Desperate for a Little Character

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site. (Also? I know I stumbled over/mispronounced a few words…but it was a really long blog post…and I just didn’t feel up to the task of re-recording it. I humbly ask for a bit of extra grace.)



Character - Light
Character - Truth
Donald Trump is a crooked, underhanded con artist and…a spoiled, overgrown brat. – Matt Walsh on The Blaze
Trump mocks the disabled, calls women dogs, and advocates for the assassination of women and children. Hillary Clinton is a proven liar. They both have, in short, a lack of character. And people flock to them.
Why? Does it even matter? Is a person’s character at all important in this modern age or is it a relic of outdated morals? Character is more than merely important; it is vital to our society. It is important to people as individuals and it is important to society in its entirety.
When we can cheat and lie “just a little bit” and still think highly of ourselves, when we show our children that it is necessary to sometimes do insignificantly wrong things to get by, when it is more wrong to judge evil than to do evil, then we are in trouble. For our society to function well, we need people of character in leadership positions, from teachers and managers to mayors and governors.
What has happened in our world? Why do ordinary people care so little about acting in moral ways? Much of this dearth of character, this scarcity of virtue, comes from the rejection of the idea that truth is unchanging, that truth can be the same regardless of place or time. If truth is, at best, all relative and only a matter of perspective and, at worst, a social construct and simply whatever we make it to be, then why should anyone work to develop a character that may or may not be valid to anyone else? If there is no truth that we can deliberate over and discover together as a society (whatever that truth may be and wherever it may come from), we are left with, as Christian Cleric Richard John Neuhaus says, “power and propaganda and grievance and anger and caucuses and anti-caucuses and special interest groups and victims and vengeance.”
This concept of truth comes from our distinctly American philosophy of pragmatism (founded by William James, 1842-1910, who said that the true was only the expedient. Truth, in other words, is what works.). When society contains multiple competing ways of viewing the world, and when all of those ways are equally valid, then the only way to determine which viewpoint is most true is to determine which is most useful. If truth is simply what is most useful, then truth will change over time.
There is an assumption in much of society, in many of our universities especially, that we cannot keep society and relationships moving forward if we speak of one truth for all people because truth brings only conflict. Truth has become the loud uncle we are vaguely ashamed of, assuming that anything so divisive has no appropriate role in public life. When the biggest wrong that can be done in a society is to cause an argument, we are left with a society that vacantly agrees with every new opinion. When the biggest good a government can do is to smooth everything to the same level of truth, we are left with a government that changes policy for each group that shouts louder. When truth is sensible rather than stubborn, as trustworthy as a weatherman, we are left with a prediction for Snowpocalypse that leaves Walmart shelves empty but a reality of 60 degrees and sunny. Society is left to flounder on a foundation of shifting sand.
How did this happen? How did truth get hijacked and associated with the negative? How did truth become linked with religious totalitarianism and Osama bin Laden? How did it become shameful to declare a belief in truth, even simply the idea of truth, regardless of what that truth is? Part of the answer, I’m afraid, comes from us, the Church. We have a history of wielding the truth divisively, of tearing down and even destroying rather than creating and building up. We have used truth as an excuse for starting crusades and we have used truth as an excuse to look at our neighbor with contempt. Truth has become a weapon used to elevate ourselves by bludgeoning down all those we deem as “other”.
This becomes all the more baffling when we remember that Jesus, God in the flesh, claimed to be Truth. If we are condemning our neighbor with what we claim to be truth, perhaps it is not truly Truth we are wielding. Using truth as a magic wand to turn our neighbor into a stepping stone is a natural consequence when we who claim to follow Truth succumb to our world’s version of expedient truth. This is what Trump has done and this is why so many evangelicals support him. Trump is the embodiment of pragmatic truth, and when the Church has forgotten the words and life of Him who claimed to be truth, the Church is easily swayed toward truth that is useful, truth that serves a purpose, truth that turns character into a liability. As much as we might wish it, truth is not in our service, rather we who claim to be Christian are servants of the Truth in the person of Jesus.
If Jesus is, as He claimed to be, the Truth, we are given a truth that is unchanging, yet personal. We are given a truth that produces genuine, enduring character. When we follow Jesus as the Truth, living and speaking as He did, we find that God’s Spirit produces in us a character of love rather than a character of expediency. And when we are possessed of a character of love, we find that we are asked to proclaim this pure, loving truth to our world. More difficult, even, than proclaiming it, we are asked to live it out. Neuhaus tells us that it is now the Church’s task to learn how to assert truth in public “persuasively and winsomely and in a manner that does not violate but strengthens the bonds of civility”. He reminds us that it is our duty to do more than merely tolerate those with whom we disagree but to eagerly engage them, even pursue them, in love.
How? How do we declare and live truth without being divisive and unpleasant, causing strife, conflict, and wars? By remembering grace. Amazing grace. We can live out stubborn truth beautifully by remembering that we ourselves are unable to live up to our own standards and yet we are loved. When we despise or feel superior to anyone, when our goal is, as Trump claims, to “make America great again” by marginalizing the poor and disadvantaged, we derive more power from our own exalted sense of self-righteousness than from God’s grace. Living by this brand of truth that exalts ourselves is what poisons the truth with divisiveness. This is what Trump does: cause divisiveness by playing one group against another, by exalting us by means of demeaning them. Living out Jesus as truth can also be divisive, but a much different sort of divisive.  Living out Jesus as truth produces a steady character of loving and caring for others. It is exalting others by humbling ourselves. This can be threatening, and therefore divisive, to those who have already exalted themselves, but it a way of living truth that is desperately needed in our world.

