Traits of a Godly Person: Moral Excellence - Part 1

The phrase, moral excellence, to some, might conjure images of judgment and prudishness that they want nothing to do with. However, moral excellence is simply the desire to do what is right, and the choice to avoid doing what is wrong.

We all face moral choices every day. Most of us will not kill, even though that customer we dealt with might be deserving. Most of us will not harm, especially those who are weaker, like a child or a person who is ill. But does this trait of moral excellence come into the world with us or does it have to be taught and learned?

If you have ever taken the time to watch children, you will know the answer to this. Children can be taught kindness, goodness, honesty, and other morally excellent characteristics, but left up to their own choices most will choose to demand their own way and demand it immediately. Moral excellence goes out the window when a coveted toy is involved or when competition to win the game is at stake.

Pixabay - boy with slingshot

The Bible confirms our sin nature:

All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
— Psalm 14:3 (NASB)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
— Romans 3:23 (NASB)
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
— Romans 5:19 (NASB)
He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification
— Romans 4:25 (NASB)

We live in a fallen world. It is easy to turn away from that which is morally excellent in order to have fun, feel good and be accepted. Our minds are filled with messages that tell us, if it feels good do it, if there is a rule break it, and anything that is conservative and restrictive is bad, while all that is freeing and pleasurable is good. We are inundated with bad news which causes us to wonder if it all is worth the effort, but even amidst all the chaos, God is still good and He is still working.

Here are a few quotes on excellence:

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
— Aristole
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
— Will Durant
The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.
— Vince Lombardi
We need to internalize this idea of excellence. Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent.
— Barack Obama

As you can see, most of these quotes, other than Aristotle’s are not specifically referring to moral excellence, but you could take each quote and plug moral excellence in for excellence to get the idea. If moral excellence is something that comes about only by habit, then what sorts of choices do we need to be making to be morally excellent?

I think the first thing we need to understand is the word morality. What does Webster’s online dictionary say? Here are several definitions related to moral as an adjective.

1 - of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior

2 - conforming to a standard of right behavior

3 - capable of right and wrong action

These definitions work from the perspective that there is a moral standard and that is what I want to address.

There are two other definitions that speak to a perceived morality - which means it is someone’s idea of what morality is.

4 - expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior

5 - sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment

My belief system revolves around a moral God. God is not only morally excellent, but He is perfect. A being that is purely loving, good, kind and just, cannot be morally corrupt. I also believe that God is the author of morality. He was the one to create us and to put us into a world dependent on choices. He also made us with a free will. We are able to choose to do right or to do wrong.

In the Garden of Eden, God set a moral parameter.

15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
— Genesis 2:15-17 (NASB)

The command that God gave Adam, was straight forward; if you do this then this will happen. There wasn’t a plethora of other voices telling Adam, “Dude, you can make up your own morality.” Well, there was one voice, and that was all it took.

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;
3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”
4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
— Genesis 3:1-7 (NASB)

How quickly this all came about. One day Adam and Eve are grooving in the garden, enjoying the beauty of their relationship with God and each other, in a setting beyond what we could possibly think or imagine. They had purpose in their lives to care for the creation God had given them and actually walked with the Almighty in this amazing place. BUT, that wasn’t enough. Eve was tempted by that which wasn’t known.

Isn’t that one of the major problems involved when we stray from the right and wrong that God laid out from the beginning of time? We want to know. We want to know what that tastes like, looks like, feels like and sounds like. We want to take our lives into our own hands, but in reality what we do is exchange a good and gentle master for one that is harsh, and unrelenting.

Image by  진혁 최  from  Pixabay

Image by 진혁 최 from Pixabay

When it comes to moral excellence it becomes a matter of choice. Adam and Eve chose to do wrong. I choose to do wrong when I get angry, eat too much or become fearful. We are no different from our forefathers. The Bible is full of real people who were less than morally excellent, yet God loved them and used them anyway.

Not wanting this post to get too long, I’m going to save what moral excellence looks like for a Godly person until next week. This week, do some homework. How often do you think about the choices you make? How often do you hear those messages that say you are the one who decides what morality is for you? If you come across something specific, or have a thought from the Spirit, I’d love to hear about it.

Have a great week, everyone and thanks for joining me on the blog. If you know anyone who might benefit from reading these blog posts, please pass it on. I appreciate all your support.






Walking with the Psalmist

Last month I began a discussion on the first song in the book of Psalms in the Old Testament. While we do not know for sure who wrote this psalm, it is clear, by its inclusion in the Scripture, it is important. I explained that Psalm 1 describes two men, a righteous one and a wicked one. Last month I concentrated on the righteous man and found ten characteristics that a righteous man will have. This month, I want to look more closely at the wicked man.

1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.
— Psalm 1:1-6 (NASB)
Pixabay

Pixabay

What sort of characteristics describe the wicked man.

