Character traits of individuals are as varied as are the number of people in this world. Some of us have tiny button noses, others are larger and have even made people famous, like Jimmy Durante who is most well known for his "schnozzola". There are those who possess the evenest white teeth, never needing braces to correct overbite, under bite, or even teeth seemingly too tightly crammed into the space they occupy. Yet, there are character traits we often don't focus on as much as the outward - those which make us up on the "inside". I would like to call attention to those character traits which God sees - the "inside stuff". This journey will begin today and may take us several days, but I hope it will unfold some things for us which we might just be overlooking when we are focusing intently on the "image" we portray. You see, character traits are more than skin deep and those which matter the most are those which are often barely visible, but most often have to be "felt" in order to be appreciated fully.
Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it. (John 10:1-5 MSG)
As we begin today, I'd like to start with the character traits which make up our "A" list of traits. No, these are not the "super-important" ones, but simply begin with the letter "a". All the character traits we will explore over the next several days are important - none of them should be overlooked. So, what are our "A" list of traits? Attentiveness, Authenticity, and Alertness.
- Alertness: Many of us go through life barely "alert" to our surroundings - seemingly taking up space and passing time in space. It is kind of like we are asleep on our feet, numb to the world around us, and just "dulled" in some sense or another. There is more to alertness than being aware of what occupies our space, though. One who is fully alert is also very agile - able to move quickly. If you have ever been hit in the side of the head by a frisbie hurled into space by another, what one thing could you have controlled in that moment? Isn't it your alertness to the surroundings? You only got hit because you did not duck fast enough! In our passage above, Jesus presents the illustration of someone climbing over the fence to gain access to the sheep pen compared to another who enters through the gate. The question posed - how do we recognize who really belongs? If we never were alert to "how" it is someone entered the pen, we likely have no clue if they truly belong! Alertness is key to "keeping guard over" our lives. When we aren't agile, able to make course changes quickly, we get stuck in the muck and mire of life. We also don't recognize who or what comes to occupy the space in our lives - creating chaos and clutter. So, our first character trait is alertness - the sense of being fully aware and able to make swift judgment calls in order to avoid danger, stay free of clutter, and avoid the hazards in life.
- Attentiveness: This trait pretty closely resembles alertness, but with one key difference - you are "present" in the moment. There is focus - on purpose. It might be easier for us to understand attentiveness by examining its antonyms - the exact "opposite" traits. For example, if you are "inattentive", you are likely a little indifferent or apathetic to the circumstances. You can be alert to the situation without being attentive. Attentiveness involves being concerned about the circumstances - enough for you to focus yourself and stay on task with what is happening. Inattentive people don't actually feel the need to stay involved - they lose focus and drift. One thing presented in our passage which reveals attentiveness is the willingness to listen carefully to the voices we heed. Jesus said his sheep (you and I) know his voice - but we also are attentive (focused on) distinguishing his voice in the midst of all the other voices we hear!
- Authenticity: It is not by accident Jesus uses this illustration of sheep and the shepherd. Sheep are followers - they seem to attach to the "actions" of whatever catches their eye and then follow it, almost without thinking. This is why Jesus calls attention to the two other traits of the sheep - alertness and attentiveness will keep the sheep safe. So, what does authenticity have to do with sheep? Simply put, sheep are true to themselves - they aren't trying to be goats, cows, or chickens. They are always going to be sheep - in need of a shepherd. So, learning to not just be a "copy" of the sheep next door, but to be genuine and real in who you were created to be is important. Our Shepherd wants a flock of sheep which are not just carbon copies of the others in the "flock". He wants us to be uniquely who we were created to be. This is probably one of the hardest character traits for us to grab hold of because we are always comparing ourselves with the other "sheep" in the flock. The danger comes in not being true to ourselves - it opens the door to us never really fulfilling the purpose for which we were uniquely created. How does the shepherd know his sheep? By name! Not just by size, fluffiness of fleece, or the bleating of one's voice. He knows them by name! This suggests to me that the Shepherd cares enough to have a genuine relationship with us - to reciprocate with anything less would just not be right! Just sayin!