Posts in Monthly Virtue
Getting Virtues into our Lives: Virtues Practiced

We have been looking at 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s famous chapter on Love and what author Henry Drummond had to say about it in his essay, The Greatest Thing in the World. We have studied one virtue per month that when taken together form Love, i.e., The Greatest Thing in the World. But as we read about these virtues, we admire them and would welcome them into our lives on a daily basis, but we also wonder how we do that? How can we get patience, kindness, generosity and humility, to name just a few, into our everyday persona? How do we learn to Love? The answer is the same answer to the question asked of a taxi driver in New York City. When a tourist asked, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" the driver sarcastically replied, "Practice, practice, practice.”"

Drummond speaks to that taxi driver’s snarky (but accurate) response when he says:

"The world is not a playground; it is a school-room. Life is not a holiday; but and education. And one eternal lesson for us all is how better can we love. What makes a man a good (musician, sculptor, artist or athlete)…practice. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character."

Christian character is crafted out of ever-changing circumstances. Sometimes the times are wonderful and happy; other times it is a trial and temptation. We should give thanks to God for both occasions. The good times are a classroom to practice humility. When we are flush with money, generosity should flourish in our hearts. But it is the tough times and painful experiences that mold our characters the most. Someone once said, "Pain is the Mother of Compassion." That person was insightful.

We cannot isolate ourselves when times are good nor shrink away and curse our God when times are tough. When times are calm, we have the luxury of focusing on what pleases us. But it is the storms of life that build character. The German poet Goethe said as much when he wrote: "Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of life."

Do you want to be patient, kind, humble and generous? Then make a point to practice these virtues everyday, in some situation, for someone. You will be surprised as how fast these virtues take root in your souls.

Virtue of the Month: Good Thoughts

love-1 We have been unpacking 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s treatise on Love, and looking specifically at what Henry Drummond taught in his essay on this chapter entitled, “The Greatest Thing in the World.”  This month we approach one of the hardest virtues: “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth” We have summarized it: Good Thoughts.

What is so hard about thinking good thoughts, you might be asking yourself. Sounds easy. But when we examine the entire virtue, Paul is saying that when bad things happen to people we dislike or to persons or organizations we despise, loving people are not allowed the “guilty pleasure” of dancing a jig or relishing the fact that the calamity happened to someone who we think deserved it. The German language actually has a word that encompasses that very perverted, but all too human response. The word is Schadenfreude, which is, translated “malicious joy in the misfortunes of others.”  It is altogether too easy to indulge this vice.

Think about it for a minute. When our ex-husband breaks up with the woman he dumped us for, we immediately want to call our girlfriends and celebrate. Or, when the boss that fired us get fired himself, we feel an immense guilty satisfaction over his misfortune. On a popular level, think about how Jennifer felt when she learned Angie had dumped Brad. Or, perhaps consider the party that broke out in the Clinton HQ once Trump’s sexually explicit video was released to the public? All too common a response! This virtue is very difficult to learn and to practice.

The reason Paul lists it and makes it the template for truly loving people is because when we delight in someone else’s misfortune we pollute our own hearts. When we indulge unloving spirits, we infect our souls with a disease that will difficult to cure. We become loving people when we rejoice in the good about people and hate the sin that causes others to stumble. As sinners, we can rest assured that someday we will be the one on our knees bleeding. And wouldn’t feel good to have someone reach down and kneel with us when we’ve stumbled rather than sneering and taking delight in our adversity?

The road to a loving, Christ-centered spirit must travel down some very difficult situations. Being kind, patient and humble are tough…but hating sin in ourselves and sin’s effect on others and not indulging a malicious glee when others get beaten-down is the hardest virtue we will ever accomplish. Think about how the world would be if we, as loving people, comforted the fallen instead of celebrating their downfall?

