Character and Integrity

May 31, 2016 at 10:21 am | Posted in character and integrity | 1 Comment
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Three days ago (May 28, 2016) The Deep End surpassed its old record for number of views in one day by a huge number. I suspect this had to do with Memorial Day weekend, and the post entitled “What Will You be Remembering this Memorial Day?” and the category Biblical Remembering, which seemed to be the source of most of the activity. In honor of the occasion, I wanted to recap another popular category.

Several years ago, there was an upheaval in the youth ministry department (an all-too-common occurrence in my experience) at the local church where I attended and served. Being suddenly without a youth leader, the pastor asked if I could fill in on Wednesday nights teaching the youth group (consisting of junior high and high school students). Youth group ministry is my least favorite ministry in church. I would prefer if kids attended “big church” with their parents or other adults, but I have been consistently overruled in this area. Also, most of the kids who attended this particular church came on their own, without parents or guardians, or were dropped off by adults who didn’t stay for the service themselves.

So I agreed to help out for a six-week period until a new youth leader could be found. The week before I started, youth group attendance had been around 12 – 15. By the time the six weeks was over, we had a high attendance of 29 and were averaging around 25. How did I get the class to grow numerically? By wacky games? Pizza parties? Showing videos? Acting silly? Growing weird facial hair, wearing skinny jeans, moussing up my hair, and getting into hip-hop? Nope. What I did was pray a lot about it and call all the kids’ parents who brought them on Sunday mornings but not Wednesday nights, and challenged them to bring them on Wednesday nights. I’m about as personable and friendly as a stinky mop, and my phone manners are awkward and clumsy. So, obviously, the Lord is the One Who increased the attendance, not me, but I’m grateful He allowed me to have a part in it.

The series of lessons I taught during those six weeks focused on the character and integrity of various people in the Bible. There seemed to be a change in behavior and some spiritual growth among the kids during that time, but only the Lord knows if it was real or lasting. I pray that it was. Below are links to the lessons:

Part One (introduction and definitions of character and integrity; illustration: Nerf football vs. NFL football) *
Part Two (David; illustration: Zip-lock bag vs. bird cage)
Part Three (Mary)
Part Four (Daniel; illustration: steel ball vs. Play-Doh)
Part Five (Jephthah’s daughter)
Part Six (Jesus; illustration: a straight wall vs. a crooked wall)

* most-viewed post in series

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Character and Integrity Part 6

October 13, 2009 at 10:49 am | Posted in character and integrity, Luke | 9 Comments
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Our three main enemies are the devil, the world, and our flesh. The devil wants to lie to us and deceive us. Our flesh wants us to please ourselves, and not God. The world wants us to be fake – something we’re not – in order to get money.

We must not fool ourselves into thinking we can control your own bodies. We must not let people tell us that we have a built-in excuse: our nature. God has the power to control everything. He controls the wind, waves, earthquakes, and atoms. We should not be the one thing that God created that rebels against Him.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

I Corinthians 6:19-20

God can control our bodies – the desires of our flesh – if we surrender to Him. But we have to surrender every day. Our minds are not going to be blank. We have to replace bad thoughts with good thoughts.

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

Colossians 3:2

In this ongoing series of lessons, I have made comparisons between the character and integrity of material objects and the character and integrity of Christians. Continuing in this vein, I submit that a straight wall has better character and integrity than a crooked wall.

Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more:

Amos 7:7-8

For a wall to stand, it must be in balance. Jesus Christ was the most balanced Person of all time.

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

Luke 2:48

When the Lord Jesus, as a boy, went to the temple without checking in with his earthly parents, they probably thought He had lost His mind. He had not, but here in the story of the Prodigal Son, we see someone who had lost his mind, evidenced by the expression, “he came to himself.”

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

Luke 15:17

Paul was accused of being “beside himself,” another term for having lost his mind.

And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.

Acts 26:24

There was a belief in Bible times that the mind could be separated from the body. The symptoms were that the person’s body was doing something that was out of balance with what the mind would have dictated.

The Lord Jesus, even at age 12, was completely in balance, despite some of the so-called disadvantages which we use as excuses for being out of balance today.

Jesus’s earthly family was not wealthy.

And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

Luke 2:24

His brothers did not believe in Him.

For neither did his brethren believe in him.

John 7:5

His mother did not always understand Him.

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?

