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Posts Tagged ‘character’

characterBasic definition of character: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing”. But there are others and among those definitions is “an account of qualities or peculiarities of a person–“. In this election year and climate, character has been a constant topic of conversation, from good to bad, true or false, kind to selfish, dependable to undependable and so forth. We are all, looking outward, asking, “do we see fruit in the lives of the candidates that reflects their true nature, or their character?” But perhaps, it’s time to ask these same questions of ourselves. 

I have always maintained, put a microscope on someone and you’ll always find something, some tarnish or blotch, some surprise or another. Can I tolerate the same? Not hardly. So, who am I kidding? This public evaluation will probably be somewhat cursory at best.

So what is the question? How do I stack up to the “image” or character of God (as in Genesis 1:26, made in God’s image)? The list I was given only had 24, alphabetically, we only go through the letter “F.” I found another website that lists 49 character traits. My guess is that the list could go on and on and on.

Let me pick three then, that I can somewhat safely say I have demonstrated: endurance, initiative, and thoroughness. Notice: I had to go all over the alphabet list. Here’s what happens when I try to identify a positive character trait, I name one and the first thing that comes to mind is the time I didn’t reflect that very well. And then another and another. So, scratch that one. Oh, well, just look at the overall feature, my mind says, but still I can’t get past it, the murmur of “liar, liar.”

image-of-godI can claim these three just because they speak to the last two years of my life, reinventing myself as a widow, enduring the loss and the sorrow, initiating new routines and lifestyle (even selling and buying a house), and then tackling all the little jobs that are now all mine, working to make those efforts the best they can be. But have I embraced the Presence of God in the midst of these traits as I walked them out? Not as much as I should have. Much of these are part of my nature (my family background and the influence of my mother). I know that. And yet, I also know, then the gas ran out in my energy, God was there, filling up my tank. Things might have been easier had I used God’s gas all along. Hindsight reveals much.

But out of this list, what do I really need to develop? With a conscious choice, what can I put in front of myself, like a post-it, if necessary, and say to myself: go here first.

pooh-contentmentContentment. This is not about never trying or working toward a goal, but it is saying yes to now, today, this moment, this life.
Gratefulness. And so, along with contentment must come gratitude, for what has been given and what will be given.
Patience. With some hesitation I bring this forth. Everyone says, never ask for patience, for the circumstances that demand patience will come in a flood. But, honestly, hasn’t that already happened? And isn’t patience the sister of contentment and gratefulness? I think so.

Where do I see these traits practiced? Here’s the worst confession of all. I’m not sure I know people well enough to know if they are operating in these qualities day to day. I know the courage of several acquaintances who went through challenging cancer treatments, I saw in them these qualities wrapped inside the fight for life. What charges me up is their ability to be bold and yet patient at the same time, to be confident and yet grateful, to be determined and yet content with truth.

CGP are not passive at all. That’s the clue I have about them. They are conscious. They are a choice. They are a team. And I choose to be in. Some call this mindfulness and to some degree, awareness as well. Stay awake!

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I’m not doing too well with this idea of abstaining from something . . . anything . . . just because it’s a problem for someone else. And yet, if I hold true to the concept of the “sacred other,” can I choose to do anything else?

I Corinthians 8:13
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

Sometimes, these choices are a cakewalk. Obviously, if I have friends who struggle with alcoholism, I would not guzzle around them. That’s insensitive. But then, the cost to me for not drinking in their presence is minimal. But what about other things? What about movies or books that cause my conservative friends to stumble? What about eating meat around my vegetarian/vegan friends? What about wearing dresses instead of pants around traditional Mennonites or Amish?

There are such fine lines between being true to oneself, being a chameleon for the sake of fitting in, and choosing to abstain out of concern for the other.

I believe my previous “unconsciousness” in these choices were the ultimate problem. I might abstain but I did not do it out of love, but with resentment and even negative judgments.

It’s a type of reluctant obedience that is no better than just going ahead and doing it.

And yet, Jesus stretched a lot of observers to places they did not want to go. He ate without ritual washing, he allowed sinners to touch him, he healed and touched contagious disease. He broke Jewish laws with knowledge but also with kindness.

It all comes back to love and motive. Abstaining for the sake of another should be conscious and intentional. And probably, that act should be accompanied by conversation.

Keep me mindful today Lord.

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In this passage from Romans, Paul writes that suffering goes hand in hand with glory. On this Ash Wednesday, it seems befitting to ask “what is suffering?”

Romans 8:17
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Much attention is paid to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross as his primary moment of suffering. And of course, that is true. He gave everything he had that day and died that we might become “heirs,” eligible for direct relationship with the Father–children.

