Cultivating Perseverance

Recently, I’ve felt worn out both physically and mentally. I’ve also felt like I’m spinning my wheels spiritually. I believe in progress over perfection, but I’m struggling with keeping my energy and motivation up. In other words, I’m struggling with persevering.

Maybe that’s why the theme of cultivating perseverance stuck out to me during a recent read of Hebrews 12. Specifically, cultivating perseverance by once again resetting my focus.

Focus Determines Reality

Several verses brought my attention to thinking about my focus. Turns out, my thoughts were scattered and focused on the temporary. These verses together helped reset my focus.

Verses 1 & 2 – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Verses 11, 12 & 13 – “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

I can’t help but picture a race like the one in the photo when I read these verses. When I get this visual, I am reminded of three important things that make for a successful race. These things apply to perseverance in any area of life, and I made this application to what I had been going through recently.

  1. Distractions are weighing me down.
  2. My goal is Jesus. Nothing else.
  3. Discipline brings strength.

Hebrews 12 ends by focusing us again on the “Why?” for continued perseverance.

Verses 28 & 29 – “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Through Jesus, we receive something that cannot fall apart. By letting go of distractions, focusing on Jesus, and learning from mistakes and failure, we cultivate perseverance that takes us to what we cannot lose. Let that truth encourage you today.

Bookends of Readiness

Bookends keep books upright. They help keep them organized and in good condition too. Bookends of readiness for sharing the Gospel function much in the same way.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

The books in the middle make up the “defense” and “reason” for the hope that you have. Essentially, that is your testimony. The bookends?

  1. Sanctification
  2. Meekness & fear

Sanctification (holiness) keeps a believer ready to evangelize by lending authenticity to his witness. Meekness and fear indicate humble patience along with recognition of who God is and the truth of what the Bible says about Him. The Elliot Commentary explains it this way:

“Recognize, in word and deed, His full holiness, and therefore to treat Him with due awe.”

The bookends of sanctification on one side and meekness and fear on the other hold up our defense – our witness – by keeping the focus on God.

“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (Isaiah 8:13)

“When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:23)

“And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 38:23)

Are You Strong Enough to Admit You are Weak?

What is weakness?

Dictionary.com defines weakness as…

“Lack of strength, firmness, vigor or the like; feebleness.”

“An inadequate or defective quality, as in a person’s character; slight fault or defect.”

While I understand these official definitions, I better connect with the following one:

“Any limitation you can’t change by yourself.” (Pastor Steve Miller)

I like the third definition of weakness because it gives hope. For me, the official definitions give too much of a discarded sense to the idea of weakness. Sure, weaknesses limit, but they also afford the possibility for improvement.

Improving Through Weaknesses

The best way to improve through weaknesses is by admitting they existConsidering my own weaknesses, while not pleasant to acknowledge within and then admit outwardly, takes me down a path of self-evaluation. This path, one we all must take if we expect to grow, also requires that we recognize how automatic our weaknesses seem to operate in our lives until we directly address them.

Walking With a Limp

Jacob walked with a limp, and it served as a reminder of His encounter with God (Genesis 32:22-32). Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) that served to keep him humble.

Both Jacob and Paul moved forward in spite of their weaknesses. They did so by depending on God for strength, which Paul helps us better understand with these words…

“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So, now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

As with Jacob and Paul, our weaknesses can remind us of our dependence on God and can counteract the dangerous state of independence. In fact, the power of God will increasingly dominate your life the more you acknowledge your weaknesses and let Him be glorified as you limp through life.

Weaknesses Provide Opportunity

Our weaknesses can motivate us to keep in daily contact with God as we learn to rely on Him to overcome our limitations. Ministry opportunities also increase when we become aware of our weaknesses and allow God to use them. Weaknesses connect us with others who have similar weaknesses, and together we get to learn to let God use our weaknesses for His glory.

Weaknesses Promote Fellowship

As we become more aware of our weaknesses, we also become more aware of those who can partner with us. God works through others in amazing ways, including through balancing each other through strengths and weaknesses.