Mark 3:31-33

Joseph, his earthly foster father, did not always understand Him.

And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

Luke 2:50

Whenever you feel frustrated because you think nobody understands you, remember that Jesus was misunderstood His whole earthly life!

And yet, look at the balance in His life.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Luke 2:52 (emphasis added)

The Lord Jesus spent His teenage years preparing for His ministry mentally. When Jewish boys turn 13 they celebrate a “Bar Mitzvah,” which means “son of the law.”

Each of us has different degrees of intellectual ability, but no matter how smart we are, it is important to do our best. If we do well in every part of our lives except our intellectual studies, we are going to be out of balance.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Luke 2:52 (emphasis added)

“Stature” can refer to size and age. This verse leads us to believe that Jesus was healthy, but He did not give unbalanced attention to His outward physical appearance. He was probably ordinary-looking.

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

Isaiah 53:2

We need to eat right, get enough sleep, exercise.

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

I Corinthians 9:27

Our outward appearance is not as important as the spiritual condition of our heart, but it is important. We need to be guided by the example of Jesus. He stood out because of His Words, manner, and actions, not because of His physical appearance. As Christians, we should sometimes stand out, but we should not stand out for the wrong reasons: tattoos, body piercings, facial piercings, ridiculously long hair on boys and men. Remember, Jesus was a Nazarene, not a Nazarite. There is no warrant in Scripture for portraying Him with the long girlish hair seen in most artwork. A common objection to the admonition not to have an attention-seeking physical appearance is, “I’m just expressing myself.” But the truth is, God doesn’t want us expressing ourselves – He want us to express Him!

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Romans 15:1

A good question to ask about my physical appearance is whether I am exalting God, or exalting me? If my “stature,” my body, is not surrendered to God, then I am out of balance.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Luke 2:52 (emphasis added)

If anybody had the right to really think He was Somebody special, it was Jesus. But even though He was the “Lord,” He didn’t “lord” it over everyone.

But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

Luke 2:44

Notice that Jesus’s earthly family could go a day without worrying about how people treated Him. They knew that people like someone who is a servant, and who is obedient and respectful. As a man, the Lord Jesus was invited to weddings and parties. If you’re not socially acceptable, or if you’re acceptable only around people who love sin, you are out of balance.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and Man.

Luke 2:52 (emphasis added)

Jesus was and is God, but in Jesus’s humanity it is also true that God “was with” Jesus. Jesus had favor with God.

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

Luke 2:46

When Jesus went to the temple, He did not slump down in the back row. He did not pass notes. None of the teachers got frustrated because He wasn’t paying attention. Jesus was not only asking questions, but He was “hearing them.”

Jesus prayed often. He even taught lessons on how to pray. He quoted Scripture when He was tempted by Satan and challenged by the Pharisees. He always knew the right Verse for the occasion. If you are not right spiritually, you are out of balance.

Jesus was perfect mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually, and He is our model.

Character and Integrity Part 5

September 25, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Posted in character and integrity | 4 Comments
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Last time, we looked at character and integrity in the life of Daniel. Daniel was not slothful in business. (Romans 12:11) When the Babylonians undertook to increase his education, he and his friends learned the lessons better than any of the others. Daniel knew that his flesh would want to follow the ways of those around him (Jeremiah 17:9), so he maintained his separated position. When Daniel was forced to disobey authority he tried to do it as graciously as possible, not being puffed up with pride. (James 4:10) Daniel was faithful to God in the test of whether he would eat the king’s defiled food, so God gave him a position of great authority. (Luke 16:10)

Lesson number 5 begins, not with Daniel, however, but with the strange subject of animal butchery. Personally, I have never skinned or gutted a deer, although I have seen it done. It is a gruesome sight. I think of it when I read about some of the requirements for preparing the Levitical sacrifices.

If this offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

Leviticus 1:3-9

The offering was a burnt offering. It was prepared in a very hands-on way. The priest had to physically touch the animal himself. He had to kill it himself, not from far away, with a rifle, but right up close with his own hands. There would have been a great deal of blood since it was a “fresh kill” – spurting blood, blood everywhere, a “blood bath.” The priest flayed it open, and cut the guts out. Then, there was even more cutting – cutting through the skin, through the muscle, through the sacs around the organs, maybe through some bones, some tendons and ligaments, sawing, slick with blood, guts, bits of raw meat, and nerves. He would cut the head off, and slice the fat from the muscles. Then he would wash out the guts, and various parts and pieces, and take the legs, and burn them up. Frankly, it grosses me out to think about it, and you’re probably wondering what it has to do with character and integrity, but we’ll come back to it later.

