Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
Growing up there were certain tasks that my parents would give me that I didn’t want to do. Washing the floorboards, weeding the garden, cutting vinyl siding, and digging holes with a post hole digger. These are just a few examples of what many of us would consider hard work.
I remember the hours working on these jobs, covered in sweat with blistered hands, and an all-around feeling of fatigue. There were a couple times in particular where I can remember my dad saying the classic phrase, “Son this is character building work.” And then he would tell a story about some hard job he had to do as a kid. Looking back, these jobs really did build character, but there’s more to it than just digging a hole and sweating.
You can be a hard worker, and still lack honesty, sincerity, and humility. Character building takes serious work and commitment. Luckily, God has given us His perfect word that tells us how we can grow our character.
If you’ve ever struggled with living out your faith, or with your commitment to Christ, working on growing our character will help you focus on what’s truly important in this life.
There are many different ways that we could go about building our character, and as we look to scripture a good place to start in this endeavor is by practicing righteous thinking. If we want to grow our character, we have to start changing the way that we think. Problem is, it’s a lot easier said than done. There are two different passages that tell us how we can practice righteous thinking.
Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” As Christians we can learn to dwell on righteousness by filling our mind with godly traits. If we are truly set on transforming our minds to think on righteousness, we have to replace worldly thinking with godly traits.
Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” It’s possible to practice righteous thinking by renewing our mind with the will of God. We’re no longer looking to ourselves as master, but to God. By doing this our thinking changes. Our focus shifts from this world, and our minds will dwell on righteousness.
Do you want to be known as a person of character? The first change we must undergo is to start thinking righteously. Righteous thinking is no easy task. It takes work, and many times we fall short of this goal. Thankfully we serve a loving God that wants nothing more than for us to spend an eternity with Him in Heaven.
Question is, do we want this future enough to make the right decisions?
My wife, my parents, and I took a personality test tonight just for kicks. It was a simplified test, nothing too in-depth, but was very entertaining and insightful. There were two sections to the test: one with a row of strengths under four different personalities and another with a row of weaknesses for those same personality types.
For all of us, it took quite a while to complete the strengths sections; it took probably less than a minute to complete the weaknesses section. It’s a lot easier to readily admit and focus on our flaws and faults than it is to honestly acknowledge our strengths.
Maybe it’s because we’re hesitant to praise ourselves (this isn’t always a bad thing, but we tend to overdo it). Maybe it’s because it’s easier to see our glaring weaknesses than our helpful strengths. Weaknesses usually sound something like, “I am… ” or, “I have…” or, “I can’t…” or, “I’m not…” followed by a negative attribute.
Focusing on our weaknesses is detrimental for two primary reasons.
First, focusing on weakness restricts growth. Even when pointing out some major issues with the church at Philippi, Paul lays on the praise heavily before exposing flaws. When he wrote to Timothy to rebuke him (II Timothy) he made sure to point out his strengths, too. We have to be balanced as we look to improve ourselves. We can acknowledge the presence of a weakness, but focusing on it will likely destroy any effort we make to grow past it.
Secondly, focusing on our weaknesses can be selfish. We can place a disproportionate emphasis on ourselves when we criticize self or lean on weakness as a crutch/excuse. It can also be selfish because while we’re overanalyzing and criticizing ourselves, we can easily overlook growth opportunities.
Strengths allow us to do for others. Focusing on what we can do and we are good at doing empowers us to help others. Obsessing over our weaknesses can make us too internally focused; capitalizing on our strong points allows us to focus more on other people.
When we do a mental self-checkup to see where we can improve, let’s focus more on how we can use our strengths to help others and less on how flawed we are. Of course we’re flawed – but we can also do a lot of good for others and we have the blood of Jesus to keep us pure (I John 1.7). As a wise man once told me, “If you focus on your strengths, your weaknesses will take care of themselves.”
There is an obscure Bible character that holds a great deal of fascination for me. His name is Harbona(h) and his name only appears twice, both in connection with the account of Esther. He is introduced in Esther 1:10 and plays a key role in this divine story of providence in Esther 7:9. His name means “donkey driver.” Granted, his name means more than that. The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names says his name means, “Warlike; martial; a destroyer. Ass driver; the anger of him who builds” (Cornwall and Smith 96). Harbonah was the eunuch in Ahaseurus’ court who informed the king of Haman’s treachery, saying, “Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Hanan made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king!” Ahaseurus, true to form, wasted no time and said, “Hang him on it.” Thus, ended the life of the man who tried to end the life of the Jews, through whom the Messiah of the world would eventually be born. Thus, Harbonah has an important footnote in the beautiful unfolding of God’s providence in the life and book of Esther. His name is favorably included in only sacred volume God ever moved men to write. That’s a pretty good legacy for a man whose name means “donkey driver.”
