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Category Archives: Character

Be mature

Back in the dark ages when I was a freshman at Biola College, Dr. Curtis Mitchell addressed his Old Testament Survey class. He encouraged us, “Be mature about the rules of Biola.” At that time, all the students had to subscribe to “The Pledge,” five things that Biola students could not participate in while a student at the school.

I would echo Dr. Mitchell’s words by saying, Be mature about the rules of COVID-19. If required, wear a facemask, and wear it properly over your nose and mouth, not just over your chin or only covering your mouth. Wait patiently outside a store until you can enter. Follow the directional arrows and go with the flow. Practice social distancing. Register for church attendance if you are allowed to attend.

Be mature by accepting the rules and guidelines with good grace. The apostle Paul wrote, “give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Stop complaining about wearing facemasks, school closures, directional arrows, and oft-repeated words that you have grown tired of. Model maturity, contentment, and peacefulness to those around you.

Be mature about what God is doing in your life. The apostle James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Stop chafing against what you cannot control. Through your mindset, demonstrate that you have confidence in God’s plan and purpose.

Be mature about how God uses trials to help us grow up. John 15:1-11 describes how God uses pruning and shaping to move us from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit. James 1:2-12 and Romans 5:3-5 explain how God uses trials to produce proven, mature character in our lives. Give God permission to use this pandemic to help shape your character and make you more effective for his service.

Be mature.

 

Making decisions about gray areas

This post was originally published in 2009. I was reminded of it during a Bible study I participated in two weeks ago. I hope you find it helpful.

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During my days at Biola University (1973-77), one of my professors was Dr. Curtis Mitchell of the Bible Department. Loved his classes, hated his tests.

One of the more helpful lectures I remember from Dr. Mitchell was on how to deal with gray areas. He gave us a list of six questions to ask ourselves:

  • Does the Bible speak to the issue? If so, follow the instructions. If it is a black and white issue and Scripture is clear about what to do or not to do, then obey the commands of Scriptures.

However, life is not always black and white. Scripture does not always speak to every issue. Where Scripture seems to be silent about a seemingly gray area, ask the following questions:

  • Will it help me? 1 Corinthians 6:12a – “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.”
  • Will it build up the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:23b – “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
  • Is it addicting? 1 Corinthians 6:12b – “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
  • Will it cause others to stumble? 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 – “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
  • Does it glorify God? 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

I developed my own flow chart to use as a grid when dealing with issues of this nature. Here it is as both a jpeg and pdf file.

 

The Audience of One

Whose approval do I seek? Do I preach in order to receive the “Nice sermon, pastor” from people, or do I focus on the “Well done, good and faithful servant” from God? Am I motivated by the applause of the crowd or by the affirmation from a heavenly judge?

These are difficult questions when ministry is “normal.” They are even more challenging when you are preaching to a camera during the COVID-19 crisis. It is one thing to preach to a half-filled sanctuary and quite another to preach to an empty room with only one cameraman in attendance.

I am reminded of what the apostle Paul wrote on two separate occasions.

Galatians 1:10 – For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 – but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

The concept of preaching to an audience of One has taken on a whole new meaning during this present crisis. It once again reinforces the importance of being faithful since it is near to impossible to measure success by the usual criteria of numbers and attendance.

Since I cannot measure my success by the number of people in the pew, I have to trust that God will measure my success by the motivation of my heart.

May I keep my focus on pleasing God. May I be found faithful. May I seek to pleasure the audience of One.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2020 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Developing the core virtues of character

Book Review: Character Carved In Stone: The 12 Core Virtues of West Point That Build Leaders and Produce Success, by Pat Williams with Jim Denney

If you enjoy military history and if you appreciate books on the character qualities of leaders, then you need to read Pat Williams latest book, Character Carved In Stone: The 12 Core Virtues of West Point That Build Leaders and Produce Success. As the title suggests, the book expounds on the twelve virtues of character that the United States Military Academy seeks to instill in their cadets.

As the author explains in the introduction, there are twelve stone benches at Trophy Point overlooking the Hudson River on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Each bench is inscribed with a word representing a key leadership virtue: compassion, courage, dedication, determination, dignity, discipline, integrity, loyalty, perseverance, responsibility, service, and trust.

I believe these twelve virtues are crucial to leadership and success in this or any era. If you exemplify these twelve character traits, you will be a leader, because you will stand head and shoulders above most of your peers as a person worthy of being followed and emulated. If you exemplify these twelve qualities, you will be a success in any endeavor you put your mind to, because no one who is a role model of these qualities could ever be considered a failure. Wherever you lead, these twelve virtues will magnify your influence and propel you toward great service, great goals, great achievements, and great distinction.

To flesh out these twelve virtues, Williams profiles the men and women who have graduated from West Point, from the Civil War era to the War on Terror.

