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Archive for Character Formation


Casting Shadows

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This week I spent some time preparing a meditation on the Old Testament story of Ruth. Nestled in the first half of the OT, Ruth is generally interpreted as a sweet love story. The reader is introduced to the main character who is grief stricken over the passing of her husband. She and her sister in law are there with their mother in law, Naomi, wondering about their future. Famine has plagued the land, and the three women are jointly experiencing multiple layers of loss.

Because of the severity of the famine, Naomi decided she would return to her homeland, Israel. She then looked at her two young daughters in law and implored them to go find new husbands and remarry so they can move forward with the remainder of their lives. One accepts the challenge, but Ruth is deeply committed to Naomi and will have no part of it. It is in this critical moment that Ruth speaks these famous words: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death separate us!” (Ruth 1:16-17, NLT)

As the story progresses we find Ruth is a remarkable person, although she didn’t do anything remarkable. She didn’t earn a graduate degree. She didn’t get a job in the corporate world, nor did she write a book or have a website. She never started a business or sold real estate. But time and time again the narrative affirmed her as a woman of character, integrity and depth. She would eventually marry a man named Boaz, and have a family.

The story could end there and the reader would be satisfied with the happily ever after that Ruth experienced. But the story concludes in an unexpected way. Here are the last three sentences of her story. “Boaz was the father of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David” (Ruth 4:21-22, NLT).

To simplify, Ruth and her husband had a son, who had a son, who had seven sons, the youngest of which is David, arguably the most famous character in the Old Testament. Ruth is David’s great grandmother, and is specifically mentioned in Matthew’s ancestry record of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

Ruth reminds me that we are human beings, not human doings. Ruth is not mentioned alongside the giant slaying heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. But her righteous character and integrity cast a long shadow that would extend all the way to Christ. As time passes, the shadows of our lives lengthen. Yet often we are led to believe that the only measurements that count are the things that can be counted such as our accomplishments and acquisitions. But not everything that can be counted counts. The stuff that cast shadows that are impactful is the stuff of who we are.

Ruth can be read as a sweet love story and left at that. But there’s so much more to her when her biography is read to the end. Or in her case, read through the end.


The Law of the Harvest

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Over the weekend I finished It Takes What it Takes, by Trevor Moawad. If you’re unfamiliar with him, he’s a mental coach who works with professional athletes and NCAA athletic programs. The quote that stood out to me from the book is as follows: “You are what you do, and you’ve become what you’ve done.” Simply put, you have to accept the responsibility for the choices that we have made, and if you don’t like what you see in your life, change your behavior(s).

That bold statement reminded me of a verse I’ve been meditating upon for the past two weeks. “Don’t be misled–you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant” (Galatians 6:7, NLT) You probably are more familiar with older translations which say, “You reap what you sow.”

Paul packed a lot in that simple verse, which is more clearly understood as The Law of the Harvest.

Law #1: You reap what you sow. Simply, if you plant corn, you can expect a harvest of corn, versus beans or wheat. Like begets like.

Law #2: You reap more than you sow. In the world of agriculture, the farmer has faith that the one seed he plants in the ground will yield exponetially more. One seed of corn may produce hundreds of kernels on multiple ears from a single stalk.

Law #3: You reap later than you sow. An experienced farmer knows that it takes many days and weeks for the seed to produce a harvest. The harvest always comes later…sometimes much later than we expect.

The Law of the Harvest reminds me that what I do today will beget something similar, sometimes much greater, somewhere in the future. This principle is neutral. You can plant good seeds of good deeds and habits that reap a greater reward in the future. A person can also plant bad seed which will obey the same principles.

Each day we have the choice before us as to what we will plant. Each seed that is sown is not an isolated act or incidence. It will produce a large return at a later time. So let’s choose wisely each day.


The Fruit of the Spirit

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The Fruit of the Spirit

If you want to evaluate your Christian maturity, don’t assess your gifts. Don’t bother to measure your ministry involvement. If you want to evaluate your maturity inspect your fruit! Tomorrow I’m beginning a new sermon series from Galatians 5:22-23, on The Fruit of the Spirit. I hope to share some thoughts throughout this series here on my blog!


Fakers: 3

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Before I wrap up this conversation on hypocrisy, I want to make one more observation. Astute Bible readers have learned that first occurrences in any story line are important. That’s what makes Genesis, for example, an important book in the Old Testament. In the story of the emerging church in Acts, this passage about the first instance of God’s discipline should get our attention. What is God trying to say to the congregation then? What is God trying to say to us today?

As for then, I think God was making a statement to the people about character and integrity. Were Ananias and Sapphira the only sinners there? Were they the first to commit a sin? My answer would be no and again, no. So what’s the deal? God was teaching them that the goal of faith is character development that reflects the image of God. This is more important than their (or our, for that matter) attempts to attain some form of sinless perfection. Life is to be lived from the inside out. Hypocrisy attempts to live from the outside in, which is an approach to faith that must be soundly rejected.

The passage concludes in verse 5:11 with the first use of the word ekklesia, which is rendered “church” in our English translations. So what does it mean when we see the first instance of church discipline and the first use of the word church in this narrative account? I recall reading a book on small group ministry where Bill Hybels wrote, “The value of community lies in the possibility of exclusion.” God was trying to take this crowd of passionate believers and shape them into a new society, an alternative community of faith that would pursue the Kingdom of God with every fiber of its being. Authenticity is one of God’s values and should be one of ours as well. Don’t get me wrong, sin is not good and God is holy. But you can’t genuinely possess clean hands without a pure heart, unless you have a thing for legalism.

Participation in God’s new community comes with some stiff demands, and he sets the standard high. Jesus said we must love one another as we love ourselves. Paul’s epistles flesh that principle out even further. We should be discerning about this in our churches today. Not in ways that prescribe litmus tests to our morality and ethics. But in ways that insist on authenticity, character, and integrity that reach beyond whether our baptism is in order and we adhere to doctrinal statements and confessions.

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