Being strong enough to admit you are weak means admitting the existence of your weaknesses. It means understanding that these weaknesses will not go away, that we really don’t want them to, and that only the power of God can turn them into great triumphs.

Check Your Posture

Future Signs

Watch the news, and you’ll see the signs Jesus talked about in Luke 21:5-38. They’re happening all around the world. Examine your communities and even your own family, and you’ll see them too.

Wars. Earthquakes. Famine. Epidemics.

Persecution. Betrayal. Hate. Destruction.

Amidst what seems discouraging and disheartening, Jesus also offers instruction and encouragement.

“By standing firm, you will win your souls.” (v. 19)

“Stand straight and look up.” (v. 28)

“Don’t let the day catch you unaware.” (v. 34)

“Keep a constant watch.” (v. 36)

These directives to his followers refer to awareness regarding a specific event in the future — Jesus’ second coming.

Check Your Posture

His words also get at what should be our current and constant posture.

Stand firm and straight.

Look up.

Be aware and watchful.

Even on bad days when the world seems against us and others are turning from God. Even when we feel alone and abandoned, like no one else sees the signs of the end. Yes, even when we’re hated and persecuted, and we pray for escape.

Stand firm and straight. Don’t cower in discouragement. Look up. Focus on the one who redeemed your soul. Stay aware and watchful. Know that Jesus will return, and you will stand before him.

Be Encouraged

Be encouraged by what’s to come because you know Jesus, and he knows you. Use the opportunities these end times present to be a witness to the truth of where your focus lies.

Jesus offers words of encouragement for just this purpose. His words are as true today as they were when he spoke them over 2,000 years ago.

“This will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry about how you will answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply.” (v. 13-15)

Take a few minutes to read Luke 21:5-38 and take in what Jesus predicts about the future and the place of his followers in it. Let it encourage you as you consider the dark times in which we live. Let it renew and refresh your faith as you focus on him.

Stand firm and straight.

Look up.

Be aware and watchful.

More Books Than Time

Some people feel the need to finish every book they start. I do not. I will start and not finish a book if it’s poorly written. I’ll also stop reading it if it just does not click with me for any reason.

There are too many books in the world for any one person to read in a lifetime. Why waste my time when there are so many other available options?

Sometimes, though, I actually get frustrated trying to decide how to best spend my reading time. It bugs me I can’t ever get to all the books I want to read. I feel like I’m missing out on information and inspiration key for my life.

More Books than Space

Some people have more books than the space in which to keep them in an organized fashion. The advent of electronic books has helped that situation considerably though.

Thinking of this reminds me of a particular comment the disciple John makes a couple of times.

“And I suppose that if all the other things Jesus did were written down, the whole world could not contain the books.” (John 21:25)

Jesus did so much during his three-year ministry the world could not contain a written account of all of it. So, all the books in the world together pale in comparison to what would be a complete written account of Jesus’ ministry.

For a bibliophile like me, that’s an amazing fact to try and grasp.

We Have Enough

I wonder what else would be recorded if electronic books were available in Jesus’ day. Would we just get more examples supporting what we already know? Are we missing out because we don’t know all Jesus did? Or, would having all that written down be so much information that reading it all would be a burden, kind of like reading all the books in the Library of Congress?

We can’t definitively answer these questions. However, we can know for certain that what we DO have written down in Scripture is enough. We can be certain that what we’re given in the Bible provides exactly what we need.

“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)

Complete Knowledge

We can also realize that even though our knowledge remains incomplete this side of Heaven, one day our knowledge will be complete.

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away, but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will fully know just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12)

How many people actually witnessed much of what Jesus did — both what was written down and what wasn’t — and still failed to believe he was who he said he was? They teach us that belief doesn’t come with knowing everything.

Comfort in Knowing

These Scripture comfort to those of us who like to know lots of stuff. They help those who like to understand the why and what and feel frustrated when we can’t.

We can instead turn our efforts toward what to do with what we do know. We don’t have to try and wish away our circumstances and remain frustrated trying to understand what we don’t know.

Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”

(Fellowship of the Ring)

We can’t do much with what we don’t know, though it can consume us if we let it. We can, however, determine what to do with what we do know.

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

In Should Assertiveness Be Your Goal? we talked about how some people often feel like doormats but struggle with becoming more assertive. We came to the conclusion that becoming Christ-like, which sometimes involves being assertive, is really the better goal. Let’s look at how to move toward that goal.

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

Christ was certainly assertive, but he was also humble. This truth is evident throughout Scripture, especially in the Gospels. His life illustrates the perfect balance between confident aggression and humility.

Knowing Christ more and becoming more like him is the key to knowing how we should live and interact with others. It’s the key to knowing how to be assertive and humble at the same time. It’s the only way to know when to go the second mile and when to voice our plans, preferences and desires.

If the goal is to become Christ-like, not to simply be more assertive, we must first realize that one blog post, book or sermon (or even 10 or 20 or 100) cannot cover all of how that happens. Instead, we can begin our lifetime journey of progress toward perfection. We can start by looking at a few basics to create a foundation to becoming Christ-like even when our flesh or the world encourage us to focus on being self-confident.

Almost any part of the New Testament can guide us in becoming more Christ like. We find a terrific example of how this works in Ephesians 4.

Walking Worthy

Right away in Ephesians 4 we find a list of how “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called… humility… gentleness… patience… tolerance… love… unity…” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Throughout the chapter, we receive instruction on how to live this out. With just one or two readings through Ephesians 4, quite a few pieces of instruction jump out for how we  “learn Christ” and are “taught in Him.” In other words, how we become more like Christ.

  1. Be equipped.

    This is why we have pastors and teachers. They help us understand and apply the instructions given in God’s Word.

  2. Speak the truth in love.

    Essential to maturity and unity in Christ. Also a sign of stable growth. Learn to talk through difficult stuff and to do so in a loving way.

  3. Be angry without sinning.

    While we can appreciate that anger isn’t forbidden, it’s important to realize that we cannot let it linger whether justified or not.

  4. Monitor what you say.

    Avoid saying anything unhealthy and destructive. Instead, words should edify and build up.

  5. Be kind.

    Forgive as Christ forgave you. Be tenderhearted, sympathetic and compassionate. Often, we must show kindness even when it’s undeserved.

You can find these habits progressing in the lives of Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament as they spend time with him during is earthly ministry. They’re even more evident as they spread the Gospel after receiving the Holy Spirit. Even many individuals (Joseph & David, for example) in the Old Testament provide examples of these principles being progressively lived out.

Most importantly, you can find all of these habits exemplified in the life of Jesus during his 3-year ministry as well as implied in his life before then (Luke 2:52). Pick any Gospel and read about Jesus’ life on earth, and you’re sure to spot these habits carried out in perfection.

Our Helper

Jesus was certainly meek and mild. He balanced love and truth with courage. He was also proactive and commanded respect while also being humble and loving. His example shows us how to be assertive without becoming self-focused and over-aggressive.

As we seek to become more Christ-like, a lifelong endeavor to be sure, we can place our confidence in his desire to help us. Not only can we get this help in the pages of Scripture, but we have supernatural help us as well.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16)

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)

Progress Toward Perfection

As we progress toward perfection, we can have confidence knowing we have a perfect example to follow. We have imperfect ones too that can also help us in our goal to becoming lie Christ.

Consider the following posts to help in your effort of progress toward perfection:

The Perfect Blend

Every coffee drinker prepares the perfect cup of coffee in a unique way. I like bold coffee sweetened with liquid Stevia. My husband likes a little light-bodied coffee with his creamer. My mom likes straight-up black coffee.

The perfectly blended cup of coffee depends on the individual. A person’s cup of coffee provides a visible example of his tastes, and maybe even his personality.

Unique Personality Blend

Every person has a unique blend of personality traits, just like every cup of coffee has its own individual flavor… if it’s good coffee, that is. Some people are more task-oriented, while others focus more on social events. Some people gain energy from being around other people, and some need alone time to charge their batteries.