For now, let’s skip over to the Book of Judges, which describes a very dark time in Israel’s history. God’s chosen people were rebelling against Him, worshiping false idols and false gods. Sadly, they believed, like many of the people around them (the Amalekites, the Philistines, the Amorites, the Ammonites), that God was just one of many gods. And it seemed like they were constantly under attack. The “Judges” were rulers or military leaders or deliverers. They were supposed to protect God’s people or rescue them or punish God’s enemies.

Judges Chapter 10 tells the account of Jephthah. He was the son of Gilead. Gilead was married, and had sons, but Jephthah was the result of a mistake he made with a prostitute. Therefore, Jephthah’s brothers really didn’t like him. When their father died they chased Jephthah away.

The Bible says that Jephthah left home and became a mighty man of valor. That is an encouragement to people today who believe that, because their parents did not intentionally conceive them, they are a “mistake.” Whatever your background, or the facts of your birth, you were never a “mistake” to God. Some people go through their whole childhood, and even much of their adult lives, believing that, if their parents had not made the “mistake” which brought them into this world, their lives would have been better and easier. Please remember that God was not surprised when you were born. He planned some great things for you before you were even conceived. Maybe your parents really let you down, but God will never let you down. We must live our lives in a such a way as to please HIM.

Jephthah had to learn how to take care of himself. In fact, he was so good at fighting and surviving that he attracted a group of followers, but Judges 11:3 calls them “vain men.” They were men without a purpose – outlaws, brigands, adventurers – and Jephthah was their leader.

When the Ammonites attacked Israel, the Israelites pretended to repent for God’s help, but God told them no.

Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.

Judges 10:13-14

The Israelites knew they would have to fight, but they needed a leader. Someone suggested Jephthah.

Jephthah might not have realized it, but his response is his own echoed version of God’s response.

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?

Judges 11:7

However, the Israelites promised him that he could be leader of Gilead if he helped them, so he agreed.

Imagine how embarrassed and mad his brothers must have been – they ran him off, and now he was coming back as the ruler of their land! Jephthah did not rub it in, though; he gave the credit to God.

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?

Judges 11:9

Jephthah’s first plan of action was to start out trying to reason with the Ammonites. He was no hothead. He knew his Bible, and he knew his Bible history. He informed the Ammonites that Israel had not “stolen” the land – they had “captured” it. He told them that Israel’s God had given Israel the victory. In effect, he told the Ammonites that, if they had any complaining to do, they should have done it 300 years ago. He went on to explain the futility of their fighting against the true God.

However, they wouldn’t listen. So Jephthah went to war.

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah…

Judges 11:29

In our previous studies on character and integrity, we have seen this same statement about David and Mary: the Spirit of the Lord came upon them.

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

Judges 11:30

The worst word in Judges 11:30 is the word “if.” Jephthah was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:32), but he failed the test of faith at a crucial time, and he tried to make a bargain with God.

Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands …Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

Judges 11:31-33

When Jephthah came home victorious, what do you think came out of his house to meet him?

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

Judges 11:34-35

What came out of his house to meet him was not a “what” at all! It was a “who:” his beloved daughter!

Now, if we believe that Jephthah was under a vow to make his daughter a burnt offering, and if we review the details of what that meant in Leviticus 1:3-9 described above, we have to gasp in horror. I want to be very fair at this point and state that I believe that Jephthah did believe he was under such a vow. Most modern Bible scholars and commentators disagree with me. Even the best Bible teacher I know believes that Jephthah’s vow only resulted in his daughter being forced never to marry. There are quite a few older (by decades or even centuries) theologians and Bible scholars who do agree with me. I have studied most of the arguments for and against, and I truly believe that Jephthah did the unthinkable due to his fear of the Lord in light of the vow he had made. Obviously, you are free to disagree.

To return to the narrative, though, what do you think Jephthah’s daughter said when he told her the tragic news?

“It’s not fair!”
“I’m going to run away!”
“Can’t you pay some money and get me out of this?”
“I wish you weren’t my father!”
“I don’t love you anymore!”
“None of my friends have to do this!”
“I don’t have to listen to you!”
“I need to know why??!!”

