Being Mindful of Our Actions

Have you ever said or heard the expression,”Do as I say, not as I do?” This phrase could also be stated, “Listen to my words, but ignore my actions.” We’re all human, we’re all guilty of saying one thing and doing another. However, we must be mindful that others watch us more than they listen to us.

My parents taught me and my sister the value of having a strong work ethic. These were not mere words because my parents backed it up with going to work every day- no matter how they felt, no matter the weather, no matter whether or not they loved their jobs-you have responsibilities, you take care of them. It was that simple. I know me and my sister have done our best to live by those values.

William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” (As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7) . Of course, we have no control over the part we are assigned to play in life- where we’re born, whether we are rich or poor, our skin color, healthy or sick, and so on and so forth. However, we do have a choice of how we play the role we’re given.

During Jesus’ time, there was a group of men called the Pharisees, who were the Jewish teachers of the Law of Moses. The Pharisees were always questioning Jesus’ authority and how He did things. Jesus upset the religious establishment and called out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy,cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders,  but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see.” (Matthew 23:1-5a, NIV).

Six times in Matthew 23  Jesus refers to the Pharisees as hypocrites. Today we through the word hypocrite around in casual conversation, but these were very serious statements Jesus made concerning Israel’s religious leaders of they day. These teachers were using God’s Word to oppress others, yet they took exception to the miracle-performing carpenter from Nazareth.

What is interesting is that the Greek word for hypocrite, hupokrisis, (Strong’s #5272), is a theater term for playing a role. The Pharisees were only playing the part of pious men because they sought the adoration of the people over obedience to God.

As you go through life, remember to be the genuine item of what you claim to be. Don’t go through life like a politician pandering for vote, but make sure actions and words line up. I know I have a long way to go myself. This change is a daily process. It will take the rest of your life to get there. Lean on God’s grace and have patience with yourself. God bless you all.

 

Book Review- The Art of Living

In a continuing series, I am reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

Epictetus’ book, The Art of Living, is an incredible philosophical book that gives the reader practical insight on how to live a virtuous life of inner peace, no matter the circumstances we face in life.

Epictetus (55AD-135AD) was a slave who took an interest in philosophy. Epictetus later gained his freedom and became a teacher of Stoicism. Epictetus today is regarded as one of the pillars of Roman Stoicism, along with Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Seneca. The essence of Stoicism is that it is not what happens to you, but how you respond that counts. The Stoics, especially Epictetus, write that we should focus solely on what is in our control and not worry about what is not in our control. You do not have to be a philosophy major to understand Epictetus, as he presents his philosophy in a practical and straightforward manner.

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”[1]

Epictetus then distinguishes what is and is not in our control:

“Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us. These areas are quite rightly our concern, because they are direct subject to our influence. We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.”[2]

“Outside our control, however, are such things as what kind of body we have, whether we’re born into wealth or strike it rich, how we are regarded by others, and our status in society. We must remember that those things are externals and are therefore not our concern. Trying to control or to change what we can’t only results in torment.”[3]

Epictetus also stresses the importance of not getting caught up in other peoples’ business and stick with what is our concern because we will not be forced to do anything we do not want to do. Another aspect Epictetus emphasizes is the importance of managing our perceptions, or how we see and interpret events. It is important to gauge these perceptions by what is within our control and what is not in our control.

“From now own, practice saying to everything that appears unpleasant: ‘You are just an appearance and by no means what you appear to be.’ And then thoroughly consider the matter according to the principles just discussed, primarily: Does this appearance concern the things that are within my own control or those that are not? If it concerns anything outside your control, train yourself not to worry about it.”[4]

Other Brilliant Quotes from Epictetus

“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”[5]

“It is not so much what you are doing as how you are doing it. When we properly understand and live by this principle, while difficulties will arise- for they are part of the divine order too- inner peace will still be possible.”[6]

“Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source.”[7]

“Nothing truly stops you. Nothing truly holds you back. For your own will is always within your control.”[8]

“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.”[9]

“Although we can’t control which roles are assigned to us, it must be our business to act our given role as best as we possibly can and to refrain from complaining about it. Wherever you find yourself and in whatever circumstances, give an impeccable performance.”[10]

The Art of Living has been a very influential book for me as I have journeyed through the last eighteen months of my life. I have learned and applied many aspects of Epictetus’ wisdom to my own life, which has enhanced my faith and navigated me through difficult choices. I have also found parallels in Scripture, which makes this book compatible for Christians as well.

