I did not intend to start a new series of messages, but it is shaping up to be that way. And the politicians, those surrogates of a proselytizing devil, made me do it. Their infiltration into my thinking began when I heard my first political ad of the campaign season. It was negative in its content and made blatant use of the technique of shaming in order to cast the opposition in a bad light with the voters. So message number one from me began with an attempt to resist evil by expressing my disdain for such a campaign tactic.
However, I did not get very far in sculpting a finely worded message before thoughts about an even greater political issue distracted me from stating my righteous indignation about campaign commercials. What troubles me even more than the demons of campaign purgatory is the propensity for my fellow evangelicals to blindly align themselves with the Blues and the Reds of American political life. Message one, then, first took its shot at what I honestly believe to be bigoted commercials (bigotry not being limited to racial attitudes) and then spent time applying the principal that we cannot serve both God and Mammon to the evangelical community’s politicking missteps.
Before I could wrap up my bifurcated rant, however, my need to lead, to offer a vision as a requisite part of repentance, forced me to conclude that first message with the promise of a second, designed to present an alternative to our complicity in our political submission. Message two subsequently advocated for a five point plan for engaging in a society defined by its cultural polygamy without making any concessions to Big M Mammon, the biblical euphemism for fame, fortune and power.
Extracted from a letter written to Hebrew Christians of the first century, that period of time formerly linked with the initials AD, the unknown author prompted these spiritual sojourners to make five key decisions regarding how to best survive peacefully, while maintaining their own advocacy for the virtues that were meant to characterize all of us who would eventually follow in their path. The five points were presented in my message with the wording found in the New International Version of the Bible, stated as follows:
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith….
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Let us not give up meeting together….
Let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This call to action was brilliant in its simplicity, providing the means for anyone to influence those around them at a truly fundamental, grass roots level. But the wording hints at something essential to these acts of doing, which underscore their validity, and that is the quality of being. The plan contains in its wording aspects of the kind of character required to fulfill the mission so that we do not appear to be hollow adherents to a blind faith or motivated by guilt in an attempt to appease an angry God. And that is the real topic of message number three, character.
Our word is a transliteration of the Greek karakter indicating a stamping tool. We trace its etymological lineage through the Romans, the French and down to us with the resultant understanding that our character marks us and shapes our behavior as evidenced by our speech/discretion, our actions/restraint. If we are to be people of good or noble character, we must therefore choose to develop those traits which comprise an admirable persona since they are not naturally imparted to us at birth as with Thomas Jefferson’s optimistic declaration of legal equality and inalienable rights.
The values of character, the positive traits we admire in those we esteem and therefore hopefully aspire to cultivate within ourselves, are present in the Hebrew plan and inform us as to the manner in which we are to perform each task. Our integrity is evidenced by the sincere heart with which we draw near to God. The scope of our dependability is measured by how we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Compassion and the ability to inspire others are made plain in the way we spur one another on towards [unconditional] love and [morally] good deeds. Our loyalty and devotion is seen in the fact that we do not give up meeting together. Our optimism is apparent as we encourage one another. And discernment is present as we prioritize our actions based on our awareness as we see the Day [of the Lord’s return] approaching.
This necessary coupling of character and action is succinctly emphasized by the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the fledgling church in Corinth that If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (I Corinthians 13:1) He gives further clues about the importance of our character development as he expounds on the nature of love saying that Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Corinthians 13:4-7).
For the Christian, the scope of good character traits is ever expansive and intended to be an inherent part of the spirit filled life. Again we can rely on the Apostle Paul for this critical insight. In his letter to the believers in Galatea he wrote that the fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them would produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) In truth, if we are true believers, these traits will be unavoidably present and make their indelible mark, their karakter, on how we live our lives.
The value of character in the individual is ultimately seen in its benefit for the community. There is no place here for the nihilism of negativity, only the positive traits in which we can find rest for our souls. So let us take heart in character’s efficacious abilities, for – as the blessed apostle stated in his succinctly worded promise to us – Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:8).