Thursday, February 28, 2013

Character Building: Wisdom

“A word to the wise….” owl

I wish I had more wisdom. Actually, what I wish for more is that I had the wisdom I do now when I was 18 years old. Now that would have been extremely helpful.

But, alas, wisdom comes with age and experience. (As does using the word “alas,” apparently.)

Speaking of age, as of March 15, I will be 17,532 days old. I wondering how many of those days saw me grow a little wiser than I was the previous day.

Wisdom is more than just being smart. In some ways, I’m very smart (I think). But “wisdom” is using smarts on a regular basis in what we say and do.

Wisdom is most evident in what a person says, or doesn’t say.

Abraham Lincoln – considered by many to be a wise man – once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

To attain wisdom, what we say or don’t say is the key. Knowing what to say or not to say – and when to say it or not say it – comes from the school of experience. This will also be a sign of maturity.

In this age of TGIF (Twitter-Google-iPhone-Facebook) the signs of maturity, experience and wisdom are seldom seen. The ability to virtually immediately reveal publically how we feel and what we think is free for everyone in our culture. But that we can doesn’t mean we should.

But why is this important? Why is this part of a series on Character Building?

Wisdom brings together all the other parts of character building: humility, integrity, honesty, courage and faithfulness. All of these are excellent qualities to have. But they are not to be hoarded. As a Christian, I believe I am called by God in Christ Jesus to share these qualities. Wisdom is the way to do this most effectively.

My thanks to Dr. Leonard Sweet for his insights on TGIF culture, in his book “Viral.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Character Building: Faithfulness

I want to have faithfulness to my God – and I have that through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

I strive to remain faithful to my wife – and have been for over 22 years.

I live with faithfulness to my three sons, being a father to them as God is a Father to me.

How do you live with faithfulness? One way that I have found is by learning from those who have been faithful in the past.

There has been at least 5000 years worth of men and women who have been faithful from whom we can learn faithfulness.

The Bible says

…[They], through faith, conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. – Hebrews 11:33-34

I’ve often wondered what it must have been like for men like my grandfather to return home from the war. I can imagine if felt like they were in the army forever, fighting forever, sleeping in the heat or cold and mud forever.

Dad Army[3]But by 1949 my grandfather had been home longer than he had been away. He would live another forty years! He would be a faithful husband and father and grandfather until his death in the late 80’s. I wish I could have known him better.

I recently watched the last episode of “Band of Brothers.” At the end the actor Daniel Lewis performs a voice-over that details what each of the men did after the war. When he got to Frank Perconte, a tear came to my eye. Perconte was from Chicago. And when he came home from the war, he became a mailman.

Just like my grandfather.

It is men like Perconte, Dick Winters, Shifty Powers, and my grandfather, that inspire me the most to be the man I try to be today.

They did extraordinary things a long time ago, then became regular men living regular lives.

But there was nothing regular about them, really.

They were called by their country to defend it from enemies without. They were faithful to their country.

Then they came home and faced being faithful to their families, their friends, and, for many of them, to God.

I wonder if it was hard to remain faithful after a war. I’m thinking about those who endure a war – whether it is a year or two or four or more.

I can imagine that someone who was in a war for two years would then take at least two years after it ends to recover. But how does one remain faithful when you live more of life in peacetime than you did in fighting a war?

It seems the best thing to do is to find someone who is doing that or has done that. Those who lived in the generations before us can teach us a lot about this. But we have to take the time to learn these lessons.

Because there will come a time when we are the generation someone is going to learn from.

A Christian remains faithful through the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament.

I start there, learning how to be faithful to my God. I will then have the means to live a life of faithfulness to my wife and children and, if called upon, to the next generation.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Character Building: Courage

I recently asked myself, “Do I have courage?”

It depends, I guess. If by “courage” you mean would I willingly jump out of a perfectly good airplane into combat? Then I’m pretty sure the answer is “no.”

But if by “courage” you mean would I confront my friend and brother when he’s hurt my feelings? I found out just this morning that the answer is yes. My feelings were hurt yesterday and I struggled all day and night about it. I was faced with two choices. Do I let it go? Or do I talk to him about it? Oh, yes, there are more choices – like, do I talk to someone else about what happened? Or, I could have posted a rant on facebook™. But these are not my choices and never entered my mind to do those things. I had the courage to confront my friend. I admit, I was uncomfortable, but I knew that our friendship needed this confrontation and our friendship would survive this confrontation. I was uncomfortable. I was scared. But that’s what courage is, right? It takes courage to do the right thing even if you are scared.

It worked out well, by the way. Things were tense for a bit, but it was good to talk directly to each other and begin the process of reconciliation.

