Sermon Illustrations - Tag: character
Posted by Douglas on Jul 09, 2018

I love music. I've always loved music. But when I started playing a musical instrument in fourth grade I had no sense of rhythm. In fact, it took me many years to develop that sense. My mom and I would drive a half an hour to my private violin lessons with Mrs. Small, a tiny lady who used to be my mother's music teacher when she was young, and who insisted that now that she was over 85, she was allowed to subtract a year from her age for each birthday. I can still remember her asking me, week after week, "Are you counting this?" and "You didn't count this week, did you?"

The truth is, counting was something I reserved for math class, and I found the process of counting to four repeatedly, while playing the violin, to be very difficult. My mind didn't seem to want to do those two things simultaneously, and honestly, I didn't really see the point of it.

I was well into my high school years, I think, before I really began to develop a sense of rhythm. How did I survive all those years of playing recital pieces, and playing in an orchestra?

I used external cues. If Mrs. Small was accompanying me on the piano, I would listen for her to play a specific note/chord, and then I would know it was time for me to come in. If I was in an orchestra, I would often wait for the violinist next to me to lift her bow, and then I would know it was time to start playing. Of course, neither of these techniques were very good, and often resulted in me starting a fraction of a second too late, because I would hear, and then play.

As my sense of rhythm developed, it was not because my mathematical abilities improved (I was an award-winning math student and competitor, so counting to four over and over produced no mathematical challenges for me!), but because I started to feel rhythms internally. My toes started tapping, and my fingers started drumming, and my head started bobbing. And the more I felt those rhythms physically, within my body, the less necessary it became to count.

When playing with an accompanist, I didn't need to listen for a note to happen; I could predict when it was going to happen. If I was in an orchestra, I wasn't watching and listening for my neighbor to come in; I could feel the right time within my body.

Counting, under these circumstances, becomes something you do to help you understand the structure of a particular piece of music, rather than something you do because it's the only way to keep time.

I realized that this is very similar to my life as a Christian in this world. At first, nothing comes naturally. My behavior is not internalized. To know how I ought to behave, I watch the people around me to see what they do, and I take my cues from them. It's not internalized.

But God wants the Christian life to be internalized. This is why there are repeated statements within the Bible that say God wants to "write his word on our hearts, rather than on tablets of stone."

40:8I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”Psalms 40:8 (ESV)

The process of internalizing the Christian life is very similar to the process of internalizing a beat. At first, it all feels unnatural, and you end up mimicking others in order to "fit in," but as God does His good work in your heart, what was once externally motivated becomes internally driven, because your character and your heart are more and more aligning with the one who was born with a perfect moral rhythm.

3:18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)

Where are you in this process? I'm not talking about what your behavior is; I'm talking about what drives your behavior. Is it driven by a follow-the-leader mentality? Is it driven by a desire to fit in? Or is Christ steadily (albeit perhaps slowly) transforming your heart, writing the rhythm of his own heartbeat onto yours?

Oh Lord, change my heart, make it ever true. Help my heart to beat in perfect synchrony with you!

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Posted by Douglas on Jan 18, 2009

Recently I had a chance to visit with Nate, a young man who used to travel with me and run my sound system when I went out to preach, sing, and do ventriloquism. We were reminiscing about some of the things that used to happen when we were "on the road" together, and we recalled that it was not uncommon for people to say to Nate, "We sure do appreciate you and your dad coming today."

To which Nate would reply, "He's not my dad."

Frankly, I never saw much resemblance between us, and since I was only thirteen years older than him, I found it a bit disconcerting that people would think I was old enough to be his dad.

The day after I visited with Nate, day I took my nephew Daniel to a basketball game that our local Christian academy was competing in. During the half-time break, I took Daniel to the concessions stand, so Daniel could buy a cheeseburger. When the lady behind the counter gave us our food, she said, "Here's your cheeseburger, and here's your dad's french fries."

Once again, I don't think there's that much resemblance. But those two back-to-back events started me thinking about family resemblances. Do you look like your father? Your mother? What about your brothers or sisters? Do your children look like you?

