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Character That Counts

character-that-counts

We live in a world today where it seems that competencies and skills are valued far more than character. Character counts to God and it should matter to us also. In the two primary passages on leadership for churches (I Timothy 3 and Titus 1) the qualifications overwhelmingly focus on character not ability. There is one exception: teaching! But God is far more interested in who we are than what we do. The scriptures make it clear that God’s focus is character and the heart of man, not outward appearances.

John 7:24 says, “Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” Matthew 15:16-20 says, “But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Following all the outward rituals does not insure the having right heart!

Here are some great quotes on character:

  • Howard Hendricks: “The greatest crisis in the world today is a crisis of leadership and the greatest crisis in leadership is a crisis of character.”
  • General Norman Schwarzkopf:  “99% of leadership failures are failures of character.”
  • Coach John Wooden:  “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
  • Arthur Friedman:  “Men of genius are admired.  Men of wealth are envied.  Men of power are feared but only men of character are trusted.”
  • David Star Jordan:  “Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it!”

Unfortunately, all too often we focus too much on ability and skill and too little on character. In Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft compares capacity and competence to gliders. They can fly and stay up in the air soaring for a while but not indefinitely. They eventually will come down and they do not hold up well during turbulent times. Maybe this why some leaders come crashing down so hard. They have been elevated too quickly because of their charisma or capabilities but their character is not equal to the task?

Kraft goes on to say, “Who you are will take you much farther than what you can do. Character will stand the test of time and hold up when the winds howl and the storm rages around you.” So how do we develop character like he just described? Kraft also points out, “Character development is not a short-term project, but a lifelong pursuit.” It is walking with Christ daily and developing an intimacy with Him. If we desire Christ-like character then we must spend time with Him and abide in Him.

The importance of our daily spiritual disciplines cannot be overstated. Hopefully, we do not come to our daily quiet time with the Lord just so we can check it off of our list, fulfill our obligation, or feel good about doing what we should have done. Following Christ is about developing a relationship with Him. Great men and women of God are great because they enjoy exceptional intimacy with Christ. Here is an excellent example from John Ortberg in his article, “Motorboats, Sailboats, and Rafts,” on how to approach our daily habits of the heart:

“One of the analogies that has been kind of helpful to me is the difference between a motorboat, a raft, and a sailboat. In a motorboat, I’m in charge. I determine how fast we’re going to go, and in what direction. Some people approach spiritual disciplines that way. If I’m just aggressive enough, if I have enough quiet times, I can make transformation happen on my own.

Some people have been burned by that kind of approach, so they go to the opposite extreme and will say, “I’m into grace.” It’s like they’re floating on a raft. If you ask them to do anything to further their growth, they’ll say, “Hey, no. I’m not into works. I’m into grace. You’re getting legalistic with me.” So they drift. There are way too many commands in Scripture for anybody to think that we’re called to be passive.

On a sailboat, however, I don’t move if it’s not for the wind. I can’t control the wind. I don’t manufacture the wind. Jesus talks about the Spirit blowing like the wind. But there is a role for me to play, and part of it has to do with what I need to discern. A good sailor will discern, “Where’s the wind at work? How should I set the sails?” Practicing spiritual disciplines is like sailing.”

It is important to remember Zech. 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” And Acts 2:1-4, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in once place. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” We cannot control the wind, nor can we manufacture it, but all too often we try to produce His presence and power ourselves. Phil. 2:13, “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and the ability to work out His good purpose.”

For Him to work on us we must place ourselves in the position to be filled with His presence and power. How do we do that so that we can develop Christ-like character?

  • Make sure you are relying on His energy – not your own!
  • Make sure you are pursuing His plans and purpose – not your timeline!
  • Make sure you desire His presence in your life more than His blessings!
  • Make sure you are abiding in His presence daily!

The Time is Now

Finish Well Pic

 

In The Making of a Leader, author Bobby Clinton states that only 30% of leaders finish well. Unfortunately, time takes a toll on many leaders who quit, throw in the towel or disqualify themselves. Too many lose heart, lose their joy, and become casualties of the pressures of leadership. All of us have been disheartened by news of a well-known leader who did not finish well. Sadly, the temptation is to only focus on what caused their demise instead of many contributions they made to the kingdom.

The truth is that most people will remember how we finished not how we started. How can we stand the test of time? How can we make sure we finish well? How do we make sure that our spiritual life, passion for Christ, and joy is not choked out of us? In How to Lead & Still Have a Life, H. Dale Burke describes a lot of leaders as “Busy, Buried, and Behind.” They have slowly but surely become overworked, overloaded, and overwhelmed. Many leaders talk far more about burnout than how blessed they are.

First, you must stay centered on Jesus! It is way too easy to make the ministry and our work the center of our universe, but it isn’t. Following Christ is first and foremost about developing an intimate relationship with Him. It is not about fulfilling obligations, checking items off our to-do list, or following a list of regulations. In Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft says, “Great men and women are great because they enjoy exceptional intimacy with Christ.” Do not fall in to the trap of thinking it is all up to you! The power of God works in you and through you but it is not from you.

