Character

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Introduction

God’s kingdom is not found in historical places, modern business enterprises, vast cathedrals, or monuments of education. God’s kingdom is simply and solely made up (in the life we can touch and see around us) of you, of people.  We are the living kingdom of God on earth.  It is not in stuff, or places, but us!  If right now earthquakes shook down all buildings, mountains, and trees, but killed no one, nothing of God’s kingdom would have been shaken. Not one thing would have been lost!

God advances and establishes his eternal kingdom on earth in people. Is he a power hungry egotist? No, he invites us to live in heaven! Our choice! You don’t have to live in peace, joy, love, freedom, or justice! It’s your choice, he just offers complete and total access to all of his goodness free of charge.  Getting back to character.

When you believe God is good, loves you, and delights in you. Things change.  You believe in yourself, you see others greatness, you have value and belonging. This changes our demeanor and reactions and choices to life as it comes our way.

So often the idea of character has died in modern media culture.  But ahh the power of its value continues to live on. So many people have a hard time wrapping their minds around character or really defining it.

What is Character?

Boiled down to our lives, character is how we treat ourselves and one another.  From my personal perspective character is the embodiment of the entire old testament law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” = Your character.

The cool part about experiencing heaven on earth is our daily experience of God’s character. This is what impacts our hearts and minds and changes us.  Who is he, is he really this kind, thoughtful, nice, involved, and actively caring? Yes, he is. Humans experiencing God’s character is what advances his kingdom on earth because it causes us to reflect his lightness.

So often our minds and attentions are called to our external as estimations of our success or value. Our cars, our houses, our jobs, our location, our accomplishments. But to be honest, all of this without possessing good character is empty and pointless. Stuff is stuff! It is not eternal and it does not nor can it give us value.

But your character! Oh, your character! When given the opportunity, God will bring attention to how you are treating yourself or other people, rather than what someone else has done or how things are another fault. We have so much power in how we choose to treat one another. How are you treating people? He values them so much and we get to participate with his love for each individual as much as we choose to allow!

When God says let your light shine it’s your character he wants to shine through! You’re kindness, you’re service, you’re honesty, you’re empathy, your friendliness, your peace-ability.

Not a Performance Scratch Card

Character is not a measuring stick that God wants to hold over you to reveal all your shortcomings. We all have them!  No really!  We all do! But it’s not about stressing out about it or trying harder and harder to love people.  It’s not meant to give you an aneurysm! Spending time with God – living with him actually – causes us to be reminded of how he’s already designed us and who he’s created us to be. We don’t have to work hard at it!  His kingdom in us was given to us fully and completely as a free gift! He loves to give us his kingdom, all aspects of it.

As we live life with him and experience his goodness we are discovering the character of our spirit. We are joy, we are kindness, we are gentleness and patience.  It’s who we are.  Part of the glorious goodness of living in God’s kingdom here on earth is being reminded of our goodness! You are good, through and through. There are no dark spots in you.

Your journey of learning and living is beautiful in its own unique way.  God’s character is revealed in you and through you to others in a way they will never experience it through anyone else in their entire lifetime.  You reveal aspects of God’s nature and character that cannot be replicated by another.  Our character is a gift to others that happens naturally and freely when we come to know and experience God’s!

How Does Character Affect Our World?

Character is actually the strength, or lack of it the weakness, of any nation. Seriously. When the citizens of a town, school, or country have good character, the strength of that body is insurmountable. When character is lacking or weak, any force of destruction will rule the day. There are areas of the world rich in resources but lacking God’s character in its people and poverty permeates the population. A business or government will only stand to the length at which the people who compose it walk in character. Corruption, scandal, selfishness, greed, violence (which are all examples of treating others poorly) will cause any entity to rot from the inside out.

If you want to improve the strength of a business or government you will focus on, teach, and reward positive interaction between the people involved. The most talented artist or celebrity in the world can produce something beautiful but their life will have strife and unhappiness behind it if that talent is not first given a good foundation of character to withstand the temptations of treating themselves or others poorly or with little regard.

Conclusion

Again, this is an entirely unseen area of society. You can look at a photograph of a roomful of people and see what they are wearing, or how they’ve done themselves up, but when the photo is over, how do they treat the other people in the room, or the people they pass when they walk home that night or their family or their spouse when no ones looking?  It matters.  Its important.

Give great regard for your character my friend. More time energy or effort that anything external anyone will ever see. It is the only thing eternal, the only thing God looks at, the only thing he sees. He sees Christ alive in you, living through you, loving yourself and others in a beautiful expansion of his kingdom here on earth. It starts with me.  It starts with you.  It starts with Him.

Character     Covenant     Creativity

Family     Freedom    Gift Giver

Joy    Judgement    Kindness    Trust

Love     Praise      Prayer     Self-love

 

Love

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Introduction

Above all and before all I must expound on this thing you can’t see but everyone believes in: love.  We know it and talk about it, whether we have it or lack it or desire it, or reject it; love.  Everyone thinks they know what love is but few remember ever being taught by someone in a conversation or a class what it is.  Lust masquerades as it and vanity pretends to earn our worthiness of it, but oh love.

