PERSONAL GROWTH

WIN THE CUP:

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

THE BOTTOM LINE:

 

I have PTSD—Post Traumatic School Disorder.   Every September, the temptations toward getting demoralized arrive.  It’s the most miserable time of the year.  Summer is over, and school is starting.  I haven’t been to school in years, but those ill feelings still taunt.

 

I don’t want to say I hated school…because a teacher might read this.  Honestly, I didn’t go to school because I love to learn.  I didn’t go to school to see my friends--I could see them at 3:15.  I went to school in order to not go to school.  I just wanted to get it over with, graduate and get out! 

 

The way I survived in school was to search for the bottom line.  I didn’t care about the syllabus,  I just wanted to know what was on the test. 

 

We couldn’t ask.  The kid that raised his hand and asked indifferently, “Is this going to be on the test?” was really asking for the teacher to lower his grade.  But every once in a while a teacher would bestow a great gift by admitting, “Pay attention, this will be on the test!”

 

Wouldn’t it be great if life told us its bottom line?  Wouldn’t it be great if God just came out with it and told us what was on the test?  I think most of us would really like to know God’s will for our lives, we really want to know what God’s plans are for us and we really want to know what God wants from us.

 

The good news is God has actually done that. 

God used a prophet named Micah, which means "who is like God?" to tell His people the bottom line. In chapter 6, Micah asks a great question:


What offering should I bring when I bow down to worship the Lord God Most High? Should I try to please him by sacrificing calves a year old?  Will thousands of sheep or rivers of olive oil make God satisfied with me?   Should I sacrifice to the Lord my first-born child as payment for my terrible sins?--Micah 6:6-7 (CEV)

Micah asks, “What’s on the test?”  Then he answers his own question:


He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.--Micah 6:8 (NIV)

Micah announces that God wants us to do three things:


A:  Act Justly

 

Simply put, we’re supposed to do the right thing.


 If you would do what is right, you would find my words comforting.--Micah 2:7 (NLT)

Micah lived in a culture known for lying, cheating, and taking advantage of others.  They didn’t do the right thing.  The culture hasn’t changed that much.  We are used to lying, cheating and taking advantage of people.

 

Two roaches were munching on garbage in an alley when one engages a discussion about a new restaurant.  "I was in that new restaurant across the street," said one. "It's so clean! The kitchen is spotless, and the floors are gleaming white. There is no dirt anywhere--it's so sanitary that the whole place shines."  "Please," said the other roach frowning.  "Not while I'm eating!"

 

We are used to doing the wrong thing.

 

Recently my wife and I took and anniversary trip to Coeur d’Alene.  We drove by the scene of the crime.  When I was four-years-old, I was in in Duncan’s grocery store in CdA.  I walked through the produce department, saw some grapes, instinctively took a couple and ate them.  Mortified, I suddenly realized that I had just stolen something.  Then Mr. Duncan walked by and I didn’t confess.  That was my first remembrance of clearly not doing the right thing. 

 

Since then I have gotten a lot better at not doing the right thing.  I try, but I fail the first part of the test.


B:  Love Mercy

 

We’re supposed to love mercy.  We love a lot of things, but do we love mercy?

 

A friend made a pretty big blunder, he did the wrong thing.  Another friend commented, “He shouldn’t expect to get any mercy from the cops, the courts or the congregation.”

 

Wow, is that our culture—even in church?  We’re bent on throwing stones rather than throwing out, “Go and sin no more.”

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”

 

And it’s rare.  I want mercy for myself, and justice for everybody else.  But I’m supposed to be full of righteousness and full of mercy.  Who does that?


Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago. (Micah 7:18-20 NIV)

Who is like God?  That’s what Micah’s name meant, and he says it back to God as he described God’s mercy.

 

I need it, but I fail.  I’m 0 for 2


C:  Walk Humbly

Walk humbly.  What does it look like to walk humbly?  I guess it isn’t a moonwalk or a peacock strut.  And I suspect walking humbly isn’t the walk of shame, like a pitcher who just gave up the game-winning homerun. 

 

The best picture of walking humbly that I’ve seen is a little boy walking along holding the hand of his father. 

 

We can actually do this one.

 

Max Lucado concluded, “Blessed are those who acknowledge that there is only one God and have quit applying for his position.”

 

Micah wrote, People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God.  There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”--Micah 4:1-2 (NLT)

That’s the bottom line, walking with God in humility.  We’ll try to do the right thing, we’ll get better at doing the right thing, but we’ll mess up.  We’ll try to love mercy, we’ll work at having our first response be merciful, we’ll get better, but mess up there too.  But we can simply grab hold of God’s hand, and allow him step by step to lead us.  Even if he leads us to school.