Consider

Ever taken a personality test? In the military chaplain corps we have access to many curricula that use personality tests as part of their programs. Some tests make use of animals as symbols for personality types. Beavers are structured types who appreciate regimens and rules. Otters are those who frolic and want as much of life as possible to be a festival. Other tests use shapes. Circle types seek harmony and collaboration whereas triangle types are charismatic leaders asking, “How can I accomplish this?” Still other tests use colors wherein yellow types are adrenaline junkies who often tend to be self-centered, whereas blues are known for their loyalty in relationships and their careful self-discipline. I appreciate these tests in so far as they go. However, people are more complicated than just a dominant personality type. We all have peculiar personality traits wherein we trend towards certain behaviors more often. But we have shades of more than one color. We are not just one type/shape/color vis-à-vis our personalities. Different stressors elicit different parts of ourselves. How important is it, therefore, that we consider our ways? Personality tests are helpful as a possible starting point for understanding people. But might there be more value in considering our ways?

Recently a teacher in the church my family and I attend was leading our Sunday school class through a study of Haggai 1 and Ezra 5, two passages that dovetail in their description of Israel’s plight in the 520s B.C. and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem under Zerubbabel. In Haggai (ESV) 1:5, Scripture records this admonition from the Lord delivered via Haggai the prophet: “Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.”

Danger lurks when we gloss over commands so fundamental as simply to consider our ways. What did God mean? Just what he said. To consider, to give thought to, to reflect upon the ways in which we spend our time. God commanded what was good for the people—namely, that they consider their ways.

Then the Sunday school teacher asked a powerful question: “How many of us are spending our days traveling the road of life, simply turning up the volume on the radio?” Rather than dealing with the big questions of life, we spend ourselves on trivia, entertainment, and distraction. English poet William Wordsworth wrote the following in “The World Is Too Much with Us,” addressing the same issues:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The prophet Haggai did not let his hearers off the hook. Listen to his words: “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways” (1:6). Again the Lord says through his prophet, “Consider your ways.”

Ever since the Sunday school hour I have kept hearing that refrain—consider your ways. My mind went to a Braves game several days ago. My family and I had gone as part of a group to enjoy another game with some friends. The game ended up being postponed due to rain. But before that happened, we did have time for the “Star Spangled Banner” to be played. I’m an officer in the U.S. military. I am moved each time I hear the tune and recite the words. Bravery, sacrifice, and brotherhood are not just talking points to me. I know heroes and work alongside many each day. But what I noticed when the flag was displayed on the massive electronic billboard inside the stadium was that many (particularly youngish) people in the stadium did not remove their hats. No respect for the national anthem. Nor did many of them even stop talking. They kept eating their peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

Why do I bring this up? It’s not just to suggest that respect for America’s exceptionalism has been emasculated. It’s not even just to suggest that a coarsening has taken place among many of America’s Millennials. And it is certainly not to suggest American patriotism is salvific or in any way the gospel of Christianity.

But as an American, as a military officer, as a husband and father, I grieved inside. I was saddened that young men would not take thirty seconds to remove their ball caps, hush their talking, and at least honor the nation that allows us all to enjoy America’s pastime.

I wonder how many of us in the stadium were considering our ways. I know at least one person who was convicted. I see him daily … in the mirror, when I rise early to shave. Haggai spoke powerful prophetic words: let us consider our ways.

 

 

 

“Lily” (Part Two)

 

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Fred was the man’s name that walked Lily to class. “How long have you been in town?” he asked.

“Just a few weeks,” Lily said. “I’m a teacher at Covenant. I moved from Rook just last month. I don’t really know a lot of people at work yet, and those I do know–well, I don’t know if they’re active in a local church.”

“I’m talking too much,” Lily thought to herself, but she liked Fred. He seemed trustworthy. His gentle spirit put her at ease. He wore khakis, brown loafers, an off-brand long-sleeve plaid shirt, and brown tie. His thin brown hair was combed over a sun-splotched scalp. And he didn’t have ear hair, Lily noticed. He wore a gold wedding band on his left hand.

“This class I’m taking you to is for married and singles your age,” Ms. Lily, “is that alright?” Fred asked.

“Yessir. Thank you so much,” Lily said.

Entering the class, Fred addressed the teacher. “Tim, we have a guest this morning. This is Lily. She teaches at Covenant. She’s new to town.” Lily smiled nervously, wondering how she appeared to Tim and the class.

“Welcome to our class, Lily,” Tim said. “Please sit wherever you like.”

Metal folding chairs were arranged in a horseshoe pattern on the blue carpet. Tim had a stool and a small metal lectern near the dry erase board.

Feeling eyes upon her, Lily longed to sit. She saw an open chair near the door. As she approached it, she felt examined. As she sat, she gathered her skirt under her, crossed her right leg over her left, and pulled out her iPhone for the Bible app. She felt someone staring at her. Looking up from her phone, a woman was in front of her, between her and the teacher Tim. Lily’s stomach knotted. “Where are Donald and Fred now?” she thought.

“Hey–welcome to our class. I’m Beth! We’re so glad you’re here this morning!” From her metal chair, Lily looked up at Beth. Beth approached six feet tall, had bleached hair that was not blonde so much as orange–rust-colored, in fact. She had large-knuckled hands and black polish on fake nails. She was not wearing a wedding band, but wore rings of every dimension on all her fingers. She had bracelets on both wrists, and had gold crosses hanging from both earlobes. She jangled like a tinker.

(To be continued)

 

“Lily” (Part One)

 

 

imgres“This is going to be awful. Will anyone speak to me in Sunday school, or even during church?”

Lily asked herself. She opened her car door and stepped onto the blacktop of the church parking lot. She was wearing a beige blouse, her long black skirt, tan boots, and her favorite purse. She had a Bible app on her iPhone. “I hate this. Coming to church alone, at the mercy of every crotchety old deacon with untrimmed ear hair and bad teeth. Why did I even come today? This is going to be awful.” So ran her thoughts as she donned a smile and neared the doors at the front of the church. She saw a feigning old man getting ready to utter some platitude about how glad he was she came to God’s house today. Lily could feel sweat form under her right armpit. “Oh gosh,” she thought, as she extended her right hand to shake the old man’s, “I bet he’s got black ear hair. And I’m starting to sweat. And it’s February.”

“Welcome to Beulah Church, young lady. I’m Donald. Are you visiting with us today?”

“Yessir, I’m new to town. My job brought me here,” Lily said.

“Well, welcome. I’ll have someone show you to a Sunday school class for your age group, okay?”

“Yessir,” Lily said. “That’d be great.”

Lily tried not to stare at his ears; she feared seeing black hairs staring back at her. “He seems nice enough, however” she thought.

“But now Sunday school is sure to be a semicircle of the self-absorbed, texting one another, instead of listening to the teacher,” she thought.

Lily had been raised in church. She knew how mean some folks could be. “Was the church ever pure?” she wondered. “I shouldn’t have come. But I needed to. But I’ll not meet any friends. Only friendlies. There’s a world of difference,” she thought. Weighted in her voiceless loneliness, Lily knew that within seconds, she would enter a Sunday school class.

The door to the class loomed straight ahead.

(To be continued)