It is ageless, this genuine sort of character. It is what the early Christians did when they loved the poor, empowered women, and brought together the races and classes. It is how the early Church overran the Roman Empire when it wasn’t even attempting to gain political power. This is the sort of truth we need. The kind of truth that provides a firm and unchanging foundation for our society. One that will not allow people to helplessly flail but gives them the strength to build a society that lasts, one that cares for all of its members. Tim Keller says that this is the sort of truth that is “a God Who became weak, Who loved and died for the people Who opposed Him, forgiving them.”
Matt Walsh calls Trump a crook and a brat, essentially labeling him as someone who deceives others and who is himself deceived. It seems unbelievable, but this seems to be what many in our country are searching for. Someone like Trump or Clinton who does whatever is advantageous today, someone who manipulates and even creates truth to suit themselves and their supporters. If, instead, you are searching for someone who will lead by serving, someone who will follow Truth rather than create it, well, I’m afraid you probably won’t find that in the upper echelons of our country.
What, then, shall we do? Despair and give up on our country? Better yet by far than any vote you may cast, rather, become that sort of leader yourself in the world of your own influence. After all, presidents have never yet been able to save our country or her people. A country full of people who live lives full of Truth and Love, however? That sort of citizenry has been known to change the world.

Seeking Approval

Is there anything quite like the level of desperation we feel when seeking the approval of our parents?
I can remember as a child not being willing to go to sleep until an argument had been reconciled, even creeping out of bed at night to make sure Mom and Dad weren’t angry with me anymore.
Even as an adult, those feelings have not diminished in the least. In fact, since the situations I encounter these days are a bit more important in the realm of the eternal (raising small humans rather than being late for curfew), perhaps my desire for my parents to be proud of me has even grown.
What is this longing we have for those in authority over us to approve of us?
Even those who have had too many authority figures abuse their power have only pushed those yearnings deep down rather than never having had those feelings in the first place.
It must be something placed inside of us, something sown in the soil of our hearts.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
It must be a need to be who we were created to be, a need for the One who made us to approve of what we have become.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well…How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
The desperate hope that I will be able to please my parents must be the natural outflow of my hope that I will be able to please my God.
And just as my parents guided and taught me to do the things that pleased them, so God will teach me how to please Him, and I yearn in my deepest places for Him to do so.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
I have caught a glimpse of the beauty that we can become, and that glimpse drives the desire for God to judge our hearts and help us to look more like Jesus. I want Him to judge me so that He can help me become who He created me to be.
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
May God, out of His infinite grace, judge us all.

