If you've ever been to Camp Fairhaven, you've probably met Dunkin. Dunkin is not a person, he's a dog. He belongs to Dave, who is currently one of the directors at the camp.
I've never seen a dog quite like Dunkin. I've never seen a dog so devoted to his master. If Dave is in the camp office, Dunkin will stand just outside the office door and stare at him. Doesn't matter if Dave is in there for three hours; Dunkin is content to stare for three hours.
Dunkin follows Dave everywhere. Once, when Dave ended up on the opposite side of the lake from Dunkin, Dunkin didn't wait for Dave to come get him -- he swam all the way accross the lake to get back to Dave.
If I opened the door of my car and Dave opened the door of his truck, I have no doubt which vehicle Dunkin would get in. If I stood there and called him by name, I still have no doubt which vehicle he would get in. And, if I stood there and called him by name while holding a doggie treat for him, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would still get in Dave's truck instead of my car.
This is devotion, pure and simple. And in Deuteronomy 6:5, we are told that we should be wholeheartedly devoted to God. We should have the same love and devotion that Dunkin has toward Dave. For us, there should be no one else who steals our attention and devotion from God.
But how often does Satan hold out a "doggie treat" (temptation) to me and say, "Here, Doug!" and I have no qualms about getting on board with him?
I want to be so devoted to God that when Satan tries to get my attention, I don't even stop to consider the possibility of betraying God.
Last week I spent a night in the emergency room at Franklin Memorial Hospital (Farmington, ME). Turns out I have gallstones. The doctor discussed my options with me, considering that I wanted to finish out my summer of camp ministry before having surgery. My main issue is, I need to spend the summer on a very low-fat diet.
In other words, no camp food.
I find, though, that people tend to misunderstand what I mean when I tell them I'm on a low-fat diet. When people think "low-fat diet," they think of someone trying to lose weight or lower cholesterol. And when that's the purpose of your diet, it's okay if you splurge once in awhile. If you eat healthy all week, you could have pizza for one meal, and then go back to eating healthy.
That is not the case with me. I could eat fifty healthy meals in a row, then have one fatty meal, and regardless of how healthy I ate at the other fifty meals, that one fatty meal would put me back in the hospital.
It's a very all-or-nothing approach to dieting.
I was thinking about that in relation to Matthew 22:37, where Jesus says that the most important commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
This, like my diet, is a very all-or-nothing sort of thing. It's not something we play around with. We don't say "I'm going to give God my all 90% of the time, and then I'll 'splurge,' and live for me for the other 10%."
It doesn't work that way; playing that kind of game with God is very dangerous; it results in a very unhealthy spiritual life. Jesus told us that we can't serve two masters, because we will either love one and hate the other, or vice-versa.
God doesn't want us to play games with Him, and really, when you think about it, He deserves our whole-hearted devotion, because of His great goodness, His great love for us, and His sacrifice at Calvary. He doesn't deserve the kind of games we often try to play when we serve and love Him half-heartedly.
If God has loved us so much, how could we love Him less?
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.
As a child growing up on a small farm, there were many chores I disliked. Shoveling out the barn, weeding the garden, feeding chickens, and the pig...
But there was one thing I disliked more than all the others. One yearly event that I dreaded. Haying.
That was one of the hottest, sweatiest jobs imaginable. Whether I was in the hayloft throwing and stacking bales, or out in the fields putting bales onto the trailer (yes, we did it the old fashioned way...for us a "thrower" had two legs, two arms, and very tired muscles), haying was a miserable job. If you were in the hayloft, the heat and the humidity were enough to kill an ox -- let alone a ten-year-old boy -- and if you were in the field you had to suffer with the summer sun baking and roasting everything in sight.
And no matter where you were, you had to deal with that rough, dried stubble scratching against your skin.
But being in the fields did have one advantage over being in the hayloft: when you were in the field, there would be an occasional moment of relief. When a strong, cool breeze would come wafting across the fields, the breeze would touch every part of you as it passed by, bringing a bit of relief from the heat. It made a miserable chore bearable, and for that brief moment you would find yourself thinking, "Aaaah! I'm going to make it through this!"
The book of Proverbs tells us this:
How true that is! How many times have you been in a position where you asked someone to do something, or they said they would do something, and then they never followed through? Do you remember that feeling? The frustration, the failed plans, the discouragement you feel can be as oppressive as the summer heat.
But someone who does what they say they will do, who you can count on to fulfill their promises -- that is a person as refreshing as a breeze blowing in off the snow-covered mountains, bringing relief and joy.
So...which kind of person are you?