The Great Intangible

Read:

“. . .Who may dwell on Your holy hill?” Psalm 15:1


Reflect:

This question in verse 1, is a question of intimacy. The answer is the issue of character. Everything rises and falls on our integrity. It determines the depth of God’s presence we experience. Integrity is the great intangible, but its presence is felt, experienced in every area of our life. Almost every trait we would like to change in others is related to the issue of character. We place a high value on the integrity of others.


The one thing we desire in relationships, the one characteristic identified more than any other, is integrity. We want to know we can trust the other person will keep their promises, follow through with their commitments, and do what they say. 


Our society gives lip service to the importance of integrity, but when circumstances get tough, the rules of behavior change and commitments are tossed aside at will. People spend a vast amount of time and energy maintaining their image, trying to get others to think of us the way we want to be thought of. Sooner or later the facade fades. 


It always comes down to an issue of integrity, not just words. Real integrity is not just a matter of doing the right thing, it’s a matter of having the right heart and allowing the person on the inside to match the person on the outside. 


God doesn’t just act with integrity, God is integrity. God is totally consistent, His actions flow perfectly out of His character. God’s goal for His followers is nothing less. 


Real integrity always seeks the connection between our belief and behavior, between our words and ways, and our attitude and actions. Though none of us are flawless, we all stumble, but we are called to the process of being perfected. It’s the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit working in the life of the believer that does the perfecting. We are to stay connected and keep cooperating with God to see progress towards integrity. 


Respond:

What two things do you need to work on in order to sharpen your character? 

The Remedy for Hypocrisy

Read:

“. . .

. . . And speaks truth in his heart.” Psalm 15:2


Reflect:

There are too many hypocrites in the church! True, there have always been, and always will be. In fact, there are hypocrites everywhere. The problem for us is not spotting hypocrisy in others, but in spotting the hypocrite in ourselves.


Those who have settled for a comfortably diminished, cultural Christianity will continue to be massacred in paper-thin faith. However, those discontent with life on the surface can embrace the deep, rich life of being a disciple of Jesus. 


The distinguishing trait of a disciple of Jesus is authenticity. Jesus places within each follower a new destiny, nature, attitude, and righteousness that would exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Only the redemption can place within us the nature of God. Jesus remakes us not by changing our nature, but by giving us a new source from which to live. The remedy for fake faith involves two steps.


Strip Away the Hypocrisy

The Spirit of God strips away every false profession, fraud and phoniness until there’s nothing left but one’s self. He keeps stripping away until there is no place left to hide, until all sanctimoniousness, glibness and double-dealing are done away with. This is where the struggle comes from, we refuse to be identified with the death of Jesus. He will not let up on us until we are willing to offer our naked selves to God. Finally, life will be about God only.


Shaped by Holiness

We become holy, not by trying, but by receiving the life of Jesus. The holiness of Jesus is placed within each believer by faith as a gift of grace. The astonishing reality of the Christian life is that the qualities of Jesus are exhibited in and through the believer. We draw from Jesus the holiness that is in Him. All of Jesus is at our disposal. As we are shaped by His life, the inner hypocrite is suffocated, no longer to be controlled by pretense, but kept by the power of God.  


Respond:

In what areas do you need to be stripped down and shaped by God?


Placing Popularity Over Principle

Read:

“. . . and works righteousness, . . .” Psalm 15:2


Reflect:

Character is not charisma, though we sometimes confuse style for substance. We make false distinctions about others every day.

We mistake external appearance for inward reality. We worship successful lives. In our age competition and self-advertisement, or having the most hits or followers, are lauded. None of which are evidences of real character. Still, we continue to choose popularity over principle. 

Some seek social status – they strive and scheme to gain entry in more influential cliques by any means necessary. For others, they tread into the dangerous territory of over-valuing money as proof of an individual’s spirituality. Even good Christian people fall into the trap of judging character on such a false basis. In many communities of worship, it would be difficult to respect a disciple who wears old clothes and speaks with a Galilean accent. But the first disciples were indeed men of character.

Nobody made more judgments of others than the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day. They were elitist, giving preference to the powerful and to the wealthy. But even they could see that Jesus lived differently, spoke differently, they knew the real thing when they saw it. 

Jesus’ authenticity comes through loud and clear. He practiced what He preached. Jesus always: 

• Does right

• Deals with the tension

• Delights in honesty

• Disciplines His words

• Defends the righteous

• Delivers on His word

• Distributes wealth

• Doesn’t use others

In both words and the ways of Jesus, we see what real character truly is – character is the summary of the decisions we’ve made in life and about God. Character is the point where our belief and behavior converge.

It must be our aim to turn our focus to Christ and learn to love what He loves, to value what He values and despise what He despises. By living out the great eight traits, our Lord has erased insincerity and demonstrated the length and depth of real character by taking it all the way to the cross.

Respond:

Were someone to print out these eight traits of Jesus’ character on a card and write your name at the top, would it be true of you too?