But is that the suffering we are to duplicate? Some answer that we are to understand that Christ’s death on the cross symbolizes the sacrifices that we are to make on behalf of others. The implication is that those sacrifices will cause suffering. And that can happen.

I am thinking of simpler things today. I am considering other examples of Jesus’ suffering like the pain of rejection, sorrow, misunderstandings, false accusations, hatred, and attacks by crowds. His every word was scrutinized and his enemies were always trying to trip him up. Oh sure, the crowds followed and adored him but they were fickle. They marveled at his miracles but missed the message. They accepted the free food but missed the bread of life. For me, his greatest suffering was the pouring out of himself each day with little to nothing in return. He suffered in his love for us.

That’s right. Loving the unlovely is painful. Loving those who don’t want to love you back is a struggle. Loving when we are tired, feeling sick, or lonely is a challenge.

But there is a promised reward for loving in this way: glory. Our pastor says that glory is really the light or expression that comes from a fully formed character. Perhaps that is true.

Certainly, loving unconditionally brings change within. Loving unconditionally requires authenticity. This kind of love cannot be faked. As I become more transparent, even translucent, only then can the true glory, the Spirit of Christ become evident.

Teach me your Way, O Christ.

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I actually selected this verse on suffering and hope yesterday but couldn’t bring myself to write about it. I don’t go easily into the realm of suffering and pain.

Romans 5:3b-4
. . . we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I suppose I’m doing better. For years, my mantra was “avoid pain at all cost!” And as a result, I would run away from challenges and opportunities. I was afraid. Primarily, it was emotional pain that kept kept nipping at my trail, trauma from my past. I suspected, if I acknowledged the pain in any way, I would be overwhelmed. At one point, I though my body would explode. I had pushed down so much sorrow, disappointment, resentment, and fear, that the pressure on my soul was severe; it was like a geyser preparing to erupt. That’s chaos. It is not the road to hope.

What is suffering then? We recognize it most easily by example. Surely, the people of Haiti are suffering after the great earthquake. So many have lost everything including loved ones. They are sick, malnourished, exposed to the elements, and grieving all at the same time. And yet, we also know, that recovery from such a horrendous ordeal, can only be done through perseverance and hope.

Perseverance is the human piece of the equation. To get to hope, we must choose to press on. As soon as we decide that we will not give up, then hope can find purchase in the soul.

This is the story of Haiti as well. How else could a young woman survive beneath the rubble for 15 days and come out alive.

Hope, by its very nature, is hope in God to intervene. Since hope is about the unseen, the future, the unknown, only God operates freely there.

Why does God allow so much suffering? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. But God has provided a way out of suffering, step by step. Every time a person can make a choice toward healing, perseverance grows in strength. And as perseverance grows, that person’s character is formed and built on the backbone of faith.

In the past two years, two of my colleagues from work have died of colon cancer. Both walked the journey of suffering and although they died, their struggle was a testimony to the survivors who saw perseverance and character and hope never falter. They are the heroes. They are my teachers.

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John 7:28
Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him,…”

In the past I have worried a great deal about false teaching. I knew there was a lot of it and I was afraid I would get sucked into the wrong way if the teacher appeared to be really smart and spoke with sincerity, authority, and used the Bible to substantiate the teaching. Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” [Matthew 7:15] I was afraid I would be fooled by the sheep’s clothing.

Today, I had a simple epiphany: false teaching can be recognized if one knows the Source.

If I know what God has taught me, if I understand what I have read, if I spend time in prayer and meditation, if I remember how God has touched my life in the past, then I will recognize God’s hand upon a teacher.

It’s similar to knowing a friend or family member. If someone would tell a bad story about a friend, but I know that friend well, I can determine whether it’s true or false. If I know that person’s character, I know that some things are simply outside the realm of possibility. Oh sure, people can act differently than their normal character, but those actions would have to be provoked by a profound change or external pressures.

The really sad part is that we don’t always know people very well. Sometimes it’s because people are not transparent; they don’t want to be known. And so, by all appearances, their behavior is unpredictable; their character is unformed in the eyes of the world. But sometimes, it’s our fault: we don’t take the time to know the very people we care about in our lives. We don’t listen. We don’t look. We make assumptions. If we treat God the same way as we treat our acquaintances, we will make false assumptions about God as well.

God’s character does not change. We are encouraged to know Him. He shows Himself every day. He shows Himself in scripture. He shows himself in nature. He shows himself in the light. He shows himself in love.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” [Matthew 11:29-30]

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