Three Core Convictions
Over the past few years, I have had the enormous privilege getting to know Dr. Bill Brown. Dr. Brown served as the president of Cedarville University for a number of years.1 After leaving Cedarville University, Dr. Brown became a vice-president for a software development firm in Kiev. Since inquiring minds always want to know, I asked Dr. Brown as he took this new position, “What on earth do you know about Russian software development?”
Here is my paraphrase of what he said, “The biggest challenge of every organization, no matter what the field, is not technical, but personal. The biggest obstacles many people face are how to lead ourselves and get along with others.”
As insightful as this was, what made the biggest impression on me is Dr. Brown’s belief that life should be centered on a few core convictions. These convictions should hold true in any setting and serve as our guide.2 Since our first conversation about this, I have been drafting, clarifying and meditating on these in my own mind. In full disclosure, since I took the idea of having three core principles for everything, it only seemed right that I “borrow” the first principle from him as well. Here are the convictions that I am attempting to build my life around. They, as I, are still a work in progress.
1. Grace Toward Everyone
This simply means, that we want to treat everyone better than they deserve or expect to be treated in any situation. We want to be as kind as possible. This requires that we have to put aside what we want or feel at times in order to “give up what we want so that others can get what they need.”
How do we do this practically? One way is to assume the best in all situations. This means that if someone begins missing deadlines or begins acting more “selfish” over time, that we assume that there is some good reason for doing so. So instead of approaching that individual angrily and saying something like, “You know this is the third time in a row that you have inconvenienced everyone by making everyone wait on you.” we instead say something like, “Hey I have noticed that you have been late the last couple times, has something changed in your life that you would be comfortable talking about?” I have learned that when people let you down, it is usually not because they intend to do so, but rather because life gets messy and they are doing all they can do to keep their head above water.
When we extend grace toward everyone, it does not mean that others are unaccountable and inconsideration is dismissed. It simply means that in every relationship, we should do more giving than taking: giving of attention, privileges, and forgiveness.
Perhaps my favorite story in all the Old Testament is the book of Hosea. This book is about a man named Hosea who was married to a woman named Gomer. Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea and bore children in this marriage that were conceived through her adultery and harlotry. Gomer finally gets caught and is brought to public auction as a slave. Hosea then becomes the highest bidder, but does not buy her to become his slave. Rather, he redeems her to be his bride. It is a picture of what Christ does for us. And it is therefore, a model of how we ought to extend grace to others as well.
2. Honor God in all things
We want God to be honored in all the activities of our lives. The activities include how we treat others, complete a task at work, or go out with friends. We are representing God. We are Christ’s ambassadors in everything that we do and say (2 Corinthians 5:20).
When we have to make a difficult decision, we want to God’s character and word to be considered. When we interact with one another, we want it to be honorable before God. When facing a tough choice, we ask ourselves, “What would bring the most honor to God?” This also means that we honor God by following His word, loving others, working hard, and treating people with kindness and compassion.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
3. Excellence Through Simplicity
I heard recently that “excellence is doing the best you can with what you have.” One challenge in life is that we feel we need to keep doing more and more. We have become overwhelmed and exhausted; we fail at nearly everything (Don’t believe me? – How is that New Year’s resolution coming?) and then try to solve this problem by trying harder and trying to do more. A great sculpture is made, not by adding material, but by very intentionally, removing excess material until the masterpiece is created. If you are like most people, your life would more excellent not by adding things, but by simplifying things.
Life becomes complicated when perfection becomes more important than the people that are valuable to us.
We are often reminded of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. [a]Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
We notice that in this passage, Jesus never condemn Martha for all her preparations, but rather says that Mary, had chosen what was “better.” Martha is an example of someone becoming exasperated (and irritable) because she felt excellence was not enough, perfection was demanded.
Many times, life becomes complicated when we feel that we have to do, or be, all that we see in someone else. It is better to be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of everyone else. Relentlessly make life and ministry simple – but make it excellent.
“Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
As we go through this season of Lent, I would encourage you to think about two or three core convictions that can anchor you when circumstances, time, and opportunities can cause you to loose focus or get distracted.
1 Dr. Brown is now a Senior Fellow for Worldview and Culture at the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
2 In fact, Al Mohler writes, “Convictions are not merely beliefs we hold; they are those beliefs that hold us in their grip.”