As Seen On TV

I went to Meijer in Hartland this past Friday, and while making my way to the hardware section to find a replacement bulb for the lamp on my desk, I overheard a rather animated child begging his mom with tantrum-like sounds to buy him a particular item he’d discovered on one of the end caps. I don’t know what the item was, but from his insistence, it sounded as though he might die if he didn’t own it.

I’m guessing it was some sort of fantastical device—like a teleporter—because at one point he called out something like, “I saw it on TV, and it’s the coolest thing ever!” Indeed, a teleportation device would be the coolest thing ever.

But whatever it was, I couldn’t help thinking I was experiencing the male version of Veruca Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and that this child’s exuberance was likely triggered by commercial advertising. In a passing moment between mind-numbing segments of his favorite TV show, the emptier compartments of his developing cerebrum had been stirred to entrancement by the possibility of owning a product the TV had convinced him he needed for experiencing true joy. And here it was in all its glory, well within reach of his Wonka Bar-stained fingers.

But Mom said no, and then continued, “Now you know what to ask for from Santa for Christmas.”

The child’s response was by no means subdued. He wanted it, and he made sure everyone within earshot knew it. As for me, I grabbed the lightbulb I needed and walked away wondering how she plans on wrapping the kid’s gifts. I hear it’s challenging to wrap coal, not only because it’s lumpy, but because it’s so dirty. The dust alone prevents the tape from adhering to the paper as it should. Ask my kids. It’s always the easiest of their gifts to unwrap.

Anyway…

The funny thing is, for as much as any of us may have wanted to chastise little Veruca, none of us is immune to the psychology of advertising. It was Stephen Leacock (in my humble opinion, Canada’s version of Mark Twain) who said something about how advertising is pretty much the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to squeeze some money from it. If you think about it, he’s right. We all have items in our homes to prove those moments of arrested mindfulness—those things that demonstrate just how powerful the world can be for reaching into our lives to convince us that what it offers can be our all-in-all for joy.

But now, admit it. Many of those things the world sold you are now consigned to miscellaneous junk boxes littering the shelves of the basement storage closet.

Digging a little deeper into this, I get the sense that for many, impulse buys aren’t the only proof that the world has reached into our lives in this way. Far too many in our world appear to base the value of their lives on whether or not they get the new car or the new boat or the new furniture, or whether or not the kids have all the right fashions and all the latest tech. So many are living their lives and measuring their personal value according to the seemingly infinite (and yet false) promise of joy that the world labors tirelessly to attach to things.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying a new car, just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with your kids having nice things to wear. The problem emerges when these things become the sole source for our identity and happiness. When this occurs, the old saying becomes true: “God sends the meat, but the devil sends the cooks.” God is the giver of everything we have, but the devil has his ways of making us see and interpret these gifts according to very different standards. These things become less representative of the kindness and generosity of a God who loves us, and more about our deservedness or our supposed self-made successes.

Again, don’t get me wrong. God gives us our reason and our senses in order that we would use them to their fullest potential, and by them we should seek to do our best in all things. You certainly won’t accomplish anything unless you act. And odds are you won’t be successful unless your acting is born from genuine effort. In fact, I have a piece of paper taped to the bookshelf beside my desk that heralds this very point in its extreme. It bears a quotation from Calvin Coolidge, and admittedly, much of what I do in life is in subscription to the basic premise of his words. Maybe I’ve shared it with you before. The quotation reads:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

To be clear, Coolidge used the term “omnipotent” in a hyperbolic sense. What he meant in context is that when it comes solely to man’s capacity, persistence is where the bulk of our muscle is to be located. And as I said, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Still, as Christians, we know and do all of this acknowledging the One who is the giver of both the tangibles as well as the intangibles. We rest in the mindfulness that all we have is from God, and no matter how hard we may work to get it, He was the one who gave us everything required to do it, even the drive. In the end, the source of our joy, even as it may be interwoven with certain things or abilities, is always located in Him alone.

And so, it is to Him we are thankful at all times and in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

But deeper still, this has me pondering something else.

