It’s world Cup time.  Every four years we set aside three weeks in the summer so many Americans can pretend they like soccer, grab an excuse to spend the afternoon in a bar, and root for a bunch of guys who got cut from the real football team in high school.  And it’s all for the rights to the coveted cup--the “World” cup.


It’s a nice distraction.  It’s fun to see the patriotism folks have for their country and the country of their ancestors.  But the Word Cup certainly isn’t the most important cup to go after.  Neither is Lord Stanley’s cup.    There’s another critically important cup we all need to strive to win:  The Character Cup. 


Character is actually a competition.  We are in a race for character.  Character is a match.  The Biblical writer, Luke put it this way:


Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica…--Acts 17:11


Luke tells us that there was a character contest between the Bereans and the Thessalonians.  And the Bereans won.


We are all in a character tournament.  There will come a time when you will face someone else head-to-head and it will be your word versus theirs.  It will be a “He said, she said” competition.  It will boil down to your character verses their character.   And the stakes will be high.


We’ve all faced this challenge in our past, many of us are facing it now, but we will face it over and over and over again in the future.  The character cup—will you win?


My wife, Lori, is fond of telling me, “It’s not a race!”  I’m a competitive cat and I can turn anything into a game.  So when Lori tells me it isn’t a race.  I like to muse, “Those who think it’s not a race are generally those who aren’t winning!”


When Lori and I had been married just a few years, my brother, John, took me aside and said, “I just want you to know, that if anything ever happens between you and Lori, if you ever get separated, if you ever get divorced, I want you to know that my wife, and I, and Mom and Dad, and all your brothers and sister—the whole family—we are all siding with…HER!”


It is a race.  And Lori is winning. 


Maybe I can’t win that character contest, but how do I win other contests in the life long tournament?  How do I grab the character cup?


Here are some suggestions:


1.  Take the long view. 


Character isn’t created instantly.  It develops over time.  The Apostle Paul tells us that character comes from suffering and perseverance (Romans 5:4).  James says the same thing in the beginning of his epistle.  Character comes from losing a few battles, picking ourselves up hanging in there, and gutting out the next step.  


We’re not just preparing for the character cup tournament in 2014.  But we know there will be another in 2018, 2022—basically every year for the rest of our life we’ll need character.


The little things we do today will help set us up for victory or defeat later.


2.  Get around people of character.


It wasn’t just the one Berean with character.  It was the whole group.  There’s something about consistently connecting with people of noble character that rubs off on us.  My wife’s character is rubbing off on me.  I still can’t win in a contest with her, but I am getting closer, because she is helping me.


Character has been defined as “who we are when no one is looking.”  But character is often formed in relationships, in te4ams, in connections.


That’s why we have a network.  We need to be around other competitors who are trying to win at integrity, sincerity, honesty and reliability.  We need to get close to others who will encourage us in the race, point out some of our shortcomings and help us go on to the next round.


3.  Come clean.


Character isn’t just about doing the right thing.  It’s about admitting it when we’ve done the wrong thing.  Confession, admission and apologies create character.


Let me do that right now:  My opening comments about soccer weren’t appropriate.  Soccer isn’t a favorite of mine, but I didn’t need to bag on it.  I’m just feeling insecure because I’m a baseball guy and for the last three weeks soccer has been consistently compared to baseball in its boredom.  So, I lashed out.  I apologize.  If I’ve offended you, let me know.  I can buy you a Coke and we can watch something like Nascar and make fun of it together.   Sorry, I guess I did it again…


By the way, we have had leader and church planter gatherings at a soccer game—yes Major League Soccer!


4.  Read the Bible.


The Bereans were very glad to receive Paul’s message. They studied the Scriptures carefully every day. They wanted to see if what Paul said was true. So they were more noble than the Thessalonians.—Acts 17:11 (NIV)


The practical application to emulate the Bereans is to study the Scripture every day.  They won the character cup because they studied the Scriptures, carefully, and every day.


I like reading a chapter of Proverbs every day—whatever day of the month it is, I read that chapter.  I’ve been doing that for years.  Solomon says he wrote the book to help us gain wisdom, understanding, discipline, character if you will. 


5.  Start close to home.


Character contests are not typically won in large Brazilian arenas with English-accented ESPN announcers calling play-by-play.   Most character contests start small, at home, in the family dynamic.  Our parents train us, our spouse sharpens us, we pass the lessons on to our kids.


And if we win at home, we’ll have a better chance to win on the road.  If we can do the little things, the hard things, the seemingly insignificant things, we’ll progress in the tournament.


I hope you do well in the character cup contest.  That is, unless you’re up against me!  In that case I’d want us to tie…zero to zero, just like soccer.  Or better yet, let’s not go against each other, let’s be on the same team—the Berean team