Second, you must stay focused on your calling! You cannot do it all and here is the good news; God never asked you to! Andy Stanley has said it this way, “Opportunity does not equal obligation.” It is imperative for you to determine what God has called you to do and then remain focused on that calling. If you are already overloaded and overwhelmed you must decide what you will say no to if you are going to say yes to a new project. If you have not written out your own personal purpose statement you should consider taking a prayer retreat and asking God to reveal that to you. Take a look at Jeremiah 42:1-3.

Third, be willing to place your to-do list through a filter. We must seek God regularly to guide our use of time. Wayne Grudem says it like this, “I find the most helpful thing I do regarding use of time is to spend time in prayer each morning bringing my plans and my ‘to do’ list before the Lord and seeking his direction.” How can you best leverage your time to have the greatest influence and impact for Christ? Change takes time and it is wisdom to remember that you hardly ever accomplish as much as you would like in one year but can accomplish far more than you thought in five years.

Fourth, reignite your passion for the great commission and the great commandment. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, wrote: “For many years, one of the first things I do every morning is to evaluate all the day’s competing demands against a single criterion: How will each opportunity enable me to maximize my contribution to helping fulfill the Great Commission? I prioritize accordingly. Some of the demands go to the top of my list, some down the list, and some get eliminated.” How will you meet and build relationships with those who are far from God?

Fifth, remember the example of the apostle Paul. When Paul went before King Agrippa he once again shared his salvation story on the road to Damascus and says this in Acts 26:19-20, “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance.” He testifies that He received “Help that comes from God.” He not only provides saving power but also sustaining power.

Sixth, know that Christ wants more for you than you can imagine. It was Paul who wrote in Philippians 1:6 “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Now is the time to go back to the basics of point number one and remind yourself not to fall into the trap of thinking it is all up to you! God wants to do greater things in your life and in your ministry than you do. Paul goes to the next level in Philippians 4:13, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Seventh, make sure you are getting enough rest. Fight the temptation of thinking that if you are not busy then you are being lazy! David Kraft also says, “Sometimes our schedules and egos are writing checks our bodies cannot cash.” If we are travelling at a break neck speed the best thing we can do is to slow down. Where can you find margin in your life to get some much needed rest? Everyone needs to make sure they are able to find ways to get refreshed, recharged, and renewed. You can only run on empty so long before everything comes to a screeching halt.

Healthy Christians and healthy churches find rhythms led by the Holy Spirit of God that allow them to stand the test of time!

Authentic Values

Businesswoman hands holding white card sign with What is important to you ? question text message isolated on grey wall office background. Retro instagram style image

Much has been said and written about values. Are our values preferences or practices? In Acts 2:42-47 we are given the core values of the early church as teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They were not just preferences but daily practices. We know this because we are told they “devoted themselves” to these values. The passage does not say they sat around discussing or debating them but, rather, they were the daily practices of their lives.

In his book Value Driven Leadership, Aubrey Malphurs describes values as either “actual” or “aspirational.” Is there a difference? James 2:18 makes a clear distinction between the two in stating, “But someone will say, ’You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.” James also states in 1:22, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Malphurs describes actual and aspirational values in the following ways:

First, Actual Values are the beliefs we own and act on daily. These values come from inside of you and are who you are. It is authentic because they exist now, in the present, and describe what is true about you right now. Actual values are not just preferences but what you practice daily. When you share your actual values people around you shake their heads in affirmation because they see it and agree with you.

Second, Aspirational Values are beliefs you do not currently own. You know you should own them but you are not quite there yet. Aspirational values deal with what should be, not necessarily what actually is. These are values we would like to adopt such as being evangelistic. We desire to reach people with the gospel, but the truth is, we are really not that evangelistic; not yet. We aspire to be!

With these two descriptions of values by Dr. Malphurs, allow me to share a couple of observations we need to be aware of about values:

  1. Our Biblical values will be tested! For example, it is one thing to say we value loving people but we must realize that unconditional love can be put to the test daily. I John makes this very clear, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen.”
  2. Are Biblical truths our values or our goals? We say we are burdened for the lost but what are we personally doing to reach them? It is wonderful to have the goal of reaching the world for Christ but what daily practices are we involved in that are helping us in that direction? The results will never change if we do not change our daily practices. What will we begin doing differently?
  3. Are Biblical truths our actual practices or just aspirational preferences? Jesus said that “men ought always to pray” but how much time are we actually spending in prayer? We say we value the word of God and should study it daily but is it our daily practice to have a quiet time in the word with our Lord? For our results to change our daily practices must change also.
  4. You cannot fake Biblical values! What you really value always shows up! If you really believe in the importance of sharing the gospel with people far from God, then you are constantly building relationships and bridges to them. You do not just talk about what you are going to do but you actually practice what you preach. Matthew 6:21 says it well, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
  5. Make sure your values are genuine and authentic! Be honest about it! At our church I like to say, “We want to be the friendliest church in the world!” I never say, “We are the friendliest church in the world, state, or even our city!” There is nothing wrong with openly admitting what goals you would like to adopt without claiming you have arrived. You cannot intellectualize values nor can you rationalize them.

