Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Little Things Matter

I love reading advice columnists. Many letters from those seeking advice start with a phrase something like this: “My wife/husband/child/parent/significant other is charming, good-looking, adorable, nearly perfect in every way but. . . ”. The “but” often indicates some behavior, generally but not always done in private, that the letter-writer finds offensive or disgusting or horrifying or immoral or simply troubling and not resolvable.

Sometimes the letter-writer just needs to learn some tolerance and lighten up a bit. Often, however, that bit of questionable behavior indicates a deep crack in the soul that ultimately destroys hope of a loving and respectful relationship. I remember reading once that a person should never marry someone who treats restaurant servers poorly. Seems like such a little thing. Yet, it is often the little things that truly show character. And someone who treats wait-staff with disrespect will probably also treat others with disrespect—including spouses, children, parents and co-workers.

Here’s another phrase I’ve often heard tossed around: “The devil is in the details.” I actually prefer turning it to read, “The angel is in the details,” but both phrases say the same thing: little things really do matter. Have you ever been bitten by a fire ant or dive-bombed by a persistent mosquito or buffalo gnat? Suffered with a tiny piece of sand in your eye or a struggled with piece of food caught between your teeth or a splinter in your finger? What about being infected with the virus that causes influenza or an illness much worse than that? Tiny things. Big impacts. Sometimes, life and death impacts. Yep, those little things matter.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is recorded as having made these comments: “If you're honest in small things, you'll be honest in big things; if you're a crook in small things, you'll be a crook in big things. If you're not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?” (Luke 16: 10-12, The Message Translation).

These words make it clear even more clear: those things that are so often dismissed as “little” or “unimportant” matter. They matter a lot. They reveal the essential health or unhealth of the soul. Our soul-health is the measure of the state of our movement toward becoming Christ-like, the goal of all who call themselves by the name, “Christian.” A truly Christ-like person is willing to be held accountable for all areas of life, not just those that are put on for public show.

A counselor who works with pastors a great deal once spoke these words to the members of a class she was teaching: “There is one way I can tell if a pastor is getting into trouble. It is when he or she feels free to dip into the doughnut money and justifies it by thinking, ‘I already give so much anyway—I deserve to get something back.’” Noting the shocked look on the faces of her students, this wise counselor went on to explain. Such a tiny little visible compromise generally means that something major but deeply hidden is very, very wrong. Often, that major issue can be kept secret for years. The public side of that person looks untarnished and good. Nonetheless, that darkness will ultimately come out and leave a lot of devastation in its wake. The devil, or the angel, really is in the details.

We’re going to talk about this more on Sunday in a message called, “The Ethics Breaker” as we look at a really challenging story about a dishonest man who ends up getting a big pat on the back. Come join us—everyone is welcome to be a part of our worship at Krum United Methodist Church, W. McCart and Second Street.


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