Category: Growing in Character

Character Developed in Community

When I was younger and would hear things talked about that I didn’t understand I had a tendency to try to look interested, nod at the appropriate times, and pretend that I wasn’t totally clueless. The older I get, with plenty of things I still don’t understand, I’m much quicker to speak up and confess my ignorance. In my growing maturity I’m less concerned about what someone may think about what I don’t know and more concerned about what I don’t know.

The problem is that it’s often just so hard to figure out what you don’t know until you come face to face with it. Even harder is the task of trying to get a real accurate picture of your own character. We believe things to be true of ourselves that others see quite differently. I see it all the time. Husbands and wives who think they are good communicators, yet really aren’t. Men who think they are humble, but filled with blinding pride. Women who believe themselves to be encouragers, but are more often than not those who tear down. A clear picture of your own character is desperately hard to come by … without the help of others.

Robert Thune in his little book on Gospel Eldership so accurately points out that “Character is discerned in community. It’s the people around you – the people in community with you – who are the best judges of your character. For this reason, you must invite others into the process of character discernment. And you should expect that a healthy church will not move you toward leadership until you have been in gospel-saturated community for a long time, really allowing others into the nitty-gritty details of your life and soul.” What Thune points out for leaders is true for everyone. You will not see yourself accurately without the help of others. That means that you don’t know all the areas of character deficiency by your own self-assessment. Therefore, if you really care and aren’t going to just nod and look interested, two things are required of you.

  1. You Need to Invite It – That means you have to be more involved with people than you probably currently are. You can’t get to asking someone to really share honest observations about your character in five minutes after the worship service. You have to position yourself with people so they can know you and see you succeed and fail through the highs and lows of real life. Then as they have watched, you must ask – “What did you see in me as I went through that situation? How did I impact you? What input do you have for me?”
  1. You Need to Give It – That means that you have to be alert and engaged in the lives of others around you. It’s not your role to be the character police or self-proclaimed judge of maturity. But it is your role to be a good friend, so that when those previous questions come, you actually have some meaningful content to share. When those rare moments arrive where you have the privilege to speak into the soul of an inquiring brother or sister you want to be prepared to be a real help to them. Responses like “I don’t know, I think you’re fine, don’t sweat it” are not expressions of true friendship and life in community.

Let’s all remember the Vision of LCC in Community is to “embrace with humility our constant need”, and then love one another enough to help each grow in Godly character!

  • Mark Spansel
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Reading … an Indispensable Ingredient to Growth

If you made it past the title to begin reading this article … well done, you’ve already gone farther than most.  I can’t for the life of me figure out this obvious trend, not only in our culture but in the Church, of not wanting to read good books. In our quick-fix, entertain-me, passive society many see relaxing with a book as, well, anything but relaxing.  It takes too much work and it requires an engaged mind.  Hear this – I get it! I feel it often in my soul, and I love reading.  I’m tired at the end of the day and the draw of watching one of our recorded shows or vegging in front of the news is often way more attractive than picking up one of the books piling up on my nightstand. Alan Jacobs, a literature professor, rebuked me in his little book – The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction that not everything has to be weighty and deep, but to read for “whim” too.  He fights for people to enjoying reading, not just reading to learn.  That’s not bad advice – to grow we need both timeless truths and the joy that living in our creative Author’s story should inspire.  Here’s my two cents as to why you should read:

Enrichment

The literacy experts will tell you that children that were read to have a higher cognitive ability to process information and a richer vocabulary, thus a greater advantage in their educational pursuits.  Reading enriches our minds … and souls.  God revealed Himself in the Word and in words, so we’d be wise to not ignore print, words, words strung together in sentences, sentences strung together in paragraphs, and paragraphs strung together to build a context – the context to a story … God’s story and every other micro-story that has come after.  I think a pretty good argument can be made for one of God’s designs to enrich the lives of humans is through the written word.  That’s called growing.

Appreciation

Creativity is a beautiful gift from God and one that should never be surrendered by the Church to the secular culture.  Unbelievers can make beautiful art, play beautiful music, and write beautiful stories, but all of that reflects God’s stamp on their lives, whether they acknowledge it or not.  We should read to appreciate the wonder, beauty, and clarity of the human heart expressed in thoughtful words that tell a story, paint a picture, or evoke strong emotions.  A good tv show, movie, or theater production does this … but in reading you get to actively engage in it (work for it), and your mind gets to be the set-designer, director, and costume-creator.  It grows my imagination, creativity, and my joy.

Reflection 

This is where I love to read the great dead guys … theologians, pastors, and scholars who were way smarter than I’ll ever be.  It challenges me, stops me in my tracks, makes me think about God, me, the world.  I don’t ever understand all I’m reading, and I end up forgetting more than I retain, but I still grow.  I’m forced to reflect slowly on timeless truths that are life-changing.  I read, re-read, write in the margins, try to summarize in my journal, and prayerfully consider just what this means for my life … that’s all a good exercise for my growth.

I’ll never stop recommending books, referencing Tolkien scenes, or including thoughtful quotes in my sermons.  I want to grow, and I want you to grow … so pick up a book or two for your summer reading list.  Enjoy, be enriched, and reflect on who God is and what He’s done!