None of those are correct. Instead, we read:

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

Judges 11:36-37

Jephthah had done a terrible thing. His vow, his bargain with God, was a mistake – worse, it was a foolish sin. We must be very careful about what we say. “I swear…” “God, I promise, if you get me out of trouble this time… I’ll never do it again.” Vows to God are a serious thing.

What about the integrity, though, of Jephthah’s daughter? Could Jephthah trust his daughter?

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.

Judges 11:38

If you are reading this, and you are someone’s teenaged daughter, can you be trusted? Can you be trusted to take take out the trash? To keep your room clean? To be respectful even when your parents are not around? To be home on time?

Jephthah’s daughter had true integrity, and Jephthah knew her character. He knew he could trust her to obey – even in something like this.

And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

Judges 11:39-40

God is not going to require your parents to offer you up for a burnt offering. We don’t live in the days of Judges. But God is serious about your obedience. We all need to remember this story – when children feel like saying, “But why can’t I do this..?” or “It’s not fair, all my friends get to do it.”

Remember Jephthah’s daughter the next time your parents tell you they can’t afford to pay for something or they don’t want to spend the money for something. Maybe God wants them to stay within their budget to give that money to the church or to missions. You have no room for whining or complaining.

“And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father…”

Can you be trusted? If you won’t even do your homework, if you won’t study, if you won’t help clean up without being asked – then your parents shouldn’t trust you to even go next door, much less to a friend’s house. You have free access on your home computer to the most evil garbage in the world – only a mouse click away. If you can’t be trusted not to curse or gossip in a text message or an email, then you shouldn’t even be allowed to touch it.

Your parents, I pray, are trying to protect you. God has great plans for some of you. Don’t settle for just being popular, being cool, just getting by in school, even for having a great career, or falling in love. Those things are going to pass away. Worldly fun, fleshly fun, the kind of fun that pleases Satan and grieves the Spirit of God now mortgages the good things in life that God has in store for you later. Some of the people I knew who had the most fun when they were teenaged kids are completely miserable now: divorced, in jail, on drugs, can’t get a job. They had a blast for 7 years, but they’ve been miserable for 20 – and they’re looking at another 30.

Lord God, thank You that you haven’t put us in the same predicament as Jephthah’s daughter. But please let us be as obedient, as trustworthy, as she was. Let us be content with what we have. Let us be thankful, and let us spend our time getting ready for the good things You have planned for us. Help us to do the simple things: read our Bibles; pray every day; be obedient; be a blessing to others. In Jesus Christ’s Name, Amen.

Character and Integrity Part 4

September 15, 2009 at 10:49 am | Posted in character and integrity, Daniel | 11 Comments
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Let’s review some of the physical, material things we have examined to learn something about character and integrity. We said that an official NFL football has more integrity than a Nerf football, because water will easily seep into a Nerf, but a real football has a quality of soundness and impenetrability. We said that, for storing sandwiches, zip-lock bags have more integrity than birdcages, because they make an airtight seal. In addition, they are known for having a better character for this purpose, even though birdcages may look more ornate or beautiful.

Today, we look at another facet of integrity and character in the comparison between a steel ball and a ball of Play-Doh. Neither of these is especially permeable. Therefore, we might conclude that they both have integrity. However, the steel ball actually has the greater integrity and character, because, in addition to being impervious to water, it resists being molded into a different shape by outside forces.

One of your three main enemies – “the world” – wants to attack your character and integrity primarily because of greed – the love of money.

Think about the people in films and magazines and on the internet who pose naked. They are appealing to the sin of lust. There is a market for it. People are lustful – they want to see that kind of thing. But people aren’t naturally inclined to go around naked. The world entices them into doing it to make money. Then a cult develops – you are “told” that attractive people get famous by doing it, so, if you are attractive, people will really like you if you do it, too, or, if that’s too much for you, then the world tells you that it is alright to at least act promiscuously for the same purpose.

The world is in the business of getting you to buy things. Most of the things the world wants you to buy are not practical or even comfortable. If you don’t believe me, go to a high school football game this Friday night, and watch the boys and girls spending inordinate amounts of energy hitching up their pants or brushing their hair out of their eyes.