Malphurs challenges us to examine our values to determine whether they are actual or aspirational. You can determine this by whether they are verbalized preferences and goals or are actual daily practices. Here are some excellent questions to ask about ourselves and our ministries: What values or beliefs should we adopt? What values and beliefs have we adopted? What would those looking in from the outside say we value? What are our real values? What key value ingredients are missing?

This is where many churches get in trouble and struggle because they resist what they need most; a complete or partial transition from one set of values to another. Do we value keeping members happy or do we value reaching our neighbors with the gospel? Do we value our traditions or do we value reaching our children and grandchildren with the gospel? Do we value our personal preferences or being culturally relevant while remaining Biblically sound?

Realize that conflict in churches often arises from differing values. Some value safety, comfort, and routine. Others value risk, sacrifice, and shaking things up. Every church must decide what they really value and if those values are not consistent with God’s mission for His church they must be willing to do whatever is necessary to be obedient to His plan for His church. Values can be measured by what our calendars contain and by our checkbooks.

Healthy churches and healthy Christians are authentic about what they value and are willing to change to make sure God’s values are genuinely theirs!

Are You The Older Brother?

other-brother

The reports of great Easter services yesterday are already coming in! One church plant, not even two years old, had 212 in attendance and ten joined. Another report of a church plant not yet five years old had a record attendance of 539 with six baptisms. Our church exceeded our average attendance by 150 and had 495 present on Easter. How did these reports cause you to feel or react? Were you able to rejoice or did it make you skeptical or envious?

In the story of the prodigal son there are actually two prodigals. One took his inheritance, squandered it, and finally came to his senses and returned home. When his father saw him he rejoiced and the celebration began but the older brother was not a happy camper. The older brother was angry and said, “Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends!” (Luke 15:29)

The real story in the parable of the prodigal son is actually the older brother. In context, these were the kind of people to whom Jesus was telling this story. The older brother was actually more lost than the younger because he could not see his lostness. His goodness and respectability had blinded him. Sadly, he was living with the father but was far from him. He was more concerned about keeping score of how others were serving more than taking care of his own relationship with the father.

The older brother serves as a warning to us that it is possible to obey God’s commands and be lost. It is possible to faithfully attend church, read your Bible, pray—and be lost! As you work for God you can appear to be very close to Him and yet actually be very far from Him. If you still need a little convincing then you should take a look at Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 18:9-14. The older brother did not have the same heart his father had!

How do you know if you are the older brother? Are there signs to look for that should cause us to repent and ask for the Father’s forgiveness? Maybe we are not the older brother but are acting like him at times. What should we look for? Here are things to watch out for to make sure our hearts are like the heart of our Father:

First, when you cannot rejoice when prodigals return home you are acting like the older brother. The father was dancing and celebrating but the older brother could not. There was no rejoicing in his heart because he was angry and believed he was justified in being mad. The issue was not that it made him mad but what he did with that anger. The older brother was seething because he had saved up this anger for years and now it was boiling over.

When you harbor and hold onto offenses over a long period of time they can lead to depression, ulcers, insomnia, and outbursts of anger. They give you a negative attitude and rob you of the joy of the Lord. The key is always to get before the Lord, admit our anger, and then ask Him to help us to rejoice the way He rejoices. If you are always skeptical when a prodigal son returns home you acting far more like the older brother than you are the father!

            Second, when you are constantly griping and complaining you are acting like the older brother. He says, “This son of yours!” He does not even want to admit that he is his brother. It appears that he does not want him back in the family and would just as soon go on without him. The older brother is condescending, proud, and faultfinding. He hears the music and wonders why he was not invited? He sees the celebration and is jealous that they were throwing a party for his brother and not for him.

How do you know if you have become like the older brother? When you are always negative. Especially about the things that makes our heavenly Father rejoice! Philippians 2:3-4 says this about jealousy, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” You can tell a lot about a person’s heart if they cannot rejoice when others are blessed and they are not!

Third, when you have a hard time forgiving you are acting like the older brother. Are you prone to holding grudges? Do you often think, “I may forgive but I will never forget?” Do you struggle with harboring bad feelings when someone has chosen the wrong path and then returns home? Are you actually sympathizing with the older brother and feeling like he is really getting a raw deal here?

Where do you start in this process of forgiveness? You need to grasp the enormity of your debt and realize it is much greater than you can even imagine. John Newton said this, “I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great savior.” Ephesians 4:32 states it clearly, “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. “ The heart of the father is to forgive while the heart of the older brother is to hold a grudge ‘til Jesus comes!

Healthy churches and healthy Christians rejoice when God does great things!