Did you know that the Bible has something to say about family resemblance? It's true!

Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God," and "the firstborn of all creation." Think about that for a moment. God is Spirit, and as such, we cannot see him. But when Jesus Christ came to earth, he came as a man with a physical body. So what does it mean that Jesus is the "image of the invisible God"? That he physically looks like God the Father? Of course not! There is a "family resemblance" between God the Father and God the Son, but it is not a physical resemblance.

When Jesus came to earth, it was so we could see and understand the character of God. When we look at Jesus, when we read of His life, His deeds, and His sacrifice, we are seeing the character of God being lived out perfectly.

But that's not the only thing that the Bible says about family relationships. In 2 Corinthians we are told:

3:18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)

Nice little progression, isn't it? Jesus is the likeness of the invisible God, and we are to be transformed into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, when people look at us, they ought to be able to see our family resemblance to God Himself!

What do you think? Is your character like the character of God? Or does it leave a lot to be desired? How does your character change to be more like His? Well, the answer is right in the verse: we behold the glory of the Lord. How much time do you spend looking on Jesus Christ, through reading of Him in God's Word? Take time each day to read of Him, and allow yourself to be transformed more and more into His image.

Posted by Douglas on Apr 07, 2008

Last week I did something I never do: I turned on my television in the middle of the day to see what was on. Now I remember why I never do that.

Although, as I was flipping through the channels I saw a face that was very familiar from my childhood: Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was one of those shows I watched faithfully when I was a little child, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it's still being aired after all these years.

So I decided to sit down and watch it, and see how my perceptions of the show would change since my childhood days. Mister Rogers was talking about music that day, and he told his "neighbors" that he wanted to take us to meet a friend of his, who was a professional musician. Off we went, down the street, to his friend's house.

As we got to the friend's door, Mister Rogers said something that caught my attention. I think any one of us would have said: "I can't wait for you to meet my friend -- he's a wonderful musician." But instead of that, Mister Rogers said, "I can't wait for you to meet my friend -- he's a wonderful person."

Did you notice the difference? "A wonderful musician" vs. "a wonderful person."

Why did I find that so interesting? Because through the clue of that one little word, Mister Rogers has given us a window into his heart and told us what he values most about a person: character over talent. Most of us, on the other hand, are quick to value talent over character.

The lesson in this is two-fold.

First, Jesus told us throughout Matthew 23 that what is on the inside is far more important than what's on the outside. We can brag all day about the things we do, but in the long run, it's who we are that matters to God.

Second, Jesus told us in Matthew 15:18 that everything that proceeds out of our mouth comes from "inside." Just as Mister Rogers' words gave us a window into his heart, every time we speak we give everyone a glimpse of the kind of person we are.

A wise man will take this lesson to heart, and not simply guard his tongue, but also use the things he says as a way of understanding -- and changing -- the kind of person he is.

Posted by Douglas on Oct 30, 2007

If moral values don't begin with the small things, they never go anywhere.

I begin my story today with three parties who shall remain anonymous, to protect the guilty. I shall refer to them as Mr. X, Pastor Y, and Organization Z. Mr. X is running for a political office in the state of Maine. Pastor Y is a pastor here in Maine, who apparently runs an organization (Organization Z) devoted to conservative Christian values and social/political action.

Pastor Y is also a spammer. His organization sends me spam on two of my e-mail accounts -- both of which are publicly posted on the Internet, and which I never use to sign up for e-mail lists. I never asked to receive e-mail from him, yet I receive it anyway. Twice. This, by definition, makes him (or his organization) a spammer.

I received two e-mails from Pastor Y this morning. In these e-mails he described how he had sent out inquiry to all our Maine political candidates, asking for their views on conservative moral issues. He said that only two candidates responded, and only one of them gave actual answers to the questions. That was (you guessed it) Mr. X. Therefore, Pastor Y explained, he felt that we should all get behind Mr. X in his political campaign.

I felt obligated to warn Mr. X that Pastor Y was spamming people on his behalf, and it didn't make him (Mr. X) look good -- it made him look guilty by association.

