Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Character is Revealed in Conduct

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:1-10, NIV]

On August 28, 1963, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and gave a speech known today as his "I Have a Dream" speech. In that speech he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This great preacher had a godly dream, captured no doubt from Isaiah 40:4, “that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." While some have seen this dream as a plea for civil rights, I believe his dream was far more than just a speech about civil rights. I believe that as Isaiah 40 indicates, this speech was a cry for these United States to flow with a great awakening, a spiritual revival, a move of God across the races. I believe Dr. King knew the heart of Jesus, and he understood that if freedom were ever to ring in this country and throughout the world, it would ring because the blood of Jesus had forgiven the prejudices, injustices, and hatred of the past. I believe he understood that if freedom were to ring, it would be because the blood of Jesus had healed the wounds, the hurts, the injustices suffered within the hearts of minds of all of us, for people of all races and ethnicities share the need of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Let us understand the words of Dr. King when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It is my fear that as a nation, we have placed far too much emphasis on the “color” of our skin, and far too little emphasis on the content of our “character.” For it is not by the color of our skin that we are saved unto heaven, it is by the grace of God. The Bible teaches that there is no other name under heaven by which men might be saved other than the name of Jesus, and when we are saved the color of our skin does not change, but the content of our character does! I believe Dr. King lived the Beatitudes. His life of nonviolence and the teaching of Scripture demonstrate his godly character, his understanding of Scripture, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

In our text today, Jesus began his “Sermon on the Mount” with words that seem to contradict each other. God's way of living almost always contradicts the world's way. If you want to live for God, you must be ready to say and do what seems strange to the world. You must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse. By giving up your own rights in order to serve others, you will one day receive everything God has in store for you. The Beatitudes are a code of ethics, a Kingdom standard for all believers. They contrast Kingdom values, which are eternal, with the worldly values, which are temporary. They contrast the superficial faith of the religious with the real faith Christ wants his children to possess.

The Beatitudes are not multiple choices or multiple answers. You cannot pick what you like and leave the rest, and guessing will certainly not serve you the best. If we are to be Kingdom people and possess the real faith that Christ wants us to have, we must take the Beatitudes as a whole. These Beatitudes describe what we should be like as followers of Christ. We are to be "blessed." How often do we say to a spiritual brother or sister, "Be blessed" or "Stay blessed." When we say those words, we are implying the fortunate state of that person, because they are in God's Kingdom. You see, the Beatitudes do not promise laughter, pleasure, or earthly prosperity. To Jesus "blessed," means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. Dr. King understood that to find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, peace, and contentment, follow Jesus no matter what the cost.

With Jesus announcing that the Kingdom was near, people were naturally asking him, "How do I qualify to be in God's Kingdom?" Jesus said that God's Kingdom is organized differently from worldly Kingdoms. In the Kingdom of heaven, wealth, power, and authority are unimportant. Kingdom people seek different blessings and benefits, and they have different attitudes. We are not to have attitudes that are carbon copies of the world's pride and lust for power. We are to have humility and self-sacrifice. Kingdom people do not need body art, piercings, and tattooing to draw attention to their bodies, they have godly character that paints the picture of Jesus and His piercings to draws people to the Father.

Lost humanity values pride and personal independence, happiness at any cost, power, pursuing personal wants, strength without feeling, reward without sacrifice, personal peace is pursued without concern for the world's chaos, and commitments are weak. Lost humanity seeks short cuts, believes the system owes them, and desires what is not theirs and what they have not earned.

Jesus teaches us that Kingdom children are poor in spirit and our reward is the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus teaches us that when we mourn, we will be comforted. He teaches us that the meek will inherit the earth, the righteous will be satisfied; the merciful will be shown mercy. He teaches us that the pure in heart will see God; the peacemakers will be called the sons of God, and those persecuted for their faith will inherit the Kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is teaching Kingdom character. This is what Dr. King was talking about when he addressed the nation on that hot August day in 1963. The bullet that took Dr. King’s life on April 4, 1968 was fired at the hands of a man who needed Jesus. Dr. King’s conduct revealed a lesser character in the life of James Earl Ray, and made him angry enough to take Dr. King’s life. Some two-thousand years ago, lost sinful men despised the character and conduct of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the perfect God-man. These men rejected him, falsely accused him, and crucified him. Not because of the color of his skin, but because he represented Kingdom character and conduct. Many of you in this room have been confronted by people angered by your words and actions as you modeled and proclaimed Jesus, and if not, you are most likely not walking in the words, character, and conduct of Jesus. For as with Jesus, angry sinful lost people will attempt to silence anyone whose actions and words proclaim Jesus.

If we are Kingdom people, we find ourselves loving the Dr. Kings of this world, but we also find ourselves loving the James Earl Ray’s of this world. If we are Kingdom people, we love the victims of the wrongs, but we also love the person who dispenses injustices on others. We love the babies that are aborted, and the mothers and doctors that take the innocent life of the unborn. We love and mourn over the murdered, yet we love and grieve for the salvation of the murderer. If we are Kingdom people, our conduct reflects our inward character. If we are Kingdom people, we do not steal library books, we do not cheat on tests, and we do not plagiarize our written assignments. If we are Kingdom people, we are more about the journey than the grade, more about learning than the GPA, and more about “showing ourselves approved unto God” than to man. If we are Kingdom people and we back into someone’s car in the parking lot, we will go find them and make it right. If we are Kingdom people, we possess the character and conduct of Jesus!

I believe that we are Kingdom people! We lead by example! We do not ask others to do what we are not doing! We are Kingdom people! We invite people to church to learn of Jesus, not to increase our numbers, not to entice them to give an offering, and not to tell us we are a great preacher. We invite people to follow Jesus with no other motive than that we are Kingdom people.

Government tries to dictate conduct though rules of law, but God dictates conduct through the renewing of our minds resulting in a wholesome godly character. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that Godly character is the opposite of the world’s character, and he challenged a nation to seek spiritual renewal, revival, a great awakening. We are Kingdom people! We need to take up the teaching of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” We need to ask Jesus to embed the teaching of the Beatitudes into our minds and hearts, and enable us to have a character that produced godly conduct; that the world may know that we are Christian, not by the color of our skin, but by the character that is revealed through our conduct.

Today, you face a decision that grows out of Kingdom character. For those of us who long to be “changed in the twinkling of an eye,” we should not fear change – we should embrace it. Ask God to grow your character, that your conduct might be a testimony to Him.

Prayer: Lord, you teach in your word that character is revealed in conduct. Today, I am not dealing with sinful conduct, but rather the root of that sinful conduct. Lord, it is for this reason I beseech you, if my conduct does not reflect you, grow my character. Lord, challenge me that when I see conduct in in my life that reflects less than Kingdom character, give me courage to change that my character and my conduct might be pleasing to you. May my conduct reflect godly character in all that I do, may I abstain from even the appearance of evil and worldliness, to the end that the church of Jesus Christ may be strengthened throughout the world and the lost might be saved. Lord, as I leave this devotion, may I go and sin no more. Amen.

Note: the above devotion is a slight variation of the message delivered at the Opening Convocation on August 27, 2013 at New Life Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC and is posted by request of students.