I'm in the process of launching a new Content Management System for some of my clients who own websites. The control panel for my clients' websites gives them fine-tuned control not just over the appearance of the site, but also over how it appears in different devices (desktops, phones, etc).
It's exciting for me to be launching this software, but it's even more exciting to hear the positive feedback from web masters who are enjoying creating content for their websites. "This is fun," I heard from a couple clients, and one client is creating beautiful pages filled with images and nicely formatted text that looks great not only on a desktop computer, but also on tablets and phones.
I sent that client an e-mail, saying, "By the way, your site looks great -- you're really doing a great job of building your pages!"
His response was interesting: "Regarding the site, I appreciate the compliment, but it would be like God telling me that I'm doing a good job with His word. Can't really take any credit for it. I'm just utilizing a good creation."
An interesting comparison. But it got me thinking...
There is really a very strong sense of satisfaction for me in watching people make use of the software I created to make something beautiful. I guess you could say that I "delight" in seeing what people are doing with what I built.
In the same way, don't you suppose God takes a great deal of delight in watching as we make use of His creations in good and beautiful ways? When I pick up my guitar and improvise something new, I'm really just building on something God created in the first place. And it honors him, as the Creator, when I do so.
So be beautiful. Improvise. Make beautiful music, carve beautiful sculptures. Photograph beautiful rivers, sunsets, flowers and oceans. Stand at the top of a mountain at sunrise and belt out a verse of "This Is My Father's World." It's all just stuff that God made in the first place, but don't you think he loves our improvisations on his handiwork?
Having a six-month old child in the house is very interesting. One of the things that fascinates me is the way he studies us. If he can't see us, he's always turning his head to try to find us (finding Mama is a higher priority than finding Dada, but he does look for both of us). And when he finds us, he watches everything we do.
And he's started mimicking us.
If I blow a raspberry (I call it an "air zerbert"), he tries to mimic the sound (and has become quite successful at the task!). If I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth, he tries to mimic that as well (so far he has been unsuccessful; the closest he comes is to make a smacking sound by sucking his tongue against his upper lip).
He also studies the way we eat, and now that he's taking some solid food, he's quite eager to open his mouth for the spoon.
I realized this morning that I'm recycling myself. I'm taking the ideas, behavior patterns, and attitudes that make up who I am and -- whether I like it or not -- giving them new life in the next generation.
My son won't become a mini-me, and he won't become a mini-Laura; he will be his own person. But so much of his behaviors and ideas will be a recycling of things he sees in both his mama and his dada.
It makes me think pretty carefully about what Paul says in Philippians 4:
If I want my son to develop good and godly qualities in his life, I'd better make them an integral part of my life as well, because whatever I dwell on will get recycled!
And Paul follows up that verse with a bit of recycling:
What about you? What are you recycling to the next generation? I want to be able to say to my son -- and all the other people I come in contact with -- "Whatever you see and hear from me, it's okay to recycle it in your own life!"
At Camp Fairhaven, there is a lake right in the middle of the camp. There are two sets of cabins and lodges on either side of the lake. One is the boys' side, the other is the girls' side. This year, things were different than they have been in the past; this year they couldn't get enough staff to run both sides of the camp, so they moved the boys to the girls' side, and left the boys' side deserted.
With one exception. Since they were using all the cabins on the girls' side, they put me, the Bible teacher, on the other side of the camp.
I felt like I was living in a ghost town!
But the camp was NOT deserted. It was overrun with squirrels. These squirrels were the boldest animals I've ever seen. They would scurry up the walls of my cabin, they would leap from branches to my roof while I was sitting right there on the porch watching them.
And when I dropped a carrot stick on the ground, they didn't grab it and run away with it. They grabbed it, dropped it at the foot of a little tree about five feet from where I was sitting, and then scurried up and down the tree glaring at me and scolding me -- as though daring me to take the carrot stick away from them.
I was surprised, at first, to see so many squirrels on the grounds. There weren't that many the previous year. But then I realized -- there probably were that many. They were just hiding in the woods, because there were so many campers around.