Mr. X's campaign headquarters replied that Pastor Y has "been an advisor to the campaign since day one," and he sent out the spam (they didn't call it spam) with the approval of the campaign, and they encouraged me to do the same. (Yeah, that's not a joke, they actually asked me to pass on the spam as well!)

So I was disappointed with Mr. X's campaign on two levels. First, that they were spamming people. Second (and far more importantly) for the deceit involved. I have tried and tried to reconcile "I sent an e-mail to all the current Maine congressional candidates asking them about several issues" with "...has been an advisor to the campaign since day one."

Was it an outright lie? No, Pastor Y never stated that he was not affiliated with the campaign. But the implication was that he picked out a candidate based on an inquiry to an existing campaign.

My second e-mail to Mr. X expressed this disappointment in his campaign, and finished with: If moral values don't begin with the small things, they never go anywhere.

I thought of the people of Israel, going out to fight the city of Ai, thinking they were winning a great battle for God, never knowing that a hidden deceit was eating away at them. How can we stand for the right on issues like abortion, pornography, and many many other issues, when the platform on which we stand is shaky? The platform I speak of is not a political platform, but a platform of personal integrity, character, and righteousness.

Posted by Douglas on May 04, 2006

A couple weeks ago one of the teens jokingly told me (at least, I hope she was joking!) that I was an evil dictator. As it turned out, her comment fit right into the lesson, because I was talking about how we deal with authority.

Last night I built on that lesson some more. After welcoming the sixth graders (last night was the first youth group Bible study they were invited to attend), I started picking on one of them.

"Suppose I walked out behind the church, and I discovered that Marissa was out back there smoking a cigarette. Of course, I wouldn't be too impressed with that, since smoking is not just unhealthy, it's also against the rules. So I would probably scold her pretty good." (By the way, Marissa has assured me that she does not smoke, which I'm very glad of!)

"Now suppose instead that I didn't find Marissa smoking -- in fact, suppose that Marissa wasn't smoking at all, but Rachel came up to me and said, 'Doug, Marissa is out back smoking!' So I go out back and, without giving her an opportunity to speak or defend herself, start scolding and yelling at her. After all, I am an evil dictator, right?

"In one of those situations, I'm being completely fair and reasonable, in the other I am not. But how should Marissa respond in these two situations?"

This question is exactly what Peter talks about in 1 Peter:

2:19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.1 Peter 2:19-20 (ESV)

It's not enough to respond graciously and with submission when treated fairly -- Peter says that the true test of your character comes out in the way you respond when treated unfairly.

And it gets the next verse (1 Peter 2:21), Peter tells us that we have been called for this purpose -- to bear up patiently under unjust suffering. The question is not: Will I be treated unfairly? -- that's just a fact of life. The real question is: How will I respond when I am treated unfairly?

Peter tells us that in bearing up patiently under unfair and unreasonable treatment, what we are really doing is following in the footsteps of Jesus, who willingly submitted to the most unfair and unreasonable of all punishments -- the cross of Calvary.

How often we say, "I want to be like Jesus," but we certainly don't want to be like Jesus in this regard! Instead, we are likely to respond to unfair treatment with anger and bitterness, instead of with love and forgiveness.

Posted by Douglas on Feb 18, 2006

"Your mother's wrinkles, your daughter's pimples, and your face is right in the middle."

That was the voice-over in an Oil of Olay advertisement I saw last night. And it got me thinking...

Oil of Olay has been around (under various names like Oil of Ulan and Oil of Olaz) since 1949. I remember seeing ads for the product when I was a kid (so very many years ago ;D). What I got thinking about is this: the women who were targeted by the Oil of Olay ads when I was a kid are the mothers of the women who are now being targeted by the ads.

And apparently it's a done deal that they've got wrinkles now...they're beyond the hope and help of the rejuvenating wonder.

And...let's take this a step further...the women who will be targeted by the ads in another twenty years are the pimply-faced daughters, whose pimples will be gone, but will be in fear of those wrinkles...who will be afraid they won't stay young forever...who will be looking at their mothers and praying, "Dear Lord, let me never have that many wrinkles..."

