But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards. Matthew 7:24-25 (The Message)
Have you ever thought about why you act in a certain way? Or, why do you say things or respond to things in a particular manner? The answer is that you generally act and speak out of a set of imbedded values – things that are important to you that often are the unseen guidelines as to what you say, think or how you behave.
These imbedded values often aren’t even articulated when you act or speak. You don’t ever say “I am going to answer this question this way so I can be consistent with this value that I think is important.” They have become second nature.
I started to write this as a 5,000-foot view on what values are and why they matter some time ago. I didn’t realize how big and complex a topic this is. It’s easy to say something like “values are important” and “you should have some if you are concerned about your character.”
But the how and why is a little more complex. Bear with me, then, as I tackle this. Values may be abstract concepts, but they have a real impact on what we say and do.
One of the things that is missing today – a proverbial hole in the donut – is a lack of core values by the next generation. As I have noted elsewhere, they are Asian in outlook which means that their choices and decisions are driven less by core values than by what “feels good” at the moment (see my post entitled “Honesty”).
I need to be precise here – it’s not that they don’t have any values, but their values are not anchored in anything that prior generations recognize, and are often self-centered. We even often refer to the millennials as the “Me Generation”.
Unfortunately, what feels good today may not feel good tomorrow, resulting in decisions that are often almost whimsical, irrational or lacking logic. In the Christian context, our basic values are based on biblical truths, but we are living in a post-modern and post-Christian era where those values are largely not articulated nor observed by the next generation.
For two millennia, Christianity provided a moral code that had rights and wrongs – think of the Ten Commandments. You don’t lie, you don’t steal you don’t murder, etc. These are what I call black/white principles – there is no grey in whether you lie, steal or commit murder.
Jesus really simplifies it to just two commandments: Love God first, and then love your neighbor as yourself. Easier said than done. On the other hand, if you ask a millennial if it’s OK to lie, you might get an answer like “it depends on the context.”
So, what is a value? Well, it’s definition is pretty straightforward: Values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life. In essence, they are the principles, standards, convictions and beliefs that people adopt as their guidelines in daily activities. Culturally, those values form the basis for laws and ethics in the culture. Most laws and legislation are shaped by human values.
The Pew Research conducted a study in 2015 indicating that the public is becoming less religious in the United States. This is partly because of the existence of the “Nones” who are those who indicated they have no religious affiliation of any kind. “Altogether, the religiously unaffiliated (also called the “Nones”) now account for 23% of the adult population, up from 16% in 2007.”
As a result of this trend which is only increasing according to my futurist colleagues, the foundation of our values is starting change rapidly, and it’s having an impact in some very startling ways. The rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage in the past ten years is a prime example. Public opinion switched very quickly on this one issue alone, leaving many in the Christian community confused and confounded.
This increasing lack of values is not just an American phenomenon. Anita Etanga, who adopted me as “Dad” a year ago, mentors teens in Limbe, Cameroon. When I asked her what their greatest need was, she did not hesitate and she said that they have no values.
These teens are our future – this next generation will become leaders of tomorrow, and if they have no values, it’s going to be hard for them to make consistent decisions, or even good decisions. If the lines between right and wrong begin to blur, it will be difficult if not impossible to distinguish a good from a bad decision.
Religion and philosophy have played a role in developing values over the ages, and such development may be different in other cultures. As Hollinger wrote in a recent treatise: “What is right, or normal, or perceived to be good may not be right, or normal, or good to those with different beliefs.”
A simple example is the difference in Sharia law which is predominant in the middle east, which has very different values when it comes to the role of women as well as their punishments than most western cultures.
Those differences collide when those who come from a culture that believe in Sharia law emigrate to a country where those are not mainstream beliefs or law. You need only to look at the difficulties of the mass immigration of people from Africa and the middle east into Europe to see the clash of these cultures, which is really a clash of values.
Ultimately, beliefs and values results in behavior, and behavior that is consistent with a set of expressed values results in credibility. Said otherwise, one has to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Integrity in your actions and core values are the sine qua non of integrity.
Without integrity, leaders undermine their credibility. I need only cite examples of moral failures of leaders, politicians and pastors – we know them all too well. Once it happens, their credibility is gone, and their ability to be restored back to leadership is often impaired or eliminated.
Christian values, unlike others, are based on the acceptance of Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, and these become the cornerstone of our social values. They are anchored in biblical standards which do not change and are based on truth and love. Jesus reserved particularly harsh words with the ruling elite of his time – the Pharisees – whose actions and speech did not match. He called them hypocrites. That’s when your speech and action are disconnected.
So, getting back to the question I first raised: Why do values matter? To me, to you, and to our culture? Again, I am talking about from a Christian perspective. The answer is pretty simple, actually. Values – those principles and beliefs that we hold personally important – will dictate our decisions and our actions. If, for example, you hold truth and honesty as a core value, then you will make decisions based on that and do things consistent with that value. You won’t need to consider the context of a situation as to whether or not to be truthful or whether or not it would be beneficial to lie.
Truth is not relative in context. In fairness, we often soften an answer to not appear being judgmental or harsh so as to avoid causing emotional damage to the listener (telling your wife that her dress looks awful could be replaced with a suggestion that maybe there is a better color that suits her, for example). Or, if she asks you “am I fat?”, she really doesn’t want you to say yes.
More importantly, having a set of core values really helps in making decisions or determining the correct course of action. Values provide a grid through which you can screen an issue or situation and help you arrive at the best answer.
It also helps you in your evaluation of others – do they operate out of a set of values, and if so, are those values consistent with yours? To a certain extent, the phrase “birds of a feather stick together” actually has some validity. If your friends have compatible values, your likelihood of having the relationship grow deep is greatly enhanced.
The challenge here is for each of us to look at what we value – what are our core values? If it is integrity, for example, then you should be concerned about your credibility – do you really act and behave consistent with your core values? Do your actions reflect those values? Admittedly, there are situations where you can find yourself conflicted.
Life is not always a black or white matter where actions and answers are clear. I often described it as living in the grey area – where there are not clear right or wrong answers where you have to actually dig in and think through a specific path by critically thinking about the consequences.
We turn to God in those times of need – asking Him to give you wisdom. But it’s also those times when you need a sounding board – a mentor or close Godly friend to turn to go through the pros and cons of your decisions. If you don’t have a mentor or a friend to turn to, then my challenge is for you to find one.
Proverbs 15:22 says it best: Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. As the Matthew passage above suggests, you don’t want to be a stupid carpenter living in a house of cards.
FURTHER STUDY: You can explore a list of 24 Values and how they act out in life: http://changingminds.org/explanations/values/via.htm
For the Pew Study in 2015 about the decline of religion: http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/
Thomas D. Hollinger – Placing Christ at the Center of Christian Leadership Values: https://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/innerresources/vol2iss3/hollinger.pdf
For an article discussing same-sex marriage and the Church: http://www.jennieallen.com/i-believe-in-us-church/
WORSHIP: Listen to Kari Jobe sing Healer: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=yset_safari_syc_oracle&p=healer+kari#id=5&vid=339940fd004e22d7776efdb5e37604a6&action=click
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