The sign at the post office promised overnight delivery of first class mail to several zones. One of those was the 744 zone in Oklahoma which includes my hometown of Okmulgee. If I got a letter mailed by 5:30 in the afternoon, my parents would almost always receive it the next day. Then, I heard on the news that the post office was sometimes having trouble meeting such overnight commitments. A plan to remedy the situation was immediately put into action: the signs were changed. Today, the post office promises overnight delivery to only a handful of zones—a handful which does not include Okmulgee. Since the change, I don’t know of a single letter which has reached my parents overnight.
The signs on the checkout lines at the giant retail store promised that if three or more customers were waiting, more registers would be opened. On occasion it would be a little aggravating to realize that although I was third or fourth in line, no additional checkouts were opening. Recently, however, I noticed that the signs were gone, memorialized only by a remnant of the adhesive which formerly held them in place. This caught my attention when I was seventh in line at the checkout with no hope in sight for the opening of additional registers.
These are trivial concerns of little significance, but they are illustrative of our times. It seems we have decided that difficult challenges—once met with courage, persistence and ingenuity—are to be dealt with by setting our sights on less lofty goals. Some would argue that high standards discourage achievement because they are difficult to meet. They suggest that lower standards, easier to attain, improve our self-esteem and thus inspire us to reach greater heights. Unfortunately, they forgot to inform God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set many high standards, the most difficult of which is found in Matthew 5.48: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Have you ever wondered why Jesus made perfection our goal? It might seem especially puzzling in light of 1 John 1.8 which reads, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” I would suggest that God knows something which ought to be evident to us: without excellent standards, we will never achieve anything which even begins to approach excellence.
In the church, we have often followed society in lowering our standards—standards of study, of prayer, of conduct, of attendance, of language, of dress, of love, of giving, of service, etc. Sometimes, such has been the result of our desire to make Christianity more appealing to the world. Other times, we simply realized that our practices were not consistent with the standards painted on the signposts of our lives, and instead of resolving to live what we profess, we just decided to lower our expectations and goals.
We would do better to stop changing signs and begin exhibiting signs of change.