Thursday, June 10, 2010

Virtue in a World of Vice

In a recent school assignment, I was asked to comment on William Bennett’s introduction to The Book of Virtues. My assignment was supposed to be about two paragraphs long. Instead, it is almost a thousand words. As I re-read what I wrote, I realized it is something our society desperately needs to hear. I hope you will take a few minutes to read it, give me your comments, and if you think it is worthwhile reading, pass it along!

“Nothing in recent years, on television or anywhere else, has improved on a good story that begins ‘Once upon a time . . .’” Thus says William Bennett in his introduction to the “Book of Virtues.” While this is true, I believe Bennett leaves out an important factor. That factor is the prevalence of modern media in a child’s life. Although it is true that a child will learn from the fascinating and instructive stories he hears, he will also be influenced most by those things to which he receives the most exposure. A child will be influenced by what he or she sees most, not by what influence is the best story. With modern media and technology and their agendas and influences bombarding the contemporary child from nearly every angle, virtuous stories scattered here and there are not enough. The child will not separate the truths of the stories from the falsehoods presented in the media. To him, they are both just stories. One upholds honesty, compassion, and wisdom. The other glamorizes selfishness, foolishness, and vice. Which should he believe? Which should he cling to? Which should he model? Unfortunately, in modern times, the excitement and entertainment of the latter is almost too much for the over-stimulated child to resist. He chases after what will make him happy and entertain him the most. In many cases, the virtuous tale holds no power compared to the foolish, but highly addictive entertainment by which the modern child is surrounded.

In essence, today’s child needs more than occasional exposure to a virtuous story. He needs a reason to incline his life toward virtue instead of vice. He needs a foundation; he needs constancy in a world of immorality and few absolutes. He needs a moral guideline that goes beyond fairy tales and myths. From personal experience, I can testify that my inclination toward virtuous living did not come merely from tales of virtue, historical examples, or even Biblical examples. First and foremost, I had a desire to please God. I learned at an early age that my goodness would never be enough and that a Savior had died for my sins. I also learned that I could never repay my debt to Him. I did not need to. He paid my debt once and for all. In light of such a sacrifice, I now had a reason to cling to virtue and look with disdain upon vice and “sin.” I wanted to please my Lord, as a young child wants to please his parents. Though parents will not always be there, the Lord Jesus is always here. My motivation in life to this day is to please my Savior. Moral guidelines are unimportant until a child realizes why he should live a moral life.

Once a child realizes his need for and dependence on the Lord, moral stories can then find their place. For, you see, at the end of every moral story, the inquiring child will ask “why?” Why should he follow the example of the characters in the story? Why not watch cartoons or teen idols on TV and emulate their character traits? The answer comes from the foundation that has already been laid. Do you want to live a life pleasing to the Lord? My answer, even in the midst of a temper tantrum at age four, would have been a solemn “yes.” The story, then, becomes an example of how morality plays out in one’s life, not a presiding reason or foundation upon which a life is built. Who wants to live a life based on fairy tales? There is no logic behind giving a child a virtuous story and a cartoon and telling them to abide by one and merely be entertained by the other.

A friend pointed out to me the other day the difference he observed between generations. In past generations, people knew both what they believed, and why they believed it. In recent years, many people have forgotten why they believe. Now, however, children want to know "why?"

The people of recent generations rely only on loose moral guidelines of an origin they cannot remember. Many have even discarded what few morals they had remaining. There has, however, in the generation that is coming up now, been a sort of awakening. The current generations see how their lives were adversely affected by lack of moral guidelines and virtuous living. Consequently, they endeavor to redeem their mistakes by ensuring that their progeny pursue virtue in their lives and avoid the mistakes and pain they themselves endured. As morals are thrust at them and they are commanded to live a “good” life, the budding generation is asking “why?” They cannot understand the distant pain of their progenitors’ past decisions, and a fairy tale story is simply not good enough. They are a generation of realists. They want a reason that they should forsake the culture’s trend and follow a seemingly obsolete way of life. The rules parents attempt to impose, such as “don’t do drugs” and “have safe sex” mean nothing to those who can neither see the consequences nor comprehend themselves being anything less than immortal and invincible. Worse yet, the parents cannot provide the much needed explanations. They cannot tell their children why they should live a good life, because they do not remember. They cannot explain to them why they should not follow the example of their parents, their older siblings, and their friends.

