March 2, 2003
It doesn’t take long to discover two things about our culture. Number one: a lot of us love to travel. Number two: we are all made up of different kinds of character. That’s why I have been in a series called “Character Tour.” We have had a great time in this series touring some awesome characters that portrayed some awesome character.
During our first stop, we talked about discipline. We looked at a guy by the name of Daniel. Daniel went deep with discipline. From his regimented diet, prayer life and example, we learn that discipline is doing what you ought to do so you can do what you want to do.
The next stop was endurance. We checked out a man named Noah. Noah was engaged with endurance. He started and ended a project that took him 120 years. We learned that endurance is stampeding through the stopping points of life.
From there, we traveled to courage. Remember Joshua and Caleb? They drew a line in the sand, literally, as they stood against peer pressure. We learned that courage is the God given ability to draw a line in the sand, and to stand for what you believe.
From courage, we traveled over to vision. Remember that little Hebrew hillbilly, David, who took on Goliath? How did he do that? I’ll tell you how he did it. He did it because he was a man of vision. We learned that vision is seeing the transparent in the apparent.
We kept on going on the character tour. We looked at creativity and found that we didn’t have to look very far in the Bible to run into creativity, because our God is a God of creativity. We said the trinity is all about creativity—moving in perfect concert and in perfect innovation with one another. We said the Father invented creativity, the Son modeled creativity and the Holy Spirit empowers it. We said that creativity is riding on the ragged edge of innovation.
Then we cruised over to love. That was the sixth stop—love. We looked at God’s man, Hosea. Hosea was commanded by God to love a whore. We would say a “ho”—someone who is totally amoral. Yet, Hosea had this supernatural, one-of-a-kind love. We define love as a commitment followed by living in the grip of God’s grace.
Then we summed the whole thing by talking about big Moses. Moses was trying to organize a bunch of hydroplaning Hebrews. His father-in-law confronted him, and Moses became a guy who understood what organization was all about. We learned that organization was a decision based on and followed by a process. That’s the whole character tour thing.
Throughout this series, we have been hitting on the definition of character over and over again. You probably know it better than I do. Character is an outward reflection of an inward connection. We said that over and over—an outward reflection of an inward connection. Why did we say that? What’s that definition all about? Character, an outward reflection of an inward connection? What’s up with that?
If you have your Bibles, turn to 2 Corinthians, 3:18, because this text really is the theological anchor of the definition that I just gave you for character. “And we, who with unveiled faces (In other words, those of us who were Christ-followers—God’s children—should live mask-free lives. It’s not like we can hide ourselves from God or fake God out and pretend we are one thing. God knows us.) all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
This word “transformed” is very interesting. We get the word “metamorphosis” from it. It’s a change from the inside out. Thus, we take 2 Corinthians 3:18 and say that character is an outward reflection of an inward connection. It’s an outward reflection of an inward connection. What’s the connection? The connection is with Christ. Jesus is the author of true character. Jesus affords us an opportunity for character exchange to take place because of what he did on the cross.
The moment I bow the knee to Christ, what happens? My flawed character is transferred over to his shoulders and his flawless character is transferred over to my shoulders. He places the person of the Holy Spirit inside of our lives and the Holy Spirit works from the inside out to produce what? Character. The Holy Spirit produces character in you and me. The Holy Spirit gives me the discipline to live character out. He gives me the endurance to carry character through. He gives me the courage to stand character up. He gives me the vision to see character on. He gives me the creativity to move character around. He gives me the love to give character away. And he gives me the organization to get character down. That is what God does in your life and mine the moment we are transformed, the moment the metamorphosis takes place.
You might be saying, “Ed, that’s fine and dandy but what’s wrong with our culture? Our culture seems to have a character void in it, a character chasm, and a character crater.”
You are exactly right. We have that crater, that void that hole, because there is a Christ crater, a Christ void, and a Christ hole in many segments of the population. Because there is a lack of Christ, there is a lack of character. As we wrap up this series, we need to understand a couple of things about character that are very important. In fact, we have to know how and why God is forming this awesome stuff in our lives. Because we serve an awesome God, he is doing awesome things in our lives, from the inside out.
First of all, we have to realize that true character, authentic character, surfaces during crisis mode. When we are in crisis mode living, true character surfaces. I have in my back pocket a tube of toothpaste. I am going to open this toothpaste. What happens when I squeeze the toothpaste? I’ll tell you what happens. You know what? [Ed squeezes the tube of toothpaste to demonstrate how character will come out in our lives when we are squeezed. The toothpaste falls onto the podium.] Toothpaste. It looks like toothpaste. Smells like toothpaste. [Ed tastes the toothpaste.] It is toothpaste. Aquafresh—tartar control. It helps your teeth look pretty good. The tube says there is toothpaste in here, fluoride toothpaste. If you squeeze it, it comes out. Am I going too fast for anyone? Let me do that again. [Ed squeezes the tube again.] The same is true in your life and mine. I could talk all day and night about having character. “I’ve got character down cold. I’m a follower. I’m a believer. I have made the Christ connection. I understand what you are saying — an outward reflection of an inward connection.”