Scripture is from Psalm 139

Success With Values

My first guest post is written by my good friend, Andy Dunham.  Andy is a friend from my undergrad days whom I respect greatly. He is incredibly smart and incredibly funny…a fabulous combination for a friend! If you like what you read and want more, he writes with two other college friends at Enjoy!


I joined the world’s noblest fraternity earlier this year. After many, many hours of labor ended in a c-section, my wife and I finally got to meet our firstborn son on September 18. Several thoughts rushed to my tired yet jubilant mind as I held our baby:
  • How did a homely man such as myself get blessed with such a beautiful child?
  • Good grief, his hands are huge! He’s probably going to be taller than me one day!
  • How is it possible to love someone this much when you just met them?
These are pretty common sentiments for most new fathers. I guess I should have had some concerns about paying for college, etc., but that stuff will work itself out. Mostly, I was just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
There is another question that came to me then and continues to nag at, if not haunt, me now. That is, what sort of man will I teach my son to be?
I can show you more pictures! Really! Just ask!
There are certain things that we all try to teach our children: Play fair. Tell the truth. Try your best. Share. Don’t throw a fit! Don’t hit your brother! Don’t eat that! Yes, you have to eat that! These are the same things most of us were taught growing up. They make sense. If lived out, they create a happy home and a harmonious society.
Robert Fulghum explored some of these principles in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Here’s Fulghum’s list if you’re interested:
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
Sadly, Fulghum’s book has no rules about eating paste.
Pretty good list. Of course, Fulghum’s point is that these rules don’t just work for kindergartners but are for lifelong use. They are just as true and useful for a fifty year old as they are for a five year old.
I believe that. I try my best to live by these or similar principles. I mean, I’m not so good with the cookies and the naps, but I try to be a decent, fair person. Of course, I would add some things to the list: Love your neighbor, esteem others more highly than yourself, meditate on what is praiseworthy. But generally, sure, these are good principles to live by.
But, I have to admit, sometimes I get discouraged. Sometimes you look around, and it seems like the road to success is paved with selfishness and shady dealing, and people who adhere to the “kindergarten” principles are just fools:
  • I work as a trial attorney, and there is often a sense that you are not truly advocating for your client unless you are “pushing the envelope” through gamesmanship or other means: intimidating a witness, arguing passionately for a position you know not to be credible, being downright dishonest as a part of negotiations. Can a nice person be an effective litigator, or must we cede the field to the rude and unethical?
  • I need hardly comment on our political system, but the recent election reinforced how nauseating the process can be. I trust and hope that many (most?) of our elected officials began their political careers with a true desire for public service, but it seems that the current climate will allow nothing but rabid adherence to party lines, the public good be damned.
  • I had a client not long ago who told me that his hero was Donald Trump. Donald Trump?! The same petulant gasbag who I see on TV that would set his ridiculous hair on fire to get attention? A grown man who throws worse temper tantrums than a four-year old having a sugar crash after eating 25 pixie sticks and who has less sense of public decorum than a Rottweiler taking a dump on a public street? That Donald Trump? That’s what passes as admirable these days?
“You’re fired for not looking at me!”
  • I can’t even escape it when trying to watch a relaxing sporting event. Have you seen a college or NFL football coach recently? Between the joylessness of Nick Saban, the petulance and duplicity of Jim Harbaugh and the completely unhinged rage of most other coaches, it’s truly disturbing to watch. My current (least) favorite is Florida’s Will Muschamp, who looks like an actual psychotic person on the sideline. The picture below, in which Muschamp looks like he’s auditioning for Jack Nicholson’s role in a reboot of The Shining, was from the Florida-Georgia game earlier this year. Meanwhile, the announcers were chuckling about Muschamp’s “intensity” and “leadership” and other such nonsense. Leadership? This is how you treat another human being? By looking like you just snorted bath salts and are going to eat his face? This is what our society values and pays millions of dollars for?
“All work and no play makes Will a complete sociopath.”
So, it can be discouraging, or at least confusing. Is it better to teach my son to be a “man’s man,” to do whatever he must to get his way, to charm those you can, sling mud on those you can’t, and run over the rest to get where you want to go? Can you be a “success” and a decent human being at the same time?
You can. I believe you can, and there are many who have shown the way. You may be familiar with John Wooden, who is one of the most admirable people I’ve ever read about. John Wooden is one of the four or five best basketball coaches of all time, arguably the best ever. He led UCLA to ten national championships, more than twice as many as anyone else in college basketball history. He was also, by all accounts, an extraordinarily kind, thoughtful, and decent person, a man of faith and integrity, and an example to all around him. One story of him I cherish is that he wrote his wife a love letter every week and set aside time to spend with her. And, by the way, this continued for over twenty years after she died, with Wooden visiting her grave and delivering a letter every month. Wooden was truly a success in every sense of the word.
Achieving success with grace and class.
So, as I hold my son and dream of what he will be one day, I hope he will be a far greater man than his own father. I hope he will be a man who is a blessing to others. I hope he is a success, but that he does not have to abandon his values to become one. I know he can. Others have done it before.

