Finding the Good Life through Character Formation that Confronts the Cultural Idol of Speed

In the mid-1800s, Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, lamented the quickening pace of life as represented in the rise of the steam engine. Thoreau described these steam engines as moving “like a comet.”[1] Yet their top-speed was a whopping 40 MPH, which may seem humorous to us today.

Today, it is not the steam engine, but the smart phone and one-click buying with same-day delivery that defines our comet-like pace of life. Yet for all this increased expectation and experience of speed, we have not become better people, as the news and our own internal sense of dissonance testifies. And this is because speed is in direct conflict with character formation.

When we think about the end of life, people often live with regrets because we have not become who we hoped to be. Our lives don’t look like what we hoped they would because many times we did not give the sustained, focused time necessary to become those sorts of people. Instead, we were carried in the frenetic rush to a very different end.  We don’t have the characteristics, or virtues, that reflect the good and meaningful life. We have traded goodness for quickness and meaning for impulses.

In the extended “exhortation” known as Hebrews, the writer encourages his readers to live well in light of the future by upholding certain characteristics or virtues, and not to fall away from pursuing the good life. In the Christian tradition, living well is characterized by a trinity of virtues, called theological virtues, that we see referenced many times throughout the New Testament: faith, hope, and love. And these virtues, these characteristics, can only be shaped into our lives by God as we walk with Him through the hours, days, weeks, months, years, and decades of our lives amidst the Christian community known as the church.

In Hebrews 10:24-25, we have already heard the writer speak to the virtue of love:

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

God forms love within the Christian community as we regularly interact with each other and learn how to serve, upbuild, and call out the best in one another.

Shortly after this passage, the writer calls his readers to faith:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (11:1-2)

God forms faith within the Christian community as we regularly worship together and remind one another of the reality of God as evident in the world and in one another’s lives.

And as the writer continues in chapter 11, often referred to as the “hall of faith,” he commends the life of hope to his readers:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (11:13)

Hope grasps the future yet to be realized. And God forms hope within the Christian community as we walk together over the long haul of life with our eyes set on the eternal kingdom.

Many people end their lives with regret, but we do not have to be that way. By God’s power we can live a meaningful and abundant life through Christ. You see, it’s not just about living in light of that end but living well in light of that end. 

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings (New York: Modern Library, 1937), 105.

A Prayer to Jesus the Eternal Son of God

“Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven.” (Ephesians 4:10, The Message)

Jesus, the eternal Son of God,
who held not onto glory
but emptied Yourself for us—
we praise You as Savior!

Jesus, the incarnate Son of God,
who was born of Mary as real flesh and blood
and suffered under Pontius Pilate real pain and death—
we praise You as the New Adam!

Jesus, the risen Son of God,
who conquered sin and death at the Cross,
rose from death and ascended to the Father’s right hand—
we praise You as King!

We are a Whole Life Church

I shared this on Sunday before my sermon at Eastbrook Church and a few people asked if they could see it in print form, so here it is.

Dear friends,

It is hard to ignore the debates in our culture about current abortion law and what may be coming in rulings from the Supreme Court. Many of us may wonder what to think about this as Christians.

Mother’s Day provides us an important moment to remember we are a church who is for life across the board. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). We are, in a sense, a whole life church.

We are for life for the unborn. Each child is “knit…together in [their] mother’s womb…. fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). We want to care for the least of these, particularly those with no voice. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are also for life for the mothers who carry children they do not want. We want to help provide support structures in their lives to help them navigate having a child. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for the children born who have no one to care for them. That is why we support fostering and adopting children, as well as the families who step forward to do so. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for the next generation in our church, seeking to help them grow with God and find a place of safety and nurture within our church community. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for mothers who, as we remember this Mother’s Day, nurture life in their bodies, care for children in the earliest years, and continue to uphold their children in later stages of life. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for the hungry and the thirsty, the stranger and those in poverty, the sick and the imprisoned. They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for life for our friends, but also for life for our enemies because Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:44-45, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” They are all significant and loved by God.

We are for all of life from the womb to the tomb because Jesus is unabashedly for life.

Join me in being this sort of Jesus-centered community that is unashamedly for life—for all life—as we continue to shine His light in this day and time until He returns.

Let us pray.

The Insignificant are Significant to God: letting the widow’s copper coins speak

“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'” (Luke 21:1-4)

The giving of gifts or offerings at the Temple during Jesus’ time was often a public thing. It was a matter of celebration. When Jesus and His disciples visit the Temple in Jerusalem, they observe the rich giving much out of their wealth.

And then a humble widow brings her simple gift, in the form of two lepta. These two lepta are a very small gift, literally 1/100th of a day’s wage, which known as a denarius. By the standards of the day, this woman’s gift is not noteworthy. She is not the MVP of the giving campaign. She is not offering the most valuable gift…at least by one measure.  

But Jesus notices the insignificant gift. Not only does He notice the gift, but He gives special preference and value to her and her gift, adding that she has “put in more than all the others.” Without a doubt, when assessing the value of dollars and cents this woman’s gift was small, if not insignificant, in comparison with others. But even more clearly, by the value of God’s kingdom, this woman’s gift was greater than others.

There is a theme in the gospels that Jesus describes this way, “It is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (Luke 9:48). The measures of God’s kingdom are not the measures of this earth.

That is good word for you and me, who often feel afflicted by our own insignificance. We are not insignificant to God. He notices us and cares for us. This is a good word us in another way. At times we see others through the wrong measures of assessment. We assess by worldly measures rather than kingdom measures. God reminds us that when we see others who may seem insignificant by worldly measures, they are not insignificant to God. In fact, the insignificant are significant to God.

What is All Saints Day?: a brief summary

Today, November 1, we celebrate All Saints Day. All Saints Day is a feast day in the church year that follows All Hallow’s Eve (October 31). All Saints Day offers an opportunity to remember all those saints who have gone before us in the faith and to celebrate the reality that we stand amidst a great cloud of witnesses.

The epistle to the Hebrews offers one of the most comprehensive examples of this in chapter 11, which traces the history of great people of faith who have gone before us. As the writer holds before us example after example of faith, he helps us see how their lives with God are examples to us in our daily living but also encouragement to keep going in the way of faith. Closing that great passage out, the author writes:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Not only does All Saints Day hold before us the people of faith from past times, it also offers an annual reminder of our connectedness as Christians today. In times of fracture or disunity, as well as in times of peace, All Saints Day reminds us that all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation are brought together as one new community by faith in Him. It is in light of this that the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Not only does All Saints Day lead us to look back to believers who have gone before us and around us to the believers we share communion with in Christ, but it also points us forward to the reality that we will one day gather around the throne of God. While we live here on earth, believers are spread throughout many times and places, but there will come a day when we will all be brought together into the eternal presence of the Lord. All Saints Day reminds us of that reality described in Revelation 7:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Here is a traditional prayer often used for All Saints Day:

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.