Sunday, August 06, 2017

Questions of Character

Three events in the last several weeks have caused me to reflect on the term; "Character", and what it really means.
According to just about any dictionary, Character is defined as the whole of a person; a persons' core traits, features, moral and ethical qualities. Words like honesty, courage and integrity are often associated with Character.
Some of the most popular movies ever made and some of the best-selling books ever written highlight some part of Character, which is often demonstrated by people under extraordinary circumstances, like soldiers who sacrifice their lives for others or law enforcement officers who sacrificed their lives. Often, we associate great Character with great warriors and it is true that great warriors must possess great Character. But there are also regular people, living out their lives, who are given unexpected opportunities to demonstrate great Character, like the family who was able to forgive someone who had killed a loved one. This is all evidence supporting our deep appreciation and affection for Character. We seem to embrace it at every opportunity. Why, then, is it so difficult for ordinary people to live by - and demonstrate great Character in the mundane and routine things of life?
General Principles
Luke 6:43-45"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."
The way you spend your time, choose your words and behave - is the measure of your worth.
James 5:19 "My brothers, if any one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins."
This verse would indicate that you need to know what the truth is, then be able to discern when someone wanders from it, then take appropriate action to correct. You, Christian, do not get a pass to do nothing when you see inappropriate behavior that contradicts "truth". This does not mean that you have to forcefully confront the offender. At a minimum you need to be able to recognize what it looks like and then pray about what, if anything, you should be doing about it.
First Demonstration of Character
I received the following email from a pastor. It was his response to an email book announcement he received regarding my book; Last Call: Picking Up the Sword of the Spirit. It read as follows:
"You make a number of unsubstantiated claims which are false. From the initial summary of your book I think you have to spend more time in careful exegesis of Scripture before you publish such a work. Your statement that "most christians agree we are in the End Times" is impossible to prove. Not only this, but even if most did believe it doesn't make it true. In addition, your statement that many respected experts cannot agree on the timing of the Rapture is not true, many have come to solid exegetical conclusions. I hope you will take more time to reflect on the pertinent passages of Scripture and come to sound conclusions that give believers hope and confidence for our sovereign God and His plans for the End Times."
Here was my response to him:
"Seriously? I appreciate your candid response but the tone of your email sounds angry, which is a bit disappointing. I know email is sometimes a lousy way to communicate, but this email kind of reminds me of some of the Pharisees Jesus encountered in a book I am reading now (Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge). It is clear from your response you have not read my book, and are coming to conclusions based on the summary (and perhaps the introduction). This makes about as much sense as me trying to explain to you what a movie is about just from watching the trailer and advertising on television. At a minimum, this is short-sighted. Additionally, I indicated "most" of the Christians I have talked to or had contact with, and that is true. It may not be in your circles, but it is in mine. It seems clear that you have also taken a clear pre-trib view on the Rapture. This is good and fine, and it sounds like you have read plenty of material that reinforces your view. Well, sir, with all due respect, a broad view of material that is out there in the world, that people are exposed to, shows that respected experts do NOT agree on the timing of the rapture. This view varies from denomination to denomination, from seminary to seminary, from church to church and from author to author. I do not make any predictions about this in the book. I simply let the Bible speak for itself. Your statement strikes me as ironic; 'I hope you will take more time to reflect on the pertinent passages of Scripture and come to sound conclusions that give believers hope and confidence for our sovereign God and His plans for the End Times.' That was the whole point of the book. But you would not know that, because you have not read it. My primary intent was to move people toward God, to glorify His name, to add to the Kingdom and to encourage people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The book was written with the call of Jude in mind. Finally, with all sincerity... God bless you and your congregation."
Several days later I received this email from him:
"First, thanks for responding to my email. I would like to apologize for the tone in which I wrote especially if it sounded "angry" to you. Also, I admit my letter should have been more gracious. Please accept my apology. Second, I believe I mentioned my assessment was based on the summary you provided. Having thought it through I really should have waited to read your book before writing an analysis of your argument. I realize that it is better to follow your whole arguments rather than a simple summary. So, I will read your book and then consider an evaluation which will be more gracious. Third, I do appreciate your stated motivation for this project and likewise ask God's blessing on your work for His kingdom."
A. W. Tozer, an influential American pastor and prolific author who died in 1963 said: "Because this is a moral universe, character, which is the excellence of moral beings, is naturally paramount. As the excellence of steel is strength and the excellence of art is beauty, so the excellence of mankind is moral character."
There was questionable Character being presented in the first email from this pastor. I considered it, prayed about it and decided to confront him directly. He demonstrated great Character in his response to me.
Second Demonstration of Character
I had been working with a small Group of professionals for several years in an effort to construct a training curriculum that would meet an unfulfilled niche in the Executive Protection profession. I had been recruited to be the Lead Instructor, responsible for actually constructing and overseeing the curriculum. I did not seek this out, rather - these people approached me. I accepted the role, since the Group of professionals involved had impressive backgrounds and appeared to be genuine in their goals. Several years of sporadic meetings led to about 6 months of more intensive work, primarily conducted by myself and a co-instructor. He and I would work independently on parts of the curriculum and then meet for several hours to hammer out the details before moving on to the next section of the curriculum where we would repeat this process.
