My life is controlled by a clock. School begins at 8:00 a.m., and I am there at 7:30 to work with students. First period ends at 9:30, and new students arrive. And so on, through the day. Then, when school is over, I have my first music student at 3:00. My first math tutoring session is at 3:30. And on it goes.
On Sundays, I preach at 8:00 a.m. at a nearby church that is pastorless, and I'm expected to be there on time, ready to go. Some Sundays I preach at two churches, and then I have to leave the first church at 9:00 a.m. in order to get to the next church by 10:00 a.m.
Day after day, week after week.
The strange thing is, I never realized just how regimented my schedule is. I never gave it a thought. It was simply part of how life works.
Then I went to Argentina. And I discovered that not everyone operates the way we do here in the United States. When does church start? When everyone gets there, and has had a chance to greet everyone. When is supper? Sometime in the evening when it's ready.
We're doing an after-school program? Great! What time is that? 3:00. Or maybe 3:20? Or 4:00? Well, no, not everyone is here yet, so we'll get started around 4:15.
And all of a sudden, for the first time, I realized just how much my life centered around the ticking of a clock.
Now, my point in sharing this is not that one way of approaching life is better or worse than the other (there are positives and negatives to both approaches). My point is: centering my life's activities around the movement of gears and clock hands is something I was virtually unaware of, to the point that it never occurred to me that there was another way to approach life.
The same was true of how I greet people. I grew up in a culture where a greeting goes (almost without fail) like this:
Me: Hi, how ya doing?
Them: Fine, you?
And that's it. Fast forward to the time I spent in northern Africa, and discovered that every greeting involves a plethora of questions like "How is your wife?" "Is business going well?" "Are you parents well?" and you are actually expected to answer these questions, instead of just saying, "Oh, fine."
I was never aware of how shallow our greetings are until I went somewhere that they did something very different, and suddenly I became very conscious of the manner in which I greet people!
So what does this have to do with the Christian life? Believers in Christ have (or should have) a culture all our own. We speak the truth without fail (Matthew 5:37). We speak with grace no matter the circumstances (Colossians 4:6). We are gentle with those who are weak and failing (Galatians 6:1). We give generously to those who are in need (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). We treat others as more important than our own selves (Philippians 2:3). These, and so many other things, define a culture that is extraordinarily beautiful and winsome.
This is the hope, the goal, and the ideal. But we live in a culture where these things are not the norm. All you have to do is visit social media to discover that people speak with neither truth nor grace. All you have to do is consider the corporate world to realize that generosity is not a standard feature of our culture. So here's the problem. If the culture I'm steeped in day after day is a culture of dishonesty, graceless communication, selfishness and pride, these things become part of who we are, without us even realizing it. (Again, all you have to do is visit social media, and you will easily see that many many Christians have chosen the way of false, proud, and graceless communication).
Romans 12:2 is all about a culture, or a way of life. Paul is telling us that the culture around us will influence us and control us without our even realizing it, unless we proactively take measures to renew our minds -- to refresh the ways of our own Christian culture. There are many ways that we do that -- the reading of scripture, and listening to the teaching of the Word are two ways. But in addition to these, we must remember that the only way to become acclimated to a culture is to immerse yourself in it. We must deliberately spend time in the company of our fellow culture-members, so that the Christian culture will permeate not just our actions, but our thought process.
Today I celebrated my birthday by hiking Blueberry and Speckled Mountains in Evans Notch, Maine -- 8.2 miles over two mountains. It was a cool day with great visibility. The beautiful views are always what I anticipate most about hiking, but today I discovered something I wasn't expecting.
I know, since the mountain was named Blueberry Mountain, I ought to have expected blueberries, but mountain names don't always match up to reality, so I hadn't thought too much about the possibility of finding blueberry bushes on the mountain.
How did the blueberries taste? EXTRAORDINARY!
As a matter of fact, I don't think I've EVER tasted blueberries so sweet and flavorful as these ones. We have a blueberry bush in front of our house, which produces some great blueberries. We have a grocery store down the street where we can buy big, plump blueberries.
But NOTHING compares to the blueberries on that mountain. Don't believe me? Go hike it for yourself (Here's my hike report at HikerSpace.net: Blueberry and Speckled Mountains). And if you don't hike it, you'll never know what you're missing!
That made me think -- the Christian life is a bit like those blueberries. People sometimes ask if the Christian life is easier, and I say, "No, of course not!" There's nothing easy about it.
If I wanted easy, I'd stay at home, and pick blueberries from my front yard. Or drive to the grocery store and spend a few bucks on some. But easy isn't necessarily the same as better.
