He who walks with integrity walks securely,
but he who perverts his ways will become known.
I love antiques. I’ve got several pieces in my house. The 1930’s table I slaved over for hours to refinish. The steamer trunk brought from Germany by my relatives. The little wooden rocker passed on to me by my mom. They’re all neat and special, but I would have to say that my favorite set of antiques is my book collection. Over a hundred roughed up novels, school text books, and history guides grace the shelves of an equally roughed up antique book case I got from my great grandparents’ farm house. The writing style and topics of each book tell a lot about the authors and the times they lived in. Never mind their frayed pages and worn out covers from as early as 1880. It just shows their character – the value of their age.
While antique books might show off their age to the world by their style and cover quality, you show off your value to the world by your character. This has nothing to do with your “cover,” though – that outside shell that, depending on your skin type, body build, or hair color, may or may not make you feel beautiful. This is about who you are on the inside . . . and how you live.
Character – doing what’s right all the time – is like a rare book at an antique store. It’s hard to find and very valuable. People who live with character are just as few and far between. You have to search hard to find people who will always be honest. People who will treat others like they would like to be treated.
The world shows off talent, looks, and personality. But what God loves the most is a person who will be a “pattern of good works” (an example) to those around them. Someone who will do what’s right at all costs. That’s the life that God rewards. You’ll be secure because God is always faithful to bless someone who chooses to live and act like Him. It may look like the world is making it big because they took some shortcuts along the way. But just watch; you’ll see their lives fall apart while you live in peace.
If you want to stand out and have the best, live in character. You’ll get the best job and the best grades. You’ll find surprise gifts because you helped someone. You’ll find friendships with people who will be true and good to you. Like an antique book, you’ll become more and more valuable as the world falls off the shelves because they didn’t know how to live God’s way.
On some of those annoying days when I don’t know what to wear, I wish I had a climate remote. If it’s raining and I need it to be clear, I could just push a button. If it’s cold and windy, with just a flick of my finger I could have the temperature I want. An instant, self-adaptable atmosphere for just me!
Unfortunately, such a gadget hasn’t been invented yet, and I doubt God would go for it anyway. But there is an atmosphere that we do have control over. It’s the atmosphere of our lives. Regardless of the situations around us – good or bad – we can choose whether or not they influence us.
In Mark 4:35-41, we see a classic example of two different people and how they responded to their “atmosphere.” Jesus and the disciples board a fishing boat for a cruise, only to be swept up in a vicious storm. Jesus has long been asleep (peacefully, of course), but the disciples are overwhelmed by the giant waves and crazy winds. Their cry for help wake Jesus up. Not to be daunted by a downpour, He keeps His peace and commands the storm to stop. Instant peace settles over the scene. The hero? Not the stressed out disciples who slaved for hours bailing out their boat. Jesus, the one who kept His peace intact, was the one to thank for their salvation.
If Jesus had been influenced by what was going on around Him, I predict there would have been thirteen funerals the next day. But instead of allowing the storm and other people’s opinions and attitudes to decide His future, Jesus took control and recreated His atmosphere. This is the power of someone who isn’t ruled by their emotions, but is ruled by the never-changing promises of God. The disciples looked at their circumstances and let their emotion of fear cause them to panic; Jesus trusted in God and allowed peace to put Him to sleep in the middle of the storm. Then He had enough trust to speak a word that would change the storm.
Just like Jesus proved, God’s spoken Word changes everything. The first and most important way to change our atmosphere is to speak God’s promises. Death and life is determined by what we let out of our mouths (Proverbs 18:21). If what we’re speaking is depression and doubt, then that’s exactly what we’ll have in our lives. But if a cheerful, blessed atmosphere is our choice, we should speak only what we want to see in it!
Every day habits and decisions count if we want to be surrounded by a pleasant atmosphere. A “Word influenced” person will steer a conversation from something negative to something positive. They are cheerful, grateful, and thankful, even when no one else is. They choose wisely what they listen to, read, and watch. They start their day right with prayer and Bible reading. They choose their friends carefully, because they know that who they hang around the most will influence who they are and what they think. This person enjoys an atmosphere of peace simply because of their choices. And when a storm comes up in their lives, they have the strength to keep that peace.
The world worries and is controlled by many things. But we’re in Jesus’ boat – loved, protected, and provided for. That boat won’t sink as long as our trust is in the One who gave us our “boat” in the first place. God wants us to live forever in the peace He’s promised. But the choice is still ours: Will situations and people create our atmosphere, or will we?
I'm thankful, though, that there's Someone that isn't intimidated by transplants. God's done thousands of them. But not on flower bushes and potted plants. His expertise is in the transplanting of a person's heart. The day we asked Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, out came the old sinful heart and in came a beautiful perfect heart. The process was painless and quick without the use of a spade or gardening gloves. It was a complete and perfect work that only God could do.
Unfortunately, that beauty on the inside needs a little help showing up on the outside. Our minds and bodies still crave the things we used to do before the “great transplant.” The alarm clock still makes us cranky at six in the morning. Packing in an excess of German Chocolate cake and Oreo ice cream is still an overwhelming temptation. Somehow we still manage to snap when things don't go our way, and we just can't pass up that juicy bit of gossip. Suddenly, we don't feel so beautiful. In fact, if anyone were to ask, we'd call ourselves downright ugly. So we find a dark corner and sulk . . . because who could possibly see anything beautiful in all that?
Think about the Morning Glory flower. You know, the fast-growing vine with heart shaped flowers that could beautify even the ugliest fence? They always seem to be so happy and cheerful when we manage to get out of bed and peer out the window. Or at least they'd like to make us think they're always that way. But they have a secret – in the dark, they're not as beautiful as they could be. In fact, their petals close up the moment the sun stops shining. Darkness sets in and they become shy and introverted. Gone is the glorious color we enjoyed in the daylight.
