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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Life's Standard

So there is this monstrous amount of activity and buzz around certain things in our culture. It could be the weather – that’s always a topic of interest … despite the fact that there’s nothing new about the weather. Let’s face it; the weather continues to churn out a status quo that has been in place for thousands or even millions of years. Or maybe it’s the latest celebrity divorce or character meltdown. Maybe it’s the latest business sensation. (Often those seem to evolve around technology for whatever reason.) The point is that there never seems to be a shortage of things for people to buzz about.

But what is it about these things that make them newsworthy? What elements compel the world to sit up and take notice … of anything or anyone? Is it that they are delivering new value? Or maybe it is that they are destroying value. Yeah, tragedies are always good for some buzz and hype. Is it that these "buzz-worthy" things solve a social problem or meet a human need? Could it be that they just satisfy, at best, a human desire? Is that enough? If society sits up and takes notice of something for no better reason than it’s different or it’s entertaining --- are we letting them off the hook too easily? Shouldn’t we be demanding more from the newsmakers that the world buzzes about?

The Bible tells us to focus on things that are “excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8) I think that means that, amongst other things, God has good taste. I believe God appreciates the finer things in life. (After all – He created them!) But when He tells us in Philippians 4:8 to focus on things that are “excellent and worthy of praise,” I don’t think He’s just talking about staying away from sin. Of course, the good Lord wants each of us to focus on the pursuit of righteousness. No matter what translation of the Bible you use, that message is clear.

But let’s consider what all could fall under the category of “excellent and worthy of praise.” Certainly, that would eliminate many things. Trashy TV, tawdry affairs, smut, and other such ungodly and unrighteous things are surely out. They have no place in the life of God’s chosen people. But beyond that, I think God wants us to focus on excellence. He wants us to do our best. He wants us to dress our best, eat our best and live our best. To be perfectly honest, I'm convinced that God wants us to have the best too!

So what are the finer things in life … that this Lord of the universe would have us pursue? Good food, good drink, good entertainment, good friends, good dress, good homes, good entertainment. Yes, those all sound about right.

Why then are Americans, for example, considered to be among the worst-dressed nation on earth? Why would the most Christian nation on earth also have the biggest pornography industry? Or the biggest trade in illegal drugs? Never mind the fact that we eat the worst foods, are the most obese, have one of the highest divorce rates, etc.

Consider the way we dress. Why is it okay, for example, to wear socks with flip-flops when you travel? Or why is it okay for a woman to wear flip-flops with her dress? Is that really “excellent and worthy of praise?” How about men who tattoo all sorts of odd things on their torso and arms? Or men who wear their pants so low they’re nearly about to fall off? Maybe it’s the men who wear torn jeans and shoes that are never tied. Are these things “excellent and worthy of praise?” I think not!

Of course, if you’ve read my blog much, you know for sure that I’ll have an opinion. It doesn’t matter the topic, I’ll have an opinion. Taking a stand is just something that I do. Just between you and me – I think that in itself is “excellent and worthy of praise!” I’ve heard it said that people who don’t stand for something will fall for anything. And I darned sure don’t intend to ever be one of those people! So I look at a situation or circumstance. I consider God’s perspective. And I search for the moral high road … so I can get on it.

The thing is, I believe Americans are trapped in a mindset where we settle. We settle for most anything. Bad dress. Bad service. Poor quality. We don’t mind. Gone are the days when we would get indignant about not getting value for the price we’ve paid. Today we only get upset if it’s something we can’t afford. Perhaps the affluence of modern American society enables us to afford a lot more mediocrity. I’m pretty sure that mediocre costs a lot more than excellence. And since we’re so affluent in this country (the U.S.A.), we can afford quite an extensive array of mediocrity.

In the “good ole days,” when people had a lot less than we do now, I believe they lived better than we do. That is to say they lived lives that were more excellent and worthy of praise. Their houses were cleaner. They were in better health. They didn't have much, but took good care of what they did have. They dressed their Sunday best ... on Sundays of course. And when they got something, like a Christmas gift, it seemed to mean so much more. Maybe that's because their gifts were so excellent and worthy of praise! Mind you, I'm not pining for the "good ole days." I would never do that. I'm always the dare devil who is racing into the promising future that I think life has for all of us. But I am making an observation.

I have a teen-aged son, who perpetually loses things. We’ve bought him umpteen watches (seriously, we’ve lost count). He “loses” every one of them. How this is possible we don’t know. But they just disappear. It is the same with most of his other belongings. They often disappear into this mysterious abyss and cannot be accounted for. And I wonder if thirteen year old boys had this problem back in the 1930’s - or maybe in the 1950’s. Somehow I don’t think they did. Kids didn’t have nearly so much of anything back then. But what they did have was more excellent and worthy of praise - so they took better care of it.

So when did we cross the line to where we have so much stuff that none of our stuff really matters all that much?

That's a rhetorical question, of course. If anyone can answer, please be my guest. But I don't know the answer. I can't seem to find that line that we crossed as a society. But I am convinced that it's there. Somewhere. What I do know is that it’s not where God wants us to be. I watch those hoarding shows on TV, or the house cleaning shows on TV. I see people who are literally drowning in stuff. Is this excellent and worthy of praise? Perhaps it started out that way. But somehow you cross some sort of line where things that were excellent and worthy of praise just become stuff. And then they don’t matter. In fact, then they become a problem. They take over and make your life anything but excellent and worthy of praise.

As we chart the course of this New Year, I think it’s time that we take a serious look at what we have. It’s time that we cleaned out and got rid of that stuff which is not really excellent and worthy of praise. I mean it. Look at every single thing in your closet, or your garage, or your attic, or your storage locker. If you can't find it to be excellent and worthy of praise - then get rid of it. For heaven's sake (literally), why would you want anything that isn't excellent and worthy of praise!

When we’re finished with that project on what we have, then we can move on to what we do. How do we spend our time? What needs to be tossed out because it isn’t excellent and worthy of praise? What do we read, listen to, watch, attend, or participate in? Are each of them excellent and worthy of praise? God wants them to be. What's on you iPod? What movies do you have? What radio stations do you listen to? What books are you reading? (And just because you can read them on your new Kindle doesn't make them excellent and worthy of praise!)

There is a significant delta between the lives that we are living and the lives that God intended. Ironically, God’s people don’t look any different than the rest of the people. Why? Because we don’t limit ourselves to that which is excellent and worthy of praise. We don’t make a concerted effort to clean up our agenda – and set a higher standard for ourselves. God told us to. In Philippians 4:8. Go read it for yourself. He created us to live excellent lives, full of victory and full of joy. And He set a pretty high standard for us to get there.

It’s clear that God wants the best for us. Unfortunately, we seem content to settle for something considerably less than that. Folks, let’s not do that anymore. Let’s take our time, our culture, and our focus, and turn them toward the things that God ordained for us --- in a life that is excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 is a mandate. It’s not just a suggestion or a housekeeping tip. It’s a compass to guide our decision making ... about everything.

So let's get started. The New Year is just begun. 2011 is full of promise. Let's each do our part to make it excellent and worthy of praise!

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