was just a bit off, and always to his advantage. In our modern era of full disclosure, de facto standards, government standards, industry standards, and bar codes and scanners, it’s easy to forget that cheaters still look for ways to get ahead, even at the store. This proverb condemns the practice, both then and now.

Two things are noteworthy. One is the strength of the condemnation. This kind of dishonesty is not only foolishness, not only wickedness, it’s an abomination to the Lord. This is a reminder that of all the virtues we humans should possess, honesty and integrity are at the very top. To be less than honest is to fail in the most fundamental of human ways. 

Second, it applies not only to the marketplace, but also to the workplace. Honesty on the job has plenty of applications. Do we say one thing to the boss and another to our coworkers? Do we fudge on our expense accounts? Do we make allowances for the workers we like, but not for the ones we dislike? Do we sponge ideas off others but take credit for them ourselves? 

The proverb covers a lot of territory, in the marketplace, the workplace, the home, and other areas of life as well.

The wise worker practices meticulous integrity in the workplace. The wise person practices meticulous integrity in all his or her relationships. Anything less is dishonest and ultimately incurs God’s wrath.

It’s the Climb? Really?

“The virtue lies in the struggle, not in the prize.” (Richard Monckton Milnes)

“It’s not about how fast I get there. It’s not about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.” (Miley Cyrus)

Partly true, partly false. 

First, the Bible repeatedly affirms the value of suffering for Christians. 

  • “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.2-4).
  • “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4.1-2).
  • “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5.3-5). 

However, the Bible never affirms suffering for its own sake. Suffering always has direction: it points its victims toward something higher and more important. Suffering also has purpose: it’s intended to teach us lessons about things other than suffering. 

In Scripture, the purposes of suffering are many:

  • Suffering purifies us (1 Peter 4.1-2).
  • Suffering produces endurance in us (James 1.2-4).
  • Suffering builds character and gives hope (Romans 5.3-5).
  • Suffering teaches us to depend upon God (Psalm 42.1-11).
  • Suffering now may prevent suffering later (2 Corinthians 4.16-18).

To be sure, there’s value in suffering, but only to the extent that it has a desirable outcome. Struggle is pointless if it doesn’t lead somewhere. Most of all, struggle that leads anywhere but heaven is wasted.

What struggles are you having, and where are they leading you?

For Love’s Sake

“Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you”.

The apostle Paul, Philemon 8-9

The apostle Paul wrote this to his friend and fellow-Christian Philemon. Philemon was apparently a wealthy Christian who lived in Colossae. He was wealthy enough to own slaves, one of whom was Onesimus whose name meant “profitable” or “useful” (v. 15-16).

If you carefully read Paul’s this letter, it seems that Onesimus ran away from Philemon’s household and may have even stolen from his master (v. 18-19). He wound up in Rome where Paul was imprisoned. At some point, Onesimus met and was converted to Christ by Paul’s efforts (v. 10). Now Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter to effect reconciliation (v. 15-16). 

The wording of Paul’s appeal to Philemon is striking. Legally, Philemon had the right to do pretty much anything he wanted to Onesimus. He could treat him as harshly as he wanted and could even have him executed. Slaves were considered the property of their masters and were treated according to their whims. Onesimus was returning to Philemon at great personal risk. Paul knew this and took a different approach. 

Paul says that he could “order” or “command” Philemon to do right. Paul wasn’t asserting legal authority but moral authority. As an apostle he could have required Philemon to receive Onesimus, but Paul let him choose. He appealed not to authority, but to love (v. 9). 

Doing this “for love’s sake” meant that Philemon should treat Onesimus with brotherly love since now they both were Christians. Paul says to treat him like a brother, not just a piece of property. Hovering in the background is also the love we have for others because of our love for God (cf. 1 John 4.11). 

It’s for “love’s sake” that we rise above ordinary expectation to extraordinary action. For love’s sake a mother stays up all night with her sick child. For love’s sake a man may work for years at an unfulfilling job to support his family. For love’s sake a sibling helps a younger or weaker brother or sister with homework and chores. For love’s sake we help our neighbors with yardwork and errands and paying bills when they’re struggling with poor health, or they’ve lost their job. For love’s sake we sit with the sick and dying. For love’s sake we volunteer for hopeless causes, truly believing that our actions make a difference. For love’s sake we exhort others to faithfulness to Christ. For love’s sake we pray for one another. 

For love’s sake we do all these things and more, knowing it was for love’s sake that God saved us from our sins. That’s a love worth imitating. 

Seven Words

“Teach her as many of the 700,000 words of the English language as you have time to but be sure she knows that the greatest word is God; the longest word eternity; the swiftest word time; the nearest word now; the darkest word sin; the meanest word hypocrisy; and the deepest word soul.”

To Lt. Cdr. J. P. Carr, from his father, on the birth of the younger Carr’s daughter.

God. Eternity. Time. Now. Sin. Hypocrisy. Soul. 

These are more than words, they’re realities. They attempt to encapsulate the most profound and important concepts that we humans face during our earthly existence. They’re small words that describe great ideas.

The infinite God has communicated with finite humanity through the medium of language, by means of words. Jesus himself was “THE WORD”: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1.1). He was God’s ultimate communication to us. 

In a similar way, the Bible is God’s word to man. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17.17). By means of these words, God has conveyed what’s truly important and valuable. Wrap your head around that. Eternal truth expressed in finite, human language. 

I’d like to challenge you to do two things. First, think about the seven words from our starting quotation: God, eternity, time, now, sin, hypocrisy, and soul. How have these words shaped your life? How do you use them as motivation for spiritual living? 