A few weeks ago he and I were to have our final meeting on a Friday afternoon with expectations of finalizing this curriculum. That morning, I received an email; not from him, but the person who was to act as the administrator for this course. He was informing me that the Group was now collectively working with several other professionals to develop curriculums. I was completely blind-sided by this email, and took note of the fact I was receiving it hours before I was scheduled to meet with my co-instructor to finalize the specific curriculum we had both worked so hard on. It was clear from the email I received the Group had been working with these other professionals for some time.
Watchman Nee, who died in 1972, was a Chinese Christian author and church leader during the early 20th century. He spent the last 20 years of his life in prison and was severely persecuted by the Communists in China. In his influential book; The Character of God's Workman, he writes; "A person who does the Lord's work must stand for the absoluteness of the truth. This naturally demands total deliverance from his own self. Many brothers and sisters are not completely loyal to the truth because they are affected by human relationships and their own emotions. Hence a basic requirement in the service of God is that truth must not be sacrificed. I can sacrifice myself and my emotions but not the truth. The difficulty with a number of workers lies in their concern about friends, acquaintances, relatives or families, and which in consequence may adversely affect their loyalty to the truth. God cannot use such people. For if truth be truth, nothing-not even one's own brother or relative or friend-can touch it."
Character embraces truth.
Granted, this Group I was working with was free to do whatever they want and were under no obligation to use the curriculum I had developed at their request, or to inform me that they were now working with other professionals. Yet, I could not help but smell the stink of betrayal in there somewhere, knowing that in similar circumstances - as a matter of simple courtesy (a piece of Character) I would have notified the involved parties.
1 Corinthians 2:10-16 "The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, 'Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ."
This verse tells me that because I have the Spirit of God - I see things, process things, believe things, understand things and act on things through the filter of the Spirit of God. That gives me insights and abilities that those without the Holy Spirit simply do not have. Therefore, I should not expect that those without the Spirit of God are going to demonstrate Character the same way someone with the Spirit of God would - or should.
These verses should remove some of the sting associated with being on the receiving end of a poor Character experience. The Bible tells us in more than one place that this is what we can expect from people who do not possess the Spirit of God. Hello. They killed Christ. Interacting with the world as a Christian is going to be challenging.
In this instance, after consideration and prayer, I did nothing. I just walked away from it. I had no compulsion or urge to confront anyone about it. I tried to focus on the benefits associated with the work I had performed. I had completely reorganized all the video I use in training and written a book that was to be used in conjunction with this course. This book is now available as a paperback and an eBook.
The Bible leaves room for "shaking the dust off your sandals and moving on to the next town" - seeking more fertile ground than that which you are standing on. It also justifies "marking" certain people and not associating with them; even giving us a list of Character traits in people we should avoid.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people."
Third Demonstration of Character
I travel frequently to Colorado, where God has blessed us with land and the cabin we built upon it. The fellow we bought this land from has vast amounts of acreage and sells it through an arrangement he made with the original owners of it. He has done a fine job of establishing sub-developments and installing basic infrastructure. It is becoming a unique community on its own. A decade ago, when we decided to buy land instead of watching our savings dwindle in a failing stock market, we also took a hands-on approach in the building of our cabin. We were fortunate to meet and retain a contractor who is a person of good Character. He is a hard-working and honest perfectionist who did an excellent job. We traveled from Minneapolis to Colorado about every 6 weeks - hauling cabinets, doors, appliances and hardware from Home Depot to the building site. We researched everything from ICF home construction to carpet to wind turbines. When it was finally completed I decided to publish a Guide to Building with the intent of making it easier for others who wanted to build there - since there are some specific hurdles and nuances that people have to deal with during the building process in this area. This Guide shared our experiences, research, resources and contacts. As a result of this Guide being distributed and my posting it's availability on several forums, I began to receive inquiries regarding the area and the legitimacy of the man selling these properties. I vigorously promoted the properties and the fellow selling the lots - as a good, honest and decent man. Meanwhile, my wife and I had developed a close relationship with this fellow's daughter - who, in turn, brought us into a closer relationship with him. We had dinner with him several times and he noted that he was aware of the Guide and thought it was a great idea.
I initially sold about 25 of these Guides. In 2007 I updated this Guide and began to distribute it for free. After giving several of them away I quit distributing it altogether. The fellow who sells these lots also offered building site excavation and septic installation services to people who were considering building. He was a listed resource in the Guide. I had heard from several people his work was OK but the timeliness in which it was completed was very frustrating. In fact, I had experienced this myself after repeatedly attempting to recruit his people to excavate our cabin site. Several months of what seemed to be unjustified delays led me to hire someone else to complete this work. In that 2007 Guide update, I had inserted 3 sentences indicating the problems some people had with this fellow's services, yet defending his overall intentions.