As we’ve already established, everything that we are and everything that we have is from God. The Word of God declares this (Romans 11:36). But as we examine that same Word and we find ourselves getting into the grittiest, most molecular details, we realize that of ourselves the only thing we ever really bring to the table in any circumstance is the Sin-nature (Psalm 51:5; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10). That’s not so great. And yet, far too often it’s the Sin-nature at the steering wheel when it comes to the handling of God’s gifts to us—namely, what we give back to Him in thanksgiving. In other words, we often find ourselves giving back to God the pittance that remains from everything else we first gave to the devil, the world, and ourselves. That’s not so great, either.

I know I may be a little ahead of myself, but for those of you who know me, you’ll know I’m the kind of guy who finds value in making New Year’s resolutions. As I’ve written in other places, resolutions for personal betterment are by no means a bad thing. In fact, I commend all willing to try. Even Saint Paul encouraged Christians to practice reaching higher in their Godliness (Colossians 3:1-4). The New Year is on the very near horizon (thankfully), and with that, I’m already making plans to reach higher. One of the things I intend to do (which I do pretty much every year) is to re-evaluate my stewardship. I want to get better at it. I want to be more mindful.

I don’t know where you fit into this discussion, but I’m pretty sure that all of us could reach higher in this regard, too. As a pastor, I certainly know some long-term, impactful ways for giving back to God in thankfulness for His loving kindness. They’re not necessarily things you’ll find on an end cap at Meijer, and yet they’re the coolest things ever. I say this because they will provide greatly when it comes to securing the Church’s borders in a time of increasing persecution, while at the same time they’ll serve to extend the Gospel to that same persecuting world in desperate need of hearing the Good News. I’m here to tell you I’ll be taking aim at and ramping up my efforts to support those kinds of efforts here at Our Savior in 2021. Maybe you could think about doing so, too.

Honorable Men

Resolutions for personal betterment are the topic of discussion at this moment just past the New Year’s turning point. At least for some. Others think the idea of making resolutions is ridiculous.

I don’t. As Christians, training for spiritual righteousness is a commendable thing (2 Timothy 3:16). Saint Paul said that. He also commended us to reaching higher in our Godly knowledge and ways when he wrote in Colossians 3:1-4, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

In any of the discussions I’ve had so far on the matter with folks who are actually attempting New Year’s resolutions, most have itemized things they’d like to change—such as their weight or eating habits. Others have shared with me personality characteristics they’d prefer to see barred at the exit door of 2019.

On a personal note, last year I focused on rebuilding relationships I’ve seen crumble. For the most part, I’ve been working pretty steadily at it. Some have improved. Others, I’ll admit, are proving much harder—nearly impossible—to mend. Still, I intend to keep at it. And besides, I knew I’d win some and lose some. But the upside is that maintaining the desire to be someone who works toward such things isn’t as hard as it was when I first started. The ways I’ve been going about it have become more or less habitual—which is what you want when you’re trying to make deeper, personal changes. You want whatever you’re trying to change to become a near thoughtless part of who you are as a person. It takes time to craft and become this, but eventually, it does happen.

By God’s promised grace, it’s happening in various ways in my life, and I’m glad for it. It makes me wonder why anyone would knock such efforts. Who knows? Maybe there’s a fear of darker discoveries when we take an honest inventory of ourselves.

Again, who knows? Either way, now it’s on to other improvements, and so I’ve made other resolutions. I’ll share one with you that I shared with the men in the Bible study last night at my house. I’d sort of thought it through on the way home from worship yesterday.

A few weeks back, right after the Divine Service, I took a moment to encourage folks to attend the upcoming Marriage Seminar on January 11. To introduce it, I teed up a story of having never seen the movie “Aladdin.” I explained that I’d finally sat down to watch it with my daughters, and when I arrived at a particular scene in which Jazmine was throwing a bit of a tantrum about not wanting to be considered a “prize to be won,” my lungs stole nearly all of the room’s oxygen in a surprised gasp.

I’ve been telling my daughters for years that, yes, indeed, they are prizes to be won!

