His words were intentionally piercing, wanting them to find their mark in the hearts of the Pharisees. They needed what was being offered. Their souls were in trouble.
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Their problem was pronounced: they coveted the attention given to those in places of spiritual authority, wanting the acclaim and fanfare. They liked to be noticed when performing ‘acts of righteousness.’ They looked down on people, and had replaced praying to God for praying about themselves to God.
They received the praise of men, but God had other words when referring to them, even in public. Hypocrites! Brood of vipers! They noticed specks of sawdust in other’s eyes and missed the plank in their own!
Forty-eight percent of American workers admit to taking unethical or illegal actions in the past year. USA Today listed the five most common types of unethical/illegal behavior that workers say they have engaged in because of pressure:
–Cut corners on quality control
–Covered up incidents
–Abused or lied about sick days
–Lied to or deceived customers
–Put inappropriate pressure on others.
D. L. Moody was certainly seeking our attention when he said that “character is what a man is in the dark.”
Honest Abraham Lincoln understood this principle: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
Bryant Kirkland has character—a minister of his church for 25 years. But now Dr. Kirkland’s beloved wife has Alzheimer’s and is unable to respond. I mean, you talk about suffering. Some of you know what that’s like when love is one way, don’t you, when you love and the person cannot love you back. But Dr. Kirkland doesn’t complain about it. He loves his beloved wife one way. He loves her and loves her and loves her.
And you know what’s happened as he’s hung in there? His suffering has produced endurance, and his endurance has produced character. He is a man of integrity. He is one of the great religious leaders of this time in history at the age of 80 because he has character. His sermons ring true with authenticity and fire because we know he’s been there, and he’s been steadfast. But that doesn’t come in a week.
The supreme test of goodness is not in the greater but in the smaller incidents of our character and practice; not what we are when standing in the searchlight of public scrutiny, but when we reach the firelight flicker of our homes; not what we are when some clarion-call rings through the air, summoning us to fight for life and liberty, but our attitude when we are called to sentry-duty in the grey morning, when the watch-fire is burning low. It is impossible to be our best at the supreme moment if character is corroded and eaten into by daily inconsistency, unfaithfulness, and besetting sin.
Mark Twain’s advise? Always do right; it will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
God is more concerned about our character than our comfort. His goal is not to pamper us physically but to perfect us spiritually. It is right to be contented with what we have, never with what we are.
The story is told of an Irishman who was being tried in a Kansas town. His was a petty offense. The judge asked if there was anyone present who would vouch for his character. “To be sure, your Honor,” he declared, “there’s the sheriff.” The sheriff looked amazed. “Your Honor,” he said, “I do not even know the man.” “Your Honor,” came back the Irishman as quick as a flash, “I’ve lived in this county for more than twelve years, and the sheriff does not know me yet. Isn’t that a character for you?”
How we live makes a difference. And our character lives on even after the dirt is pushed onto the casket. In the old cemetery at Winchester, Virginia, that starlit abbey of the Confederacy, there is a monument to the unknown Confederate dead. On it are cut these two lines: Who they were, none knows, What they were, all know.
In all our journey as a believer, we will have two categories of spiritual experiences. One is tender, delightful, and loving. The other can be quite obscure, dry, dark, and desolate. God gives us the first one to gain us; he gives us the second to purify us.
No professional football team that plays its home games in a domed stadium with artificial turf has ever won the Super Bowl. A climate-controlled stadium protects players and fans from the misery of sleet, snow, mud, heat, and wind. Everyone is comfortable. But athletes who brave the elements are disciplined to handle hardship. Apparently such rigors have something to do with the ability to win the Super Bowl.
Long before there was football, the Christian’s playbook declared the purpose of hardship. It builds Christlike character.
For several summers during the mid-1990s, Dave Wolter, head women’s basketball coach for Concordia University in Irvine, California, flew to Asia and put on basketball clinics for both players and coaches.
On one flight, his plane experienced mechanical trouble at 30,000 feet. Panic broke out. People were screaming, crying and standing up in the aisles. Wolter, on the other hand, sat calmly and prayed. When a woman sitting next to him saw how different his demeanor was to the rest of the passengers, she shouted in Wolter’s face, “Why aren’t you hysterical?”
Fortunately, the crew was able to correct the problem, and nervous tranquility was restored in the cabin. For the rest of the flight, Dave answered the woman’s question as she and several others listened intently to how his faith in Christ Jesus enables him to face death with confidence.
Our Christian influence has an effect not only through our words, but also through our actions. Stated another way, the fish symbol on the rear bumper of our car definitely makes a statement, but people will probably pay more attention to how we drive.
Our task as laymen is to live our personal communion with Christ with such intensity as to make it contagious.
What other people think of me becomes less and less important; what they think of Jesus because of me is critical.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
Billy Graham often says, “Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys.” It is our choices . . . that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
Character is not made in a crisis. It is only exhibited in a crisis! A flaw in one’s character will show up under pressure.
The Christian character is simply a life in which all Christian virtues and graces have become fixed and solidified into permanence as established habits. It costs no struggle to do right, because what has been done so long, under the influence of grace in the heart, has become part of the regenerated nature.