1. They are not like the righteous man.

Verse 4 begins with the phrase, "The wicked are not so." It would logically follow that all of the traits that were listed to describe the righteous man are not traits the wicked man has. In other words this man does not love God's word, they hang out with other's who do not love God's word and they are not firmly rooted in God's law. 

2. They are like chaff.

What exactly is chaff? In this Old Testament context the word chaff was used to describe the outer hulls of seeds and other debris separated from the seed when threshing grain. Before the age of huge farm machinery, threshing was a laborious task done by hand on a threshing floor. The stalks of grain were beaten with a piece of wood called a flail. Chaff is not useful for anything and was thrown away. 

It might seem to us, calling a person chaff, is rather mean, but these words were inspired by a holy and righteous God. The point was to give us a comparison with no doubt involved. Righteous is righteous and wicked is wicked. 

3. They are driven away by the wind.

I think we can derive two ideas from this. First of all, the chaff in the threshing process was often swept up to blow away in the wind. It was meant to be discarded, just as our modern combine separates the chaff from the seed out in the field. Have you ever driven by a field when the combine is working and noticed a cloud of dust flying up in the air? That is not just dirt!

The second idea that came to my mind is, often people who do not know God are driven to and fro by the changing winds of life. They try anything and everything to fill the emptiness that exists inside of them and they most often are looking out for their own interests willing to step on others to feel fulfilled.

Pixabay - judgment

4. The wicked will not stand in the judgment.

The idea of judgment has become the elephant in the room. No one wants to talk about judgment. No one wants to discuss the consequences of sin. How often do you hear a sermon about sin, hell or the anger of a righteous God? Not as often as we used to, I'd venture to say. While I think we need to show love, wait for the right opportunities and reply with gentleness, we also can't stop talking about the idea that God is a holy and perfect God and we are not. That was and still is the reason Jesus became a man, walked on this earth, died on a cross and rose again. If we stop talking about judgment we might as well stop talking about Jesus. 

Jesus Christ is who differentiates us from all other religions. It is His blood that covers a righteous man and it is only His blood that allows the righteous man to stand at the final judgment. The wicked man will not stand because he has not recognized Christ as the way, the truth and the life.

For us to say, "I don't believe in hell or a judgment," is like saying, "Seventeen people didn't get shot at a high school in Florida." Just because it is terrible, doesn't mean our ignoring it or wishing it away makes it any less a reality. 

5. The wicked will not stand in the assembly of the righteous. 

I am not sure in this case whether it is similar to the judgment, they won't be able to, because their wickedness separates them from the righteous, or if it has to do with their own desire. The wicked do not want to stand in the assembly of the righteous. We have churches closing their doors at an alarming rate. For further info on this Dr. Richard Krejcir of churchleadership.org wrote an eye opening article titled Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, wrote a book a few years ago titled Already Gone, which addresses the exodus of many young people from the church. If those who would be righteous aren't even staying in the assembly of the righteous, then the wicked certainly won't be drawn to the church. 

St. Albans Cathedral - England trip 2012

St. Albans Cathedral - England trip 2012

This is just my take on the verse. It is more likely that the wicked won't be able to stand in the assembly of the righteous because of their wickedness. 

6. The wicked will perish.

This isn't a pleasant thought. It might be easy to think of someone like Hitler perishing, because we could easily point out his wickedness, but the scripture is clear:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
— Romans 3:23 (NASB)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 6:23 (NASB)
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
— Romans 10:9 (NASB)

While the standing of the wicked man compared to the righteous man is not pleasant, there is hope. If you are a Christ follower, then you are already familiar with that hope. You are also in a position to help someone who doesn't have that hope. Live your life in Christ out loud, so all the world can see. I leave you with these verses, which I will feature next week on my Mulling It Over column.

23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged,
25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
— 2 Timothy 2:23-26 (NASB)

The Cherubim and the Flaming Sword

When I think of the word memorial my mind fills with images made of stone: buildings, statues, cement benches, large rocks and walls engraved with names and dates of people who are no longer with us. Memorials are built to help us remember. They are there to remind us of lives sacrificed for ideals or to bring to remembrance great men and women who changed our world for the better because of their ideals. Popular memorials include The Lincoln Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A gravestone is a memorial and so are the vast faces of Mt. Rushmore. In the Bible memorials often took the form of altars that men such as Noah, Moses and Abraham set up to worship God.

Wikipedia defines the word memorial:

A memorial is an object which serves as a focus for memory of something, usually a person (who has died) or an event. Popular forms of memorials include landmark objects or art objects such as sculptures, statues or fountains, and even entire parks.
— Wikipedia.org

Over the next few weeks, I would like to look at some Biblical memorials. What I refer to as a memorial may be my own interpretation of the word. The point I want to try to make is a memorial should be a "thing" that makes us remember. Obviously, when you look at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, if you know your history, you remember what a great man and President he was and what he did to end slavery and bring unity to our Nation. The large carving in stone brings to remembrance the blood and sacrifice of thousands of men we do not know. Some were brothers by blood. Some were brothers by faith, but all of them believed they were fighting for a higher purpose. We should remember that.