And this made me think: the campground will NEVER be deserted. It will always be filled. It may be filled with campers, or it may be filled with squirrels, but it will ALWAYS be filled!
You know, our hearts are like that. We need to make a conscious choice about what we fill our hearts with, because our hearts will never be empty. They may be filled with good things, or they may be filled with bad things, but they will ALWAYS be filled. That's why Philippians 4:8 is such an important verse:
What are you filling your heart and mind with? Are you filling them with the pure and the lovely? Because if you aren't, then temptations, bad attitudes, and evil desires are encroaching on your heart, and as surely as the squirrels became bolder and bolder as time went on, those temptations, attitudes and desires will fill you more and more.
It's your choice.
Excellence is defined as: the fact or state of excelling; superiority; eminence
We often use this word when talking about musical performance, academics, and sports. Thinking about the word excellence makes me think of when I learned to play ping-pong.
I was in college, and I used to play against my roommate all the time; late at night we would go down into the dorm basement and play for hours. Neither of us was a great player -- we just had a lot of fun (and wasted a lot of time!).
And we weren't really serious about getting better. Consequently, we really didn't get much better.
Until the day Yin, a tournament champion, moved into the dorm. He offered to play the winner, and proceeded to absolutely destroy me. I think I got one or two points against him.
Then, a few weeks later, another tournament champion moved into the dorm. (What was it about my dorm that attracted ping-pong players? I'll probably never know! ;D) When I mentioned to Bob about playing against Yin, Bob said, "Yeah, he's not that good."
I was shocked. "Really?"
"No, he just has three or four 'tricks' -- once you get past those, he's not hard to beat."
So I said: "Teach me!"
For the next few weeks Bob and I were in the basement most evenings. Not playing games (I knew he would butcher me, anyway). Bob taught me how to watch my opponent. How to study the way his arm, his wrist, his hand and his paddle moved. How to watch the way the paddle intersected with the ball. How to predict the path of the ball based on all these things. How to wait and watch the bounce before swinging.
He taught me to be a defensive player.
And the next time I played Yin, I discovered that he relied very heavily on his serve. Once I could get past that, the volleys were not nearly as difficult. This time I got eight or nine points against him.
Then Bob started teaching me to play offensively. Not just to block what my opponent was trying to do, but to use it against him. How to spin the ball, how to take a low hit and put a vicious top spin on it to move it fast without driving it into the net. How to fool my opponent into thinking I was doing one thing, when I was really doing another. How to push the battle into his court.
Then I took all of this, and with some practice, was finally able to beat Yin. I had gone from being a novice player to a player of excellence. (Of course, now, after a decade and a half, I'm back to being just an average player, because I never practice anymore.)
2 Peter 1:5 talks about having moral excellence. And like excellence in ping-pong, moral excellence requires hard work and (as 2 Peter 1:5 also says!) diligence.
And, like excellence in ping-pong, moral excellence also has both a defensive and an offensive component.
The defensive component is what we most often think of -- it's learning to defeat Satan's temptations. How to say No to his attacks. Whether we face sexual temptations, or temptations to lie, to steal, to have prideful thoughts, bitter thoughts, or whatever the temptation might be, we must develop the ability to be defensive, and block Satan's "fiery darts."
But we often forget about the offensive component of moral excellence. The offensive component means taking the battle into his court. It means not just saying "No" to the bad, but finding the good and saying "Yes" to it. Philippians 4:8 gives us a list of the good things that we say yes to. This is a good starting point -- we don't just reject the bad, we fill our minds with the good.
And when we face temptation to do something bad, we take that as our cue to go out and find something to do that would just drive the enemy nuts.
This is why, in our youth group, we try to provide many opportunities for our teens to serve -- to help at the nursing home, the homeless shelter, doing yard work for senior citizens, helping Child Evangelism Fellowship with some of their ministries. It is all part of moral excellence, because it is the offensive component of defeating the enemy in our lives.
Moral excellence: Say no to the bad, say yes to the good.
This object lesson is part of a series of "one-word lessons" from 2 Peter 1:5-8. Each week in our youth group I am teaching one word from those verses.