Romans 12: Love in Action

Perhaps the two most famous biblical passages on love are John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13. John 3:16 shows us the extent of God’s love for us, while 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the true and ideal path of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV).

Love and relationships are hard work and take time. A relationship is two imperfect people trying to build the perfect life together coupled with stresses and storms of life. If you have fallen short of what the Apostle Paul put forth concerning love, don’t fret or despair. Every one of us has fallen short, but while we live, we can work to improve the depth of our love and relationships.

In Romans chapter 12, the Apostle Paul show’s us the application of love regarding our relationships to God, ourselves, and those around us. (I will simply cite the idea of the verse, as opposed to listing long passages of Scripture).

Our Relationship with God

*We are to be living sacrifices for God (Romans 12:1).

*We are called to renew our minds and discover God’s will for our lives (Romans 12:2).

*We are called to serve God with a spiritual fervor while being examples of service, faithfulness and hospitality. (Romans 12:11-14).

Our Relationship with ourselves

*We must exercise humility (Romans 12:3; 12:16b).

*If someone does us wrong, we must not be consumed with revenge, for God will deal with them (Romans 12:17-20).

Our Relationships with others

*Recognize that we are all children of God, but we are not gifted in the same ways (Romans 12:4-8).

*Our love must be of sincere devotion, despising evil and esteeming others above ourselves (Romans 12:9-10).

*We are called to serve others during good times and bad times, no matter their position in life (Romans 12:15-16a).

*We are to overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

We can take away three keys to being a more loving and graceful person:

(1) Introspection. When we see how far we have fallen short, we can come to God’s grace and accept His everlasting love. Our response will become to share the love we have been given. (2) We must change our “programming pattern.” Our thoughts, judgments, and perceptions are well within our control, but we allow ourselves to be influenced by the world’s negativity. Think of your mind as a computer. When we don’t change our thinking, we are allowing someone else to write our programming and operating system. (3) We must become more empathetic to others. We must recognize that everyone, no matter how they live their life, their politics, their skin color, social status, or nationality, deserves to be loved. We must be willing, as the old saying goes, to put ourselves in their shoes and help them through this life.

We are called to love and serve others. The time has come for us to quit tearing each other down and begin the rebuilding process. God bless you all.

 

 

Advertisements

Be a Force for Love

By Michael W. Raley

Evil exists in the world.

However, that is not an excuse

For it to dwell in you.

Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated

Into following the aimless herd.

You have been gifted with logic and reason.

Therefore, open up the gifts and put them to use.

Don’t join the angry mob,

But be a force for love.

Bitterness and hate are the caustic acids

Which will eat away at even the most docile soul,

Only to leave you in the pit of despair and regret.

Your time is limited and may run out any day,

So why choose to live in constant anger and seething rage?

Be a force for love.

We are all God’s children

And we must embrace every brother and every sister

Who comes our way each and every day.

The earth will remain,

But we will soon be gone.

Keep this thought in mind

In all you say, do, and think.

Go and live in peace.

Be a force for love.

 

 

The Virtue of Fortitude

Ever heard the expression “It builds character?” The “it” is what you are going through at the present moment. Though “It builds character” is often used flippantly and sarcastically, there is a golden nugget of truth we can mine from this statement.

Character is who you are- your mentality, values, beliefs, judgments, perceptions, which shape your responses to life and circumstances. Your character is fully within your control. Much like gold and silver, character will go through a refinement process.

“Take away the dross from the silver, and there comes out a vessel for the smith.” (Proverbs 25:4, NASB).

We are the silver. The dross is our impurities or imperfections. The vessel is what we will be and the smith is God. It is the smith who helps shape the silver into what it is supposed to be.

Our character can also evolve over time, much like how a writer may go through multiple rewrites before the novel, script, or comic book is complete. (For instance, in the original draft of Star Wars, Han Solo had green skin and gills).

The Stoics also believed in the importance of character. The Stoics believed that we can improve ourselves and that we should strive every day to be better people. In his discourse, “On Providence,” Epictetus discusses the proper perspective we should have in life.

“It is easy to praise providence for everything that happens in the world provided you have both the ability to see individual events in the context of the whole and a sense of gratitude. Without these, either you will not see the usefulness of what happens or, even supposing that you do see it, you will not be grateful for it.”1

Epictetus also links our character with fulfilling our purpose:

“And so for the beasts it is enough to eat, drink, sleep, breed and do whatever else it is that satisfies members of their kind. But for us who have been given the faculty of understanding, this is not enough. Unless we act appropriately, methodically, and in line with our nature and constitution, we will fall short of our proper purpose.”2

Since we are created by God for a purpose, we are called to acknowledge God:

“Man was brought into the world, however, to look upon God and his works- and not just look, but appreciate…Come to look upon and appreciate God’s works at least once before you die.”3

Take a moment to watch a sunrise or sunset. Look at the stars. Travel to the mountains. Look at the oceans. Take a breath and enjoy the moment.

One of the things that attracted me to read about Stoicism was the pragmatic and realistic nature of the philosophy. For the Stoics, it’s about the process. It’s acknowledging that bad things will happen and being prepared for them when they happen. Because you have lived through previous trials, you have built up a reserve of character, or what Epictetus referred to as “the virtue of fortitude.”

“Furthermore, you have inner strengths that enable you to bear up with difficulties of every kind. You have been given fortitude, courage, and patience. Why should I worry about what happens if I am armed with the virtue of fortitude? Nothing can trouble or upset me, or even seem annoying. Instead of meeting misfortune with groans and tears, I will call upon the faculty especially provided to deal with it.”4

Epictetus goes on to mention about how we do not realize that we have the resources to conquer whatever we are facing. When circumstances do not go our way, we become bitter, complain and resent God, but God has provided a way out. You have the tools, you have to work with them. You might get greasy or hit your thumb, but keep working. What good is a toolbox of the best tools if they are never put to use?

God bless you all.

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings. Translated and Edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008): 16.

2Ibid, 17.

3Ibid, 18.

4Ibid, 18-19.

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.