Virtue of the Month: Think No Evil

think-no-evil All of us remember when someone believed in us and by doing so, restored us and made us a better person. Maybe it was the football coach who called the same pass play after we dropped the touchdown pass on the exact play moments before. Or, after we burned the birthday cake our mothers kindly gave us another Betty Crocker mix and together we started over. That kind of belief in a person will change a person’s life forever.

Henry Drummond writes in his essay, The Greatest Thing in the World (Love),To be trusted is to be saved. And if we try to influence or elevate others we shall soon see that success is in proportion to their belief in our belief in them. The respect of another is the first restoration of the self-respect a man has lost; our ideal of what he is becomes to him the hope and pattern of what he may become.”

This is what Thinking No Evil is about at the root. When someone screws up the loving person does not immediately throw that person under the bus assuming that they are idiots and worthless. When we hear a rumor about a friend getting busted or worse, we don’t automatically assume the worst. We give the person the benefit of the doubt and wait until we learn the facts and then, stand with them, supporting them.

Same thing when we are insulted or snubbed by don’t have any idea as to why we were left out. Thinking No Evil never puts a negative construction on a situation. Thinking No Evil does not impute motives to a person or situation when those facts are not in evidence.

There is a story told, maybe true or maybe legend, that when Thomas Edison and his assistants, successfully made the first light bulb…after 24 hours of continuous labor…they entrusted a young apprentice to take the bulb and carefully walk it to the upstairs lab. The young lad carefully climbed the steps only to drop the bulb at the top of the stairs. The story goes that Edison and his crew worked another full 24 hours to construct another bulb. And, again, Edison called over the young beginner and entrusted the second bulb into his care for transporting it up the stairs. What restoration! What an investment in this young man. Edison did not think evil of this young boy, but rather invested confidence.

Commit to this Virtue this week! What wonderful places our families, workplaces, cities and country would be if we all could “Think No Evil” and invest in one another…sometimes at our expense.

Virtue of the Month: Good Temper vs. Bad Temper

As we unload what Henry Drummond wrote in his essay on Love entitled; The Greatest Thing in the World, we come to a BIGGIE…Good Temper/Bad Temper. Little needs to be said about Good Temper since we all know how pleasant and wonderful it is to around someone who is Good Tempered. They are kind, patient and really cut us a lot of slack. They laugh a lot and don’t take themselves too seriously. More often than not they are humble and have kind eyes! But what about it’s opposite, Bad Temper? Oops, we mentally turn away as we read the words, right? We intellectually cover our eyes because we are feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit through our consciences. Our conscience is being pricked because, all too often, we find ourselves angry, in foul moods and ready to pick a fight! We try to fight back and justify our touchiness and peevishness by rationalizing that “its no big deal…everyone gets mad occasionally.”

temperWe like to think that anger is acceptable. And, some anger is normal. For example, if we caught a son or daughter stealing, anger at their behavior would be okay. Jesus got very angry and cleared the temple of the dishonest merchants. But how often can we honestly admit that our anger is Christ-like? More often it is the opposite. Often we excuse anger or touchiness in a person (or ourselves) because, except for the occasional fit of rage or anger, they (we) lead exemplary lives. Although we like to explain anger as a family temperament; simply a small flaw in human nature; we deceive ourselves. Drummond calls it “the vice of the virtuous.” Anger, touchiness, quick-temperedness is often seen as a small blight or spot on an otherwise noble character. So, in the end, this vice hardly seems serious enough for Paul to include in his treatise on Love.

Yet, if we unpack Bad Temper and examine it carefully, we find that it is a very serious offense and an indicator that all is not right with God in our characters. It is the offensive gas bubble that leaks out revealing a sewer somewhere in our personality that needs to be drained and flushed and replaced with the sweet water of Jesus.

Good Temper vs. Bad Temper: this is our battle. Bad Temper, touchiness, rage and prideful petulance is not to be ignored. Why? Just read what Henry Drummond, our mentor for this series says about it, “No form of vice, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to un-Christianize society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating homes, for withering up men and women, to taking the bloom off childhood, in short: for sheer gratuitous misery producing power this vice stands alone!”