Second, make out a list of seven other words that challenge you, define you, inspire you, or even terrify you. What are the significant words in your life? Make your list and for the next week, think about one word each day. Consider how this word affects you. Look at how the Bible treats the word or concept. Think about what you can do with that word to change your life for the better.

George Herbert said, “Good words are worth much, and cost little.” For today, and every day, take time to think about the important words that shape your life.

Facing Goliath

The human capacity for worry is staggering. We worry about money. We worry about relationships. We worry about our health. We worry about our city and country. We worry about crime, inflation, politics, racism, ageism, and gender discrimination. We worry about children, our spouses, our parents, and our pets. We worry about pretty much everything. 

More specifically, much of our anxiety is about the unknown. We worry because we don’t know the outcome. We worry about what will happen to our money and health and marriages and children and country. And we wonder if the struggle is worth it.

I have a simple solution.

Recall the story of David and Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17, the Israelites and Philistines are in a stalemate. The Philistines have challenged Israel to a winner-takes-all contest between their champion warrior Goliath, and whomever the Israelites could send. Nobody from Israel is willing to fight. That is, until David shows up.

Imagine if this were a modern basketball game. It’s late in the second half. The score is tied, but momentum has shifted to the visiting team. All the home team starters have fouled out, and their superstar center is dominating the game. Only one player is left, the shortest man on the team with the least experience. Who thinks it’s a good idea to send him in? 

But remember David’s words as he faced the giant from Gath – “The battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17.47). He wasn’t worried about the specifics; he wasn’t worried about the struggle. He knew up front that God would determine the outcome. That gave him the assurance he needed to enter the fray, to fight the battle, to persevere in conflict, and to remain true to his calling. 

Oh, and he also won the battle.

Rather than being afraid of what might happen, rather than expecting the worst possible outcome, we should adopt David’s strategy. Do what we can and let God decide the outcome. 

For today and every day remember that “the battle is the Lord’s”.

Astonishing

Always do right. This will gratify some and astonish the rest!

Mark Twain

Doing right is at the heart of a relationship with God. The apostle Peter said, “in every nation the man who fears [God] and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10.36). To be right with God means that we must do right. 

This may explain why the world hates righteousness and righteous people. Peter also said, “such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2.15). The world may slander us for doing right, but doing right is its own best defense. 

It’s sad that the business of doing right has such an effect on people around us. Some may be astonished because they see so little righteousness in our world. They’re skeptical, even cynical, and learn to expect the worst. To them, doing right is astonishing because it’s so rare. 

Others may be astonished when they see us doing right because sometimes we don’t do it enough. If that’s the case, the problem isn’t with them, it’s with us. We need to repent.

When we try to do the right thing and the world pushes back against us, what then? The apostle Paul said, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12.20-21).

The best way to get even with others, the best way to astonish them, the best way to counter the evil in the world, and the best way to glorify God is to do what’s right. First, last, and always. 

So, get busy and astonish someone today!

When Your Feet Hit the Floor

“Be the kind of woman who, when her feet hit the floor in the morning, causes the Devil to say, ‘Oh no – she’s up!’”

Joanne Clancy, Irish Author

I don’t have any context for this quotation, so I’m not sure if it’s meant in a positive way or a negative way. 

On the one hand, it could be referring to some women who are so thoroughly bad, that even the Devil trembles. Biblically, I think of King Ahab’s evil wife, Queen Jezebel. I think of their daughter Athaliah, who killed her own grandchildren so she could become queen. I think of Herodias, who engineered the beheading of John the Baptist. Some folks are so bad that they can give Satan a run for his money. 

I prefer to think of it in a good way, and not just about women. I’d like to think that when we Christians arise each day – when our feet hit the floor – we’re prepared to do battle with Satan. 

On one hand, that’s a scary proposition. In Ephesians 6.12, Paul said “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Satan has power and lots of help.

On the other hand, we have God’s power and weaponry available. In this same text, Paul goes on to describe in detail the armor of God, which is at our disposal. He says in verse 13 “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

Elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 10.4, Paul also said that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” Christians have the most potent arsenal available. Each day presents an opportunity to war mightily against Satan and his forces.

Finally, we need the assurance that Satan can be withstood. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” was James’ counsel (James 4.7). Ultimately Satan prefers battles he knows he can win. He has little interest in a battle he knows he will lose. Stand firm, and Satan will run.

For today and every day, make the Devil regret that you ever got out of bed! When your feet hit the floor, be ready for a fight!

Me. Now.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Variously attribtued to Rabbi Hillel, JFK, Ronald Reagan, et al.

Regardless of who said it, it’s a powerful call to action. It appeals to our sense of duty and to our sense of urgency. For Christians, these two appeals should be especially compelling. 

Christians should have a strong sense of duty.

  • Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14.15).
  • Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13.17).
  • Paul said, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2.10).

Christians must also have a strong sense of urgency about our work.

  • Paul said, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5.15-16).
  • James said, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4.17).

No one in this world is better equipped than God’s people to act boldly and swiftly in a sinful world.

  • Who’s better equipped than children of God to care for the sick and dying?
  • Who better than children of God to show compassion to the hurting and lonely?
  • Who better than children of God to demonstrate divine love to the unloved?
  • Who better than children of God to speak the truth?
  • Who better than children of God to stand up for what is right?
  • Who better than children of God to exhibit hope in the midst of despair?
  • Who better than children of God to act with wisdom in a world gone mad?

Have I prepared myself to engage? Have you?

If not us, who? If not now, when?

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