There is one, and only one hope for a worried generation, scarred by past mistakes, to convey truth and virtue to this searching, floundering generation. I maintain that the sole hope for raising a virtuous child in a world where virtue is scorned is for both parents and children to turn to the Savior, Jesus Christ. He alone can change hearts and guide His children in paths of righteousness.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Quest for Wisdom

I was reading in Matthew chapter 7 today, and I came across one of my favorite verses: Matthew 7:7. It says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Since I was in second or third grade, I have been clinging to the promise of that verse. Today, when I read it, I was reminded of another verse about asking. I thought about what I most wanted to ask of my Heavenly Father: Wisdom.

James 1:5-7 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord."

I put these two verses together, and thought, "Wow...God really does want to give me wisdom! come I don't feel very "wise" most of the time? I sure ask for it enough!"

Two reasons come to mind. First: "He (she) must believe and not doubt." I recently realized how much my own doubt gets in the way of things I ask of God. The Enemy likes to get inside my head and tell me that I'm not good enough yet. I have to pray x number of times a day, read my Bible more, be more loving to my family, etc. Now, these things are all good and healthy, but not when they are used by the enemy as a weapon of condemnation and false guilt! God longs to give his children what they ask of Him because HE is good, not because WE are good! (See Matthew 7:7-12, James 1:17)

Secondly, I realized that my prayer was "Lord, let me have wisdom so I can make all the right choices and so I can do things right." Essentially (though I definitely didn't SAY this, I often have the mindset of "Lord, give me that super-spiritual wisdom that some people seem to have, so I don't have to constantly ask you what I should do and be so dependent on You." Ouch. Is that ringing a bell for anyone? Let's go a little further in James chapter 1. Verses 23-25 say: "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does."

You mean...I can't just ask for wisdom and *POOF!* I'm wise like Solomon???

Sorry, Charlie, it doesn't work that way. The Lord wants us to be continually dependent on Him for wisdom. We can look into His word and get the answers for every question we've ever had! But because we are finite, and his perfect Law contains infinite wisdom, our puny little brains can't hold it! We have to keep coming back for more and renewing our minds every day.

So, what are the 25 secrets to having Godly wisdom every day of your life????

Actually, it's much more simple. I think we can sum it up in 3 steps:

1. Ask God! How can you receive something if you don't ask for it? (Matthew 7:7-8, James 1:5-7)

2. Don't Doubt! REMEMBER: God's gift to you is based on HIS goodness, NOT yours! (Matthew 7:9-11, James 1:17)

3. Come back! You are not infinite. There's no one-shot method for wisdom. Keep going back to God's word, asking him for more wisdom, and putting it into practice! (James 1:23-25)

Do this, (and eat an apple a day) and I guarantee you are on your way to being healthy, wealthy, and wise! (Hmm...or was that "i before e, except after c..."?) Oh well, I guess I still have lots to learn! I'm going to go ask my Daddy for a refill of His Wisdom. :) TTFN!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Advertise Your Treasure

"People don't know what you have unless you advertise it."

This is some advice my bank teller gave me today. She was referring to the relatively large sum of money I was carrying, in cash, down the street to another bank to deposit it into my dad's account. (I learned that to do a wire transfer to another bank would cost $17!!!) I expressed my slight nervousness at the prospect of carrying the cash, and that's when she smiled and said "Don't worry about it honey, people don't know what you have unless you advertise it!"

Though said lightly, her words were quite profound. I mulled over the proverb in my mind as I sauntered down the sidewalk, doing my best not to look conspicuous. (Yes, I realize this is terribly cheesy!) I realized that what she said was not only true of the cash in my purse. It was true of something I hold much more dearly. Ironically, my greatest possession can never be stolen from me.

As Christians, we possess something worth far more than a wad of cash. Our salvation is a pearl of greatest worth. Unlike material possessions, we never have to be concerned about someone stealing it away.

In fact, in relation to our Treasure, my teller's advice should have the opposite effect. People don't know that we have Christ in our lives unless we advertise it by our words and actions. No one knew that what was inside my purse was any more valuable than what is in any other purse. (Around here, that constitutes a couple of bucks, cheap lipstick, and a bunch of junk. This isn't NYC after all!) In the same way, no one will know that our lives are any different from theirs unless we show it! We shouldn't be hiding our pearl away, trying to blend in with the crowd and pretend we are not different. My brothers and sisters in Christ, YOU ARE different! But unless you advertise it, no one will know!

I challenge you: Make a conscious effort to "advertise" what you've been given. I promise, no one will mug you for it, and you'll be fulfilling your mission as an imitator of Christ!

PS. In case anyone was concerned about my well being (or my dad's money), I made it to the bank safely due to my masterful skills in being totally cool and nonchalant. ;)