Freedom Under Authority

I did it again.

I yelled with anger at my daughter.

She was not obeying.

Neither was I.

I’ve spoken before about the difficulty of obedience. Could we explore this a little further?

Part of the trouble, I think, is that we have come to view authority with suspicion. We see authority, even the authority of the Church, as being heavy-handed and suppressing. We think that authority keeps us from being truly free, keeps us from being the person we were meant to be.

I was listening to my Mars Hill last week and heard an interview with Victor Lee Austin, the author of Up With Authority, who suggests that we need authority in order to flourish as human beings.

He uses the image of a cellist in an orchestra. There are many pieces of music written for cellists that we can enjoy listening to, but that is only a small piece of what a cellist can do. For the cellist to flourish, for her to be more fully herself, she needs something bigger. For something bigger to exist, we need authority…the conductor. 

Authority, instead of crushing freedom (although unrighteous authority certainly can do that), enables and increases freedom. The more involved we are in complex society, the more we need authority making the decisions. Having true authority increases the “ability for persons to act in concert for good that can be achieved by corporate action”. 

Back to the orchestra for a moment: Austin says that “the conductor is drawing the cellist forward into a place where she can be more fully herself, which she didn’t necessarily see beforehand and that is through what happens as the orchestra plays”. 

If I could trust the authority of God enough to obey Him, I would become more myself, more free, more able to work for God’s glory and the good of those around me. 

Which leads me to the biggest reason I don’t obey: I don’t believe God.

That sounds horrid when I say it out loud, but it is true. If I truly believed that God’s way of love was better than Satan’s way of unrighteous anger, that it was more effective, I would show my daughters love rather than rage.

I have been reading Psalm 119 this week and was struck by the psalmist’s eagerness, almost desperation, to obey God:

vs 5-6: Oh, that my ways were steadfast when obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.

vs 10-11: I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

vs 15-16: I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

vs 20: My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.

vs 33-34: Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.

vs 45: I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

This goes on for 176 verses! 

I want so much to desire obedience with such fervor. But how?

I notice two things. 

I notice that David spends much of his time in beseeching God to help him obey.  

I notice that a delight in obedience seems to begin with a delight in God’s words, an immersion in the words of God.


God must change my heart to desire obedience, to desire Him.

In the book, Radical, by David Platt, I recently read this: 

The fruit of our salvation…is indeed a gracious gift from God.

I can’t even want to obey God, much less actually obey, without His gracious help.

In order for God to change my heart, I must steep myself in His words. 

If I meditate on His words, if I refuse to neglect His words, God will help my heart to begin to believe His promises.

Will you hide His word in your heart along with me? I am memorizing verses 33-34 this week: 

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

Will you join me in memorizing this and praying it to God this next week? What might He do in our hearts?

One last thing I noticed?

Seeking out God’s precepts results in the ability to walk about in freedom. 

God’s authority, His laws, gives us the freedom to truly be ourselves!

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

~ Will you go here for one more thing to read about the importance of memorizing the Bible?