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

Tag: character

A Daily Dose of Discipleship

Zig Ziglar, motivator extraordinaire, once said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Ziglar was right. All of us have important daily rituals and habits: bathing, brushing our teeth, checking our bank balance, catching up on email, reviewing our schedule, calling or texting children or parents or siblings, reading the newspaper or watching the news, counting calories, drinking so many glasses of water, etc. We all know that when we stop doing these things, bad habits and bad consequences follow.

What Ziglar says about motivation is also true of discipleship. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9.23). Following Jesus is a daily event. Discipleship demands daily commitment, daily service, daily attitude adjustments, daily goals, daily decisions. 

That means there’s no moment in your day when you’re not a disciple of Jesus. Every action, every relationship, every decision, every word, and everything you do is filtered through the lens of your relationship to Jesus.

When you’re at work, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Whether you’re the CEO, an accountant, an engineer, in HR or marketing, or if you’re making minimum wage flipping burgers, you’re a disciple. Whether you’re dealing with the boss, your coworkers, or your clients, you’re a disciple of Jesus.

When you’re at home, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Whether you’re dealing with your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents or grandparents, or even your next-door neighbors, you’re a disciple of Jesus. Every day, your relationship to Jesus determines how you treat your family.

When you’re on vacation or on your day off, you’re a disciple of Jesus. If you’re traveling, you’re a disciple. If you’re puttering around the house, you’re a disciple. If you’re by yourself away from the noise and distraction of your normal routine, you’re a disciple. If you’re surrounded by ten thousand other people, you’re a disciple.

All of this means that every day we should remind ourselves that we’ve made a lifelong commitment to the Lord Jesus. It also means that every day we follow through on that commitment. We need a daily dose of discipleship.


Many of us are required to have an ID badge or tag or card to get into our workplace. It’s a security measure. It the employer’s way of saying,” I need to know that you are who you claim to be. I need to know that you belong here.” So, in our day-to-day affairs we understand the importance of these credentials.

Let’s apply this to our public worship. What if you needed an ID to enter public worship. What if the Lord wanted each of us to prove to him every Sunday that we are, in fact, his people. What if God required each of us to prove that we belong in a sacred assembly. What kind of ID do you think would work?

Psalm 15 provides at least a partial answer. Some scholars view it as an “entrance liturgy”, which means that it may have been used in Israel’s public worship when people arrived at the temple for national festivals. The worshipper would approach a priest or gatekeeper with a request to enter, and the priest would reply with the requirements of entry.

In Psalm 15, the entrance question is stated in verse 1: “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?” 

Then the priest or gatekeeper would reply in verse 2: “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart.” 

In fact, the remaining three verses of Psalm 15 elaborate on verse 2. They describe the character of the citizen of Zion, the one who belongs in the Lord’s assembly.

What Psalm 15 is saying is that the credentials for a worshipper of God – the ID badge, if you will – is his or her godly life. This in no way means that our good works and good character have merited a place for us in God’s assembly. The very fact that God allows and encourages us to worship him is an act of grace. But it’s still sobering to think that our character either qualifies us for worship or disqualifies us. 

This week, work on your credentials. Are you ready to worship?

Math & Morals

Dr. Charles Madison Sarratt (1888-1978, longtime mathematics professor and administrator at Vanderbilt University) told his students each year, “Today I am giving you two examinations, one in trigonometry, and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

Dr. Sarratt understood that our morals permeate every aspect of life, and that honesty is the very cornerstone of character. Negatively, he was discouraging cheating on exams. Positively, he was promoting honesty in everything.

It’s been a long time since I had to take a math test, but I’m tested in the honesty department every day. I suspect all of us are. 

Every day we’re tempted, even invited, to cut corners, to cheat, to do less than our best, to lie a little here or there, to take credit for someone else’s work. Every day we prove our honesty.

It may be on a project at work. It may be while we’re shopping. It may be in a conversation with a spouse or friend. It may be at the gym. It may be while we’re playing games or sports with others. It may be in the break room. It may be with teachers or students. It may be at church.

How can we pass the honesty exam with consistency?

First, we must be honest with God. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus described a farmer scattering seed by hand in a field. The seed fell on various kinds of soil, some good, some bad. When Jesus explained the parable, he said, “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8.15). How we respond to God and his word reveals if we’re honest.

Second, we must be honest with ourselves. Paul warned, “Let no man deceive himself.” (1 Corinthians 3.18). Have you ever lied to yourself about your weight? About your exercise habits? About your Amazon spending? About your abilities? Self-honesty is important, because if we lie to ourselves, we’ll lie to anyone.

Third, we must be honest with others. Paul said we’re to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4.15). Love is the seasoning of our communication. But the communication itself must be true, wholesome, and healthy. Lies and deceit are worse than junk food, they’re poison to the soul.

Every day we take an honesty exam. Every day we either grow in honesty or we shrink. May God help us grow in truth and honesty. 


“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” (Harold Coffin)

I think the primary problem with envy is a loss of perspective. We often think the “good life” is the one we don’t have; the life that someone else has. 