Seems like a kind of pointless and repetitive cycle. But it made me think of two seemingly unrelated Scripture passages:

1:4A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.5The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.6The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.7All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.8All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.9What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.10Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.Ecclesiastes 1:4-10 (ESV)

Kind of depressing, isn't it?

Here's the other one. This is from I Peter:

3:3Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—4but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.1 Peter 3:3-4 (ESV)

There's a word in those verses that I absolutely love -- one that keeps cropping up again and again in the book of 1 Peter: imperishable.

When we look at beauty in the terms that the world sees it, it is not imperishable -- it is, like any other earthly treasure, destined to fall apart over time. No moisturizing cream, no anti-wrinkle formula, no anti-aging drugs can forever prevent it.

On the other hand, the character we develop, as followers of Jesus Christ, the "hidden person of the heart" -- that lasts forever. It is, in a word, imperishable.

But which do we spend more time worrying about? Outward beauty? Or inward character?

No wonder Solomon talked about "vanity." And he didn't mean "vanity" in the way we mean it today -- he was talking about emptiness.

And there is something painfully empty about a life spent worrying more about the outward than the inward, more about the perishable than about the imperishable...

Posted by Douglas on Feb 13, 2006

Lately I've been discovering gray hairs here and there throughout my gotee. The teens in my youth group tell me it's a sign of how old and decrepit I'm getting. They're so kind.

In reality, having gray hairs doesn't really bother me from an aesthetic point of view; I've always thought that beards which have a mixture of gray and dark look very distinguished. I'm certainly not one who feels the need to color my hair in order to continue feeling (or looking) young.

But the thing I hate about my gray hairs is that those hairs are a different texture from the rest of my gotee. When I'm trimming, the dark hairs all get trimmed, and the gray hairs all say to the razor, "Ha ha, you can't get me!" So I end up with thousands of short black hairs and a few gray hairs that keep getting longer and longer.

And there's nothing I can do about it.

Jesus actually had something to say about the color of your hair; in the Sermon on the Mount, he told his followers:

5:36And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.Matthew 5:36 (ESV)

In essence, He is saying, "Don't swear by something you have no control over; it is a completely meaningless oath to swear."

But He doesn't stop there; He tells us not to swear any oaths at all! He explains that we must be so completely honest that we develop a reputation for truth-telling, and we never have to swear any oaths at all. "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no,'" he says.

I may not be able to control the color of my beard, but what I do with my character, my integrity, is entirely in my court. The choice is up to me.

Of course, on a related note, it's interested to see that the three little pigs in the old fairy tale disobeyed this command of Christ when they said, "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!" That is, after all, an oath sworn on the hair of their heads! ;D

Posted by Douglas on Feb 12, 2006

A while back I was visiting my parents, and as we were sitting at their diningroom table, my father said, "Look at that bird out there by your car!"

I looked out the window, and there was a bird, perched on the windowsill of my passenger-side front door. But where he was, that wasn't half so interesting as what he was doing.

The bird was very studiously examining itself in the side-view mirror! I chuckled a bit, and then turned back to the conversation. About five minutes later, my father said, "You know, that bird is still there!"

Sure enough, the bird hadn't budged from that spot, but was still preening in front of the mirror.

I immediately thought of Philippians 2:3, which speaks about behaving based on "selfish ambition or conceit." Selfish ambition, of course, is when we are seeking personal gain. But conceit is something altogether different (although it is still based in selfishness). It is when we act based on an exalted view of ourselves and our own importance.

What does conceit cause us to do? It causes us to gaze endlessly at our own self, admiring who we are, and generally being impressed with ourselves.

But what does Paul say? Get your attention off yourself! You're not the most important being in the universe! In fact, you should consider each of the people around you as more important than yourself.

This mentality is at the root of Christian character. Paul says, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ..." and then he goes on to describe how Jesus put aside his own self, making himself "nothing" for us.

Can we, then, follow His example, and instead of gazing endlessly in our own reflection, take our eyes off our own selves, to see those around us? I don't know about you, but I don't want to go through life gazing endlessly into my own reflection, when there are so many more important things to do...

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