The Charleston Shooting and A View of Godly Character

Since 1907 the motto of Toccoa Falls College has been this: Developing Godly Character With Intellect. Sometimes folks ask me how I know what Godly character looks like. There are a variety of ways to define and examine Godly character but this week we saw a glimpse of exactly what Godly character looks like.

The shooting last week at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church gave all of us a view of evil at work in this world. In stark contrast to Godly character we saw the hurt and pain that is a part of sinful behavior. Today I don’t want to focus on the evil; I want to focus on the Godly character displayed by the members of the Emanuel AME Church.

Something unusual happened during the bond hearing for the suspect in the shooting this week. As the suspect was brought before the judge, family members of the shooting victims were given an opportunity to speak to the suspect.   Most of us have seen situations like this before where the victim’s family says things to the suspect as a way of venting their anger. As a former police officer I’ve seen family members tell suspects they hope they rot in hell, have a slow, painful death, and the list goes on.

However, this week as the victim’s family members addressed the suspect here are some of the things they said:

Ethel Lance, the daughter of one of the victims said:

I will never be able to hold her again (referring to her mother) but I forgive you. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.

Another family member said this to the suspect:

Me and my family forgive you. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most…Christ.

This was the tone for each of the family members who spoke to the man accused of gunning down their family members during their weekly bible study. Over and over we saw an attitude of forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences to actions. There are. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t grieve and hurt. You will. Forgiveness has been defined as giving up my right to hurt you because you hurt me. I like that definition.

Do you want to know what godly character looks like? Well…you can see it demonstrated by these dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Families at Emanuel AME Church…thank you for modeling godly character for all of us. Thank you for showing the world what being a follower of Christ is all about.

Now What Should I Do?

When I finished college I was certain I had the start of my career all worked out. I had a senior level contact in the company I wanted to work with. The company had invited me in for testing. I was excited and all set to start. But God had other plans. In a miraculous way, God not only closed the door on this job, He slammed it shut. I was devastated. You see, I had a plan but God had another plan.

I often think about the life of Joseph that we read about in the Bible. I suspect his plans didn’t include being thrown into a well, sold into slavery, and placed into prison. Yet, God had another plan for him. God’s plan for Joseph developed a young man with few skills into a man who would lead most of Egypt. Joseph followed the plan of God, a very difficult plan, for thirteen years before God’s plan finally made sense to Joseph.

How about you? Did you think you had it all figured out and now find your plans have fallen apart? Maybe your dreams for your family aren’t working out the way you planned. Perhaps reports from your doctor have you wondering how your future will take shape. Maybe your career plans have fallen apart and you’re wondering what to do next. You see, God always has a plan but sometimes it’s another plan…not the one you developed.

So let me encourage you today to relax when your plans aren’t working. Listen to what God is telling you. Don’t be like those who just run in circles trying to figure out what to do next. These folks are anxious, they can’t sleep, and they call everyone looking for advice.

Instead, follow what God has said in Psalm 46, verse 10. Here is the verse:

Be still, and know that I am God!

Now there is something to think about. When your plans don’t work out, be still. Relax. Release the controls. God has things under His control.

Always remember that when your plans start to unravel, God always has another plan.

I Remember

Do you remember the old song Memories by Barbara Streisand? I could sing some of the lyrics for you but you probably wouldn’t appreciate that so let me just say them for you:

All alone in the moonlight

I can smile at the old days

I was beautiful then

I remember

A time I knew what happiness was

Let the memory live again

Do you ever just sit and simply remember? Do you ever find yourself day dreaming about the past? Remembering a time when your responsibilities weren’t so heavy and there weren’t so many demands placed on you? I suspect we all do.

Christ also recognized the importance of remembering. In fact, scripture speaks to the importance of remembering.

In Joshua, chapter 4, we read this:

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.

God had just done something remarkable for Joshua and his followers. God wanted everyone to always remember what was done that day and this was symbolized by the 12 stone memorial.

As you go through each day, sometimes overcome and beat up by the pressures of life, will you stop and remember what God has already accomplished in your life? Will you remember the times, just like Joshua, that God has delivered you from a tough situation? Always remember that you are not alone. You serve the God of creation and He is always with every believer.

Maybe we all need to gather a few stones (or mementos) on our own to serve as a reminder that God has taken us successfully through rough times in the past and will do it again! Gather some reminders of what God has seen you through and put them in your office, bedroom, living room, or somewhere that you will constantly see them and be reminded that God is a tremendous deliverer. Always remember what we’re told in Psalm 9:

The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.

Always remember!

Hey…I Got Another Like!

I was talking with a young lady not long ago and here is what she told me. She said that she had a lot of work to do but thought she would just go check Facebook before starting her work. She laughed and said that before she knew it she had spent several hours on Facebook. She still had all her work to do and had wasted several valuable hours.

A report from Bloomberg that was released last week gave these statistics:

  • Facebook revenue is now at $2.91 billion.
  • Facebook has 1.32 billion active users.
  • Facebook says that the average user spends 40 minutes every day checking Facebook.

Many Facebook users also have Instagram accounts. Business Insider recently reported that the average Instagram user spends 21 minutes a day checking their accounts.

Many folks today don’t limit their social media experience to only these two platforms. Many folks also have Twitter, Snapchat, and Pinterest accounts. However, let me give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you only use Facebook and Instagram.   The average user is spending one hour each day on only these two social media platforms.

What could you do with an extra 7 hours of time every week? You could spend more time with God, your spouse, your children, reading your bible, exercising, or maybe just relaxing a bit.

