Monday, May 16, 2011

The Residue of Another Day

By David Horn, ThD
Director, The Ockenga Institute

When I came through the front door of the house the other day, Cec, my wife, hardly had to look up. She knew precisely what I had been doing that afternoon. I wore the residue of my day’s avocation like a woolly cloak. Although she hadn’t followed me step by step through the day, she knew with certainty my life had something to do with rich black dirt, back yard greenery, mulch and twigs , and…sweat. I had spent the entire day accumulating such, little by little. What to do with the excesses of the day? Off to the shower I went.
We talk a great deal these days about building lives of character, both in our churches but also in terms of a larger value-laden conversation we have with our culture. More times than not we speak of the enterprise in simple subjective terms as if character were a commodity that is manufactured solely from within ourselves. Like hardboiled New England farmers we think of character building as picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and “just doing it!”
Without diminishing our own initiative in living lives of integrity, I am increasingly thinking of character as an external phenomenon, as those things in life that cling to us. I used to meet regularly with a group of men on Wednesday mornings, and we used to talk often about the nature of temptation and the fact that none of us seem to get through a day without feeling the often-times grimy effects of the culture around us. How do we keep ourselves clean when our entire environment is so contaminated?
Indeed, in many respects, we are the sum total of the residue that clings to us. None of us—not even those of us who live between parsonage and pulpit—live outside the realm of our influences. And isn’t it the case that the influences that are least apparent to us are the most destructive spiritually? And we wonder why the Apostle Paul is so intent on disciplining us to put on the whole armor of God to combat the influences that so easily cling to us.
But, to speak of Christian character only in terms of the boot black that rubs off on us from our world is to look at one side of the story. What of the godly residue that we brush up against in the context of the influences God places in our lives each day? Can you name the five most influential individuals in your life, past and present? Who has God put in your life that has shaped you, one person, perhaps, who has altered your thinking and behavior in dramatic ways? Who has left a residue on your life? And, what character residue are others receiving from you as a result of your influence on their lives?

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