What happens during crisis mode living? What happens when the wheels come off? What happens when you are tossed into the hot water of a trial, temptation or difficulty? What then? I’ll tell you what happens. True character rises to the top.
Let’s take our Bibles and turn to 1 Peter 1:6-7, because Simon Peter knew a lot about trials and temptations. He knew a lot about messing up. Simon Peter was the guy who said, “Hey, Jesus, other people would diss you, baby, but not me. I’m the man of the hour, the tower of character power, Simon Peter. I will not mess you around.” What happened? We know what happened. Several hours later, he totally dissed our Lord. Yet, Jesus later reinstated him and changed him. Simon Peter then became a man of true character.
Let’s see what he writes: “Though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” What was going on there? I had you repeat four little phrases. These four phrases are all about trials. They are all about living in crisis mode. They are all about the toothpaste formula. This toothpaste formula is correct. You squeeze it and toothpaste comes out. What happens when you are squeezed? Your character begins to show.
Simon Peter says right up front that often times we will go through difficult circumstances. We will go through trials, temptations and crisis mode because we need it. You just said it, remember? “If need be…” Some of us need it. There are times in my life where I need a trial. You need a temptation. You need a crisis. I need a crisis.
Let me explain myself by discussing discipline. We are children of God, right? The Bible says that once we bow the knee to Christ, we are adopted into the family of God. God is a perfectly heavenly parent. As a parent, he disciplines his children. He disciplines those he loves. He doesn’t punish us. You may say, “Man, I can’t believe God punishes me.”
But, God doesn’t do that. Christ has already taken our punishment on that rugged cross. He does not punish us. He disciplines us for the best. Don’t doubt what I am saying now. God disciplines his children. Sometimes we need discipline. When we step out of bounds, when we step over the line, when God draws the line in the sand and we say, “God, forget you. I am going the other way,” we will pay for it. We will be disciplined.
David knew a lot about discipline. Check out what he said in Psalm 119:67. David said, “Before I was afflicted…” In other words, he is saying, “before God disciplined me, I went astray.” Then David says, “But now I obey your word.” Discipline. I need it.
Sometimes I need preparation, and God allows trials and crisis mode living in my life to prepare me. To prepare me for what? He is going to prepare me for growth and for character development. He is going to prepare me right here for heaven. Simon Peter is talking about earth, but he is also talking about heaven in this passage. He’s saying that a lot of the preparation, a lot of the trials and temptations and crisis mode living that we do here on earth will prepare us for the next life.
I could explain to you all of that, but that is what the Bible says. God is going to use the trials and temptations that you and I experience during crisis mode living. He is going to use them to leverage our lives so that when we get to heaven we will be able to serve him in an even more focused and phenomenal way. Heaven is not going to be a place where we just sit around in a Jacuzzi, sipping Perrier and just chilling out. Heaven is going to be a place of action. It’s going to be a place where we are perfect. It’s going to be a place where we have tasks to do and things to accomplish. Our trials are for discipline. They are for preparation.
They are also for prevention. God, many times, will throw a trial or allow a situation in your life and mine so he can prevent us from falling, from sinning, or from committing cosmic treason. So, again trials and crisis mode living meet our needs.
We just read that trials, temptations and crisis mode living are pretty tough. Wouldn’t you agree with that? It’s not easy. It’s tough. It’s like, “This is a whip. It’s hard. This is difficult stuff.” But if you talk to great Christ-followers, talk to men and women who have great character, they will tell you that God developed their character in the tough times; not the easy times, but during those difficult days.
They meet our needs. They’re tough. Also, trials come in various styles. Look around the room for a second. Look at the different styles of clothing that we have. Some here are dressed preppy, some are dressed very casual, and some have plastic-like leather shirts on. [Ed is describing his own shirt.] We are dressed in different ways. That’s a good thing. There are different styles represented here. You have got to be who you are.
The Bible says that trials come in many different styles. They come down the runways of our lives at us. One trial comes this way and another comes that way. One looks like this, and another looks like that. Trials are various. They are unique. They are multi-faceted and multi-colored. Notice, too, that God controls every trial and every crisis mode situation. Simon Peter said this.
Taking you back to 1 Peter 1:6, “that the genuineness of your faith being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
God, during your crisis mode, has his eye on the clock. He has got his hand on the thermostat and he is ready. He knows how much heat you and I can take. The picture behind this text is a beautiful one. I have shared it with you before. Let me go back. A goldsmith would pour ore into a vat and he would crank up the heat. As the impurities would rise to the top, he would scrape off the impurities and toss them aside. He would then repeat the process — scrape off the impurities and toss them aside. He knew the gold was ready when he could see the reflection of his face in the gold.