When it comes to relationships with young suitors, my girls are to know and remember the Word of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 6:20. It’s there they will hear, “For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” They are to know that when it comes to dating, as Christian girls, they’re worthy of the best characteristics in men. My girls are to know that everything and all that they are is of incredible value. They are priceless prizes to be sought out and won by the best of the best. This isn’t snobbery, but rather a teaching from the right perspective—the Christian perspective—that they’ve already seen this demonstrated by the One who loves them perfectly: Jesus Christ. My daughters were worth every drop of blood in the Lord’s veins, and as Saint Paul shares in Ephesians 5:22-33, they ought never to settle for any man who is unable to behold them against the backdrop of the mysteriously beautiful gift of God called Marriage.

In the end, I think I know why the character Jazmine said what she did. She was being treated like currency. But it doesn’t change the fact that I will continue to tell my daughters they are prizes to be won, and with that, I’m hoping for them to one day be joined in holy marriage to Godly and honorable husbands. In this is found the seed of one of my resolutions for 2020.

What can I do to make sure they find these types of men?

In 2020, as the pastor of a church and school, I will be doing whatever I can—actively, intentionally—to both model and promote honorability among the boys and men of this organization. Of course, I’m already quite mindful of such things in my day to day activities. It’s part of who I am already. But now I will be acting outwardly on this sense with more deliberateness. I will be looking for and seizing each opportunity to instill in the young men a craving for filling the gaps in male respectability in our society. We need these men to be the kinds of husbands and fathers who understand they can’t love their wives and children as God would have them if they love themselves more.

For example, in a basic sense, a man offers first passage through a doorway to others, namely to women and children. This is foundational to the ways of common courtesy alive in many of us. And yet, I say this having read a short news article about a man whose little one died in a house fire because he chose to save his video gaming system first.

This is where we are.

Another example…

A man is never to impose himself crassly upon anyone, being in a person’s face and loud. And yet a man will raise his voice above the fray if necessary. He is never so soft as to shrink from doing what’s right, no matter the boisterousness of the opponents who surround him. I say this as I observe our culture doing all it can to effeminize men, shaping them to be sheepishly ambivalent, discouraging them from confronting falsehood or bad behavior, crafting them into men who’d rather be friends with their children than steer them into verity, men who’ve become less likely to speak up and act when a sturdy viscera for truth is needed in the world around them.

An honorable man gives his word and is deeply harmed if he discovers himself breaking it. An honorable man puts his fiber into fighting for what’s good, for what’s important. He doesn’t accept what the world proffers as inevitable, but rather relies on what God establishes and has marked as virtuous. I offer these descriptions among an ocean of failing marriages drowning in shattered promises given by straying men who gave up long before lifting a finger to grapple through to better days with the women God gave them for a sacred unity.

In past interviews with new families desiring to enroll their children here in our school, when asked why they want their children to attend Our Savior, it isn’t uncommon for some parents to say, “Because we want them to be good people, to be moral people.” Usually I would respond with a brief explanation of our Gospel foundation, how we’re not necessarily a morality-factory—although morality is a deliberate byproduct—but rather a place that begins and ends with the Gospel as the source for all our efforts. It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel that a desire to live good and decent lives according to God’s holy Law is born. With this 2020 resolution in mind, from now on I might say a little differently, “Situated firmly in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus—which is the primary reason we exist—the fruits of morality will be taught and expected. For the girls, virtue will be heralded. For the boys, one pathway toward many of these expectations will be by way of teaching them what it means to be honorable.”

Thinking out loud with the men in the Bible study last night, I told them I believe a moral man is far different than an honorable one. I think both are capable of sinful behavior, but I get the sense from God’s Word that an honorable man is one who not only knows the rules, but plays by them. In other words, when he falls short, he’s more inclined to regret what he’s done and work to change it. That’s a face of honor. That’s humility. That looks and sounds an awful lot like the basic wisdom of faith—like humble repentance and trust in Jesus that leads to an amending of the sinful life. In fact, God did say in Proverbs 18:12 that humility strides before honor. And Proverbs 29:23 says a humble spirit will obtain honor.

So, anyway, that’s one of my resolutions for 2020. I hope I can achieve something by it. I know that however impactful the effort is, it will be even more fruitful if upheld and practiced by the parents at home. Truly, it’s there that boys are groomed for manhood—which means the first of my efforts will always be the continuation of such things among my own sons, Joshua and Harrison.