The Devil’s Battlefield

Read:

“He who walks with integrity, . . .” Psalm 15:2


Reflect:

The world is a dangerous place. We are in peril of our lives. The life of living faithfully is seriously threatened. Living the character of Christ is under attack. The enemy is subtle in his schemes to undermine. We find ourselves slogging through a quagmire of the devil’s battlefield. The challenge to maintain our integrity and live from a place of character is always before us. 


Our response to so great a challenge falls into one of two categories: (1) we sink in the quicksand of paranoia, live in a state of panic doing everything we can to keep evil at a distance, or (2) we join forces with moralists, lead demonstrations, sign petitions, always defining our faith by what we are against. In other words, we live a negative form of spirituality by becoming “those” kind of Christians that the world loves to hate.


Granted, neither of these options are great. There are many who choose not to identify with either camp, but get along with a kind of timid, lukewarm, inoffensive, ineffective way of faith. But there is another option.


We take on our world with its issues by action and living out of who we are in Christ, neither in panic nor protest. We are called to realize and cultivate our unique identity as men and women living under the Lordship of Christ. We are witnesses to the unique and revealed way of life of the resurrection. Living our identity is more than an abstract ideology, more than strategy, it literally is Christ in us, the hope of glory.


Who we are takes precedence over what we do. Faith must be lived in this world. We must not act exactly the same as everyone else. We have a part to play in this world no one else can fulfill. As Christians we are the embodiment of the life of the trinity – truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God materializes into this world. 


Respond:

In what ways does the character of Christ influence your decisions?


Tender Painful Moments

Read:

“they stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, . . .” Acts 14:19


Reflect:

Nothing accelerates our personal discipleship like hard times. Be it suffering, heartbreak, temptation, disappointment, sickness, thwarted desires, broken friendship. Whether it is a circumstance so harrowing, so unimaginable, that it leaves us speechless, unable to ask a question of God, or turmoil that tears us open, exposing the deepest fiber of our nerve. In these tender, painful moments God is getting at one thing in us.


God makes us broken bread and poured out wine to please Himself. God never asked Paul’s permission as to what he would or would not do, nor if he was willing to suffer. God simply took a surrendered life and constructed a servant who suffered for the sake of the Savior. Suddenly every ambition, every desire of life, every outlook is completely blotted out and extinguished. The only thing that remains is completely identifying with Jesus and His purposes. 


Think of how Jesus trained His disciples. He placed them in circumstances to know whether they truly cared about God and to determine if their mood was to do the will of the Father. He used situations to reveal if they were held in the grip of God’s love and could be used as instruments in His hands. Jesus sought to root out any competing agendas.


It’s difficult to imagine what Paul must have felt as he was being stoned. It’s tempting to rush past the stoning of Paul with a devotional nod, or theological tip of the hat. But contemplating this moment in Paul’s life will help us to see what other Christians went through.  


Stoning was a brutal, gruesome form of punishment. It would often take hours to die. The person’s hands were tied behind their back, then encircled by the townspeople and pelted with stones until he became unconscious, then drug to the outskirts of the city. Worse yet, was the unseen pain, mental anguish, and humiliation. Yet, it did not dampen Paul’s enthusiasm for the mission of God. It shouldn't ours either.


Respond:

What are circumstances revealing about the depth of your discipleship? 


Crafted from Mutable Materials

Read:

“And they'll began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes . . .” Acts 14:12


Reflect:

There is no God like our God. Neither is there any other god beside Him. For He alone is the great King above all gods. Yet, everyday people fashion of themselves other gods. Whether this be formed from our own cosmology, biology, or theology. Whenever we form ourselves by ourselves, we leave out most of ourselves.


Upon seeing the lame man healed, the crowd had falsely assumed Paul and Barnabas to be incarnations of Zeus and Hermes. But Zeus and his entourage were nothing but empty things, images crafted from mutable materials and figments of human imagination, hollow, empty, and useless. 


The crowd of outsiders, to be fair, were prepared to put Paul and Barnabas on pedestals for public worship. Whoever performed the most tricks was, to their way of thinking, the most God-like. 


Idolatry today has a veneer of false dignity. It’s a down and dirty gritty practice. Idolatry takes imperfect things and exalts them to the place of God. It’s the nature of humanity to prefer firebrands who pretend to be God, to the God who condescends to become man. It’s the thirst for the spectacular and miraculous which causes us to be so easily satisfied with cheap imitations.


Even in our day of sophistication and technological savvy, it’s our natural instinct to take earthly imperfect things and idolize them as gods. Some idolize their nation and follow it with complete loyalty, a depth of allegiance which belongs only to the transcendent God. Some people idolize their business, and put its claims over their family. Some idolize other people and so surrender themselves so that there is no room left for higher loyalties that are over and above our deepest ties and affections.


Christianity stands in stark contrast to the base practice of idol worship. Oh, that we would see the futility of the temporary, and turn from all our sins and idols, and walk in the footsteps of our Lord, who set aside His prerogatives that He might taste the darkness and die a death on the cross.


Respond:

What things have you prioritized over Jesus?