God created each person as a unique part of His body, each designed for a specific plan and purpose.

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (Ephesians 1:11-12, MSG)

The Perfect Blend of Faith and Works

One way this reality of “glorious living” bears true comes through the perfect blend of faith and works in our lives.

“Now some may argue ‘Some people have faith; Others have good deeds.’ I say, ‘I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.’” (James 2:18)

At first glance, James seems to contradict Paul in Romans 3:28.

“Man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Deeper investigation into both James’ and Paul’s writings helps us realize that the two actually complement each other. Together they tell us that while works don’t bring salvation, they sure do give evidence of a life changed by God through His saving grace.

In other words, before salvation works mean nothing. After salvation, they mean a everything.

True faith involves total commitment to God. Works do not substitute for our faith, but they do verify and bear witness to its existence. So, Paul’s and James’ teachings really work together to describe the perfect blend of faith and works in a life devoted to Christ.

Whatever their unique personality blend, every believer also must blend the reality of his faith with his actions to create a living faith that is a testimony to others. We may all live out our faith a bit differently, just like every coffee lover expresses his unique tastes, based on our unique personalities and interests, but genuine faith will be lived out in some way in every believer.

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Balance Requires Simplicity

My earliest memories of a simple life exist with the Amish. I grew up on a dirt road in lower Michigan with three Amish families living within a ½ mile of me as well as having the entire community within a 5-mile radius.

The closest Amish neighbors frequented our house, usually to use the telephone but sometimes to ask for rides to somewhere further than they wanted to take their horse and buggy. The Amish made their own clothes, grew and raised most of their own food and attended church in one another’s houses. They read books and played games in their leisure time, and they worked hard almost every day. Their lives created my early definition of simplicity.

When I was 18, someone very close to me went through a painful simplifying of her life. I didn’t realize it until many years later, but her life illustrated how busyness and complication seemed to happen by default. Unfortunately, not until many years later, I realized that simplicity must be deliberate; otherwise, neither it nor balance will happen consistently in a person’s life.

Since that realization about 15 years ago, I’ve learned that our lives constantly search for homeostasis, both within and without.

Homeostasis: the tendency of a system… to maintain internal stability; a state of psychological equilibrium obtained when tension or drive has been reduced or eliminated.

Our minds and bodies constantly fight for this state of balance, and if we wish for it to happen on our own terms,  we must be an intentional member of that fight. Otherwise, painful choices and an out-of-control life will one day either force us into this state of balance, or being unbalanced will be the source of our demise.

We also must come to truly understand that simplicity plays a key role in establishing and maintaining homeostasis in our lives.

Even after seeing examples at both ends of the spectrum early in life, my life still came fraught with battles for balance because it lacked simplicity. In fact, I still constantly exist in some level of that struggle as I seek to maintain some semblance of simplicity in order to live a relatively balanced life even in an unbalanced and complicated world.

The following posts reflect my struggle with maintaining simplicity with the goal of achieving balance, and I pray they help others maybe struggle just a bit less and find victory a bit sooner.

DISCUSSION: What are some examples of simplicity that you have witnessed in the lives of others that may help the rest of us in our own struggles?

The Reality of Your Focus

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Notice the Theme

In Star Wars I: Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn directs young Anakin toward a way of thinking that really drives the entire movie series:

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”

This theme actually runs throughout many books and movies. In most cases, it stands out with little effort put toward seeing it. As a Christian, I also see this theme throughout Scripture.

The truth that “focus determines reality” stands out the most in the Old Testament as God’s people continually struggle with focus, casting it from God Almighty to foreign god’s multiple times.

“This disaster happened because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt and because they had worshiped other gods. They had lived according to the customs of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites and the customs the kings of Israel had introduced.” (2 Kings 17:7-8)

The theme also comes alive in Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” (Proverbs 4:24)

“Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then your will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:2-5)

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

The theme shows up in the New Testament too.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5)

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

Applying the Theme

FocusThis theme of “focus determines reality” has become one of continual application for me. And even though I regularly visit its status in my life, I still intentionally hone in on it a bit more at the start of every new year. This year, that deliberate focus came out in the form of three separate posts.