  • Ulysses S. Grant embodied compassion.
  • Alexander “Sandy” Ramsy Nininger Jr. demonstrated courage.
  • Buzz Aldrin, Ed White, Michael Collins, and Frank Borman—four astronauts from West Point—showed dedication.
  • Maggie Dixon, who coached the women’s basketball team for one year prior to her death exhibited determination, along with H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
  • John J. “Black Jack” Pershing embodied dignity.
  • Sylvanus Thayer, who helped reform West Point as its Superintendent, showed discipline.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower was a man of integrity.
  • Matthew Bunker Ridgway demonstrated great loyalty.
  • Perseverance was demonstrated by the lives and deaths of a number of women and men.
  • Mike Krzyzewski and Douglas MacArthur showed what responsibility looks like.
  • David Moniac, the first Native American to graduate from the Academy, demonstrated service.
  • Omar Bradley exhibited the quality of trust.
  • The book closes with Peter Wang, who showed true heroism as a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) member when he was gunned down while saving the lives of fellow classmates during a school shoot in 2018.

In addition to the profiles, the author includes numerous suggestions and practical ideas as to how to build the character qualities into your life. The book is encouraging, uplifting, and challenging. Well worth adding to your leadership library.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2019 in Books, Character, Leadership, Quotes

 

Buzzed by a Helicopter parent

The buzzing in my ear is not an errant fly or mosquito that wandered into my office. No, it is a helicopter parent using the latest in drone technology. A Mom contacted me four times in six days interceding for her twenty-something child.

In addition to my pastoral duties, I teach an occasional online class for a school. Early on in the one of the courses, I was made aware that one of my students was facing some challenges. In light of that, I was willing to grant the individual extra grace in taking exams and submitting papers.

As the term progressed, this person took the exams but did not turn in several of the reading assignments. In addition to the exams and reading assignments, there was a term paper due towards the end of the course. Because I was going to be out of town the week it was due and unable to grade the papers until I returned, I gave everyone a one-week extension but with a firm, “no acceptance after the deadline,” due date.

During the final week of the course and the day after the extended deadline for the term paper, a Mom wrote me asking if her child could still turn in the missing reading assignments, as well as the term paper. (I found it odd that Mom made the request rather than the student.) Even though I could have put my foot down, I was gracious and said I would accept them late. However, I gave another firm due date for the term paper. The day after the final extended due date, Mom contacted me again and said her child stayed up all night to write the paper and was going to turn it in shortly. It eventually arrived—seven days after the original extended deadline, and one day after my final, final, gracious due date.

I have three adult children and two sons-in-law whom I love dearly and would do anything for. That being said, I draw the line at calling their employer and asking for a raise on their behalf or contacting a professor asking to bump up their grades. I want them to be able to stand on their own two feet and not need me to rescue them or bail them out. I want them to learn and develop independence and self-reliance.

While I’m understanding of an individual’s needs, I’m not sure that a Mom is helping her adult child by interceding with their professor. That doesn’t seem wise and will not develop an independent, self-starter. Just my perspective.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2018 in Character, Personal growth

 

Reconciliation requires supernatural intervention

Without the power of God breaking through, reconciliation is nearly impossible. This is due, in part, to the hardness of the human heart, as illustrated in these two stories. (Both stories were found on the website – www.sermonillustrations.com

One New Year’s Eve at London’s Garrick Club, British dramatist Frederick Lonsdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. “You must,” Hicks said to Lonsdale. “It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time. Go over now and wish him a happy New Year.”

So Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy. “I wish you a happy New Year,” he said, “but only one.”

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A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There’s more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father’s disapproval. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2018 in Character, Preaching, Quotes

 

I’m in charge!

The late Christian Herter was the Governor of Massachusetts from 1953 to 1956. He served as the United States Secretary of State from 1959 to 1961. On one occasion, the governor was seeking a second term in office and was on the campaign trail. His busy schedule had taken him through many cities with numerous stops. Throughout the day he had eaten very little and was eagerly awaiting a fundraising barbecue at a church in the evening.

When Herter finally arrived at the fundraiser, he was famished. The smell of fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy wafting through the air made him salivate. He went through the long line and anticipated a wonderful meal. The governor took his plate, silverware, and napkin and awaited the delicious food to be placed on his plate.

As he went through the line, an elderly woman placed a single piece of chicken on his plate. The hungry governor paused and asked the woman, “Ma’am, may I please have another piece of chicken? I have been on the campaign trail all day and have not had much to eat. I’m famished. Would you please give me a second piece of chicken?” The woman replied, “Nope, everyone gets one piece of chicken.” Herter was somewhat surprised and miffed at her response. In desperation and frustration the governor asked her, “Ma’am, do you know who I am? I am the governor of this state!” The elderly lady replied, “And do you know who I am? I am the lady in charge of the chicken and everyone gets one piece! Now move along!”

(NOTE: I found this in several places on the internet and referenced in several books. I don’t know the original source. I used it as an opening illustration in my sermon on 1 Peter 2:13-17)

 
 

Pride hinders givers from receiving

It puzzles me why givers have trouble being receivers. It bothers me that servants struggle with letting others serve them. Unfortunately, I am guilty of the same problem. My pride, independence, and self-sufficiency get in the way of me being on the receiving end.