All of us are probably curious, if uninformed, about what our name means. I once learned that my middle name, by which as a “junior” I am called, Neal, means “champion.” Lest I should be exalted above measure, my first name, Gary, means “hunting dog.” My surname, Pollard, means “tree topper.” Thus, taken together, I can be proud to know that my full name means “champion hunting dog tree topper.” Solomon wrote about a good name, calling it better than it is more desired than great wealth (Prov. 22:1) and better than a good ointment (Ecc. 7:1). Regardless of what your given name means, what means most and how your name will be remembered on the lips of others, good or bad, is determined by what you do on this earth as is associated with that name. So even if your name is Rafe Bosephus McGillicutty, that name will be sweet on others’ lips if how you wear your name honors the Lord and promotes His cause.
None of these are overly time-consuming. Pick as many as you can. If you cannot get to them all today, then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Grow your list. Use your imagination and creativity. Find yourself looking and acting more like Jesus! See yourself in Matthew 5:13-16.
Some years ago an AP wire report yielded this incredible, true story. Apparently a dirty joke was sent by a company employee to 6,000 people! What was so unusual? The perpetrator, intending to send a daily report to reporters and government officials, was a federal communications commission employee! The headline read, “Joke Is On The FCC” (via Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/9/99). The FCC, charged with setting decency limits on various media outlets, was guilty of that which they are employed to prevent. Ironic!
The jokes abound. Plumbers have the worst pipers. Electricians have the faultiest wiring. Doctors are the sickest people. Preachers’ kids get in the most trouble. They learn it from the elders’ kids. While these are more axiomatic than true, there are guilty plumbers, electricians, doctors, preachers, elders, lawyers, politicians, and the like out there. They get such attention because they fail at that which is supposed to epitomize and characterize them!
Christians become Christians through grace and obedient faith (Eph. 2:8-10). But Christianity is more than a state of being. It requires certain characteristics to be in one’s life. A Christian is part of a spiritually “chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation” and is a person “for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). Moreover, a Christian is one redeemed from all iniquity, purified unto himself, and zealous of good works (Ti. 2:14). A Christian is one who has put fleshly deeds to death (Col. 3:5). A Christian takes on “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), which means assuming a code of conduct and disposition of heart that is clear before the world’s eyes (Matt. 5:14-16).
There is an irreconcilable irony when a Christian is indistinct, indifferent, immoral, and inconsistent! Like salt without taste, a Christian who dresses, talks, and behaves like a worldly person cannot be properly used by God (cf. Matt. 5:13). A Christian without ethics, morality, honesty, and integrity is a walking oxymoron. A Christain who talks one talk and walks another makes no sense and draws no following, at least none leading to Christ (cf. John 12:32; 1 Cor. 11:1).
Will the “Great Report” reveal that we, as Christians, spoke and showed the saving message or the wrong message? What message are we sending to others? Let it not be the irony of wearing a name we are not honoring.
Seven churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Each remembered for an overall characteristic. The same is true for individual Bible characters, isn’t it? Most remember Moses, Samson, David, Jeroboam, Jonah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Judas, Peter, Paul, and John for a particular attribute, whatever else could describe their lives. That’s more than fascinating. It’s sobering.
What about you and me? Is there a word others–those we attend school with, work with, live near, attend church with, or share family ties with–would use to describe us? Here are some possibilities:
Such attributes are the cumulative result of the attitude, words, and actions that we portray each day we live. Everybody has good days and bad days. But, there is an overall tenor and flavor to our lives that cause people to associate something with us. However, the word might be different:
That, too, is being built moment by moment, day by day.
With both groups of words, we can think of people who epitomize characteristic above. But I want to know, “Which one would best describe me?” Don’t you want to know that about you? The good news, if you don’t like the answer there’s time to change that. Dickens’ Christmastime novel about Ebenezer Scrooge is written to make that very point. Infinitely more importantly, the Bible is written to make that point. We can be transformed through the influence of Christ in our hearts and lives (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:18). How will you be remembered?
A comedienne draws attention for being mean-spirited and cutting when roasting a White House press secretary recently. While cringe-worthy, it’s hardly an isolated incident. Nor is it confined to Washington politics, being seen across the spectrum of society. Civility has taken a beating in the current culture. Social media may be a breeding ground for insults, attacks, hostility, and animosity, but it’s hardly confined to just that forum.
Make no mistake, a lack of kindness is a hallmark of worldliness and unrighteousness. It is the antithesis of a quality God demands of the Christian. Ephesians 4:32 commands, “Be kind to one another….” The original word translated “kind” here is found seven times in the New Testament, and it is a divine quality. In fact, in six of the seven references, God demonstrates it. In Ephesians 4:32, it is to be exhibited by us in view of God’s having shown it to us through Christ. It means “pertaining to that which is pleasant or easy, with the implication of suitability” (Louw 246). It causes no discomfort, meets a high standard of value, is morally good and benevolent, and is beneficent (BDAG 1090). In common usage in New Testament times, the word, when referring to people, was synonymous with being decent, of good disposition, gentle, good-hearted, and morally upright (Kittel 1320). In other words, people in society could and did recognize its presence in people. Its absence is also, sadly, noteworthy.