I love that. That is what God does in our lives. God controls the temperature. He wants to build all this character stuff in our lives. So, he cranks up the heat and when the character impurities rise to the surface, he scrapes them off and throws them away. He then repeats the process — scrapes them off and throws them away. He repeats again — scrapes them off and throws them away. Then, when we feel like we can’t take it any more, he sees his reflection in our lives. That is when he builds deep, lasting, mature supernatural, one-of-a-kind character in his children. That’s how God operates.
So, character surfaces in crisis mode. We need to understand that, own that and download that as we think about the backdrop of this series. But, there is something else you need to understand about character. Not only does character surface during crisis mode, but character is also more about the walk than it is about the talk.
Did you check out Dan Rather’s interview with Saddam Hussein? Did you see that? If you checked it out, Saddam Hussein, a mad man, a guy who has killed 1.5 million people, a guy who has had people in his country raped and tortured and maimed, was talking all this smack to Dan Rather. He was saying all the politically correct stuff. Now I ask you, do you think Saddam Hussein walks that politically correct talk? No. Come on. No, he doesn’t.
That’s like when we meet people who talk smack about tennis. “I can play tennis, man.” Talk to people about golf. “I can play golf.” Talk to people who say, “I can do business, man. I’m a businessman, a businesswoman. I have got the ability to do it.” I talk to some people who say, “Yes, I am a Christian, man. I’m in this Bible study and that Bible study.”
Oh, really? That’s great. You talk it, but do you walk it? Let’s go out and hit some on the tennis court. Let’s play a couple of rounds of golf. Let me do a business deal with you and I want to see what happens. You are a mature Christian? How many people have you led to the Lord over the last year? How many people are you personally discipling? I want to know that. If you talk smack, then you’d better back it up. If I talk it, then I’d better back it up. That’s what character is. Character is more about walk than talk. I am a pastor and I preach sermons, but let me tell you a little secret. I would rather see a sermon than hear one, any day. You hear me screaming? I would rather see a sermon. I would rather see the application in my life and in every person’s life. I’m not saying we shouldn’t hear messages. Don’t get me wrong. But I am saying that true character is more about our walk than it is about our talk. It’s who you are when no one is around, and when no one is looking.
Character is not something that is passive. We have to understand that. Character is active. Love is active. Jesus was and is active. Character is a verb.
There was an elderly German man who stood up in a church over on the East Coast. He shared his life’s journey with the church. The church was riveted as this man talked about growing up in Nazi Germany. This man said that he was a member of a Christian church — a little structure. He said that this structure was positioned right next to a railroad track. He said that every Sunday morning a train would come through town and stop. He said the entire congregation would hear the steam, the whistle and the train along the track. He said they would also hear the screams of hundreds and hundreds of Jews being forced into boxcars because these Jews knew that at the end of the track they faced death. This man said, “Sunday after Sunday, we heard the sounds of the train. We heard the whistle. We heard the steam. We heard the screams. Do you know what we did? The organist played louder. Do you know what we did? We sang our hymns at a higher volume. We didn’t do a thing. We had no character.”
In our country, the train is running down the track. The whistle is blowing. The steam is coming off the engine and many people are screaming and being forced into boxcars. Yet, a lot of us are just standing there. We are doing absolutely nothing because we have a lack of character. Character is active.
I ask you, “What if Jesus would have been passive?” A lot of people think that Jesus was some pale, frail, milk-toast man. Those people are not reading the Gospels. Jesus was a man’s man. He was a risk taker. He was a lion. He was a warrior. What was the whole thing with the cross? That was one on one with the evil one; good against evil; holiness against depravity. Jesus, though, lived a perfect life. He was perfect in every character quality, perfect in every way, and he died on the cross for our sins. He spilled his blood. He won the war so we could know him. Jesus was a warrior. He was a man who backed up everything he said. Character is more about walk than talk.
God wants all of this supernatural stuff to exude from our lives. It’s really interesting, though, to take a look around our culture because our world contradicts God’s character. Our world counterfeits God’s character. We talked a little bit about it. I want you to think about some of the character qualities we discussed over the last several weeks.
Think about discipline. Discipline is from God. Yet if you watch everything and look at today’s trends, we tend to applaud laziness. We tend to applaud doing just enough just to get by.
Think about endurance. Endurance comes from God. It is crashing through quitting points. Yet, to people without God, endurance is not a fun thing. So, we have developed a country full of quitters. People are divorcing in record numbers. People are throwing in the towel, bailing out, and dissolving their relationships. People are dissing their spouse, their friends, their loved ones and even the leaders of our country.