Relationships of marriage or dating sometimes exist without it.  All of us at one point were prompted by our hearts to attempt it or hope for it with someone.  My speculation is that love is like a galaxy.  There are certain exchanges or experiences that emulate love and we think we’ve obtained it.  We experience it to some degree in this relationship or that and we settle inside even though we are left thirsty for something more.  But there is this epicenter of love himself that quenches every longing.

No matter how wonderful your relationship has progressed with God or another human being, my speculation is that love is even better than our brains and emotions on this side can fathom.  How many times has a quote or person done something of love and it pulls your mind and heart from somewhere else it drifted to back into that living reality that you are loved.  I love love.  I love its smell, the indestructibleness of it, the softness of its care, the maturity of its nature.

Concretes

In its base form between humans, I would say love is wishing well for somebody and participating to make that happen, to whatever degree.

Love for others, however, is never self-demeaning but is entirely selfless.  These two are different and I’m sure I will probably refer to this idea specifically another day in this writing collection.  Moving on.

Let me clarify one uncompromisable attribute of love.  Love is only ever unconditional.  This is best revealed when trust is broken, expectations are not met, and failure ensues, both with others, God, or yourself.  Often times it is hard to continue forward after one of the above events.  The thing I love about love is that it gets dirty.  Love has no regard for self-preservation.  It will hold onto nothing in order to preserve the one thing important—the connection.  This is love.

A mutual deal based on expectations is also not love.  You will do X, Y, and Z so I will be for you or give you X, Y, and Z.  This is all too common.  You will wash the dishes, stay thin, pay the mortgage, put out, if I keep looking the other way, take care of the kid, keep the cash flow going, stay normal, etc, etc, etc.  Let me explain something.  Love relationships—family and friends—make these kind of shared responsibility arrangements, but they are a byproduct of a love exchange, not the agreement upon which they hinge.  Those are two different things.

The unfortunate part about living our lives on this journey of knowing love more and more often involves us experiencing the broken trust, expectations not being met, and failure.  Unfortunately, we must experience these things in order to cross beyond the line of fear one naturally walks in when we are young in love.  You try not to go outside of others norms and you work hard to meet the expectations of the ones loving you.  It is hard to find out where love is not.  Sometimes when we don’t meet expectations or walk in failure, the other person is unable to show love towards us.  In all actuality, they really do probably love you but they themselves haven’t experienced love’s unconditional nature and therefore are unable to continue to show it.

Let me discuss a little bit more about our divine failure process.  This is the hard road that I would say most humans find themselves taking, it’s called Humility.  You see, when we still believe we earn love, we find ourselves justified in receiving it.  I made myself pretty enough, I practiced this set of religious rules faithfully enough, I clean enough, cook enough, bite my tongue enough.  This will never due.

The thing about God is that we are not God.  We are one in spirit with him, incarnate in Christ in the trinity even, but none of this was accomplished by our own working.  I never reconciled myself to Christ.  He reconciled himself to me.  I could go on and on about this but my point is that part of the human process of love is learning to receive it from God without condition, not only from him and sometimes others, but also from yourself.

After learning God liked me a lot, he invited me to like others with him, family, the poor, strangers, etc.  Then he invited me to like the people who broke my expectations that I didn’t know I still had.  He invited me to love rapists, hookers, pimps, crack dealers, mentally ill, pedophiles, and murderers.  Yes look them in the eye and love them knowing full well everything they did or are still doing and serve them, help them, praise them, and give to them.  This helped teach me about the unconditionality of God.  He even lovingly offended my righteous piousness in all my saintly service one day by saying, “I love them as much as I love you.”

Oh, I still have so gloriously much to learn about this awesome God who is himself this love with which I am in love.

Love Grows Beyond Failure

The next unconditionality lesson was much closer to home and so much harder to bear.  I had expectations in my relationship with God that I didn’t realize I had.  I knew he loved me.  And my attempting-to-be-obedient self was loving myself, but not quit so unconditionally.  I had never been as good at that one, often struggling with condemnation, self-hatred, shame, rejection, etc.  But if someone asked me if I loved myself I would have most assuredly said yes, and I really did (there’s that galaxy thing again, with areas of love floating around this epicenter of goodness)!

I failed at my own expectations in my relationship with God.  Both in obedience to Holy Spirit on a repeated basis to the point of ignoring him, and giving into temptation of the heart in a very real and destructive way, and again decidedly quitting to do the very thing he sent me to do somewhere.  If I were God I would have fired me already.  I spent plenty of time blaming God, others, myself and everyone else in a wonderful display of self-justification that only revealed how scared I truly was.  I must not be guilty because in my mind that meant I was no longer worthy of love.  From myself and from God.  I think I quit loving myself first after these things happened in an attempt to beat him to the punch because I thought that’s what I deserved, that’s what should happen to me from him.