The old adage “kill them with kindness” might imply utilizing kindness to get an advantage or revenge on someone unkind, making us look good and them look bad. God calls for something more out of those of us striving to hold up the Light to a dark world. The world is sin-sick, and rude, coarse, hateful attitudes, words and actions are but a symptom of this. We have the medicine the world needs, even if it fails to see its need. Some will be drawn to it when they see it in us.
Paul counsels Rome with inspired advice that will help us cure the rude, ugly, spiteful, and vicious behavior we often encounter. He says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21). Look closely at what he says. Avoid the payback mentality. Go to great lengths to preserve peace. Leave revenge to God. Don’t stoop to the world’s level.
This imitation of God with revolutionize the places where we practice this. The moral malignancy plaguing our world cries out for medicine, and we as Christians know where to access it. Let’s discipline ourselves to use it, even in the face of those spreading the spiritual sickness of spite.
It has been said that visitors make up their mind about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit. Before they’ll even discern the doctrine we teach or form an impression about the distinctiveness of our worship, they’ve already decided. If you will walk through the first ten minutes of each time you come to services, you can discern the needs visitors have when they “enter” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-24) our midst. Consider these needs.
At first, it may seem hard to identify book, chapter, and verse for the foregoing suggestions. But consider these principles. There’s the Golden Rule (Mat. 7:12; Luke 6:31). There’s the principle of the Law of Moses, which says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34). Colossians 4:5 urges wisdom with outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Being Christians, we should be ever increasing in the mentality that puts others before self (Phil. 2:3-4). How do we best serve Jesus? By serving others, including our visitors and newcomers.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What will they put on your headstone?” It’s the kind of fundamental questions that accompany us all along the road of life. We want to have significance, to serve purpose, and to matter. Whether motivated by legacy or something larger than self, the thoughtful periodic evaluate the difference they are making to those whose lives they touch. Of all people, Christians should take that matter seriously. Consider this.
You Are Leaving A Footprint. Your decisions are observed by friends, family, and even those who only know you incidentally or even not at all. You are a leader. So many people will eventually wind up somewhere because of what you do with and in your life. Paul could say, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). In the most dramatic facet of this fact, people will be led toward an eternal destination through your influence. You are leading people toward or away from heaven. It’s in your heart, attitude, words, priorities, conduct, and passions. To a line of folks longer than you could imagine, you are yelling, “Follow me!” Ask yourself, “Where am I going?”
You Are Leaving A Fingerprint. You are touching people’s lives. Your hands are in a variety of endeavors—your occupational life, your social life, your personal life, and your spiritual life. You are a servant of something and someone. Paul says it’s inevitable (Rom. 6:16). Everyone works at something, even if it’s laziness. It’s a legacy of labor. Where will people remember that your hands were most often seen? Will your chief legacy be whatever your occupation was? Your civic service? Your material accumulation and notoriety? Your pursuit of pleasure? Or will it be your involvement in people’s lives and with people’s souls? Consider this challenge, to “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble” (Heb. 12:12). Your hands will find something to do (cf. Ecc. 9:9). Make it count for God.
You Are Leaving An Imprint. Isn’t it sobering to think that all of us are associated with some quality. When our name is brought up, something—either directly or indirectly—is attached to it. For some, it will be: “grouchy,” “gossipy,” “complaining,” “foul-mouthed,” “critical,” “selfish,” “dishonest,” “arrogant,” “icy,” and the like. Fair or not, such broad labels are typically made interaction by interaction. For others, it will be: “humble,” “sincere,” “encouraging,” “dependable,” “loving,” “joyful,” “godly,” “positive,” etc. You may feel yourself plain and insignificant, but you will leave an indelible impression on others throughout your life. Even the one talent man, who tried to bury his talent, had to give an account for it (Matt. 25:14-30).
Leadership, labor, and legacy. These are gifts given by God to us all. What a powerful opportunity, one that lies before us daily! The great news is that if we don’t like the footprints, fingerprints, and imprints we have left and are leaving behind, we can change course. My favorite version of A Christmas Carol (and the best version!) is the one starring George C. Scott. He captures the remarkable transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, a malevolent miser who becomes a merry mirth-maker. Charles Dickens shows us that anyone is redeemable if they’ll genuinely and fervently change. Of course, the Bible beat him to that message (Rom. 12:2; Acts 3:19; etc.). Our time here is so short. May we all have the wisdom to know what is most important and pursue it relentlessly.