I never thought I would go to Las Vegas. It is hard for me to imagine an intentional expenditure of money that is more wasteful than gambling. Then there is the glitz and glitter of Vegas. It doesn’t interest me. I’m more of a lake and forest kind of guy. The Vegas headliners are generally not people with whom I’d care to spend two minutes, much less two hours and $200.
And yet, here I am on a plane bound for Las Vegas. The preacher in Sin City. I’m not staying, though. When we learned we could save $200 a person on airfare, my wife and I decided to land in Vegas, rent a car, then head into California for our vacation. Still, as I write this I am surrounded by travelers on their way to Vegas, many of whom, I suspect, will be lighter in the wallet and bank account on their return flight.
The more serious problem, though, is not with what they took to Vegas and left behind, but with what they picked up in Vegas and brought home. The famous advertising slogan, “What Happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” is a bald-faced lie. It could only potentially be true if the person to whom it happened were to stay in Vegas forever. When they leave, what happened there will go with them.
That is the thing we so often misunderstand. We choose to believe that we can go to Vegas (as an example), behave in ways we would never want our spouse or children or employers to discover, then return to real life as if it never happened. But it did and there is evidence that proves it.
I’m not thinking of the kind of evidence that shows up on security cam footage or in pictures on someone’s Facebook page, though that sort is continually appearing to the embarrassment of some high-profile hypocrites. The kind of evidence I’m thinking of shows up on the inside of the person who has behaved shamefully. This is a far more serious and more lasting concern.
I am of course thinking of character, which is formed or deformed by the choices we make and the actions we engage in, whether those actions come to light or not. Imagine someone who goes to Vegas, engages in behaviors they successfully hide from friends and family, then returns home. They don’t come home the same person they were when they left.
All people, not just children, are in a process of personal formation. That process doesn’t end when someone turns 21. It continues throughout life. For better or worse, our choices produce a type of character that is entirely unique to the individual, as unique as a fingerprint but not as static. It is always changing and usually hardening into its own particular shape, like the coral on a reef.
The things that happen to a person provide the context for such personal formation but not the dynamic, which does not depend on outside influences but on personal choices. Those choices, whether made in a casino or a church, are what most profoundly influences character.
Concerning this process, C. S. Lewis said, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”
St. Paul reminded his Galatians readers of this reality. After warning them against self-deception, he wrote: “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
He was warning his friends that what happens in Corinth (the Vegas of that time and place) wouldn’t stay there. It would come home with them – in them. It is inescapable.
First published by Gatehouse Media