Fenton’s Friday Five

Fenton’s Friday Five is back after a break for the summer. During this long hot summer, I know you have frantically clicked on www.characterpath.com each Friday anxiously anticipating some earthshaking, new insight, only to be disappointed. And now, the long wait is over. (Yes, this paragraph is intended as sarcasm.)

5. The most intriguing sports story of the week revolves around the New York Jets quarterback whose jaw was broken by one of his own teammates. The player who delivered the blow was immediately removed from his team’s roster, and his dismissal was blessed by the talking heads of the four-letter network who awaken us in the morning and give us our benediction at the end of the day. (For non-sports fans, I am referring to the fact that many Americans turn on ESPN first thing each morning and fall asleep watching it in the evening.) Every Bubba from Birmingham to Biloxi has called their local talk radio station or tweeted to condemn such behavior. Everybody knows that team members ought not to hurt their teammates. Yet, it happens frequently on the Christian team. Some Christians impugn other Christians’ character and damage their reputation. They limit the influence of other believers through gossip, negative speculation, and personal criticism, and deliver blows with their words. This week, before you criticize your Christian teammate, please remember these two words, “Stop it.”

4. The best book on team building I read this summer was Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal, (with Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell). Although not specifically a Christian book, it powerfully illustrates how the Christian virtue of humility is the key to team building. Reading this book has helped me understand more fully how the church in the first century grew so rapidly. The church recognized the different spiritual gifts and natural talents of the members and encouraged and allowed them to use their differing gifts and talents. When practicing the teachings of the New Testament, the church is the model/pattern for team building. The church is both a team and a family.

3. While Christians may be justified in acknowledging hurt feelings, there is never justification for these wounded emotions to evolve into bitter attitudes. Bitterness will destroy the effectiveness of the most talented team. If another Christian has hurt your feelings, please remember these three words, “Get over it.”

2. Team members need to have thick skins and tender hearts. You will be miserable and make others miserable if you get these two reversed.

1. Team members are expected to attend team meetings. So Christian teammates, I know where you will be on Sunday.

I invite you to intentionally walk on the characterpath today.
Gary Fenton
Follow on Twitter @GaryFenton07

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Fenton’s Friday Five

A recent Pew Research Center report has caused handwringing in the cultural Christianity crowd and handclapping by the hardcore secularist crowd.  This report indicated that Christians are sharply declining as a share of the American population.  But both sets of spear-carriers in the on-going culture wars may have missed the real significance of the numbers and have done so for apparently the same reason.  Neither side understands the nature of nor the essence of the Christian life.

The Pew report does confirm that the number of Americans who either describe themselves as Christians or who acknowledge that they are affiliated with an institutional faith-based community is declining.  However, that certainly does not mean the number of people who are participating in an interactive relationship with God through Jesus Christ is declining.

A Christian is a person whose relationship with God is interactive and secured through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The term “practicing Christian” is an oxymoron; a non-practicing Christian is an absolute contradiction in terms.  Many people have assumed they are Christians because they have saluted one of the Christian creeds or have their names on the roll of a local church.  But many in those two categories are correctly finding that neither affirming some 500 year-old faith statement nor belonging to a religious club that meets on Sundays brings meaning to their lives or hope to their souls.  They have told the polltakers, “…it doesn’t work for me.”

They were being honest because neither of these options has ever worked for anyone, although peer pressure caused many to act like it did.  To say that you were not a Christian brought shame to your name and put a glass ceiling on your career ladder, especially here in the South.  Not living the Christian life, however, had no social consequence.  I doubt that the number of Christ-followers has changed, only the number of folks who found it of benefit to be identified with the Christian brand.

Here are my five take-aways from the Pew Research Center report:

5. The era of cultural Christianity is coming to an end.  There will be little cultural cache for claiming to be a Christian when you are not.

4. Christians will be identified by their “walk” rather than their “talk.”  The good news is this could be the end of those “cheesy” Christian bumper stickers on the cars of speeding, careless, drunken drivers.

3. The distrust of Christians may actually decrease, as the number of hypocrites will be reduced.  Let’s be honest, we often cringe when a politician or salesperson quickly plays the Christian card because we assume we are about to be taken.

2. We are going to have to prepare our children and grandchildren to be grounded in the faith rather than just to be active in a church.

1. This can be the greatest opportunity to announce, through word and deed, the life-changing presence of Jesus and to intentionally ask people to experience an authentic and abundant life in Jesus.  I am excited about the opportunity, and I hope you are.

I invite you to intentionally walk on the characterpath today.

Gary Fenton
Follow on Twitter @CharacterPath

 

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Fenton’s Friday Five

5. There are character issues that you will never understand until you are committed to doing what is right. Lack of commitment inevitably leads to lack of character. Yet, commitment to doing what is right does not guarantee that good character will result. It is the first step in the long path of character building. In the church culture, a commitment to having a good reputation is often wrongly interpreted as a commitment to do what is right. We often want to project the dual image of holiness and happiness even if it requires carefully hidden deception.

