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“Wait a minute,” you might be saying.  I thought I just read this post.  Actually, you read that post.

My wife, Anna, went on a Women’s Retreat this weekend with our church, and before she left, she asked me to return a half gallon of milk she bought last week.  She said that she had purchased the milk before realizing it was set to expire the following day.  She called the store to see if she could make an exchange, and they said that would be fine.

So I went to the store on Sunday afternoon to make the exchange.  I explained the situation to the woman at the Customer Service counter, and she told me to go ahead and pick out a new carton.  After asking for directions, I headed back to the dairy section.  But when I picked up the replacement carton and checked the expiration date, I noticed it was the same as the one I was returning:  4/4/10.

I realized that 4/4/10 was not last week.  You might have realized it too.  That’s basically a month from now.  At that point, I wasn’t sure if I even knew how to read expiration dates correctly, so I turned the carton over and looked for anything else that looked like a date.  But 4/4/10 was the only date I could find.

I then realized that Anna had made her purchase on 3/3/10, so I suspected she just made an oversight on the date, focusing on the day rather than the month.  I can’t blame her—I do this kind of thing all the time.

But then I thought:  “The woman in Customer Service has already said I can make the exchange.  And the milk has been sitting in the car for 3 days, so it’s definitely bad now.  Maybe I can just make the swap anyway.”  And I almost walked out of the store.  But then the Spirit spoke to me once more:  “How much did you say your integrity was worth?”

I quickly came to my spiritual senses.  Of course I couldn’t make this swap.  It wasn’t the store’s fault that the milk was bad now—it was mine for leaving in the car for 3 days.  And if my integrity was worth more than $2.25, it was certainly worth more than $3.76.

All this reminded me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature; either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself…Each of us at each moment is progressing to one state or the other.

I was amazed by the fact that my decision last week to pay for the train ticket instead of getting away with not paying had not left a deep enough impression on me to make me a person of integrity.  In other words, I wasn’t fixed.  Here I was again, facing the same moral dilemma, and my instincts were towards evil.  But I did notice on this second occasion that it was easier to make the right choice; I had already practiced last week.

I suppose there’s a certain amount of spiritual inertia present in our daily walks with God.  The more quickly we submit to the Spirit’s leading in our life, the easier it becomes to continue walking with Him.  But every step we take off the path, going deeper and deeper into the mire, the harder it becomes to turn back.

God grant us the mercy and favor to continue making small, right choices each day, to become more and more of a heavenly creature, so that when He asks us to make a big, right choice, we find it to be one of the easiest decisions of all.

Question:  Do you find obedience gets easier each time you obey, and vice-versa?

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  • Debbie

    Chris, once again, you encourage my heart and make me smile. My husband and I walked this walk (and still do).Once, my husband and young daughter found $50 on the supermarket floor. He took it to customer service and turned it in. The service people said to check back in 10 days, if it hadn't been claimed, it was ours. Good friends of ours (strong believers who in fact taught at Bible school and had been pastors) thought we were crazy."The customer service people will just keep it and say someone claimed it. You should have kept it. What difference would it make?"

    What difference would it make? Well, for all we knew that was all the money whoever lost it had. Regardless, God would know, the great cloud of witnesses would know, we would know (our daughter would know). What difference would it make? It was the right thing to do. The money wasn't ours. It belonged to someone else. If the customer service people chose to keep it, that was not our concern, it was God's. It was between God and those people. What we did was between God and us.

    10 days came and went, perhaps even more. My husband went back. The money had not been claimed and we were 50 dollars richer. And the customer service people did not "steal" the money. There is a freedom and joy that comes with integrity and walking right with God (sometimes its a hard won freedom and joy — but worth it. I'd need to tell you that we didn't come to this integrity without God doing a "little" work on us.) No small or large amount of money provides the satisfaction that God's grin does. (

    We didn't deserve that $50.00 and wouldn't have missed not getting it back (we liked it though :0) ) But it was good to be able to let our friends know that "those people" had not been dishonest, that had the people who really owned that $50 come by they would have gotten it back. And who knows how God used it in their lives to encourage them to see that God sees the unseen and that's what matters.)

