3 Requirements from God

Is the world too complex, or did we make it that way? What about our lives? Have we made it harder than it should be? And when it comes to a relationship with God, did we keep it simple, or did we allow all the laws, statutes, and bureaucracy to dictate the nature of our relationship?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

All the laws and customs broken down into two: Love God and love your neighbor.

From a scientific standpoint, the tree is a super-complex system. But long before man devised the science, the tree already knew the requirements to survive: earth, air, water, and light. With these simple ingredients the tree could dig deep, grow tall, and give back to nature. It could do its job.

What would God have us do? Would He have us live a faith so complicated that failure was all but imminent, a faith that would turn people away from Him because it was too hard? The prophet Micah would say otherwise. In fact, he wrote that there were only three requirements that God wants from us:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Act Justly

This is both an internal and external act. It is the path to righteousness. What is righteousness? It is right thoughts and right actions. Without vigilance, we can and will deviate from our true path in life. None of us are perfect, but we can get better. We can improve daily and get a little closer to where we should be.

How do we do it? We can start by following these words from Anne Frank:

How noble and good everyone could be if at the end of the day they were to review their own behavior and weigh up the rights and wrongs. They would automatically try to do better at the start of each new day, and…certainly accomplish a great deal.

Keeping a journal. It is a practice that many of the greatest thinkers in history implemented. If at the end of each day, we put our actions up for review, how much better could we become? And then in subsequent days maybe we would find ourselves a little more mindful of our actions. In time, patterns would emerge identifying areas of improvement.

  • Wow, I am really quick tempered! How can prevent making rash and ill-advised decisions?
  • Here, this behavior was fun in the moment, but the repercussions far outweigh the benefits.
  • I let this bad thought linger in my mind for too long. What could I have done to switch gears towards more productive and fruitful thinking?

Journal Item #1: Did I act with justice in my thoughts and in my actions?

Love Mercy

I’ve learned that people will forgive what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

I love this quote from one of America’s most beloved poets. And when I think of my actions from the past, “how I made others feel” far outweighs any other achievements.

Recently, I was asked to officiate an upcoming marriage. Sadly, my first thought was, “Why would they pick me?” Being my biggest critic, I know my flaws and imperfections and can’t imagine why this young couple would honor me with this duty. But then, “how I made others feel” came to mind. For almost twenty years I have been a good-standing member of this family, I have helped where I could, and I have tried my best to encourage and improve the lives of those around me. I may not think I have done enough in this world, but maybe I have left an impression in how they felt.

Can I say everyone I have crossed paths with would feel the same way? Not a chance. I was once a foolish young adult and have hurt plenty of people along the way. And those crimes lacking in mercy and kindness still haunt me to this day. I try not to spend my life worrying what others think about me, but if I am not liked, I don’t want it to be due to a lack of kindness.

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.

Oscar Wilde

Acts of kindness. Loving mercy. This is the second of God’s requirement for us. Doing so costs us very little but could change the lives of those we meet. By letting go of our pride, by not allowing perceived slights against our persons to be vindicated, and by being mindful that we are all fighting a hard battle, we can ease, or at least not add to, the burdens of others. We can have peace in our own lives as well as give peace to those in need.

Journal Item #2: How did I love mercy on this day? What small acts of kindness did I give? How did I make others feel?

Walk Humbly with God

A student could someday overtake the master, for they are both human.

I have had the honor of walking with those I considered a master. Powerful leaders, mentors, and respected family members. Though someday I would hope to be like them, maybe even surpass them in some way in the future, I would never in their presence try to overtake them. I would let them lead and humbly walk a step behind. This is my place, and I know it. It is a matter of respect and one of humility.

But who could walk with God and have hopes of surpassing Him? Who could think they could do it better, to be greater? To walk humbly with God is to know one’s place. He is the ultimate teacher, mentor, and leader, and we as students and servants can only hope to stay in step and remain in His presence. It is a walk. It is a journey. It is a relationship.

  • We can petition but not command.
  • We can praise but not curse
  • We can be the good stewards but not the master.

Journal Item #3: Did I walk humbly with the Lord on this day? Micah’s words are profound yet simple.

Why should we complicate these words to the point where we lose our ability to follow them? “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.”


Feature photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Day by Day

Each day is another link in the chain. Chains are no good if the links are weak. We can’t go back and fix our chain, but we can strengthen the newest links as we go along. We can build our links to handle a greater load, to be more resilient against outside forces, and to bolster us in times of need. We can create our chains of destiny to serve us and others when the need is the greatest. Everyday we forge a new link which means everyday counts. Throwing in a bad link every once in a while will do us no good. How can we build this chain?

Choice

What are our options? They are too numerous to count. But every choice matters; every decision counts.

The choices you make today will be your biography tomorrow.

James Altucher

One day, David decided to stay home. This was a choice. His country was at war. As the king, he should have been the one leading his men out to battle. In those days, that was his job. Instead, he made a self-serving choice that cascaded into a chain of subsequent bad choices. Laziness led to adultery which then led to murder. What started with one choice ended with a decree from God that the sword would never leave his house (2 Samuel 11-12).

Hopefully, the choices we make will not be as catastrophic as David’s. Yet,  they can quickly spiral downward if we do not remain vigilant.

Thought

Maybe, it is too simple to believe it is true. But here it is: We become what we think about (Emerson). If our minds are focused on violence all day, then in time we will become desensitized to it. We will begin to justify it in the behaviors of others. Eventually, we will even be able to justify it in our own behaviors. The same could be said for all the vices–slothfulness, drunkenness, gluttony, lust. Thankfully, this also holds true for the virtues—wisdom, discipline, justice, courage, love.

So, when we think about adding quality to our lives or subtracting undesirable traits, it begins with our thoughts.

Persist in visualizing the ideal man you are determined to be, and always think of yourself as you are ambitious to become. This mental attitude will help you to match your dream with its reality.

Orison Swett Marden

Action

Thoughts will set into our minds the types of people we wish to become. But at the end of the day, they must harmonize with our actions. Action is the testimony by which the world will view us. The houses we build in heaven are constructed by the works we do on earth. This is the Karma we set into motion while dwelling in our bodies. Every action has a reaction. Jung said, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” Not our words and thoughts, but what we actually do. This is the mark by which we will be known.

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.

Thomas Jefferson

We cannot control the outside forces that fate imposes upon us. Weather, fortune, and the deeds of others are often fickle and inconsiderate. Despite this, we can determine to be champions in this life, not victims.

Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.

Heraclitus

Don’t Fool Yourself

I look in the mirror. Whether good or bad, I only see what I want to see. My eyes only see what they have been trained to see. Everything else mysteriously gets dismissed. I find it amazing that a still image rarely matches what I saw in the mirror.

I take another bite. Today, the food looks good. It is pleasant to the senses and delights the palate. Sadly, it is not the best choice of food from a nutritional standpoint. Therefore, I will tell myself to only eat a little. Tomorrow, I am going to have a different opinion. Tomorrow, I am going to look back and wonder what I was thinking. Why did I pick that and why did I eat so much of it?

It is Sunday afternoon. I am feeling a little tired and decide to take a short nap (probably from all the food I ate). I set the timer for twenty minutes and get up two hours later. What happened?

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman

It is easy for me to look around and mentally note everybody else’s flaws. Why is that person so self-delusional? Don’t they know how foolish they look? Why do they eat such garbage and so much of it? Why aren’t they more active? Instead, they are just wasting away the time God has given them.

How is it that I am not so quick to notice my own flaws? In the moment, I acquiesce and give in to my base desires. These are the same desires that I am quick to notice and question in others. Yet, I have fooled myself to such an extent that I can no longer see these same behaviors in myself. The first principle is to not fool myself. Unfortunately, I have broken this principle too many times to count.

How do I improve knowing that I am so easily fooled?

  1. Have a plan. Without one, I am lost.
  2. Have a partner. I need someone to hold me accountable. Even more important, I must listen when someone calls me out.
  3. Check my ego. My ego says I can get away without consequences. It wants me to compare myself to others in a way that only points to my perceived goodness and to their inherent flaws.