A good illustration of this comes from Proverbs 23.1-3: “When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat If you are a man of great appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food.”

Who wouldn’t want to be invited to a king’s banquet? Who wouldn’t want the best food prepared by the best chefs served in the best setting? What could possibly be wrong? Solomon’s point is that if something looks too good to be true, be cautious. 

Almost all of Proverbs 23 is a warning against envy in some form or another. Solomon tells us to be cautious about wanting what others have. In fact, he tells us that even if the grass is greener in your neighbor’s yard, it may also be poisonous.

As you step through the chapter, there’s a warning against envying the wealth and status of a ruler (v 1-3); a warning against desiring wealth (v 4-5); a warning against being friendly with a miser (v 6-8); a warning against friendship with sinners (v 15-19); a warning against desiring a prostitute (v 26-28); a warning against seeking solace in alcohol (v 29-35). The implicit message is that these seeming avenues of bliss are really cul-de-sacs of misery.

What’s the solution to envy? The answer is the exact center point of the chapter: “Do not let your heart envy sinners but live in the fear of the LORD always” (verse 17). 

The fear of the Lord brings happiness and fulfillment because it brings perspective and discernment. It keeps us from desiring things that are harmful or meaningless. It helps us discern between what’s worth pursuing and what’s worthless. It helps us see on the one hand what we should worry about, and on the other hand, what’s pointless. 

If you struggle with jealousy and envy, there’s a solution. Rather than looking across the fence, look up. Rather than thinking about your neighbor’s possessions, think about God’s provisions. Rather than wanting to be like others, learn to be more like God.

The Asymptote of Perfection

In geometry, “asymptote” refers to a line and a curve that get closer and closer together but never actually touch. If you really want to impress your friends and family, graph the equation y=2x. The asymptote is x=0. When you crunch the numbers, when x is negative and gets bigger and bigger (x=-1, -2, -3, -4, etc.), y gets smaller and smaller, but never reaches 0. But enough of the geekiness!

I want you to think about a Christian’s character in relationship to God. I would suggest that it resembles an asymptote. God is the absolute standard of everything we should be. God is love. God is holy. God is righteous. God is patient. God is merciful. As God is, we should strive to be. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48). Thus…

  • God is love, and I must become more and more like God in my love.
  • God is holy, and I must become more and more like God in my holiness.
  • God is righteous, and I must become more and more like God in my righteousness.
  • God is patient, and I must become more and more like God in my patience.
  • God is merciful, and I must become more and more like God in my mercy.

We are to grow more and more Godlike in our character, but in this life, we’ll never fully reach his perfection. We’ll grow and grow, but never completely reach our full potential. In other words, God’s perfection and our growth form a moral and spiritual asymptote. 

Obviously, that’s easier said than done!

However, we should be encouraged by the fact that Jesus still expected it of his followers. I don’t think Jesus’ point in Matthew 5.48 is that we will, or even can, become morally flawless people. I think he was stating it to put before us an ideal that keeps us perpetually moving in a godward direction. 

I think the apostle Paul understood this concept when he said, “Not that I have already obtained it [the resurrection from the dead] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (Philippians 3.12-16).

Paul said to press on. To keep getting closer and closer to the prize. To get closer and closer to the reality of heaven. Paul was saying to keep our eyes on the goal, keep our eyes on the standard, but at the same time worry less about the arrival, and more about getting there.

Drifting Into Goodness

In 1982, author Anne Herbert wrote a book titled, Random Acts of Kindness. The title was a phrase coined by her to counteract a then-popular phrase, “random acts of violence.” Ever since then, we are often encouraged practice these “random acts of kindness.”

I certainly agree that we should practice kindness in our everyday lives. However, to say that kindness is something done randomly misses the mark. Kindness isn’t random, any more than evil is random. Kindness and evil are both character traits we consciously pursue. 

William George Jordan said, “Man does not drift into goodness… the chance port of an aimless voyage. He must fight ever for his destination.” 

He reminds us that character never happens by chance, only by choice. At some point, we decide to do the right thing, we decide to become a certain kind of person. And every component of our character – goodness, faithfulness, compassion, nobility, love, integrity – results from choices we make and actions we take.

In other words, decide if you want to be good, or decide if you want to be bad. But don’t blame your circumstances or your peers or your parents or your teachers or your church or your stars. And don’t say that you just randomly did something. The choice was yours all along.

There’s a certain irony to all of this. What if you choose not to choose? What if you just don’t want to decide? The irony is that by not choosing, you’ve already chosen. If you don’t want to be good, in essence, you’ve chosen to be bad. Or at least you’ve chosen to be indifferent toward the good. Maybe not as bad as you could be. Maybe not pure evil, like Hitler. But by not choosing the good, you’ve settled for something less than good.

All of this has a biblical basis. The writer of the book of Hebrews, uses the same metaphor of drifting” when he says, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2.1). 

Aimless drifting isn’t idyllic, it’s dangerous. It’s the shortest route to moral shipwreck.