The sweet water of Jesus produces a disposition that is not easily offended. This mild reaction indicates that our opinion of ourselves and what we think we deserve coincide with how Jesus looked at Himself. Jesus had no high opinion of himself and no expectations for the behavior of others towards Him. As Drummond concludes: “Souls are made sweet not by taking the acid fluids out, but by putting something in—a great love, a new spirit, the Spirit of Christ. Will- power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does!

Virtue of the Month: Unselfishness

Unselfishness Over the last five month’s BLOG posts, we have looked at the Virtues of Love listed in 1 Corinthians 13. We have referenced Henry Drummond’s essay, The Greatest Thing in the World. We started with Patience…Love passive (February 15) and moved on to its twin, Kindness…Love active (March 15). In April, we unpacked Generosity…the virtue that is written on God’s heart (John 3:16) and in May we studied the shy virtue: Humility. June discussed Courtesy and all the fine things that go with being Polite.

In July, the focus is on the virtue of Unselfishness. I Corinthians 13 states it like this, “Love seeketh not her own” or “Love is not self-seeking”. The Message translation says, “Love doesn’t demand its own way.” This virtue is central to living a Christ-like life.  But as we look around at the world and see how everyone interacts with each other on the highways or parking lots it is obvious that the virtue of unselfishness is in short supply. The default state of the human heart is self-centeredness. We want what we want! Our mantra is all too often, “My way…or the highway!” Think about how many times in our relationships at work we seek our own betterment at the expense of someone else’s concerns. In our relationships, consider how much better they would be if our first response was,  “Honey, how can I help?” or “Sweetie, what do you think?”

Unselfishness, (not demanding our own way), was the center of Jesus’ life on earth. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus previewed the agony of the Cross. He knew He was going to die a terrible death and that He would be separated from His Father. He knew He would experience Hell, for our sakes. Yet when He politely asked the Father if the cup could pass from Him, His response was…unselfishly spoken, “Not my will but Thine be done.” Jesus went willingly to the Cross and took all our sin upon His shoulders; in return, we received all of the goodness and holiness that was rightfully His. This is the beauty and power of the Cross. It all centered on His obedience and self-giving, not selfishness and self-centeredness!

True happiness is never found in getting stuff. Accumulating things or putting ourselves first never achieves genuine greatness. When we consider truly great persons, we always gravitate towards those personality’s whose first impulse was to give, not get. Try implementing this virtue into your life for 30 days. Say, “How can I help” first and see how much better your life and relationships become.

Virtue of the Month: Gentleness/Courtesy

gentle christ Over the last four month’s BLOG posts, we have looked at the Virtues of Love listed in 1 Corinthians 13. We have referenced Henry Drummond’s essay, The Greatest Thing in the World. We started with Patience…Love passive (February 15) and moved on to its twin, Kindness…Love active (March 15). In April, we unpacked Generosity…the virtue that is written on God’s heart (John 3:16) and in May we studied the shy virtue: Humility.

Today, we inspect Gentleness/Courtesy…Love in little things. Drummond calls it that because the choices between Rude/Gentleness almost always occur throughout the day and not in the arena of mementoes decisions. Big decisions are made with care, caution and much discussion. Choosing to be rude to the checkout person at the grocery store or the person with 25 items in the 15-item Express Lane happen in an instant. The choice is driven by instinct and character, usually without aforethought.

Consider Jesus’ state of mind and the moments He was gentle. He restored the woman caught in adultery. He didn’t condemn or accept her behavior, but gently restored her. His gentle response to the woman who touched the hem of his robe, while He was hurrying to heal Jairus’ daughter speaks volumes about His gentle nature. Contemplate the gentleness of Jesus as He protected the woman who anointed His feet with oil, as Judas criticized the cost of the gift.