Think about courage and standing. That’s what God wants. Are we people of courage anymore? Not really. We are people of relativism. “There is no such thing as truth,” people say. “Whatever is true for you — that’s the deal. You need to be a relativist. There are no absolutes. ”What’s so funny about relativism is that the relativist shoots himself or herself in the foot because they want you to be absolute about relativism. They think that if you are not, then you are messed up. So, they shoot themselves in the foot with that whole argument. We have the entertainment industry, people like Martin Sheen and Shawn Penn and Sheryl Crow as experts now on political issues and on international issues? They are telling us that we shouldn’t go to war; like they know what they are talking about. Here they are, protesting the very thing that secured them the opportunity to be free and to protest. I don’t quite understand it. You see, they are protesting against the leaders of our nation. I guess they don’t realize that tens of thousands of Americans have spilled their blood on battlefields all over the world over all the years to afford them the opportunity to protest.
I understand, on the other hand, why they don’t trust our leaders. Let me tell you why. Just think about Lyndon Johnson — totally immoral. Think about Richard Nixon — a pathological liar. (I can’t wait for the emails.) Think about Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton has never had a moral compass. Then they think, “George Bush must be that way.” Well, (and this is me talking now, just a sidebar) I believe George Bush is a Christian man — a man of absolutes. I believe that God has placed him, and other authorities, over us for a reason. So, if he says, as a leader, that we should do something, then, yes, we are free to protest; but as Americans, we need to fight.
I believe the battle that is raging around our world today is a spiritual battle. It’s a battle between good and evil. We need to get off of our mentality, get off our rears and get out there and become active. I believe we need to really do what God wants us to do. If you study history and study the Bible, you’ll see that anytime you have God’s people with God’s character just sitting there, evil triumphs. I will say that one more time. Anytime you have God’s people with God’s character just standing there, just twiddling their thumbs and sipping Perrier in the Jacuzzi, you have evil triumphing. There is a time, and this is a whole other message, for war. There is a time to fight. But don’t sit there and think that Jesus was Mr. Passive, Mr. “I’m just everything about peace.” He went to battle and spilled his blood to secure our freedom.
Let me continue with this message. I think about creativity. I was just jotting this stuff down this past week. God has given us creativity, and the church should be the most creative entity anywhere. We should be creative because we are connected; we are tethered, to our creative creator. But the world contradicts and counterfeits creativity. Instead of creativity, we have vulgarity.
Just the other night, I was watching television with Lisa and I was channel surfing. I was surfing along and there was this new show called, “Are You Hot?” Then I turned a couple of more channels and Howard Stern was asking another woman to take off her shirt. Then I saw the Osborne’s using the f-word as all parts of speech — as a noun, adverb, adjective, and pronoun. Then I flipped over to Hell’s Box Office, (Oh, I’m sorry, I meant Home Box Office) and I saw “The Sopranos” and “Sex in the City.” I said, “Lisa, I’m a pretty cool guy. I even wore Eric Orson’s thumb ring today. He let me wear it tonight. I’m to the point where we ought to just throw our televisions away.” I know that sounds crazy, but is there anything good on the television? Then I thought about all the great fishing shows and ESPN, so we are going to keep our televisions. But do you see where I am going here? It’s very evident.
Think about organization. We should be people of order. God is a God of order, and not a God of chaos. I remember reading Francis Schaeffer. I highly recommend Francis Schaeffer. He passed away several years ago. He was a true prophet. Forty years ago, Schaeffer said, “A culture that has no absolutes tends to base everything on relativism and when you base everything on relativism, the result is chaos. What’s wrong is right and what’s right is wrong.” That’s where we are in our culture today. Thank God for God. Thank God for character. Thank God for Jesus. Can you imagine what would happen if God took all of us Christians out of here — off this planet? Can you imagine what would occur? Chaos would be on a level even higher than it is today.
We’ve got to think about this, play through these things and live these things out. We have got to realize who we are in Christ. We have got to realize that our character is an outward reflection of this inward connection. But then, it’s all about Christ. I can’t do it by myself and you can’t do it by yourself. On our best day, we are dominated by depravity. But, Jesus afforded us the opportunity for a character exchange to take place. When we bow the knee to him, his flawless character is transferred to our lives, and our flawed character is transferred to his life. He lives inside of us and tells us to allow character to exude and to express it to everything we see, feel, touch and know.
That’s why in Romans 5:8, it says, “God demonstrates (Remember, God is not passive; he is active.) his own love for us in this. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He went to battle for us. He spilled his blood for us. If you read about Jesus in the Gospels, what did he do? After the last supper, he took two common elements, a piece of bread and a glass of wine. He took the bread and said, “This is my body I am going to give for you.” He took some wine and said, “This is my blood that I am going to spill for you.” He said, “Every time you eat it or drink it, remember me.” Remember my character. Remember the cross. Remember my amazing grace.