We are almost done with our exploration of the character traits God desires to work into our lives. As you may have well imagined, this list is far from complete, even with the ones I have listed along the way. In fact, you probably thought of a few in the list which I did not mention - it is okay, because God is probably expanding that list for each of us as we explore these traits. This was a starting point for us to consider how it is God builds character within - a starting point of beginning the moving from just knowledge in our heads about what God wants us to do into a place of allowing God to actually do it within! As we explore our "T" List today, I chose just two traits: Temperance and Truthfulness. How we define temperance today is probably a little different than they did in the days of King James, but generally it means moderation. It is the ability to exhibit a little self-restraint, especially where it applies to any of our "natural" appetites. We think of this as passing on dessert when we know we don't need the extra calories, or perhaps it is avoiding awkward situations where you will be able to compromise your purity in a sexual sense. Either way, the idea of self-restraint is one we kind of understand better than "temperance". Truthfulness is more than just "telling the truth" - it is a lifestyle which "conforms to" truth.
Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all. (2 Corinthians 6:2-10 MSG)
Let me begin by stating something quite obvious: Living what we preach is hard work! I remember hearing the phrase, "Do as I say, not as I do". Now, what kind of conflict does that conjure up in your mind? Isn't this just the way we are, though? We say one thing, but end up doing another. We don't want anyone else to pattern their actions after ours because they are inconsistent. You are not in this boat alone, friend! I am paddling right along with you! There are even times when I lose the paddle and get set adrift for a while! So, don't lose heart - you have traveling companions!
Look at what Paul says - our work as God's servants gets "validated" in the "details" of what we say and do. What is more concerning to me is the next statement - people are watching us! Eegads! Don't you just wanna crawl under a rock about now? So, this is where truthfulness and temperance come in, friends. You see, when we begin to take our lives to God and allow him to remove the masks as we studied yesterday, we begin to live "real" lives. Those real lives are filled with all kinds of things which need some "refining" and "cultivating", aren't they? Some of the things we'd like to just have "refined" a little, God is actually working on taking completely out of our lives as they don't do a thing for his testimony in us.
Self-control is only learned in the midst of the compromising circumstance or situation. You don't need it at any other time, do you? So, it is a "trait" we call upon when we are tempted or in times of trial. Amazing! Paul doesn't paint a pretty picture when he talks about the testimony God had worked in his life, does he? Nope - he talks about the reality of dealing with "stuff" in the here and now which he'd probably rather not have to deal with at all. Things like hard times - when the going just gets rougher. Or perhaps the sorrow is heavy upon us, bringing tears easily and heaviness of heart like nothing else can. The truth is, people are watching us when these circumstances are upon us - because they want to see what Jesus would do with them!
Yep, you heard that correctly - they watch US because they want to see what JESUS will do with the circumstances! When that saying first came out, it was all the rage, wasn't it? What would Jesus do? (WWJD) People got bumper stickers, bracelets, book covers, necklaces, etc. - all brandishing the little logo "WWJD". I wonder just how well that worked for them? I would sometimes drive behind one of those cars and watch as they'd swerve in front of others, speed down the highway, or simply be doing stuff not safe to do while driving (texting, make-up application, etc.). Truth be told, I was watching! Looking for the testimony of Christ in their lives!
This is a tough message this morning - I am in the boat rowing, remember? My testimony can sometimes not reflect the best self-control, nor the most truthful side. Transparency is a hard process - one which requires vulnerability and a willingness to be under "scrutiny". It also makes us a little more accountable for our behavior. Maybe this is why God values it so much! It helps to bring us to a place of accountability in our lives. I think this is what Paul may have been saying about how he was living his life - he lived it out in the open, the good and the bad alike, hoping people would see more of Christ than they would of him. Friends, this about all we can do - live as close to Jesus as possible in the moment, then trust him to do the rest. We cannot get down on ourselves for each moment when self-control went out the window. We can turn to Christ, ask for his help the next time, and for the courage to admit when we are faced with struggles beyond our capacity to deal with alone.
Truthfulness and Temperance - getting to the point of living so Jesus is seen in our actions is the goal. Remember, we only reach the goal as we take one step at a time. There are no "teleporters" in this "character thing". You cannot just ask to be "beamed up" and go from start to finish in the blink of an eye. Character is a process - lesson upon lesson. The key: Keep rowing! Just sayin!