If you truly want to live a happy life, it all starts with you. Be content in all circumstances and realize that everything happens for a reason. We may not know the reason, but we have been assigned this season of our lives. Make the most of it. Focus internally and do not worry about the externals. God bless you.

[1] Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness. A New Intrepretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 3.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid, 3.

[4] Ibid, 5.

[5] Ibid, 7.

[6] Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 12.

[8] Ibid, 16.

[9] Ibid, 17.

[10] Ibid, 24.

The Competition within Ourselves 

Competitiveness is ingrained in our DNA. There are people who dedicate themselves to being the best in raising a family, their profession, their sport; Businesses compete for shelf space and market share within a global economic framework. However, in the pursuit of excellence and drive to be number one, how far are you willing to go? At what cost are you willing to claim victory?

“Really, what profit is there for you to gain the whole world and lose yourself in the process?” (Mark 8:36, The Voice).

What if I told you that your competitor is not your friend, family member, colleague, or rival team? What if you are not in competition with the company across the street or across the globe? You are your biggest competitor. You have to live with the results of the process. Long after the cheering has stopped and the dust has settled on the trophy, you will still have to look at yourself in the mirror. As Christians and as everyday people, we must take inventory and assess if we are putting forth the effort to be better than we were yesterday. I am not emphasizing a religious works mindset, but can we walk away from the day knowing we put in our best effort?

If we want to improve ourselves, we must focus on what is within our control. We must focus on the business we need to do. We cannot waste precious time in worrying about what other people are doing or what they will think of us. Unfortunately, we will never have ideal circumstances in the competition of life, but we must compete with what we have. All of us have to run our race well.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV).

The Apostle Paul used the analogy of competing in a race in describing our Christian walk. Paul also explains how we should run the race and our objective.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NKJV).

Our resolve to run our race must begin in our spirit. It is vitally important for an athlete to be in peak physical shape, but the athlete must also be mentally strong. We must lean on the guidance of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and applying God’s word to our lives in order to renew our minds.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.” (Ephesians 3:16, NKJV).

“Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” (Colossians 1:11, NKJV).

It is of monumental importance that we stay the course in this life. We must do our best despite the circumstances. We must be willing to examine ourselves and truthfully claim that we stuck it out. When we come to the end of our lives, can we say we finished the course as Paul did (2 Timothy 4:7)?

Athletes compete for rings and trophies, we must compete with ourselves to receive our prizes, which are the crowns we will lay at Jesus’ feet:

The results, which are our joy and crown- Philippians 4:1.

The crown of rejoicing- 1 Thessalonians 2:19.

The crown of righteousness- 2 Timothy 4:8.

The crown of life- James 1:12, Revelation 2:10.

The crown of glory- 1 Peter 5:4.

The prize of the high calling of God- Philippians 3:14.

All of us have a limited amount of time to live on this earth, so let us dedicate the rest of that time to strive and be the best people we can be. Let us stand as strong pillars in the midst of the crumbling façade that is the modern world. God bless you all.

 

Filling the Leadership Vacuum

As I write this, the United States is weeks away from a presidential election. Like American politics in the Twenty-First Century, the race has been divisive, polarizing, uncivil, filled with countless accusations, and lacking in character depth and substance when it comes to putting forth solutions to solve our country’s  problems.

I have no political agenda here. I consider myself apolitical- I am not Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, or any other label that can be placed on a person’s political views. My principles are guided by my faith, family values, and my life experiences. The current political environment has created a segment of the population that is discouraged and apathetic toward what is happening with the presidential race. Poll after poll shows the lack of support and dissatisfaction Americans have for their government. It also seems as if reason and moderate discussion no longer apply to politics because the extreme ideologies have seized both political parties and people in general.

Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vison, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV).

When leaders fail to lead or if their principles are negotiable, the entire nation suffers. Historically, as a nation’s leaders go, so go the people. This is true in the current case of the United States, ancient Rome, or even ancient Israel. Just as the Bible says that bad company corrupts good character, so too does lawlessness among leaders creates lawlessness among the people. When leadership is wanting in government, you could also more than likely believe that leadership is lacking in the home, in the church, and in the workplace. This creates a vacuum, where people try to fill in the gaps for themselves and do what is “right in their own eyes.” And as a result, standards and ethics disappear.

In the Old Testament, God frequently rebukes kings, priests, false prophets, and the peoples of Israel and Judah for their continued disobedience and lawlessness. One such instance can be found in Ezekiel 22, where God specifically rebukes the priests, princes, and prophets.

God makes a direct correlation between the behavior and disobedience of Israel’s leaders to the behavior of its people:

“The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 22:29-31, NKJV).

God searched the land and found no one to be a person of principle and lead. What a sad commentary on Israel’s spiritual affairs. The United States finds itself in the same situation as our elections have devolved from the best person for the job to trying to discern the lesser of two evils.

However, the responsibility does not lie solely on the government. All of us must take action and display leadership in our lives- reach out to those who need a hand up. The problems facing our society- racism, discrimination, oppression, addiction, crime, marginalization, isolation are all matters of the heart. It is impossible for one election or one candidate to fix society’s ills. We must look within and examine ourselves. What can we do? Are we willing to stand in the gap for our loved ones? Are we willing to draw the proverbial line in the sand of our beliefs and morals and stand our ground? Are we willing to be a voice for those who cannot speak? Are we willing to be our brother’s keeper? I believe as we take leadership of our own lives, not only will our lives improve, but so will our nation. God bless you.

 

Be the Change You Want to See

Humanity has a heart condition and is in dire need of a transplant. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and it is extremely sick; Who can understand it fully and know its secret motives?” (Jeremiah 17:9, The Amplified Bible).

We need to look no further than our everyday lives and history to see the depths of sin and depravity as we try to make sense of the seemingly senseless world around us. Genocide. Racism. Human trafficking. Child abuse. Drug addiction. Discrimination in all of its forms. The complete disregard for the sanctity of human life. The greed, corruption, and indifference that has infected every level of society like a virus.

As we daily hear and see these stories, our spirits and minds can become overwhelmed and we will simply “tune out,” going through the motions of everyday life like a living zombie. These problems, of course, are not unique to our twenty-first century world. However, we do have the ability to affect change where we have been placed in the world, just like a parent who correctly models the behavior they want their child to follow. In order to change our world, we must do the inside work of examining and changing ourselves.

We must demonstrate love to all

No matter the color of our skin, gender, nationality, societal status, or any other external and superficial marker we use to color our world, we are all loved by God. God has loves us with an everlasting love. It is God’s desire for all to come to the saving knowledge of His grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. All of us need a heart transplant. Our Christian walks should be a living demonstration of love. In fact, there is a song lyric that goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Jesus even taught His disciples about the importance of love.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35, KJV).

We must “point the finger” at ourselves

My parents taught me that “It’s not nice to point at other people.” Yet, Christians and people in general like to point at others and say, “His sin is worse than mine.” “She lives a wicked lifestyle.” “Well, at least I’m not like him.” It is our human nature to trivialize our sins while magnifying the sins of others. We may go through life with ungratefulness, or gossip, or anger, and say to ourselves, “I’ve never killed anybody.” We become the Pharisee in the parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, who extolled his virtues to God and in the same breath put down the tax collector standing next to him. Meanwhile, the tax collector asked God to have mercy on him because he was a sinner. Jesus said the tax collector walked away blessed. Jesus applied this principle in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV).

