This is the last of the series about what different things say about us. Our stats and our schedules say much about us. In addition those things that we allow to influence us says much about us also.
Practically everywhere you look—websites, print media, television, radio—one of the dominant stories of the week has been the return of Tiger Woods to the world of golf. He is competing in the most prestigious event that professional golfing hosts—The Masters at the Augusta National over in Georgia. There is a vast array of responses that are appearing from those who feel as if he should just go away contrasting with those who hope he wins it all in what might be hailed as the greatest comeback of any athlete ever.
The Tiger saga started several months ago when some of his very private moments hit the national scene because of his marital difficulties. Very little details were spared from the national scene through various news outlets. There appeared to be a morbid but quite naughty curiosity apparently from the whole world. The thing that struck me most was the incredible amounts of money that Tiger Woods made and then turned around and spent on very expensive toys. In fact when the figures were given as to the cost of his yacht, I thought to myself that if I were to just have the money he spent on the yacht, our church building fund would escalate and we literally could build fifteen churches for what that yacht cost.
We live in culture of deception and the last few years have brought this to light. You cannot hide sin forever and it has a way of worming itself out of the soul of men after it has devoured them. Think Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme where he rooked 55 billion dollars from unsuspecting investors. Think John Edwards who had a strong run at the White House, most likely as a Vice-President, but ruined it with his dalliances with Rielle Hunter. Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and others resorted to “juicing” and they hit more home runs than ever but in the end their achievements were sullied. Ted Haggard fits in the same box with Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker as all of these men tried to compartmentalize their sins while working in the religious world. The reason that men can do this sort of thing is because the culture of deception causes them to ultimately fall to the trap of self-deception.
How does one become self-deceived? There are facts that are blatantly ignored. There is a pressure to continue to perform despite the tank being empty. There is a blind pressing on that overruns the inner voice of the conscience. Tiger Woods was living in a pit of corruption whose depths were bottomless. How much money did he waste in this pit? How much of his soul did he sell to get to that place? Will his marriage ever recover? Will there ever be the level of trust established with his wife that was present at the beginning of his courtship? As with most rhetorical questions, we can only contemplate the answers within.
As the Masters plays itself out this weekend and Tiger Woods tries to get back to his game, my mind went to some of the comments that Charles Barkley made shortly after the Tiger story hit the headlines. He was offended that Tiger would not call him or Michael Jordan because they were his “friends” and could help him more than anyone else. Apparently it was the influence of Barkley and Jordan that led Tiger into his dark world of regret and failure. There are consequences of a man’s influences. One man challenged me a few years ago with this statement, “Tell me who your friends are and the books you read and I will tell you where you will be in five years!” This fellow was not clairvoyant, it was far more than that, and it was called godly wisdom. Influences make all the difference in the world!
It is in the early stages of a man’s life that often sets us in the direction that we will follow for the duration of our lives. Very rarely do men break out from under those earliest influences that contributed so much to their lives. Whether it was parents, teachers, pastors, or friends the level of early influence set the direction for their lives and they are now following through on that path.
My own life was shaped very much by my parents who demonstrated responsibility, honesty, integrity, and persistence that to some degree are present in my own life today. My pastor who is my father-in-law influenced me in areas of ministry that continue to prevail today. I think he would give his last dollar to missions and our church has endeavored over the years to follow that example and do the same thing. I have had good friends who have influenced me in proper ways toward a greater understanding of God and His Word. The world of medicine also had a deep impact on me and promoted an inquisitive mind that wants to turn Scripture upside down and ferret out every nugget that can be found. For all of these things I am profoundly grateful.
But there have been crossroads that I have come to when I had to make choices, particularly with people that I would meet, who would have had a very negative effect on my spiritual life. Just as Jordan and Barkley were bad for Tiger, there have been those who would have been detrimental to me. As time has passed on, I have become aware of this, but when I was vacillating about whether or not to allow this influence into my life, I did not have the barometer of experience to give me the forecast of how it would turn out. But I did have the guidance of the Spirit and I learned that sometimes that the gift of discernment will express itself my making you very, very uncomfortable with the surroundings you are in and the voices that you are listening to. It was but for the grace of God that I ignored those voices and their siren calls.
Give yourself to reading the books of dead men. Men like Ravenhill, Tozer, Bounds, and the Puritans. You certainly have to read with filters but take a sermon of Spurgeon’s and compare it with the sermons of modern day preachers and it won’t take very long to discover an obvious difference in the depth of understanding in previous generations to ours today. Read Maclaren Macartney, J. C. Ryle and G. Campbell Morgan. I have some older blogs about devotional reading, sermon preparation, one created by E. E. Jolley and personal growth that might point you in a direction of growth.
Ralph Turnbull—During my ministry I was able to devote a year to reading all of Alexander Whyte. Other years were given to W. Graham Scroggie, G. Campbell Morgan, Samuel Chadwick, J. H. Jowett, and G. H. Morrison. A winter apiece was spent with C. H. Spurgeon, Jonathon Edwards, and Phillips Brooks. I read selections from the last three to gain a feel for their preaching styles, whereas the works of others mentioned were read in their entirety. Biographical studies of each were part of the investment.
Give yourself to friendships that stretch you to be godly, righteous, and more spiritual. Listen to what these voices are saying and it won’t be long before their conversation is going to give you some insight into their soul. Words are an expression of our soul.
Thomas Watson—Walk with them that are holy. ‘He that walketh with the wise shall be wise’ (Proverbs 13:20). Be among the spices and you will smell of them. Association begets assimilation. Nothing is greater in power and energy to effect holiness than the communion of saints.
Give yourself to being saturated by the Word. The only way we will become Word saturated is to spend time with it. The Word can so saturate your life that you will begin to view your world through the lenses of Scripture.
Thomas Watson—David valued the Word more than gold. What would the martyrs have given for a leaf of the Bible! The Word is the field where Christ the pearl of price is hid. In this sacred mine we dig, not for a wedge of gold, but for a weight of glory. The Scripture is sacred eye-salve to illuminate us. ‘The commandment is a lamp, and the law is light’ (Proverbs 6:23). The Scripture is the chart and compass by which we sail to the New Jerusalem. It is a sovereign cordial in all distresses. What are the promises but the water of life to renew fainting spirits?
Give yourself to prayer. This prayer business is hard work but it is what Epaphras did with his life.
Thomas Watson—These wandering thoughts [in prayer] arise from the world. These vermin are bred out of the earth. Worldly business often crowds into our duties, and while we are speaking to God, our hearts are talking with the world: ‘They sit before me as my people, but their heart goeth after their covetousness’ (Ezekiel 33:31).
I trust you choose your influences as well as you choose other things. . .