Sometimes the best things in life are the things you have to work the hardest at. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers a great many things about the kind of life he wanted his followers to live, and the truth is -- living the way Jesus calls us to live is incredibly difficult (harder than climbing a mountain, for sure!). To live without falsehood, to live without lust, to live without pride, to live without grudges -- to be a merciful peacemaker and to hunger for righteousness -- these are NOT the easy way of life. But Jesus makes a promise to those of us who will hear these words of His -- when the storms of life come, we will stand rock solid instead of collapsing in a heap.
Hard work? You'd better believe it! But worth it? Oh yes!
If you're looking for "easy," you might as well just go to the store and buy some blueberries.
But just remember, you're missing out on the best.
In Matthew 18:3, Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Saturday night is bath time for our little son. It's a big production, in which both of his parents are involved. Laura draws the bath water and makes sure it's the right temperature, and then I bring the little guy in and set him down into his tub.
Then, while Laura scrubs him, I hold him to make sure he doesn't flop over (a job which is getting easier and easier by the week!).
And how much of the work does our boy do? None. His primary concern in all of this is to kick his little legs as much as possible to see how big a splash he can make, and how wet he can get his mommy.
But he doesn't do any of the cleaning. It occurred to me that we as adults ought to take this to heart when we think of Jesus's words in Matthew 18. Those who enter the kingdom of heaven are not the ones who -- like a grown-up -- got themselves all cleaned up. It is those who -- with no ability of their own to do anything -- relied on the work of God to do the cleaning.
In the Old Testament, after his sin with Bathsheba, David didn't say, "Let me get myself cleaned up, God." Instead, acknowledging his own inability to cleanse his own sin, he said, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Psalms 51:7.
"Do for me what I cannot do for myself."
It's part of the great beauty of the Christian faith, that we are not a fellowship of people who made ourselves clean enough for God; we are helpless children who relied on God to do the cleaning.
Don't ever fool yourself into thinking, "I can do it myself," or "I did it myself!" Always remember the humility with which you came to God, helpless, and unable to clean yourself. The moment we forget about the cross, and the cleansing power of the blood of Christ, the moment we stop coming back to that cross with gratitude and humility, that is the moment we cease to be "like little children," and let pride take over. And when pride takes over, judgment of others is quick to follow.
A Song to Sing:
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
A Verse to Remember:
Recently I saw something that reminded me of the importance of having roots that go down deep: a toppled tree with very shallow roots.
On top of North Sugarloaf Mountain in New Hampshire, the trees can't put down their roots very deep...presumably because the soil is so rocky. There's probably a granite slab a couple feet under the soil. The result is that instead of putting down deep roots, the tree's roots spread out just under the surface.
When the high winds come (and believe me, they get very high winds in the White Mountains!), even though the tree is alive, it has no stability in its roots to withstand the blast. The result is tragic for the tree; it simply tips over, exposing the underside of its very shallow root system.
I began thinking then of how very much like us this tree is. For us, it is tempting to put down very shallow roots in our lives. Why? Because shallow roots are easier. They don't require as much work.
They don't require us to put off what we want in order to gain what we need. They don't require us to choose obedience in difficult circumstances, only the easy ones. They don't require us to choose honesty even when we know it will hurt us. They don't require us to choose compassion over unkindness. They don't require us to choose humility over pride. They don't require us to choose a strong work ethic over laziness or procrastination. They don't require us to have patience over grasping what we want now. They don't require us to choose generosity over selfishness.
For many of us, life is more about finding what is convenient, fun, and enjoyable, rather than choosing what is right no matter what the circumstances, and no matter what the cost. This is the way of shallow roots. If I choose the easy way over the right way, maybe no one but me will notice that I'm not living the way I should...but when the storms come, I won't be ready for them!
Remember this: a tree cannot wait for the storm to come before it puts down deep roots; then it is already too late. Put down deep roots now, so when the storm comes, you'll be unmovable and unshakable.
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.
Thanks to John R. for allowing me to post this.
John R. was sharing in a devotional time about convictions, and standing by those convictions, but not forcing others to abide by them (unless they are clearly stated Biblical commands!) His scripture was the passage in Romans 14:6 which speaks of whether or not we eat certain things, and which days we regard as holy, and talks about not "judging another man's servant."
He shared with us that last year he talked about going to see the New England Patriots play a home game. So he looked up the prices of the tickets and was absolutely horrified by how much it was going to cost. So he chose not to go.
The game was on a Sunday, and he knew that there were many people who would refuse to go because it was on Sunday, but wouldn't think twice about the cost of it. Whereas John felt very strongly that it would be poor stewardship of the resources God has given him to go to the game, but didn't really care that it was on a Sunday.
Each was fully convinced in his own mind, but even so, there is freedom to have those convictions yet not force others to bow to your own conviction. There is no room for pride in comparing your convictions to others and looking at another man's servant who doesn't do things your way.