To not fool myself is no easy task. Yet, it can be done. It requires vigilance and an honest appraisal of my actions.

A Straight Pathway to Achievement

A Tuesday night soccer game. Before the game, I was a little worried how our team would play. We were missing three players and would take the field with one less player than our opponent. At game time, I realized neither team would have any substitutes. It would be eight versus nine with the winner standing at the top of the league standings.

After 5 minutes of play, we went down 1-0. The star player on the other team scored the first goal. Oh no! This could get ugly fast. Yet, our team didn’t surrender. They never gave up and continued to run and play hard. Our defense collected themselves and became relentless in their pursuit of the ball. And in the proudest of dad moments…

My son, Alec, began to shine. He coached his teammates on what to do and where to go. He took over on offense with multiple break-a-ways. He  employed a few tricks that left the defenders watching him as he passed them by. After the dust settled, Alec had four goals on the tally sheet. We won 4-1.

Sometimes, a player gets lucky. Other times, a player just has a little more natural talent. But this performance wasn’t luck. It wasn’t natural talent. So, what was it? What separated him from the rest of the pack?

Having conceived of his purpose, a man should mentally mark out a straight pathway to its achievement, looking neither to the right or the left.

James Allen

Last season, Alec was good. He was one of the four best players on the best team in the league. He finished the season with one or maybe even two goals. He was happy to win and happy to provide key passes to the goal scorers. But he wanted more. He wanted to capitalize on the “oh so many close” shots. Last season was when he started to really get hungry.

During the offseason when he wasn’t in school or wrestling, Alec was outside kicking the ball until the sun went down. He would bring his iPad outside with him, watch a video, and then practice what he saw over and over until he learned the skill. If the weather kept him indoors, he was watching more videos, watching games, or playing soccer on his Nintendo Switch. Soccer was his focus, and it was laser sharp.

Of course, I love to see his work bear fruit. But what impresses me the most is seeing his work ethic. He found something he is passionate about. And to become the best version of himself, he never looked to the right or the left. He marked out his pathway and began the journey only the most dedicated are willing to take.

I spend so much of my time teaching and working with him. But watching him practice, I realized he was really teaching me. At his age, I never worked as hard as he did. And as an adult, I tend to waver from one pursuit to the next. I am a middling Jack-of-a-bunch-of-stuff, but a master of nothing. Alec, on the other hand, is on a path to mastery that I can only hope to be on one day. He is becoming my inspiration to be better, to try harder. Maybe, there will come a time that I can be like him.

One Link at a Time

I dream of the future. If unchecked, my dreams can take many twists and turns. The dreams are part of who I am. The ones that I find suitable, I chase like a hunter in pursuit of its prey. Unfortunately, I am not a master of hunting. I tend to get distracted. Rather than pursue the one big target, I find myself chasing multiple targets. All this chasing and nothing to show for it. Tired and hungry.

It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.

Winston Churchill

One link in the chain at a time. One target that is a link on my chain and not a link on a different chain. What are the requirements? Focus and Presence. Too many irons in the fire wastes too much material and leaves too many unfinished works. And whatever work does get done will most likely not be of the highest quality. In my chain of destiny, this is not what I want. I want a link that is solid and will stand the test of time. One link at a time. Oh yes, one link at a time.

The Work

I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.

Michael Jordan

When I was younger, I didn’t always do the work. Consequently, the outcomes I was hoping for rarely came. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I needed to do more work. This became my faith:

Do the work. The results will come.

How often is my faith tested? Am I only entitled to the work but not to the fruits? I try not to compare myself to others. But when I pick my head up from the work, I only seem to see the results others are getting. Where are my results? Where is the payoff from these years of struggle?

Do the work. The results will come.

I know I made mistakes. The track I am on is not the fast track. Heck, it is not even the medium track. However, this is the bed I made. I must sleep in it until I can produce a better bed. This is my race no matter how slow I go.

Do the work. The results will come.

