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Archive for Character

Jun
13

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.

May
21

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!

Sep
14

Fakers: 2

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Hypocrisy is dangerous. Anytime a person pays more attention to building their reputation, image, or brand than they do developing their character, the results can be devastating. So what can work a day world Christians do to prevent pretense in our lives? Here’s a little list of things for you to consider:

1. Don’t judge others actions or their motives. Jesus said it best, “Do not judge others and you will not be judged. For you will be treated (judged) as you treat (judge) others” (Matthew 7:1-2, NLT). If you will commit to totally avoid the trap of comparing yourself to others, which is the basis of judging, you’ll have a nice head start on preventing pretense.

2. Acknowledge the possibility of hypocrisy in your own life. In other words, walk in genuine humility. 1 Corinthians 10:12 states, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.”

3. Be open to someone who truly loves you (no agendas, no strings attached) speaking truth into your life. A mirror can help us correct physical imperfections, such as uncombed hair or lettuce in the teeth. But a true friend serves as a mirror into your soul and helps you see the nicks and dings in your character that need work. One of the reasons King David got off to a spectacular start in life was that he had Jonathan at his side to tell him the truth when he needed to hear it. As long as Jonathan was alive, David was unbeatable. But when David lost his “mirror,” he went downhill. Fast.

4. Ruthlessly eradicate pretense at first sight. While Acts 5 doesn’t give us the extended version of Ananias and Sapphira’s story, experience would tell us that they didn’t just wake up one morning a decide to pull the biggest ruse in church history up to that point in time. We never just wake up and sin grossly. There’s an erosion that takes place in character, followed by the determination to take a short cut. My point is that all sin comes to us gradually. When we sense the drift, we need to take pre-emptive action.

5. Choose your audience daily. Joshua gives us a great example of this. In chapter 24 of the book that bears his name, Joshua challenged the people with this: “Choose this day who you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Every day we must renew our commitment to live our lives for an audience of One.

6. Finally, always remember that you can fool all of the people all of the time, but you can never fool God. This is a simple yet profound reality that we need to be reminded of regularly. God sees you, inside and out, all the time. Others may not be able to tell whether or not you’re a faker, but God knows.

I hope these suggestions will be helpful to you in the ongoing battle against pretense and hypocrisy. You may not become sinlessly perfect in life. But you can become an authentic person of character and integrity. When you do, your reputation will take care of itself.

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Sep
13

Fakers: 1

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Last weekend in worship I dealt with arguably the most difficult passage in the book of Acts…the story of Ananias and Sapphira. God is understandably serious about sin, but in this text he puts to death this couple for their hypocrisy and pretense. A pedestrian view of the story leaves the reader with a lot of questions, most of which are unanswered. The reader is simply left to look at the “big picture” and draw some practical applications for life.

If we are to believe that biblical names are a reflection of the people we study, it may be helpful to know that Ananias means “blessed by the Lord” and Sapphira means “beautiful.” This couple was “blessed and beautiful.” It kind of gives you the impression that they were a young, upwardly mobile couple who were looking to make their mark on the world. They were ambitious networkers who were striving for attention.

That is a sharp contrast to the context of the story. Acts 4 concludes with the report of a man named Joseph who had sold a field and given the money to the apostles for distribution to the poor. His act made such an impression on the apostles that they gave Joseph a nickname. They called him Barnabas, or for the English speaking world, “Mr. Encouragement.” Barnabas’ selfless and humble act of generosity earned him a favorable reputation in the church. I don’t think its too big of a stretch to imagine that all of this attention on Barnabas did not go unnoticed by the “blessed and beautiful” couple. There are two ways you can gain a reputation. You can do it though character development or you can manufacture it. Barnabas’ reputation came by the former. Ananias and Sapphira through the latter.

Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrisy. In fact, the word hypocrite comes from Greek theater and means “one who plays a part.” As I thought about hypocrisy I wrote my own definition. See what you think of this: “Hypocrisy is the result of manipulating your reputation in a favorable way without paying the price of character development.” When a person pays more attention to developing their reputation and their image than on developing their character, the results can be devistating.

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