We must mirror the change we want to see

Jesus said in Matthew 12:34 that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” How we speak and act are mirror images of our inner character or “inner man” as The Bible states. If we want our outside world to change, we must live “outside in.” The Apostle Peter, speaking in the context of a wife being married to an unbelieving husband, states, “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:1-4, NIV). Before going further, let me state that Peter is not saying people cannot have fancy hairstyles, nice clothes, or jewelry. Peter is emphasizing the need to wear our Christian virtue and not attempting to win over people with superficial things. If you have spent any length of time in church, you know that Christians have tendency to use “churchy” terms that the world does not understand. We certainly can look the part, but if our belief has no real power in our lives, then we are simply actors playing a role. The world is looking for something authentic. The world wants to know that God is real. If there is no love behind sharing our faith, then we are basically giving people a list of “dos and don’ts” and pointing out every speck of sawdust on them, which would drives the lost further away from God. Deep theology may impress some people, but people primarily want to know that you love and care about them in the midst of their struggle. A spiritual mentor of mine once said, “Nobody cares about what you know until they know you care.”

When we wake up and as we go through our day, let us examine ourselves, as Paul says, to see if we are in the faith. Are our thoughts lining up with the Word? Have we showed love to someone? Have we cleansed our hearts and consciences? Are we judging ourselves before we go and try to fix the world? When the pressure is on, what is on the inside will come out. Make sure what is inside is what you want others to see. God bless you all.

 

The Call of Virtue

To some people, the word “virtue” may seem to be an archaic or old-fashioned concept. We live in what many would call a post-Christian society, where everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes, whereby traditional values are scrapped in favor of “If it feels good, do it.” Virtue, however is not just a biblical concept, but is a sound life principle by which we can direct our lives. Some synonyms for virtue include integrity, sincerity, soundness, blamelessness, temperance, purity, incorruptibility, and decency, all of which are ideals to strive towards.

2 Peter 3:3-8 states: “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (KJV).

Living a virtuous life is a choice and a daily practice. As Christians, our integrity should be solid as we seek to live a life that pleases God and reveals Christ to those around us. We should never circumvent our long-term integrity to compromise our principles for a short-term gain, such as taking unethical shortcuts to make more money or get a promotion at our jobs. In fact, Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit, so let us shown ripe, righteous fruit.

Peter goes on to state: “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2 Peter 3:9-10, KJV).

If we have failed at some point, let us not live a life of regret and condemnation, but confess to God and bask in His forgiveness. Every day the Lord gives us is another chance to make things right, as His mercies are new every morning.

How can we apply virtue to our daily lives? We can apply virtue to our way of life, our words, and our faith according to the Apostle Paul.

“In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” (Titus 2:7-8, KJV).

“Let no man despise thy youth; but thou be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, KJV).

Even if being virtuous cost you personally- whether it be short-term gains, whether it would be difficult or time consuming, or having to bypass the chance “to get even,” choose virtue. No matter what it costs, do the right thing.

If we strive to live a life of virtue and honor, nothing can throw us off track. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca put it this way: “A good man will do what he thinks will be honorable for him to do even if it is laborious, he will do it even if it is damaging to him, he will do it even if it is dangerous. On the other hand, he will not do what is base even if it brings him money, even if it brings him pleasure, even if it brings him power. Nothing can deflect him from what is honorable, nothing tempt him to what is base. Hence, if he is bound to pursue the honorable course at all costs and to eschew the base at all costs and to look to these two principles in every act of his life, equating the good with the honorable and the bad with the base, if his virtue is wholly uncorrupted and maintains its bearings, then virtue is his sole good and it is impossible for any accident to make it otherwise.”[1]

In order to start living a virtuous life, we must gain the wisdom to do so. We must establish daily goals and work towards them. If we do this, we will see progress over time. We must spend time in prayer and God’s Word. We must love and forgive others as Christ has loved and forgiven us. God bless you all.

[1] Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, “The Sole Good.” New York: W.W. Norton & Company 1958: 211-212.