In the third chapter of Genesis, we read about the fall of man (and woman) from God's grace and their subsequent expulsion from paradise. God had given them freedom to enjoy any of the delicacies in the garden, except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From that one tree they were instructed to not eat. If you read the story here, you see how crafty the serpent was. He was and is a master of manipulation. He came to the woman, possibly because she is relational. She had no qualms about talking with the serpent, who happened to be very beautiful. Adam, may have just hit it over the head with a shovel for skulking about the garden. But Eve, she spoke with the beautiful snake. What I am curious about here is why Eve misquoted what God had said. God had told them not to eat of the tree, but she goes on to tell the serpent God said, "You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die." I am not going to spend time in this post discussing how that came about, but what happens thereafter has affected us all. The serpent manipulated and the women ate, and the man ate. They disobeyed and they were driven from the garden.

Tree

We can sit here and think, why did they do such a stupid thing? It was paradise! Perfect weather, sunshine, blue skies, green grass, no mosquitoes....I am just believing that part. But we are all guilty of not being satisfied. We all struggle with pride, thinking, I got this! So where does the memorial fit into all of this? Read on:

So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
— Genesis 3:24 (NASB)
Fence

I think the cherubim and the flaming sword are a memorial of sorts. They were put there, according to the scriptures to guard the way to the Tree of Life. Life was no longer being offered, now only hardship, aging and death. Obviously, in our day and age the garden of Eden no longer exists. There is no cherubim with a flaming sword sitting outside some garden gate in the Middle East. But at that time I think the cherubim and the flaming sword were a sign; a memorial that this could not be undone. Sin had come into the world and no one was allowed to go back. The beauty and perfection of the garden had been given over for the selfishness and pride of the flesh. That angel and his flaming sword were a memorial set up so that all who passed by could see and remember. They could see that this was once the place where God walked with His man and His woman. They could know and remember that it was no longer possible, at least not for the common man, until the cross. 

Why is this important for us, as Christians to remember? Because this is where we came from. This is our heritage. Yes, you heard me. Sin is our heritage. 

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—
— Romans 5:12 (NASB)

We really don't like to talk about sin. It make us uncomfortable. But so do memorials. Memorials remind us that someone gave their life so we might live. In the same way, Jesus gave His life so we might live. The cherubim and the flaming sword remind us why Jesus had to give His life for us. And praise His name, there is hope. 

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
— Romans 5:19 (NASB)

No! We cannot go back to the garden. That way has been closed, but a new way has opened up. And there is no angel with a flaming sword standing in front of that way, but a Savior with open arms. 

It Hurts!

Suffering? Yeah, I get it. It hurts! Don't give me the platitudes that God won't give me more than I can handle, or that everything will turn out rosy, or that God will right every wrong. I have had more than I can handle. Things are not rosy and there are a lot of wrongs that have been done and thus far nothing has been made right. Don't worry, I'm not bitter. I'm too tired, too sad to be bitter. Sometimes the sadness wells up so fiercely, I feel like I will die crying, so I forbid myself to cry.

So what is the point? Why so much suffering? There are some, that say suffering always has a purpose and there are some who say, suffering doesn't have any purpose, except that we live in a fallen world. I must side with with a third party on this one. God Himself. 

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
— Romans 8:17 (NESV)

When it refers to Christ's suffering it refers to all that He experienced as a man. He understood the limitations of the flesh; the need for food, rest and the need to get away. He touched sorrow, saw disease and death. The culmination of His own experience was humiliation, pain and death on a splintered cross.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
— Philippians 1:29 (NESV)

You see, everything about our lives, about my life, has to be viewed in relation to God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. When I put my trust in Jesus as a twelve year old, I wasn't just trusting Him for life and light and all that is beautiful. I was trusting Him with death and darkness and all that was ugly. I didn't know at twelve, just what sort of ugliness would touch my life. But yes, I signed up for the whole deal, not just the good parts.

If He considers me worthy of suffering with Him, I will suffer. If I should not only believe but also suffer for His sake, I will suffer. This isn't about me. It's about Him. And how very awesome, magnificent and perfect He is. He allows me to suffer with Him. 

I know we live in a fallen world. There is sickness, and pain and death and evil in its purest form, but if I look I can see glimpses of Him, His glory, His goodness, His love. The sun shining after many cloudy days, birds singing, buds carefully pushing their way out of darkness into the light, a meal to eat, a blanket to put on....