I want to believe the results will come. Doing the work is all I have. I know for a fact that I won’t get the results I desire if I don’t do the work. Therefore, all I have is the work. if the amount of work I am doing is not getting the results, then I must do more work. The work must be smarter. It must be relentless.

Do the work. The results will come.

I pray for the strength to be able to do it. I pray that I may continue to fight this good fight. My mind and my hands were built to work. I have no other choice but to do that which I was called to do: the work.

A Revelation in Defeat

The Merchant.

Somewhere in the late 4th Century B.C., the ship casted off with all the merchant’s wealth invested in the purple dye contained within in the holds. This was the big score. Once traded, he would be at the top of the game. His family and business would be secure well into his retirement. There was only one problem. The ship never made it to its destination. His fortunes, hopes, and dreams lay at the bottom of the sea.

The Baller.

After 2 NBA championships, the sky was the limit for this 11x all-star. He was at the top of his game with many years still left to play. The preparation he put into his craft both on and off the court was paying off in spades. In February 2016, He was gearing up for another championship run with his team when things turned bad. A blood clot put him on the sidelines. At first, it was a setback. Then, it became a career-ender.

The Boxer.

He was a petty thief sent to a reform school at the age of ten. At fourteen, he learned to box and won a gold medal in the Olympics three years later. At twenty-one, he was the Heavyweight Champion of the World. But like most fighters, he eventually lost the belt.

It is easy to do anything in victory. It is in defeat that a man reveals himself.

Floyd Patterson

Life was good for the merchant Zeno. But what happened to his life after he lost it all? Zeno turned inward. Not in a depressing, moping kind of way. He didn’t turn to drugs and alcohol, binge watch the local circus, or engage in idle amusements to while away the time before his death. Nope! Instead, he got to work. He realized the tragedy he faced was not the end of the world. He started a school and created a philosophy that still is practiced by many today. Now, he is known as the father of Stoicism.

Players give their lives to their sports. At an early age, they trade their childhood and teenage years for the game. When the other kids are sleeping in, playing around (or goofing off), they are in the weight room, on the track, or at the practice facility going through their drills. The fraction of the percent of the players who become professionals had to rely on more than talent and the gifts their Creator endowed them with. It was their discipline, persistence, and tenacity that pushed them onto the big stage.

And what happens when it is all over? What’s next when their bodies can no longer handle the rigors of playing at an elite level? Many ride off into the sunset and into obscurity. Others become regular people working regular jobs. And then there are some, like Chris Bosh, who after being forced into retirement from a blood clot, became an author, community leader, and inspiration for the next generation. It is people like him that see meaning beyond the game. They see that winning is more than numbers on a stat sheet. It is the tally at the end of one’s life of bringing value to the world.

It is a fact that fighters get hit. They will get knocked down, and they will lose. The mark of a champion, however, is that they get back up. They don’t stay down. When Floyd Patterson lost his championship belt, he could have said he had enough. Instead, he became the first two-time heavyweight champion of the world. And though he never recaptured the belt a third time, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It wasn’t in the easy times that he became a champion. It was in the struggle where his true self was revealed.

We have all suffered setbacks and losses in our lives. We have all been knocked down. This is nothing new. Losing doesn’t make us special. Not everybody will get back up. But the ones that do, they are the true champions of life. The true strength of a person is revealed in the struggle. It is in getting back up.

Correct, not Critical

A dinner with family and friends led me the realization of how much I have grown up. A small victory, and I will take it!

I have only met the gentleman sitting across from me on a few occasions. All of them consisting of only a few brief words between us in a way of introductions and greetings. This dinner was the first opportunity to get to know him better.

As our food arrived, I noticed he had a vegetarian sub. So, I dove right in and asked a potentially loaded question. “Are you a vegetarian,” I asked. He said he wasn’t but was thinking about making the change. After watching the Netflix documentary Game Changers, he began a trial to see how he would like it. Of course, the show wasn’t his only reason for giving it a try. He also wanted to reduce the amount of prescription medication he was taking. I applaud any who makes the decision to make dietary changes to improve their health. Well done!