The antidote to the greed promoted by the world is found in the Bible. Let’s look at the example of Daniel in the Bible. The events in the Book of Daniel take place in 605 B.C., after Jerusalem is taken by Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel would have been approximately 15 years old when this occurred.

Daniel was a real historical person. He actually existed. He is referred to in Ezekiel Chapter 14, along with Noah and Job for their righteousness. He is also mentioned as a real person by the Lord Jesus in Mark 13:14 and in Matthew 24:15.

Daniel and his friends were the “best and brightest” of the young men of Jerusalem. And they were royalty (Daniel 1:3-4). The Babylonians changed their names. “Daniel” meant “God is my judge.” “Belteshazzar” meant “Bel protect his life.” “Hananiah” meant “the Lord shows grace.” “Shadrach meant “command of Aku (the moon-god).” “Mishael” meant “who is like God?” “Meshach” meant “who like Aku?” “Azariah” meant “the Lord is my help.” “Abednego” meant “servant of Nego.”

As Jews, living under the Old Testament Covenant, they were not supposed to eat defiled food. When pressured, they chose the Word of God over the king’s food. When disobeying ungodly authority, they were gracious toward that authority.

They were trained for three years in Babylonian beliefs and science and languages. They were examined and scored higher than anyone else (Daniel 1:18-20).

These Jewish young men were taken captive to Babylon, and they were treated well in many ways, but, in Scripture, Babylon represents our enemy, the world.

Geographically, today’s Iraq is the old Babylon. Saddam Hussein wanted to be the new Nebuchadnezzar.

The original Nebuchadnezzar wanted Daniel and his friends to serve in the royal palace, and he wanted young men with his idea of integrity. The problem was that he wanted them to conform. So, as a representative of the world, he began to put pressure on them – the same kind of pressure that the world puts on Christians today.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Romans 12:1-2

“Conforming” is caused by pressure from without. “Transforming” is caused by change and growth from within. Remember our illustration? Play-Doh can be conformed by pressure from outside, but the pressure won’t make it grow.

Concerning Daniel and his friends, the Babylonians changed their home, their ideas, their language, their diet – even their names. This is what we would call a form of brainwashing. Most people today were brainwashed as children to believe in a type of evolution which contradicts the Bible. They have been brainwashed to believe that the Earth is “billions and billions” of years old, when, according to the Bible, it’s only around 6000 years old.

Daniel resisted being conformed to the world of Babylon by purposing in his heart to obey God. He remembered that he was in a foreign country. Christians today are in a foreign land. If you are a Christian, the place of your physical address is not your real home.

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

Philippians 3:20

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

Colossians 3:2

And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.

John 8:23

When the world puts pressure on you to conform, follow the example of Daniel. Strengthen your integrity and your character. Do what it says in Romans 12:1-2. Start off each day by surrendering your body to the Lord (present your bodies a living sacrifice). Renew your mind in the Word of God every day. Pray. Daniel was automatic. He prayed three times every day, no matter what. Then “prove” God’s will – put it in action. Prove God’s will, not your own will.

Daniel and his friends proved they could be faithful in little things, so God gave them the chance to be faithful in great things (Luke 16:10), like the fiery furnace and the lion’s den.

Daniel made a “stand” (Daniel 1:4; 1:5; 1:19; 2:2; 2:31). “Standing” carries the connotation of “standing for something.” You know the old expression, but it’s still true: If we don’t stand for something, we’re going to fall for anything. Daniel and his friends were thrown into the fiery furnace for standing up when everyone else fell down and bowed down.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Ephesians 6:13

Christians are not called to be undercover agents – going along to get along with the world. God is looking for someone who won’t CONFORM. He is looking for someone who is TRANSFORMED.

God has some great plans for you. Don’t settle for just being popular or having a great career or falling in lust. Those things are going to pass away. Things done for God’s glory will last forever.

Character and Integrity Part 3

August 28, 2009 at 10:31 am | Posted in character and integrity, Luke | 6 Comments
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Who are your three main enemies? They are the devil, the “world,” and your flesh. The devil wants to lie to you, and deceive you. Your flesh wants you to please you, and not to please God. The world wants you to be fake – something you’re not – so that it can somehow make money at your expense.

It is important to be what God wants you to be. When you are fake, God knows it, and that is damaging to your integrity. When you are fake, other people know it, and that’s damaging to your character. Let’s look at the example of Mary in the Bible, and see what we can learn about her character and integrity.