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
— I Peter 4:19 (NESV)

Not everyone likes the idea that it is God's will that we suffer. But Peter stated it pretty plainly. That doesn't mean when we make a choice to sin that we are going to suffer according to God's will. Sin has it's own consequences. I believe Peter was talking about the times that we suffer and it just doesn't make any sense. Look at the life of Job. By worldly standards and our own Christian standards we would look at Job and think he was a pretty fine fellow. He was wealthy, had a thriving family, honored God in all he did, but then God allowed Satan to test Job. It didn't make sense.

Suffering often doesn't make sense. We always want to know why. Why is this happening? What did I do wrong? If you read through Job you will begin to see, it wasn't about Job. It was about God. Our lives here on this planet are about Him. No one wants to hear that. We all want to think we are the center of it all; that life is all about us, what we do, who we hang out with, where we go to school, what our careers are, who we marry and what purpose our lives have. But the truth is that we exist to bring glory to Him. He truly is the potter. I am the clay. If He chooses to crush me or whirl me around on the wheel, He can do it. But He doesn't do it vindictively. He does it because He loves us and He wants all to come to repentance.

Have I had more than I can handle? Yes, but He has been with me through it. Is everything rosy? No, but I catch glimpses of Him at every turn. Will He make it all right in the end? Things will turn out as He wants them and that may not look like what I thought it would look like. Suffering is God's hands, taking my face and turning me gently towards Him. 

As with everything, I have a choice. I can pull away from Him like a defiant 5 year old and run. I can become bitter, claiming that God has not been fair. I can turn away from Him and walk in the flesh causing the ripple affect of collateral damage, or I can fall into His waiting arms and let Him wipe my tears, pick me up and carry me through. Forgive me, Lord, when I have tried to do it any other way.

Are Things Getting a Little Prickly?

You all know the feeling. Something nagging at the back of your brain like some sort of prickly bush; that voice that keeps asking, "Is your conscience bothering you? Why? What have you done?" 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines conscience as "the part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions as being either morally right or wrong." As Christians we allow that it is the Holy Spirit who makes us aware of our actions and whether they are right or wrong. It seems to me, however, that we pay less and less attention to what the Spirit is trying to tell us, especially with regards to sin. God created us with a conscience to guide our choices and our acts. When we receive His Spirit, the Spirit speaks to us, to our conscience to guide us, but also to remind us when we have broken faith with the Creator. Once again God provided a way for that break in our relationship to be restored; through the act of confession.

As we think about Easter and what Christ did for us, it is only fitting that we examine our own lives and hearts to see where we might be breaking faith with God. We need to ask Him and His Spirit to reveal our sins to us. Sometimes sins are obvious, but not always. It is easy to point fingers at others and think, "Well, at least I'm not as bad as So and So!" But that attitude will not restore your relationship with the Father. Humility demands that I ask myself, "What have I done to hurt You?"

God is all knowing. 

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
— Psalm 139 1 - 4 (NESV)

We may think that our internal sins, pride, lust, envy...are hidden from each other, but they do not make it past the Holy One's gaze. And dear one, that gaze is one of love. He knows that those things we cling to are only hurting us, not helping. He wants to heal you and He wants restoration of His relationship with you.

So, if you can and if you care and if that prickly bush is poking you, find a moment to go to Him and confess. 

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
— I John 1:9 (NESV)

You will not regret that conversation and you will get rid of that prickly bush.

cactus

What is the Point of Easter?

We live in a day and age where sin is no longer called sin. We classify, categorize and explain it away; or we don't talk about it. It doesn't matter how we define it, what God called sin from the beginning of time is, in fact, still skipping around on planet earth, just like those dust bunnies lurking under your fridge. Sure you can sweep them away; suck them up in your Hoover, but before you know it they will be back, breeding and growing.

Easter Eggs

I mean, what is the point of Easter? Colored eggs? Candy? A new dress? All those things are great, especially in the context of family, but that is not what Easter is about. Easter is about Jesus. Christmas is about Jesus. One is about life and the other about the death that leads to life. Without Jesus there would be no Easter. So what was that all about? The blood sacrifice, demanded by God, paid for by His only Son....It was because of sin. There! I said it! It was because of disobedience. Jesus died and rose again because of anger, rebellion, pride, gluttony, murder, rape, gossip, addiction, adultery, bullying, incest and a plethora of others.

So today, in this month, when we think about, ponder and celebrate Easter, ask yourself, "Why?" I'm celebrating because I believe in a God who is so good, not only did He love me in my most pitiful, dark and sinful state, but He provided a way out of it.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 - NESV)

Photo Credit:  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo Credit: Rebecca Trumbull

Exclusivity? Absolutely. Show me a belief system that is not is some way exclusive. But in Christianity we are not able to cross the gap that came about because of sin and it separates us from God. Only Jesus can do that. That is what Easter is all about.