Sometimes I think we have become tangled in this social media time trap. What problems have you actually solved on social media? What solutions have sprung from your time on Facebook? How have you grown spiritually on social media? Am I saying that you should leave your social media accounts? Of course not…that’s your call. But I am saying go figure out if you are wasting time there. Keep a log for the next week and see how many hours you are spending on social media. On that same log, keep an account of the problems you have solved and solutions developed during those hours.

You might be surprised by what you find and make a change. A change that will provide more time in your life to focus on issues that really make a difference for your life and the lives of those you love.

I Told You I Was Right!

I am intrigued watching people attempt to resolve conflict. Some people are very good at it. They hit it head on. They go to the person with whom they have an issue and talk it through. No pulled punches, no dancing around the issues…they seek to resolve the conflict in a healthy, respectful way and quickly succeed.

Others choose what I call an anemic approach to conflict resolution. They start the complaint through email, or text, or even social media. They never pick up a phone to try to immediately resolve the problem. These folks just start publicly complaining…often saying things publicly that they would never say to someone face-to-face. Some are even more interested in the fight and winning than the actual complaint or resolving the issue.

Social media is a significant contributor to the anemic approach to conflict resolution. You don’t have to face anyone. You can say whatever you want and instantly something that should have been resolved privately spreads to hundreds or thousands of people. The argument itself takes on a life of its own and often the real issue is pushed aside. Email after email is exchanged over a period of days or weeks. Every line of the emails is scoured for inaccuracies and carefully crafted responses are shot back and forth. Others join in the fight. Opinions fly back and forth…and the sad part? These behaviors are done in full view of believers and unbelievers alike. It leaves folks saying that as believers in Christ we don’t handle conflict any better than non-believers.

So what is the Biblical mandate on conflict resolution? Let me take you to Matthew chapter 18. Here is what scripture tells us in verse 15.

If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.

May I suggest that this is a wonderful principle to follow regardless of the nature of any conflict? Do you notice how this verse is phrased? There are two particularly important words here. The first is go. The Bible doesn’t say to write a letter or in today’s world, leave a voice message, write a text, or post your issue to social media. The scripture say to go to them.

The second important word here is privately. Always resolve conflict in private whenever possible. You cut down on the possibility of more hurt feelings, you resolve the issue quickly, and you don’t present a poor witness for Christ as others watch a personal disagreement being discussed publicly.

We all make mistakes and we all have disagreements. That’s part of life. How we resolve them shows our true character. Resolve conflict using the Matthew 18 principle and your life will experience much more peace.

I Don’t Know what To Say

Do you ever get nervous praying in public? When you know someone is looking around the room to select someone to pray do you immediately break eye contact with them? Does praying out loud in front of others just scare you?

Because of my job, folks often ask me to pray at events. It usually starts like this: In a very quiet voice someone leans over my shoulder at the table and says, Would you be willing to start the meeting with a prayer? The person who asks this is often a bit sheepish as though somehow I am doing them a great favor by saying yes so they can get to the next item on the agenda.

I was at an event not long ago and when it was time to open in prayer, the man who was asked to pray bowed his head, carefully took out a piece of paper that he kept concealed behind a podium, and read his prayer. The interesting thing was he pretended he wasn’t reading. He kept his head bowed and it was hard to tell if he was praying or reading but when he turned the page over the secret was out. The prayer was beautiful…full of flowery, lofty words…but it just didn’t seem like this man meant any of it. It was a show. The prayer was a scripted prayer that seemed to be given to present a good image for the giver rather than to present a contrite and humbled heart to the creator of our universe.

Thinking about this I was reminded of Luke 18: 11-14. This is a very powerful section of scripture that tells us what Christ thinks about prayer and how to pray. Listen to this passage:

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.

Just like the man in my story, this prayer was for the benefit of others. Now listen to the rest of this passage.

But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Some folks tell me they don’t pray because they don’t know what to say. May I just encourage you by saying there is nothing special to say in a prayer. There is not a script for your discussions with God. The story of the Pharisee is a perfect example of this. Just be yourself when you pray. Prayer is an intimate communication between you and your Creator. Just tell God what is on your heart. Talk with Him and then listen. If you get into the habit of constant prayer you will be a part of the most remarkable conversations you can ever imagine. What could be more exciting, enriching, and rejuvenating than connecting to the heart of God. Go ahead…start a new habit of continuous prayer and see how your life begins to change.

That Looks Beautiful

After a recent snowfall I was standing in my dining room with my wife looking at the newly fallen snow. We were talking about how our normal view out of this window had changed. The view was new. The white snow had transformed the woods into something even prettier and certainly much different.

As I thought more about this, I remembered places that weren’t pretty to see without the covering of snow. Some were run down, broken, and falling apart. Yet, when covered by the snow these areas became new. These places became beautiful. Old buildings and run down neighborhoods were transformed by the covering of the white snow.

The color white has some interesting history. In Roman times people on trial for crimes were given a white stone if they were acquitted and found innocent. The color white symbolized that innocence.

If you study the psychology of colors you will find that white is the color of new beginnings and of wiping the slate clean. Some psychologists say that white symbolizes a blank canvas just waiting to be written upon.

It is no wonder that we read this in Isaiah 1:18 when Christ says:

Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.

You see, just like run down, dilapidated buildings there are those with run down and dilapidated lives. Lives that are broken. Lives that aren’t pretty to see. Lives filled with sin like scarlet that need to be made beautiful again and white as snow.

By letting Christ become the leader of your life, your sins are forgiven and that white color we have been talking about symbolizes a new beginning for you. Your old life filled with sin has been wiped clean and you are ready for a new beginning. Your life has now become a blank canvas just waiting for the artistry of God to make you a new person.

Are you ready for a new beginning? Today is the day. This is the moment. Though your sins are like scarlet, Christ will make them white as snow. Don’t wait. Ask God to wipe your old slate clean today and experience a new beginning in Christ.