Where is my victory? In the past, a conversation like this could open a deep rift in nutrition ideology. I may no longer adhere to the carnivore diet, but I am still an avid consumer of meat. This admission may be offensive to those on the other end of the spectrum. My goal in the conversation was not to get him to change his mind but to understand his reasoning. It was not to criticize. Criticism often comes from ideological beliefs based on science, or doctrine, that supports those beliefs. This often leads to a shallow knowledge base that highlights a few key talking points while neglecting a complete understanding of the subject. When it comes down to it, criticism is the easy path.

How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.

Benjamin Disraeli

To be correct, one must dig deeper than the surface. It requires going beyond the thirty second video clips and the social media one-liners that are aimed at garnering “likes” by those in the same camp. Those posts aren’t designed to create understanding. Rather, they are meant to be polarizing. The result is a greater gap between factions. If we want to bridge the gap, we must seek to understand the other’s viewpoints.

So, what is my take on nutrition? It is simple: EAT REAL FOOD. The best thing we can do for our bodies is eat the foods we find in nature. If we can do our best to eliminate an excess of packaged, processed, preserved, chemically enhanced food, our bodies will thank us for it. And if we choose a diet that eliminates vegetables or meat, we must consider what else we are missing. Are we getting all our essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins? Are we giving what our bodies need to thrive? Instead of critical, we must seek to understand our unique bodies and how best we can fuel it to perform at an optimal level.

From the Beginning to the End

There is something beautiful about beginning a new adventure. The muse comes down and inspires the young hero to go on a quest. The way is unknown and holds great peril to the unsuccessful. But to the victor comes all the rewards: love, riches, and reputation. To the hero, it is a journey that is both noble and romantic. The only choice is to go forth and rescue the maiden, slay the dragon, and save the world. Therefore, the hero takes the first step.

The following steps are not so easy as the first one. Our hero encounters villains that have nothing to do with the quest but to cause mischief, doubters and naysayers that ridicule and scorn, and temptations that lure the young hero into complacency. The first step was exciting and full of hope. Every step after that was tedious and required an incredible amount of work just to take the next step.

Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We all have had our hero’s journey. Some of us might even be in one now. The journey could be losing ten pounds, quitting smoking, and finishing school. Whether big or small, it is important to us. It was great that we made the decision. Taking the first step was commendable. Unfortunately, there is no glory in only beginning the journey. Hope will wane as the trials begin. But we should not be faint of heart. The trials will make us stronger. It will make the prize at the end of the road even more precious. Great was the beginning, but greater still is the crossing of the finish line.

Want to Be a Sage?

I have had the same set of kitchen knives for over the last twenty years. The edge on these J.A. Henckels Four Star knives have held up remarkably well with little maintenance. They cut just as well today as they did when I first purchased them.

A dull knife is a poor tool. It is also dangerous to the user who is required to put more effort into the cutting. A sharp blade is efficient and makes quick work of the job, except if the knife is in the hands of an inexperienced user. They may cut more than what they intended.

A spear is not designed to cut. It is made to pierce. However, like the knife, in the hands of an untrained warrior or hunter, it is a poor weapon. Piercing everything but the target can have disastrous consequences.

Moving onto another tool that can both cut and pierce: the tongue. People generally welcome honest opinions. One should be able to freely express their feelings, opinions, and ideas. Yet, caution is needed here. Is this tool helping or harming its intended target? Spouting too much foolishness or having too little restraint will drive away any potential listeners.

The last tool is the flashlight. Oh yes, this is a valuable item to have in the dark. But if you shine it in the eyes of your companions, you will leave them dazed and unable to function. Their temporary blindness will be no help, and they will be wary the next time you hold the light.

The sage is sharp but does not cut, pointed but does not pierce, forthright but does not offend, bright but does not dazzle.

Lao Tzu

The mind of the sage is the ultimate tool. It is a tool for both the master and the disciple. Yet, if it cuts, pierces, offends, or dazzles, its effectiveness is diminished. It will be reduced to a tool left in the shed because no one will want to be anywhere near it. If we want to be a sage, we must be sharp, pointed, forthright, and bright. We must be an effective tool to be fully utilized by all.