Mary lived in Nazareth, a disreputable place.

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

John 1:45-46

There are places today with a reputation similar to Nazareth. I grew up in a small town that is kind of the “Nazareth” of North Louisiana. Nazareth in Mary’s time would have been the kind of place where a teenaged girl could have easily been bored, seeing the merchants and traders going to and from Jerusalem. That boredom could have led to temptation and promiscuity and immorality for many of the teenaged girls who lived there.

However, Mary was engaged to be married, and she was a virgin. The angel Gabriel came to visit her. He told her that she would conceive and bear a Son, and that she was to name Him Jesus, and that this Jesus was the Son of God. Mary was probably around 13-15 years old at this time.

Contrary to Roman Catholic dogma, Mary was not sinless. She, like all of us, was a descendant of Adam. Of all the people ever to walk the face of the Earth, only Jesus was without sin.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Romans 5:12

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Romans 3:23

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

Mary called called God her Savior (Luke 1:47). She knew she was a sinner, and she knew she needed a Savior.

Even though she was a sinner, Mary is a good Bible example of someone with integrity. She kept her virginity. She was saved.

Let’s look at her character. In a previous lesson we learned about the things which spoke well of David’s character.

Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him.

I Samuel 16:28

We can compare this description of David to Mary.

And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

Luke 1:28

People who knew Mary might have wondered about her character. God knew she was a virgin, but what do you think people said when they found out she was pregnant before she got married?

They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

John 8:39-41

People who knew about Jesus’s birth and childhood accused Him of being born out of wedlock. That was a reflection of their opinion of Mary, too. However, Mary surrendered her character to the Lord.

Character has to do with your name – what other people think of you – but we can’t always control that. What happens when you have integrity, but other people are wrongly smearing your character? I have three school-age daughters, and I can tell you from what I know of their experiences that all children can be mean, but girls can be meaner than boys – especially when it comes to gossip.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

Even though Mary could predict how her miraculous pregnancy would affect her character, she said, “That’s fine with me, Lord.” Mary considered herself a handmaiden, and, in Mary’s day, handmaidens had to serve – and they had to serve joyfully.

Can you say with Mary, “Be it unto me according to Thy Word?” Before you begin to hope that God would never do something to you that would embarrass you the way Mary’s pregnancy embarrassed her, remember: He already has. His Word tells you to do all sorts of things that are going to make people think you’re weird. And some of those things are going to affect your character – in the short term.

Are we willing to look in the Book and see it what it says? Are we dressing immodestly? Do we tell lies? Do we put ourselves in places of sexual temptation? Are we actively hoping for some strong temptation to come along, so that when we fall, we can blame the temptation, and not ourselves?

Many Christians say, “I’m saved – but I’m going to mess up once in while.” If we call ourselves Christians, then we had better stand for the Name of Christ. When I fill in the blank on a form that asks what religion I am, and I say, “Christian,” I don’t want to be responsible for someone else saying no to Jesus, based on my character.

Mary not only surrendered to the Lord, she was happy about it. As soon as she heard about God’s plan, she went to see her cousin, and she sang a song of praise about it. Her song is found in Luke 1:46-55. It is often called the “Magnificat.”

The word “Magnificat,” comes from the same root which gives us our word, “magnify.” To “magnify” something means to “make something bigger” or “to give someone glory.” Mary’s song magnified the Lord. She was interested in making herself seem smaller, and the Lord seem bigger. Mary would not have been happy with the way this part of the Bible is often used today. The Roman Catholic Church has a well-known prayer referred to as the “Hail Mary.” It comes from a combination of Luke 1:28 and 42. The Catholic prayer says, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” But Luke 1:28 tells us that the “hail” with which the angel greeted Mary, was just that: a greeting – not a description of sinlessness. Mary was not “full of grace.” She was a sinner, saved by God’s grace, through faith. When the Bible calls her “highly favored” it means that Mary was the recipient of grace given to her by God.

Note that Luke 1:32 does not say, “You will be great…” It says, “He shall be great..,” referring to Jesus. And Verse 42, which says, “blessed art thou among women,” has Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin – not the angel – speaking.

So, what was Mary’s secret? How could she be so happy, so excited, so obedient… knowing that her character was going to be questioned? For one thing, Mary loved the Word of God – she knew the Scriptures.

Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

Psalm 119:165

Remember, Mary did not have a Bible. She would have gone to the synagogue to hear the Word of God in the Old Testament being read aloud. Mary hid the Word in her heart – she memorized it. In her song, she quotes from the Law, the prophets, and the Psalms. Luke 1:50 has part of Exodus 20:6 in it. Luke 1:51 has part of Isaiah 40:10 in it. Luke 1:53 has part of Psalm 107:9 in it. If Mary could memorize Bible verses without even owning a Bible, how much more should we be able to do it when we can have access to a Bible any time we want!

It grieves me to see people – especially teenaged children – get up after a Sunday School class, and leave their Bibles laying on the floor. We have to wonder if Mary would have gone out of the synagogue and left her written copy of God’s Word, if she had had one, laying on the floor.

So we see, Mary could face the possibility of having people say bad things about her – to fail to see her true character – because she was not being fake. She was being real. She understood that her life needed to be given to obeying the Lord joyfully. The secret of having that joy was (1) surrendering to God’s Word and His way; (2) magnifying the Lord; and (3) knowing the Bible and memorizing it.

Unlike David, other people didn’t always say, “The Lord is with him/her…” However, when it comes to Mary’s character, think about the people who whispered about Mary, and said bad things about her behind her back. And then ask yourself, “Who do we recognize as the earthly mother of our Savior?” Bible students for centuries have honored the name of Mary for her Godly character, but we do not know the name of a single one of her critics. I’d say that’s pretty good character.

Character and Integrity Part 2

August 5, 2009 at 11:43 am | Posted in character and integrity | 5 Comments
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Let’s pretend that I offer you a sandwich, but you are not going to be able to eat it right now; you are going to have to save it for later. I offer you two options for preserving the quality of the sandwich before you stick it in the fridge. In one hand I have a beautifully ornate wrought-iron bird cage.

bird cage

It looks both sturdy and beautiful. In the other hand I have an ugly old Zip-lock bag.

https://img1.etsystatic.com/000/0/6867105/il_570xN.334496059.jpg

It looks flimsy and plain. Which are you going to choose?

Obviously, you are going to choose the Zip-lock. Why? Because it has both integrity and character. A properly sealed Zip-lock bag stops both air and water from getting inside. There is a “soundness” and a “wholeness” to a Zip-lock bag. It has integrity. Furthermore, you’ve had experience with bird cages (or a least containers made up of metal sections with gaps in between). You’ve also had experience with Zip-lock bags. Zip-locks have kept a many of your sandwiches fresh before. Zip-lock bags have character.

God wants His people to have both integrity and character. He wants us to be sound, and to be known for being sound.

Who does not want you to be be “sound?” Who wants you to look strong and sturdy at a glance, but to prove unfit upon further inspection? Who wants you to try to act like something you are not, to be a fake? Your enemies, that’s who: the devil, the world, and your flesh.

The Bible doesn’t have much good to say about “the world” once you get past the part where God made it and saw that it was good. It’s been pretty much negative since then (Romans 12:2; I Corinthians 2:12; II Corinthians 4:4).

The “world” is the Bible word for the point of view of those who don’t love God. They don’t necessarily admit that they hate God. They will claim that they would rather just stay on their side and let the Lord stay on His. But there’s one thing that really motivates the world to get proactive – to start campaigning against God: greed, the love of money (I Timothy 6:10).

Here’s a good example. After World War II (1945) there were lots of young people getting to do things they’d never done before. This engendered a certain fear – the fear of “juvenile delinquents.” This kind of fear is not good (II Timothy 1:7). Adults would see something broken or defaced in public, and would start defaulting to, “It must have been those kids…” meaning teenaged kids.

This kind of thinking led to polls. The polls led to an identifiable market. Manufacturers starting producing things like “teen” toys, “teen” dolls, “teen” magazines, “teen” movies, “teen” TV shows, and “teen” clothes. Most of these products were focused on the idea of making kids think ahead to when they would be “older,” and subtly sending the message that it was a good thing to strive to act like they were older than they really were. You can witness this phenomenon going on today with pre-teens (the media calls them “tweens”).

The suspicion of adults and the influence of marketing led to teenaged kids becoming experts at duplicity. Duplicity is the opposite of integrity (James 1:8).