Pursuing a Quiet Life — A peaceful inner life permeates the outer, physical state of a person. It’s a deliberate effort that benefits not just our own lives but the lives of the people around us too by witnessing to the impact of the presence of God in a person’s life.

Balanced Goal Setting — We certainly should pursue our ideas and make plans as best we can. We also need to keep in mind that He ultimately accomplishes His will regardless of what we plan. With that, we need to leave room for the unexpected and be willing to love and pursue His will over our own.

Diligent, Peaceable and Occupied — These words give a deeper understanding toward what it means to focus on developing and living a quiet life. This focus also helps us accomplish the work God gives each individual in a productive and effective way.

My prayer is that this theme permeates your life too as you realize the importance of deciding your focus in the determination of your reality and how doing so falls within God’s design and plan for your life.

DISCUSSION: How have you seen the theme “your focus determines your reality” played out in your own life?

Note: For more Scripture examples, see “What the Bible says about staying focused.”

Go, Set A Watchman

Earlier this year, I read “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee. While the book disappointed, the title stirred my curiosity. After a quick search, I discovered the inspiration for the title and went on a bit of a journey into its meaning. What follows here reflects that journey.

Watchmen of Old

Many great cities (Babylon, Jericho & Jerusalem, for example) in Bible times had walls around them for protection. Watchmen stood upon these walls and looked for signs of enemies, travelers, messengers or any unusual activity.

The Hebrew word for watchman (tsaphah) literally means to lean forward & to peer into the distance. The word implies to behold, spy out, wait for & keep the watch. Watchmen held important jobs because spotting danger from a distance gave a king and his army time to implement a plan of action and protection if necessary.

A watchman, in order to do his job well, needs to stay awake and alert. He needs to fight distractions and be very good at discerning the nature of approaching situations. No reading a book or playing games on your phone. Watchmen must pay attention.

God’s Appointed Watchmen

The spiritual truth regarding watchmen plays out in the Old Testament when God set prophets as watchman over His people.

“For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.” (Isaiah 21:6)

Harper Lee borrowed the phrase “Go Set A Watchman” from Isaiah because Maycomb desperately needed a “moral compass.” Without it, the people followed the ways of culture and of the flesh. The idea of a “moral compass” captures well what God intended for the watchmen He set over his people.

In the Old Testament, a watchman (also used in Ezekiel 3:17) was a “moral compass” for God’s people to help them stay obedient to His will as declared in His word and to help them resist the culture around them.

Watchmen are also identified in the New testament and given tremendous responsibility as moral compasses over God’s people.

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

However, as with literal watchmen on the walls, what happens with the information a watchmen provides is not up to them. The receiver of the information decides what action to take (Ezekiel 33:1-9). The purpose of watchmen set in place by God is to teach, explain, expound and warn. Those who receive that instruction choose how to respond.

Believers as Watchmen

God gives every believer the task of heeding the warnings and directions given by his appointed watchmen.

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

God also appoints ever believer as a watchmen too. A variety of Scripture get at the importance of believers as watchmen and aid to further instruct us as to the duty and purpose of the watch we are to keep. Looking at just one — 1 Peter 5:8 — provides a great deal regarding the nature and activity of this responsibility. The first part of this verse in the Amplified says…

“Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times.”

How this command gets carried out looks different from one individual to the next, but the general point is clear: Stay awake and pay attention. The motivation for doing so remains the same for every person and is found in the second part of 1 Peter 5:8.

“That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour.”

The enemy sneaks and prowls in an attempt to catch every believer unaware. He looks for the weakest moment to attack. He has restless energy that he can never satiate. We must keep watch, and we must heed the warnings of those God sets to keep watch over his flock. We must always remember the power and cunning of the enemy. We must fulfill our roles as watchmen.

DISCUSSION: How well are you heeding the watchmen (leaders) in your life? How well are you fulfilling your own role as a watchman?