John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

Just as integrity is doing the right thing even when the wrong thing is easier, courage is doing the right thing even when it scares you.

Courage is a character trait that is sought after by many people. Joe Banks, in the movie Joe vs. the Volcano, when asked what interests him, replied “Courage! Courage interests me!” He speaks for a lot of men and women, I think.

It takes courage to do a lot of things. It takes courage to ask someone to marry you. It takes courage to take a new job in a far away city. It takes courage to go back to school to learn a new profession. It takes courage to say goodbye. It takes courage to say hello.

How do we get courage? I start by looking for people who model courage. It could be a war veteran. It could be a police officer or firefighter. It could a man who is taking care of his wife during a debilitating illness. It could even be a character in a favorite story.

Find someone who has been in the same or similar place you are and learn how they got through it successfully. Try to do the same or similar thing, as the situation warrants.

The reason that we should have courage and act courageously is because the stakes are high, as are the rewards.

When I act with courage (again, remember it is not the same as acting without fear), I know that someone is watching me, waiting to see how I get through it. It could be my wife or sons or people that I work with. I might be the model they need to learn how to have courage.

The rewards are great, as well. Probably the most famous courageous man in history was Joshua, the son of Nun.

After forty years working as Moses’ assistant, he was called upon to succeed Moses. He was eighty years old, just as Moses was when he became leader of Israel. This is what God said to Joshua:

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9 ESV)

God’s Word will give me the power to be courageous. Meditating on it, doing what it says, this will give me courage and bring me “good success.”

But there was another Joshua who epitomizes courage. He wasn’t known as “Joshua” but rather “Jesus.”

Jesus showed great courage in given up his life to save all people.

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It wasn't easy but he felt it was the the right thing to do. And the result was that those who believe in him will never die but have everlasting life.

This gives me the courage to meet every challenge, every obstacle, every situation head-on! Jesus took my sin away. He gave me his righteousness.

And he promised that he will be with me wherever I go!

That gives me great courage!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Character Building: Honesty

I talked about integrity as my favorite characteristic last time. Another characteristic that goes hand-in-hand with integrity is “honesty.”

To my humiliation, honesty was the hardest of the characteristics for me to muster when I was younger. I didn’t have to lie about myself and what I did or didn’t do, but I did.

I think it was because I was not happy with who I was. I was a somewhat overweight, shy, kid. I found it hard to make a lot of friends. But there I go again, not being completely honest! I have been blessed with a number of great, close, committed friends in my life. A handful of those I still count as my dearest friends. They had the insight to see through the tales I told of myself and love me anyway! Truly, they imitated God in this way.

So, to be honest, I felt like I couldn’t make friends unless I became someone I wasn’t. So I would invite stories about myself, thinking my real life was boring or ordinary. As I pause to look back over my life, it really has been anything but ordinary! But I couldn’t see the truth of that at the time.

As I strive to be a man of integrity, I know that honesty is going to have to be a huge part of this goal.

No more lies. No more dishonesty. I know (now) that lies catch up with you eventually. No matter how vociferous the denial, the truth always comes out in the end. Sometimes it is a relief. Because it is true that it is easier on the brain to tell the truth – because you don’t have to remember anything when you tell the truth! But sometimes when the truth comes to light, it is devastating. “I’m not hurting anyone but myself” is rarely – if ever – true, especially when being dishonest.

Now, having said “no more lies” I think something needs to be said about prudence and “speaking the truth in love.”

Can I be honest when my wife asks me “do these pants make my butt look fat?” (And for the record, she never asks me this question – it’s just a hypothetical here.) What if they really do? It wouldn’t be prudent to tell her that. For one reason, it would hurt her feelings. Another reason, she would probably hurt me!

While honesty is always the best policy, it is also important to remember that God’s Word tells that should speak the truth “in love” (Ephesians 4:15). I realize my hypothetical situation is wrought with danger. I realize that it would just be easier to “tell a white lie” in this situation. It will also spare my wife’s feelings (and my head). But remember “integrity”? It can be defined as “doing the right thing even when doing the wrong thing is easier.”

In situations like my hypothetical, it is going to take some effort to avoid hurting someone’s feelings while, at the same time, speaking the truth. Love has so much to do with it. How I talk to my wife – to anyone, really – should be deeply rooted in my relationship with them and with God. When I overlook that particular truth, then it will be very hard to speak the truth in love.

Being honest and living honestly will develop a person in a true man or woman of character as well as a true man or woman of God. It will almost never be easy. But it will be possible, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us through God’s Word. The more we immerse ourselves in the truth of God’s Word, the more we’ll be able to speak the language of truth and live a life of truth.

It will also take courage, but that’s a whole new topic – one we’ll explore next time.