  • Mark Spansel

God Unseen, God Powerful

For a long time I maintained a blog entitled “In the Shadow of Volcanoes.” The title describes, almost literally, where we live in Mexico City, beside two of the continent’s highest peaks. Viewed from the city looking southeast, Ixtlaccihuatl lies to the left, next to her very active, imposing brother Popocatépetl. Their indigenous names describe them well. White Woman and Smoking Mountain.

A favorite family excursion is to drive up to Paso de Cortez, or Cortez’s pass, which traverses the two imposing mountains. Often the sky is cloudy when we ascend the snakelike road that leads us higher and higher. The road takes us above the clouds and haze. Finally at the pass, at over 12,000ft., we are awarded with a totally clear view of Popo’s white peak, and the ash that slowly rises from his crater reminded us of the awesome power this mountain possesses. A quick glance behind us to Ixtla’s ragged peak reminds of what could happen if Popo decided to blow his top.

The volcanoes constantly remind me of spiritual truth. Many days, those mighty peaks are obscured by low lying haze, or hidden by cumulus clouds. But the clouds do not erase their presence, or negate their power.

We have been reading The Chronicles of Narnia together as a family. I don’t believe I had ever read the opening, introductory book entitled The Magician’s Nephew. In it, C.S. Lewis introduces us to Narnia, and to the Lion, Aslan. To witches and the wicked, Aslan is terrifying, but for good souls and children, Aslan is irresistibly beautiful. He is everywhere, watching, and He will judge someday. In the meantime, He rarely allows Himself to be seen.

He is not seen, and is veiled by violence, hidden by injustice, or simply silent. He is nonetheless present. All the trials of this present world can no more blunt His power and avert His piercing eyes than a wispy cloud can stop the red-hot lava of a live volcano.

Dear God, remind us Who You Are. If you choose to remain in the shadows, oh dear God, give us all the faith to know that You are powerful, and that You love us.

– Rod Fry

Sanctification Through Robbery

A homeless man tried to rob me last week. As he approached he said he wanted to “borrow” my phone. It was pretty obvious that he didn’t need to make a call…unless it was to a pawn shop. I responded with a simple “No, I’m sorry you can’t borrow my phone”. Overcome with rage, he walked toward me proving he was ready to certify this robbery with bloody fists. Instead of throwing down at this unrequested test of my manhood, I walked away. And with each step his fuming cursings echoed off the brick walls of the buildings around me.
I’ve been meditating on my interaction with this man; trying to understand not so much his response to me, but my response to him. Why didn’t I get into a fight or insult him back? Was it the Spirit that helped me not escalate the encounter? I have to be honest—the main reason I didn’t respond in anger wasn’t because I happened to be feeling spiritual in the moment. I’m just wired by nature to be generally non-combative.
As I’ve been pondering my response to this homeless gentleman a passage has really stuck with me from Mortification of Sin by John Owen. While the language may be a little old and cumbersome, it’s well worth digging through for the nuggets of wisdom.

“Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor does trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter has done more to the mortification of the sin that the former.”

What John Owen is saying is that all of us have natural inclinations to react to the situations of life in ways that are often “good” and “moral” but they don’t have anything to do with our Christlikeness. Here is the great danger for our Christian life; when we respond in generally good ways to a negative event in our life, we assume the response is evidence of the work of the Christ, rather than merely emanating from our natural inclinations. The great concern Owen has for us is that although it’s easy to look at our natural inclinations as fruit of the Spirit the reality may be that we aren’t pursuing holiness, but instead are given over to the “moral” tendencies of an unspiritual heart.

– Brad Swartz

Confronting the Agenda of Your “Secret Heart”

Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine.

Psalm 51:6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

I struggle to love people well, but not like you might think. I rarely will intentionally offend someone. I will laugh at jokes that are not funny. I will spend extra time. I will try to think of your needs. I will come prepared. I will speak truth. And you look at this and say, “he is so loving.”

Friends, even on days when all of this is true, it is possible to go home feeling hurt and taken advantage of. When I slow down enough to evaluate my heart, I am devastated; my love was not genuine. I had a hidden agenda: I love me.

There really is no such thing as love that is not genuine. By definition, if love were not genuine, it would not be Biblical, Spirit produced love. A love that is not genuine is fake; it’s hypocritical. It’s to put on a mask of righteous delight and hide something else underneath. There may be a veneer of joy in self-sacrifice or putting others first, but inside lurks a sinister agenda of “me” that rarely shows itself to the public eye. I get caught here sometimes and maybe you do too?

Now, this is both terrifying and wonderful: Our God sees no mask. He knows my secret heart. He knows that there are days when I love myself more than Him and in His sovereign love He confronts me. Sometimes this comes through a friend, sometimes in a quiet moment with the Lord, but always through the truth of the gospel. And there in the safety of the cross, I get to repent of my hidden agendas. In the light of the cross I get to be honest and free. This is a love that is genuine and freely overflows to others with no hidden agenda.

Friends, allow the Lord to confront the agendas of your secret heart. Let love be genuine!

– Jeff Pierce