As I contemplated traveling to Russia, I wondered how I would navigate the airports. I had been going to the mall and to the church gymnasium to walk several times a week in order to build up my stamina and endurance. Walking an airport terminal would be a tiring challenge, but I figured I could do it. A friend suggested I request a wheelchair service. I listened and made the arrangements.

After I said goodbye to Carol at Boston Logan Airport, the wheelchair attendant whisked me through security and all the way up and down the terminal to the departure gate. It was the best $5 tip I ever spent. As boarding began, a ticket agent wheeled me to the door of the airplane and I was the first one on board.

When I landed in Amsterdam, there was no one to meet me, so I walked all the way from the arrival gate to the front door. A long, slow, walk. When I approached passport control, an attendant said she didn’t want me standing in a long line, so she took me to the front to the next available agent.

When John, Naomi, and I checked in for the next flight to Moscow, John told the agent I had requested wheelchair service. A chair was produced and John wheeled me through security to the departure lounge and eventually to the departure gate.

When we landed in Moscow, I walked off the plane past a wheelchair sitting in the jet way. I assumed it was someone “who needed it.” Naomi mentioned it was available, and I responded, “I’ll be fine.” John countered, “Pride.” Shortly after his incisive comment, an attendant came up with a wheelchair and said, “Mr. Wheeler? I was waiting for you.” I apologized and allowed him to take me through passport control to baggage claim and then to an airport restaurant where we had dinner.

Accepting help chafed against my independent, self-sufficient nature. My pride would have worn me out physically and robbed others of the joy of serving.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2018 in Character, Personal growth, Russia, Travel

 

Deadlines

I don’t understand deadlines, or rather, those who don’t honor deadlines. Maybe it’s my responsibility gene, but I was taught that deadlines are deadlines. Whether it be a school assignment, sales advertisement, job task, performance review, airline flight departure, final exam, doctor’s appointment, or any other time sensitive matter, deadlines are deadlines.

If you miss the deadline, there are consequences. It might cost money. You might miss your flight. There may be a grade or interest penalty. It might affect your credit score. You might lose your place in line. It could cost you a financial bonus or even a promotion in your job. People might question your credibility or dependability if you don’t deliver on time.

I have worked with folks who viewed deadlines as suggestions. They were guidelines for other people, but did not apply to them. I have had students who routinely turned in assignments and exams after the due date and then wondered why they lost points and didn’t get full credit.

I understand the need for exceptions. In the previous school term, I had students who were impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Nate. I was gracious and allowed them to turn in their work late without penalty. I try to extend mercy in extenuating circumstances. I just don’t understand why people can’t meet and/or ignore deadlines under normal circumstances.

Ultimately, deadlines are a matter of priorities. You have to value an assignment, task, job, flight, or meeting high enough in order to complete the task, arrive at the appointment, or make the flight on time.

Now that I have that off my chest, I will put my soapbox away until next time.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2017 in Character, Personal growth

 

Letting people see behind the curtain

The Great and Powerful Oz always hid behind the curtain. He did not want people to see he was just an ordinary, failed magician from the Midwest.

As leaders and pastors, it is tempting to follow that pattern of letting people only see our powerful, charismatic persona, and hiding our weaknesses behind the curtain. However, we need to allow people behind the curtain to see us as we truly are, a mixed package of strengths, weaknesses, and frailties.

On many occasions, the apostle Paul spoke of the importance of modeling. He provided an example for believers to follow (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Timothy 4:12-16; Titus 2:7-8). But Paul also revealed his struggles when he spoke of his thorn in the flesh and how he begged God to take it away (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

I have tried to pull back the curtain to let people see how I am responding to a broken leg. I struggle. I vent. I vacillate from hope to discouragement. I waffle from confidence to despair. I am impatient. I trust God’s plan. I’m tired of hurting. I know God is in control. I want to fast forward and skip the next few weeks of rehab. I am resting in God’s timing.

I ride a roller coaster throughout each day. I am confident and encouraged in the mornings. I am diligent to do my exercises and rehab. I am working my way through several books, trying to use my time profitably. But when I get tired, I become discouraged. The days are long and tedious. I feel achy and weary in the evenings. I told Carol last night that I am tired of hurting.

Although I am not preaching from a pulpit these days, I am teaching from my recliner. People are watching to see how I deal with trials and difficulties. Hopefully, it is a good example of how to suffer well. I would like to provide an example like David in Psalm 42 where he cries out to God in despair but then ends in a statement of confident hope and trust.

One thing I appreciate about Scripture is that it paints the individuals with warts and all. We don’t receive an airbrushed portrait of Abraham or David, but we view their strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, and everything in between. Scripture lets us see behind the curtain. That is my intent in these blog posts.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2017 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture