Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Harbour Lights: A Matter of Character (Jul-Aug 2002)

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By Michael Harbour
September-October 2002

Do you ever look back over your life and find the turning points? Robert Frost wrote a tongue in cheek poem about roads not taken. He predicts that some years down the line we will tell the story of our choice, saying, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Of course, it wasn’t really true. When we were choosing, the roads were more equal than we now remember. We do like to affirm for ourselves the choices that we have made. We would like to think that we were noble then. Probably we were not. However, we did made some choices that have led to today.

Do you remember taking chances that might determine your destiny? I am surprised that I survived my freshman year in college. I was wondering, just recently, why a smart guy would fail to go to class, why he would drink what he drank and smoke what he smoked. What was he thinking? Why was God so gracious that he would allow me not to suffer greater and appropriate consequences?

When I look back I see moments of decision. Some of the choices were good ones. Actually, I see moments that could have derailed or re-railed my life. I could be in the restaurant business. I could be an air traffic controller. I see moments where I could have married differently, which would have changed everything. I even see moments where I could have shipwrecked my life, and somehow, at the very point of decision, chose well. When Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, he told them, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). When walking with God, there is a moment when he says, “Do you want out of this temptation? Last chance.” Either you plunge ahead, or you flee.

How we choose in these moments of decision determines the way our life unfolds. Our destiny depends upon our character. That famous author, named Unknown (except, hopefully, to himself or herself), has said, “Watch your thoughts; thoughts become words. Watch your words; words become actions. Watch your actions; actions become habits. Watch your habits; habits become character. Watch your character for your character becomes your destiny.” Every choice we have made was born in our character, in our neediness, in our fears, in our hopes and in our dreams bundled in that moment of decision.

Do ever think about Jesus having ethical and directional choices that determined his destiny? Jesus was tempted. Scripture says that he was tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15). The Adversary came to derail him from his destiny. Skip the cross, Jesus. Life does not have to be that hard! You could have glory now without all of that self-sacrifice, without all of that love stuff. Some people think that Jesus had special powers to resist the temptation. However, I think Jesus was genuinely tempted. It looked good in the moment. Every temptation does, you know. If it was not attractive, we could never be seduced, enticed…tempted. What was it that helped Jesus resist these very attractive choices? Character. Scripture says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus was the exact imprint of the essence of God. We no longer set type. When I was a young boy, we had a movable type printing press in our house (pretty strange, eh?), which we used to do elegant print work. Jesus was the character, the perfect type, making the perfect imprint of God.

What is the character of God? God is not so small as to be selfish or coercive. God loves. God gives. God is not one who takes easy routes, or short cuts, or quick ways. God does what is in the best interest of those whom he loves. Jesus did not yield to temptation because he did not love himself so much as to preserve himself. That is God’s character. “For God so loved the world that he gave.” That is God’s character. Jesus could stay on track because he bore this imprint.

Our character will determine our choices and our destiny. How do we get character? We allow for the renewing of our minds (change our thinking) by the imprint of God on us. New thinking leads to new words, and actions, and habits.

Once upon a time, I had asked a girl to marry me. She said yes. We were not Christians. One day, she told me that she did not want to hold down a job and that she did not want to go to church. Her announcement of values frightened me. We did not marry. I wonder sometimes, what would have become of me had that been the road chosen. In that moment, was it character that delivered me? There was an imprint, even then! Hallelujah!

Michael Harbour is preaching minister at the Southeast Church of Christ in Houston, Texas.

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