The bird sings not to be heard, but because the song is in its heart, and must be expressed. It sings just as sweetly in the depths of the wood with no ear to listen, as by the crowded thoroughfare.
Beethoven did not sing for fame, but to give utterance to the glorious music that filled its soul.
The face of Moses did not shine to convince the people of his holiness, but because he had dwelt so long in the presence of God that it could not but shine.
Truest, ripest Christian life flows out of a full heart –a heart so filled with Christ that it requires no effort to live well, and to scatter the sweetness of grace and love.
It must be remembered, however, that all goodness in living begins first obeying rules, in keeping commandments. Mozart and Mendelssohn began with running scales and striking chords, and with painful finger-exercises.
The noblest Christian began with the simplest obedience. The way to become skillful is to do things over and over, until we can do them perfectly, and without thought or effort. The way to become able to do great things, is to do our little things with endless repetition, and with increasing dexterity and carefulness.
The way to grow into Christ likeness of character, is to watch ourselves in the minutest things of thought and word and act, until our powers are trained to go almost without watching in the lines of moral right and holy beauty. To become prayerful, we must learn to pray by the clock, at fixed times.
It is fine ideal talk to say that our devotions should be like the bird’s song, warbling out anywhere and at any time with sweet unrestraint; but in plain truth, to depend upon such impulses as guides to praying, would soon lead to no praying at all.
This may do for heavenly life; but we have not gotten into heaven yet, and until we do we need to pray by habit.
So of all religious life. We only grow into patience by being as patient as we can, daily and hourly, and in smallest matters, ever learning to be more and more patient until we reach the highest possible culture in that line.
We can only become unselfish wherever we have an opportunity, until our life grows into the permanent beauty of unselfishness.
We can only grow better by striving ever to be better than we already are. and by climbing step by step toward the radiant heights of excellence.
Character is like the foundation of a house. Most of it is below the surface.
In Acts 27, the angel appears to Paul and says that he will reach Rome safely and that everyone aboard the ship will be saved. As Paul says later, “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” Absolute blanket, unequivocal authority.
But Paul doesn’t settle down in his bunk and go to sleep. He goes out on deck, and seeing the sailors escaping, he says to the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”
Paul says that depending on what human beings do — two sets of them: the pagan soldiers and sailors–in the next 30 seconds the Word of God will be true or false.
It’s as if the Word of God dangles over the side of the ship alongside the lifeboats. The lifeboat is about to be cut off; a knife’s cut can do it. The Word of God could be falsified in a second by the soldier saying, “Who are you?” Or the sailors saying, “We don’t care; we’re off on our own.”
For Paul, God’s sovereignty is the springboard on which he bounces in faith to obediently do what he must do so they do what they must do so that what God says will be done is done.
John Wooden remains today as one of the great coaches of our generation. He rose to prominence not just as a winning basketball coach but as mentor to literally thousands of individuals at UCLA and the world through his books and speeches.
One of his principles was that we are to be concerned more with our character than with our reputation, because our character is what we really are, while our reputation is merely what others think we are.
Tom Landry, the legendary football coach of the Dallas Cowboys, said “I’ve seen the difference character makes in individual football players. Give me a choice between an outstanding athlete with poor character and a lesser athlete of good character; and I’ll choose the latter every time. The athlete with good character will often perform to his fullest potential and be a successful football player; while the outstanding athlete with poor character will usually fail to play up to his potential and often won’t even achieve average performance.”
If you cheat in practice, you’ll cheat in the game. If you cheat in your head, you’ll cheat on the test. You’ll cheat on the girl. You’ll cheat in business. You’ll cheat on your mate. Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.
In a speech delivered in New Haven, Conn., on March 6, 1860 — just two months before the Republican Convention that nominated him, Abraham Lincoln said this: “What we want, and all we want, is to have with us the men who think slavery wrong. But those who say they hate slavery, and are opposed to it, but yet act with the Democratic party — where are they?
Let us apply a few tests. You say that you think slavery is wrong, but you denounce all attempts to restrain it. Is there anything else that you think wrong, that you are not willing to deal with as a wrong?
Why are you so careful, so tender of this one wrong and no other? You will not let us do a single thing as if it was wrong; there is no place where you will allow [slavery] even to be called wrong!
We must not call it wrong in the Free States, because it is not there, and we must not call it wrong in the Slave States because it is there; we must not call it wrong in politics because that is bringing morality into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit because that is bringing politics into religion; we must not bring it into the Tract Society or the other societies because those are such unsuitable places, and there is no single place, according to you, where this wrong thing can properly be called wrong!
When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.
Every man has three characters — that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has.
The expression of Christian character is not good doing, but God-likeness. If the Spirit of God has transformed you within, you will exhibit divine characteristics in your life, not good human characteristics. God’s life in us expresses itself as God’s life, not as human life trying to be godly. The secret of a Christian is that the supernatural is made natural in him by the grace of God, and the experience of this works out in the practical details of life, not in times of communion with God.
What we stand up for proves what our character is like. If we stand up for our reputation, it is a sign it needs standing up for! God never stands up for his saints, they do not need it. The devil tells lies about men, but no slander on earth can alter a man’s character.