The opposite traits of a gentle/courteous spirit are familiar to us. Politicians and leaders who are rude, contemptuous, condemning and interrupting persons are all too common in today’s discourse.

When we walk with Jesus, when we accept His grace and respond to His loving sacrifice, we respond naturally and instinctively with Courtesy and Gentleness. Let’s clothe ourselves in that virtue this month.

Virtue of the Month: Humility

humility Over the last three month’s BLOG posts, we have looked at the Virtues of Love listed in 1 Corinthians 13. We have referenced Henry Drummond’s essay, The Greatest Thing in the World. We started with Patience… Love passive (February 15) and moved on to its twin, Kindness…Love active (March 15). In April, we unpacked Generosity… the virtue that is written on God’s heart (John 3:16).

Today, we take a peek at Humility… the shy virtue. Humility is the most shy of all virtues because once you start talking about it…it leaves. It is also the hardest to attain because once we feel we have it…we don’t. Examining our hearts for the virtue of Humility often leads to us being proud of our Humility, and… poof… it’s gone!

Let’s take a glimpse of what Humility is and what it is not and then consider how we best can secure it for our lives to benefit those around us… especially non-believers. C.S. Lewis wrote this remarkable statement in his classic book Mere Christianity, about being humble, "True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself…less." It is to be no longer always self-referencing, looking in the plate glass window as you stroll down the street to check yourself out or how you are being treated. It is "blessed self-forgetfulness." It is the attitude of being willing to serve even without acknowledgement. Some examples might be: putting up chairs and cleaning up after a function or buying the toilet paper when someone else promised to do so, but forgot. Humble souls are teachable and receptive and have an “inner balance” that is noticeable but hard to describe.

The prideful attract attention to themselves and are impressed with their own position and relative importance. They cannot see that the truly great never indulge in self-display.

Well then, how does a person achieve Humility? You don’t! The virtue of Humility is a by-product of understanding, celebrating and unconditionally accepting the Gospel of Grace. That Gospel is simply that we are so sinful that it took the Son of God dying on the cross to reconcile us with God. That reconciliation is a free gift from God. When we accept this free gift and diligently, purposefully, coach it into our hearts through prayer, study and actively living it out, we will begin to bear the fruit of Humility and enjoy the freedom it brings without ever considering if, we are, in fact, humble.

Virtue of the Month: Generosity

hand-1106917_960_720 We are going through the virtues listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, as explained in the essay by the late Henry Drummond in his classic essay entitled, The Greatest Thing in the World. Every month we are looking into a virtue of Love. Previous posts delved into Patience and Kindness. Today we look at the virtue written on the heart of God: Generosity. We need look no further than John 3:16, to understand that Generosity is at the center of God's being. "For God so loved the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son..." Certainly, for us to emulate God in this regard is indeed a virtuous endeavor.

1 Corinthian 13 says it in a negative way, "Love envieth not" or as Drummond writes, "Envy is love in competition with others." Love that is envious and competitive, even in Christian circles is not God-centered virtue, but rather self-centered love driven by Pride! It is hard for us a sinful human beings to be happy when others succeed. Be honest! When we see others hit the "lottery of life" most of us are envious and wonder why WE didn't get that promotion. It is even worse and more sinister when we see someone in our chosen field of expertise move ahead of us with honors and advancement. This is not exclusive to secular society either! Pastors of churches stare with envy at the mega church, TV pastors or other congregations that are growing while their church attendance declines.

To combat this is the spirit of love, generosity and magnanimity. To be truly happy for someone else's success is a sure sign that the Love of Jesus reigns in our hearts. We must take our identity and self-worth, not from our paycheck, business titles or praise of men and women, but from the real belief and experience that Jesus valued us so much that He gave His life for us. He placed a value on us that was worth His life. Why would we need anything else to validate our egos? Live with this knowledge in our hearts and live with calm and adequacy.