We can be like that Morning Glory in the dark, closed up and afraid to show our faces because of the flaws we see in ourselves. But God never wanted us to be that way. He created us to be so much more than a closed, timid flower. Despite the flaws we see in ourselves, God has always seen our potential for being beautiful like Him. Even when we feel the ugliest because of the way we've acted, He still sees the beauty – the glory – that He placed in us.
Let's take a peak at 2 Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
I also like how the Message Bible puts it: “Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
If we watched a Morning Glory at dawn, we'd see it acting not much different than the rest of us – in no hurry to wake up and get out of bed. As the sun pours down it's warmth, the Morning Glory slowly opens it's petals. A little stretch here, a little yawn there, and we see a full flower sporting its lovely colors. What seems like a sudden event to the neighborhood has now blossomed into reality.
We're not much different. Like a Morning Glory gives way to the morning light, change in our lives takes place step by step. The progress is “brighter and brighter, from glory to glory.” When we spend time with our Heavenly Father – basking in His sunshine – the irritating flaws, annoying character traits, and selfish habits start to slip away. His Spirit works in our hearts, transforming us from a struggling flower to a confident bloom. We wake up one morning and realize that under those crumpled petals is a color deeper than we ever imagined possible.
In all the glamour of the competition, I can't help but think about people like you and me who may never step foot on a modeling runway. May never have our bodies or talents judged, or have a glittering Miss Something crown placed on our heads. Where does that leave us? Stranded backstage, crowned as Little Miss Nobodies? That's how I would be tempted to feel . . . if I didn't know that comparing myself to someone else was not in the plan of God for me.
Galatians 6:3-5 from The Message has helped me out: "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life."
If that wasn't convincing enough, take a look at Galatians 5:26. Basically it says that since we've chosen the Christian way of living, we're not to play the comparisons game: "That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original."What a relief! God just took all the stress out of our lives by saying each one of us was original with an original God-planned job to accomplish! That vocation isn't supposed to be spending every day of our lives comparing ourselves to that year's Miss USA. The only thing we're supposed to be comparing ourselves to is how I'm shaping up to the "original" person God's made me to be.
I have to admit, though, that it's a little tough focusing on our "originality" if we don't even know what makes us original. Miss USA airs on the TV and we sit numb wondering what could possibly make us special next to her. We get the shakes thinking about a judge dissecting everything about us from the way we talk to the shape of our noses.
Thankfully, God hasn't left us in the dark to our identity. We find out by making "careful examination of who you are." In other words, we have to stop looking at what the world thinks we should be and focus on who we really are.
What's so original about us? Let's take inventory:
We are original, hand-picked children of God! Chosen, royal, and holy! No one can say we're not good enough, because on God's runway, there's no flaw found on us! What used to be the old us is now something incredibly new and beautiful to God. We've got all it takes to win the pageant of life! And we've got the awesome blessings of Heaven to pave the way for our success! (Romans 8:16, 17; I Peter 2:9, 10; Colossians 1:21, 22; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:37)
I don't know of any beauty pageant criteria that could top that! These attributes are the truth because God announced that it is so. Not just when we're young and have minimal wrinkles. Not just when we're at the peak of our talent career. This is absolute 100% of the time for our whole life!
Unfortunately, the world doesn't believe this. That's why we've got to constantly "sink ourselves" into the reality of who we really are in God's eyes. He's the ultimate Judge who will never vote His children out of the contest. Make His opinion the only opinion worth believing!
"So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. "
The other day, though, I tried on something that didn't require a visit to the mall. It was my mom's wedding dress - almost thirty years old. Despite the slightly yellowed fabric and the wonderful seventies look, it fit perfectly! From the ruffled neckline, to the tapered waist, to the puffed sleeves, you would have thought it was made with me in mind.
Your seamstress, store clerk, and wedding coordinator isn't the only one who has your best fit in mind. God's also got a wardrobe of hand picked outfits that He's designed for you - outfits that He'd like to see you put on and flaunt every day. They're modest, beautifully handcrafted, name-brand attributes that draw attention to the One who made them.
Let's look at that wardrobe:
Compassion: How many times have you felt numb towards some one's plight? God says, "These people and their situations are important to Me. Help them out."
Kindness: This isn't just being "nice." This is deep-down care and affection that doesn't look at whether or not the person deserves it.
Humility: No big heads here! You know who made you and how you got here, so you couldn't brag if you tried.
Quiet Strength: The strongest people are not the ones who barge into a hard situation and loudly take control at the expense of everyone else. They are firm in their decision, but gentle in their approach.
Discipline: Got things to do? A disciplined person knows their priorities. They can get the most important things of life done, even when they don't feel like it.
Even-tempered: Moody people are hard to please. Choose to let God's nature on the inside of you decide how you're going to act and feel.
Content with Second Place: If Sally gets first place, a content and secure person won't make a fuss. They will rejoice with the winner, and be happy they were in the contest.
Quick to Forgive: Never hold a grudge. Don't let the sun go down while you're angry. God forgave the moment the first drop of blood fell from the Cross.
Love: Love drives you to honor God with your life. It compels you to treat people the way God always wanted them to be treated. Never leave home without it!
That's a pretty full closet! But you're not too big, and you're not too small, to fit in to any of these! When you were born again, all these characteristics were "hung" in the closet of your life. Since God purchased these garments for you, it's your job to take them off the hanger and put them on. There's no need to head for the fitting room. Make a decision every morning that you're going to wear them. The more you read about the value of these outfits, value them, and stay close to their Designer, the more you'll see them gracing your life for all to see!