God alters our disposition, but he does not make our character. When God alters my disposition, the first thing the new disposition will do is to stir up my brain to think along God’s line. As I begin to think, begin to work out what God has worked in, it will become character. Character is consolidated thought. God makes me pure in heart; I must make myself pure in conduct.
Carl Sandburg, describing Abraham Lincoln, calling him a man of steel and velvet. On February 12, 1959, Sandburg referred to him in these terms: Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect. . . .While the war winds howled, he insisted that the Mississippi was one river meant to belong to one country. . . .While the luck of war wavered and broke and came again, as generals failed and campaigns were lost, he held enough forces . . . together to raise new armies and supply them, until generals were found who made war as victorious war has always been made, with terror, frightfulness, destruction . . . valor and sacrifice past words of man to tell.
In the mixed shame and blame of the immense wrongs of two crashing civilizations, often with nothing to say, he said nothing, slept not at all, and on occasions he was seen to weep in a way that made weeping appropriate, decent, majestic.
Today our culture is far less likely to raise up heroes than it is to exalt victims, individuals who are overcome by the sting of oppression, injustice, adversity, neglect or misfortune. … Success, as well as failure, is the result of one’s own talent, decisions and actions. Accepting personal responsibility for victory, as well as for defeat, is as liberating and empowering as it is unpopular today.
Have you ever watched the icicle as it is formed? Have you noticed how it froze, one drop at a time, until it was a foot long, or more? If the water was clean, the icicle remained clear, and sparkled brightly in the sun; but if the water was slightly muddy, the icicle looked foul, and its beauty was spoiled.
Just so our characters are formed. One little thought or feeling at a time adds its influence. If each thought be pure and right, the soul will be lovely, and will sparkle with happiness; but if impure and wrong, there will be deformity and wretchedness.
During his time as a rancher, Theodore Roosevelt and one of his cowpunchers lassoed a maverick steer, lit a fire, and prepared the branding irons. The part of the range they were on was claimed by Gregor Lang, one of Roosevelt’s neighbors. According to the cattleman’s rule, the steer therefore belonged to Lang. As his cowboy applied the brand, Roosevelt said, “Wait, it should be Lang’s brand.”
“That’s all right boss,” said the cowboy.
“But you’re putting on my brand,” Roosevelt said.
“That’s right,” said the man.
“Drop that iron,” Roosevelt demanded, “and get back to the ranch and get out. I don’t need you anymore. A man who will steal for me will steal from me.”
The late C.S. Lewis said that people can ask only three basic ethical or philosophical questions. To describe them, he used the metaphor of ships at sea. When sailing ships leave port to embark on a journey, sailors must determine three things, according to Lewis. First, they must know how to keep from bumping into one another. This is a question of “social ethics.” In other words, how do we get along with one another on this journey called life?
Second, they must know how the individual ships remain seaworthy. This is “personal ethics,” and it deals with the individual’s vices and virtues – with character. Finally, sailors must decide where the ships are going. What is their mission and their destination? This last question is the ultimate one for us. What is the purpose of human life? Why are we here?
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts, and not on marble. Integrity is “a better long-term investment than the best Certificate of Deposit known to man!”
Bob Hope once said, “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
When someone mentions the word “charity,” we usually think about giving material things, such as food, clothing or money, to needy people. However, the book “Hope Again” contains a true story about Tom Landry, the great coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and the late Woody Hayes. The story illustrates a different kind of charity, but real charity nevertheless.
Years ago, Woody Hayes was fired from his job as coach of the Ohio State football team. The reason Hayes was fired was that he struck an opposing player on the sidelines during a football game. The press had a field day with the firing, and piled criticism and shame on the former Buckeye coach.
Few people could have felt lower than Hayes felt. Not only did he publicly lose control of himself and do a foolish thing, but he also lost his job and much of the respect others had for him.
At the end of that season, a large, prestigious banquet was held for professional athletes. Tom Landry was invited, and he could bring a guest. Who did Landry take with him as his guest? Woody Hayes, the disgraced man everyone was being encouraged to criticize and scorn.
The game of football has rules against piling on someone who has been tackled. The reason for those rules is simple: prevent needless injury to the player who is down. The world would be much better if we actually lived by such rules. But when someone makes a mistake or is going through difficult times, one of the first responses of many people is criticism and gossip. Another response is to shun someone who is down. Either response piles on more pain–needless pain.
Tom Landry did not pile needless pain on Woody Hayes. Landry had charity in his heart. Charity, in the form of mercy. So Landry reached out with mercy to help a fallen man get up and begin climbing the hill back to a mended life.
So remember two things. First, instead of piling on the pain when someone is down, be merciful. Apply the principle in the Good Samaritan story that Jesus taught– to be the one to come to the aid of one who’s fallen, not one who passes by on the other side of the road– and help fallen people up the hill they have to climb.
The second point is that there is an interesting thing about hills. When you help a person up a hill, you find yourself closer to the top, and the better it will be when you need mercy. Yes, we all need mercy. Romans 3:23 tell us that “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”