The True Measure of Character

This post initially started out in my mind as a straight-up anti-Laker rant.  Hopefully (for you), this post will be more subdued.  For those who don’t know why I would be ranting about it at all, let me briefly explain.  Yesterday, the 2-time defending NBA champions were eliminated from the playoffs.  They got swept out, which means they lost their best of 7 series 4-0, without winning a game.

In that final game yesterday, they were down by 20+ points most of the game.  Late in the game, 2 of the Lakers best 4 players (Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom) intentionally knocked someone to the ground for no reason.  One of them was especially bad, because the fouler had about 100 pounds on the foulee and said foulee was airborne at the time when he received the forearm to his ribcage.  Those 2 fouls were cheap shots and dirty plays, and they will most likely be fined and suspended.

Before I continue the mini-rant, a couple of disclaimers:

1) I root against the Lakers.  I always root against teams that win all the time, especially if I’m told repeatedly by sports media that I’m supposed to like them.  Many teams and individuals fall into this category.  Lakers are near the top. (They can thank the Duke Blue Devils and Tiger Woods from keeping them off the top of the list)

2) I don’t follow the NBA too closely.  Most of what I know comes from Sportscenter and PTI (best show on television).  I start watching during the 2nd round of the playoffs.

What I do know from watching ESPN is that the Lakers are great champions with great leaders in their coaches and players.  I was disinclined to believe these things (see disclaimer 1), but what do I know (see disclaimer 2)?

Before we go too far down this road, I do not want to judge their character.  I don’t even know them.  Athletes are barely any different than cartoon characters to us.  If my worst moments were caught on national TV, I would hope that people would give me grace and that I would not be defined by them.  I will separate silly sports rants from bigger picture questions of specific individual people’s character.

However (you knew something was coming), people who put themselves in the public eye do give us opportunity to reflect and analyze issues of character, not based on their character (which we don’t know) but their behavior (which we can see).

Given that mega-disclaimer, here is what we all need to understand–our true character is tested and measured by adversity.

Here is a list of things you shouldn’t say:

“I’m really nice, unless you make me mad.”

“I love people when they aren’t annoying me.”

“I’m incredibly patient until something stressful happens.”

“I’m very gracious unless you cross me.”

“They are great champions unless they lose and start knocking people around the court with uncalled for forearms (sorry, had to throw that in there)”

It is easy to be patient when there is no cause to be impatient.  It’s easy to be gracious when people are being nice.  It’s easy to be a “winner” or a “champion” when you are winning.  But what are we like when we are “losing” and when life is stressful and painful and hard?  Are we truly allowing God to refine deep character into us? Are we allowing adversity to make us more like Jesus?  Or are we simply surviving bad times with mediocre (or worse) character and waiting to be the “real me” again?

The “real me” is not the me when everything is going just my way, but the person that is on display in adversity.  My hope is that, whether or not there are television cameras on or not, when those times hit me that the love and light of God would shine.

James 1:2-4
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Matthew 5:43-48
Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Who you are not what you do.

I met with a group of guys this morning. We are meeting every Wednesday morning. We call it a leadership class, but it is not what you would necessarily expect from a leadership class. We have spent the entire fall talking about our spiritual life and how that provides the foundation for everything in our lives. Our relationship with God is not a piece of our lives but it is the driver for everything in our lives.

Anyway, we have been looking at Galatians 5 for the last couple of weeks. What I was struck by today is what Paul describes as the “fruit of the Spirit.” What he says next is what Paul believes is the primary evidence/result of God’s Spirit in our lives. He could have said anything: “The fruit of the Spirit is church attendance, serving, tithing . . .” “The fruit of the Spirit is working soup kitchens, feeding the poor, . . .” The fruit of the Spirit is not stealing, not drinking, not having sex outside of marriage. . .” “The fruit of the Spirit is speaking in tongues, performing miracles, healing, . . .”

All of those things are things that we do, but the result of God’s Spirit in us is who we are. God is interested in transforming our character, not in simply altering our behavior. It is when God changes our character that then our behavior really changes. Our behavior does not change our character.

(Expect more on this)