A few weeks ago someone who received one of these updated Guides decided to begin the building process on their property. They would be traveling from the east coast to Colorado and begin planning. Before they left, they contacted me, and we discovered that I was going to be in Colorado the same time they were. We arranged to meet at our cabin and I gave them a tour of our cabin with a running commentary about construction, off-grid energy production and other construction nuances. Shortly thereafter, they connected with the fellow who I referred to in those 3 sentences of the updated Guide. Apparently, he asked this couple if they wanted to hire him to complete some preliminary work on their property. They informed him of my comments about his work. They handed him the updated Guide and he read those 3 sentences. He was very upset. They reminded him that the good things I had to say about him far outweighed those 3 sentences.
Several days later this fellow drove into my driveway to talk to me about those 3 sentences. He handed me the page from the updated Guide with those 3 sentences on it. I acknowledged it and told him that what I had written was true. What followed was a rather bizarre conversation that I found difficult to understand. For example - since he did not actually do the work, (a supervisor who worked for him did) - he was not responsible for those delays and problems associated with the work. This went on for about 10 minutes. I simply reminded him that for almost a decade I had steadfastly defended him and promoted his efforts as a good and decent real estate businessman. I asked him to keep things in perspective; he was allowing 3 sentences of truth to shade his entire viewpoint. He refused to acknowledge any of it. I was determined to take the high road with this fellow. I informed him that my intent was to simplify the building process for people who wanted to build on property that had purchased from him and that I had no intention of offending him. I then asked for his forgiveness - face to face, eye to eye, man to man - if I had offended him.
His response; "I'll think about it. I wonder how much business I have lost because of this" - despite the fact that I had informed him that there were only several of these updated Guides distributed. As he climbed back into his truck to drive away, I thought about how his shallow response had just spoken volumes. He did not have the ability to have an honest conversation about the things he was upset about. He could not take any personal responsibility. He did not have the capacity to forgive, even after being given a very direct apology. It seemed to be all about the money. Sad.
A man of great Character would have responded differently than this fellow did. In fact, when he rebuffed my direct request for forgiveness, I shuddered, because I know he will watch this exchange again at the doors of eternity as his life is reviewed.
In this instance, for the next several days I prayed for this man's heart to be softened in such a manner that God would somehow be able to use this incident to draw this fellow closer to Jesus.
The Bible is a Character Blueprint
The Bible has so much to say about Character that it could be called a Character blueprint for life. Here are just a few verses that talk about the importance of Character.
Matthew 15:18-19"But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts-murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
Proverbs 21:2"A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things."
Proverbs 10:9"Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out."
A Killer Observation
I have had far too many discussions over the years with non-Christians who have held up the behavior of people claiming to be Christians as the primary reason they have little interest in considering Jesus. They have either observed or experienced behavior that is far from the stellar behavior the Bible promotes. Often, they see secular people behaving better than many Christians.
In this context I recently had a discussion with a gentleman who knows I spent almost a decade working with churches in regards to security and executive protection. He works in the asset protection business and his company had been retained several times to provide protection for events which included a former client of mine; a high-profile Pastor. This gentleman also knew several of the Pastor's executive protection agents. These protection agents were people I had trained. They were also people he had contact with while he was preparing for these events.
He asked me if a relationship with Jesus meant that he had to wear expensive suits, wear a designer watch and be surrounded by bodyguards rather than making himself available to the public. He was referring to this Pastor. Next, he asked me if a relationship with Jesus would require him to be arrogant, aloof and deceitful; which he found one of the protection agents to be through some personal experiences he had with a particular agent.
His comments cut through me like a knife. To him, this Pastor and his protection agents represented Jesus. I did my best to explain that people are sinful and make mistakes but God is not like that. I encouraged him to spend some time alone with God and to ask God to reveal Himself. Days later his comments still grieved my spirit. Really, what he was wondering about is who Jesus is. He was looking at people who claim to represent Jesus and wondering about the Character of Jesus.
Testing Character
Job 2:3 "And the Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.'"
If you know the story of Job - he demonstrated Character under extreme circumstances created by Satan himself.
Satan is going to throw stuff at you, and very often it comes through the behavior of other people. The Bible says we should expect it. The Bible says those without the Spirit of God don't get it. At one point even God expressed his amazement at the inability of His own chosen people to grasp the obvious. The first time I read Isaiah 44 I was laughing out loud - knowing God understood my own frustrations with the lack of Character displayed by so many people in our lives. God is talking to Jacob about people who construct and worship idols. God is logically observing the wood used to make these idols is the same wood that was used to cook their food; therefore there is no inherent value in the wood itself.
Isaiah 44: 16-19 "Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, 'Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.' From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, 'Save me! You are my god!' They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, 'Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?'"
Luke 16:10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."
Great Character demands true expression in the "little" and routine things of life.
If you are on the receiving end of a poor expression of Character, ask yourself one question. What would Jesus do? I can guarantee that whatever Jesus would do, he would go it with great Character.

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