Remember Eddie Haskell from the old show, “Leave It To Beaver?”

https://i0.wp.com/www.litb.com/amazoneddie.jpg

Eddie was duplicitous, even though he never really fooled Mrs. Cleaver when he gushed over her “beautiful dress.” Today, teenaged kids are smarter than Eddie. Most parents would faint if they really knew what CDs their kids listen to, what movies they watch at sleepovers, what’s really posted, but set to private, on their social networking sites.

But God knows. He knows that their integrity is damaged. And other people know, even if the parents don’t – and that has damaged their character.

David (pre-Bathsheba) is a good example of character and integrity. I Samuel 16 is mainly about David being anointed king and playing his harp or lyre for Saul. Chapter 17 is mainly the account of David and Goliath. David was probably about 15 or 16 when he was anointed, and probably close to 20 when he killed Goliath. David was not slothful in business (Romans 12:11; I Samuel 16:10-11). He was keeping his father’s sheep. He was fervent in spirit (Romans 12:11; I Samuel 17:34-35). He risked his life to protect what God had given him. He was serving the Lord (Romans 12:11).

Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him.

I Samuel 16:8

Let’s look at David’s character in this verse. These are the things David, even as a teenaged child, was known for – what Proverbs 22:1 calls his “good name.” He was cunning at playing (musical talent). He was mighty and valiant (known for overcoming problems). He was a man of war (a good fighter, someone who stands up for what is right). He was prudent in matters (smart). He was a comely person (good-looking).

It’s really not that uncommon to find someone about whom we can say all or most of those things. But, with David, in addition to those things, they could say, “The LORD is with him.”

Is the Lord with you? (Integrity) Do other people recognize that the Lord is with you? (Character) Both are important to God.

Character and Integrity Part 1

July 20, 2009 at 9:40 am | Posted in character and integrity | 13 Comments
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Integrity is a quality of “soundness.” It comes from the idea that an “integer” is something that is “whole,” or “complete.” When something has integrity, nothing can get inside it and mess it up. Example: A real football has integrity. It can get wet on the outside, but not on the inside.

wet football

A Nerf football has no integrity.

https://swimthedeepend.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/nerfball.jpg?w=300

If it gets wet, the inside will get all soggy.

When it comes to people, integrity is determined by what we do when no one is watching.

[A Psalm of David.] Judge me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; therefore I shall not slide.

Psalm 26:1

It’s easy to have integrity when everyone’s watching. Pretend that we are in a room, and I show you a container, and tell you that inside is something very valuable, very exciting, very personal to me, and very secret.

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-Pr30NcolQz8/TW2pE_EFOnI/AAAAAAAAKPg/KXuodAX31TM/mystery.jpg

If I left the room, and told you not to look in the container, would you be tempted to take a peek? Probably not if other people were watching, but what if you were left completely alone with the container, and no one would know?

https://i2.wp.com/dianechamberlain.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/sneak-peek-at-gift.jpg

That’s a test of integrity. Integrity is between you and God.

“Character” is a little different. Character is the combination of qualities that make you the “type” of person you are. If you are honest, hardworking, always on time, you have a trustworthy character. If you are selfish, unfair, sneaky, you have a greedy character.

Integrity is between you and God. Character goes into how other people perceive you.

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.

Proverbs 22:1

We might say that your character is what kind of name you have – what you are known for.

Does God want us to have integrity? Yes.

The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.

Psalm 7:8

Now, let’s examine what kind of character God wants us to have.

But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

I Samuel 16:7

When God looks at us, He sees more than just our physical appearance; He sees us in light of the things we do, and our reason for doing those things, and our true attitude while we do them.

God does care about the appearance of the things we do.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

I Thessalonians 5:22

One reason why God is concerned about the outward appearance of our actions is because we have an influence on others. People in general often adopt the actions of others with whom we spend time. People who hang out together often wear the same clothes, use the same language, and listen to the same music.

One reason that I need to spend time with Jesus – praying, reading my Bible – is that, if I spend time with Him, I’ll start to act like Him.

Many times, we have a challenge when we have an opportunity to do something that might not necessarily be “wrong” in and of itself, but would appear questionable to others. Our challenge is to remember that Christians are being watched by others, and we are supposed to be the “salt of the earth.” Salt adds flavor, but it also has an astringent quality, a cleansing quality. And it has preserving quality.

Christians have a responsibility to God, to ourselves, and to others.

And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

II Timothy 2:2


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