I’m happy to say that years later, he still loves me!  And I love myself again!  Whew, that was one rough and bumpy road that I could still shed tears about on command even today.  It’s not to say there wasn’t real loss that happened.  In relationships, opportunities, joy, peace, service, etc.  It’s not that everything patched itself up again, things got burned, but there are some things I’ve gained that survive fire.  Wisdom being one of them.  Self-acceptance being another.  Freedom from condemnation and self-examination.  Freedom to breathe in my relationship with God.  More of what his love is really like towards me.  An even greater appreciation and celebration that everyone in the church calls failures.  Like religious leader’s failures.  They’re for sure going to hell, right?  At least we can judge them, right?  Those hypocrites right?  Or does God still love them?  And is he filled with goodness towards them and hope for their life and celebration of all the times they have believed him and said yes to things he was inviting them into.

And it’s not that I’m justifying anyone’s sin because it makes me feel better about my own poor choices.  By no means.  It’s that God had to relentlessly pound on my door of failure that had shut him out because he wasn’t content being so distant on the other side of it anymore.  As a loving father he does not tolerate well the hell we place ourselves in.

I remember when he initiated the healing process for me.  It had been some time in hearing his voice inside me the way I once had.  He began with the words, “You are holy.”  You see, we get so wrapped up in this physical realm.  So blinded by it.  His kingdom is unseen and transcends all your human experience.  Love only ever originates from him.  And it is only ever free.  He will make sure we understand that.  Deep inside our hearts in the places it whispers and we barely hear it ourselves.

You Can’t Escape It

We are nothing less than the value he has given us.  We cannot undo this.  That is one freedom he did not grant his free children.  You do not possess within you the ability to undo God’s love for you.  If you allow yourself to believe it, he would love to show you himself that way.

Love is who God is.  It is who he is today and it is who he will be tomorrow.  He will never stop being love.  When judgment day comes do you think he will really take off his hat of love, set it down on the table next to him, and damn the world but a few who were scared enough not to break the rules?  Christ’s death bore the punishment for all your sins.  All of them, in all of punishment’s consuming entirety.  Do not expect to lose love.  Ever.  For God cannot cease to exist.  And you my friend have no ability to exist, in this realm, or the next apart from him.

Did you know that I love you?  Do you know that I care?
Did you know I love you?  Did you know that I’ll always be there?

—spontaneous song by Joel

Character     Covenant     Creativity

Family     Freedom    Gift Giver

Joy    Judgement    Kindness    Trust

Love     Praise      Prayer     Self-love

 

Servant King

Christians in Pakistan

I remember one day in my early twenties sweeping a floor in a soup kitchen for the umpteenth time and using their hand brush while on my knees to get EVERYTHING off the floor and into the wastebasket when I thought I would eventually graduate from service. Ya know, helping people and serving them. Like the cleaning toilets and taking out the trash kind of stuff.

I remember having lofty thoughts of leading something or speaking somewhere or doing something IMPORTANT. Something that would impact the world and make a mark. One day. One day I would graduate from service.

I can tell you now, a decade later — I will never graduate from service. If I will one day lead others, I will lead them into service. If I speak, I will speak about loving God, themselves, and others well. There has been a change but the change has been within me; I no longer hold a desire to move on to something else.

I still sweep floors, clean toilets, and take out the trash. I still wash others dishes, underwear, and throw away their leftovers. I still wipe that rag along baseboard so dust doesn’t make a home, and I scrub tiles in the kitchen so residue doesn’t stay for long.
Jesus never graduated from service, rather he graduated his disciples into service. His last night with them was spent on his knees getting his hands in their dirt and washing their feet. He didn’t have to. It wasn’t because they were worthy of the act. He did it because it revealed the likeness and nature of his father.

He may not have specifically been inviting them into the life of Cinderella, but in part, he was. Every day some of the people I am most impressed with in the world are not on television shows or the radio; they are people cleaning up the bathroom mistake of their elderly father or mother who didn’t quite make it in their feebleness to the toilet. They are the mothers and fathers who faithfully love an adolescent who hates them back and is being self-destructive. They are the beautiful families that serve siblings or spouses who are handicapped and will never live independently from their care or even have the mind or ability enough to say “Thank you.”

Not only does God serve the needy and take care of the poor, he invites us to something even harder. Welcome to not necessarily graduation from service, but maybe the next lesson within it: “27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. […] 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. […] 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, […] Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Lk 6

God never graduated from service. While he was on his knees in front of his friends he was king of the Jews with an unseen crown representing all authority on his head. Jesus was himself called a servant of God, executing his father’s will as his own. His admonishment for greatness was in fact this very thing. “Jesus called the twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mk 9:35

My challenge is to not resent the tasks at hand before you; the tasks for which you don’t get paid, the tasks for which no one notices, the tasks for which you won’t get any online attention. And we can all be leaders, but the manner in which we lead says more than our words do. After all, its ultimately him we can do these things and live this life for. It’s him we say thank you to as we exhale our breath, or gaze upon a loved one. It’s him who sees.

 

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