    Bless you, God is in the 2.25's and 3.25's of life. Thanks again!!!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Hey Debbie, thanks for sharing your story. I had a similar story a few years back–but with $100 and I didn't get it back =) But as you say, God is in the 2.25s!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/sarahbeckman Sarah

    I love the concept of spiritual inertia, and what it means to me is practice! We have to continue to practice doing the right thing (especially when it doesn't come easy) After a while it becomes easier, but only if we keep on keeping on. And most of the time it is only us who knows how hard it is or was or will be! But God always does and he's on our side cheering us on!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/5minutesplease 5minutesplease

    Excellent. To turn toward integrity on the little things does it make it easier the next time. I am glad that you reminded us of this. (Because it can be just as easy to turn toward the evil again and again, when it presents itself.)
    I appreciate your thoughts as a mom. I am going to have my 11 year old read these last two posts. I need to demonstrate for her by my actions of integrity that she will continue to follow the same path.
    My recent post To Love Your Neighbor: Mother’s Act—Your Act

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      To Krista's daughter–you have a great mom. Moms are the most influential people on the planet, particularly ones like yours that care enough to teach you truth!

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/5minutesplease 5MinutesPlease

        Emma says that you made a good choice. You are a good role model.
        Emma has already faced poor character with her classmates. They are only in 6th grade–still babies! We are very proud that she follows in the foot steps of the Good Shepard.
        Chris, I am wondering if you feel that your book is age appropriate for a mature 6th grader? I have read 4 chapters randomly. I am taking it in pieces.
        Also, late greeting from Minneapolis. We hope you had a nice visit (assuming for work). But if you ever want to see the sights or have dinner with an "average" family, you are welcome in our home.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

          Krista, tell Emma thanks for me. And thanks for the invite. I might end up traveling to Minneapolis more for work in the future, and I might take you up on your offer. As for the age appropriateness of the book, I think it may be worth a shot. I don't discuss anything in detail that would be inappropriate–the chapter "Window" does discuss purity vs lust in a more general manner, so you might preview that. But otherwise, the stories should relate to a mature 6th grader and the implicit theological principles that are discussed may provoke some good discussion. Let me know if I can be of help in any way…

  • http://www.christianclothingblog.com Greg Ryan

    I needed to open a PowerPoint presentation. I went to Office Depot and picked it up ($479.00 as I remember) and set it right back down. No way I thought, there has got to be someone I know that has that program.
    A good friend of mine had it and insisted I install it on my computer. (Who was I to argue?) Microsoft didn't need anymore money and I only needed it for that one file. I got the program from my friend, took it home and as I opened the drive, I heard in my head, "What are you doing?"
    I explained to myself, Microsoft did not need the money and I only needed the PowerPoint program for this one file. Still again, The voice inside my head said, "It is not about Microsoft or the money, it is about right and wrong." It took me 15 minutes to decide not to load the program.
    Right is right, whether it is $3.78, $479.00 or $357,000. It will never turn out wrong doing the right thing. Can't say that about doing the wrong thing right.
    My recent post God, teach me to number my days

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Amen. The software license thing is always a killer. I know what it feels like to be liberal in this way ("it's no big deal, and they don't need the $") and a legalist too (judging folks every time I hear them say they've done this), because I've been in both situations. At the end of the day, God owns that $479 anyway, so if we spend it and He wants us to have the $ back, He'll get it to us somehow. But there's treasure we gain when we live out the reality that truth and righteousness are more valuable than money, and it's a treasure that lasts. Thanks for sharing your story and your wisdom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1129365317 Jeff Eklund

    Chris; you really made me think on this one. How many times do I get the 2.25 and 3.25 right and then I blow it? Wow! I took the family (wife, 3 kids) to see Fireproof and afterwards we went to 'bucks for a refreshment. The lady who was working there was a little snippy with my 9 year old and I said to him "that woman is not very nice, give her your order". Man, right from the turning in $2.25 and stealing something invaluable. I always think that Satan has an apprentice watching me but when I am finally starting to "get it right" he steps in and shows his helper how to get it done, Screwtape anyone? Thanks for the Spiritual Inertia thought; a little at a time and a whole lot of listening to the Holy Spirit.