4. People of good and Godly character are often misunderstood. Half-hearted disciples do not understand how whole-hearted disciples think or act. Being misunderstood should lead us to self-examination, not self-doubt. Self-examination causes us to continually review our motives. When we do, we are giving further evidence of good character. People lacking in character usually assume their motives are always right.

3. The quality of your life is not determined by your comfort level but by your commitment level. And, your commitment level is directly related to your faith in the nature and character of God as revealed in Jesus, the Christ. If you do not trust that God is good at all times and in all circumstances, you won’t seek to do right at all times and in all circumstances. Life is not convenient, comfortable, and good to us in all circumstances, but the good and loving God is present with us in all circumstances.

2. Best quote I re-read this week: “Religion as the default mode of our thinking is based upon performance: ‘I obey; therefore, I am accepted by God.’ The basic operating principle of the gospel, however, is not surprisingly an about face, one of unmerited acceptance: ‘I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.’ To truly understand this paradigm shift at a life-altering level requires that the gospel be explored and looked into at every opportunity and in regular systematic ways.” (from Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, by J.D. Greear)

1. Best blog post I read this week is by Roger E. Olson at:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2015/04/clearing-up-some-christian-confusions-about-doubt

Olson is an author and blogger that provides a good balance to the current “group speak” in evangelical publishing. While the Reformed writers of the 20th century were very helpful in leading the evangelical Christian community to return to the doctrine of grace, some (certainly not all) of the Reformed theologians in the 21st century appear to be “reframing” legalism rather than proclaiming reforming grace.

I invite you take steps on the characterpath today.
Gary Fenton

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Fenton’s Friday Five

5. Strong spiritual character is intentionally developed. Our prayer life may be the best indicator of spiritual character. Prayers of petition are usually reactionary, while prayers of praise are intentional. Small children know intuitively how to say, “Help me.” An indication that children are maturing is when they say “Thank you” without being told to do so by their parents. An indication that Christians have good character is when they praise without being told to do so. Are you intentionally including praise and thanksgiving in your prayers, or do you have to be reminded? Grow up and make “Thank you, Lord” as natural as “Help me, Lord.”

4. Much is being said about evil these days, but we almost always are talking about other folks. Both demon-possession and deceitful practices give evidence of evil dominating our lives. Demon-possessed people destroy people who are in their way, and people with deceitful practices destroy the reputation of people who are in their way. Demon-possessed people often participate in sorcery and witchcraft, and people dominated by evil participate in gossip. Yes, gossip is evil.

3. Christian Fellowship Theology 101: “Deceit destroys and confession constructs.”

2. The best Internet link I clicked on this week is below. This article makes the significance and timeliness of Dawson’s new mission initiative, Go Love Tell, more important than ever.  http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/a-wind-in-the-house-of-islam.html

1. The most interesting and entertaining book I read this week was Jesus Without Borders: What Planes, Trains, and Rickshaws Taught Me About Jesus, by Chad Gibbs.

I invite you take steps on the characterpath today.
Gary Fenton

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Fenton’s Friday Five

5. There is a major difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude is the distance we put between us and others in order to experience the presence of God without distraction. Isolation is the distance we put between ourselves and others because we are frustrated with the demands they are making in our life. Solitude is a pull toward God and isolation is a push away from others. Too often our time alone is more isolation than solitude. Character requires solitude, which will help us to say “no”  to others gently rather than shoving them away.

4.  The best book I read this week was short and simple. Business for the Glory of God (by Wayne Grudem) should be read by all who serve in the business community.

3. The most interesting Internet article I read this week can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/sports/football/how-one-bad-giants-call-ended-an-nfl-career.html

2. People tend to connect with others for comfort, condolence, fun activities, learning, or to avoid loneliness. Often, the real longing of our heart when attempting to connect to others is to find someone who can give us hope.

1. If you find you have less energy than you did when you were younger, don’t be overly concerned because it is a part of aging. But if you find you have less passion for God, for the good of others, and for living a redeemed and redeeming life, you better get checked out, or maybe you already are.

I invite you take steps on the characterpath today.
Gary Fenton

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Fenton Friday Five

5. The ability to connect with people is more significant than the ability to make a good impression. Making a good impression may help you open a door, but it does not necessarily allow you to impact the room once you entered that door. By definition, an impression is “an idea, feeling, or opinion about something or someone, especially one formed without conscious thought or on the basis of little evidence.” A connection, however, is “a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.” To connect requires conscious engagement and leads to influence and impact. The people who have made the strongest impact on my character are those who have chosen to engage me in relationship, even though some of them did not make a strong impression.

In our instant gratification culture, we are skilled at making good impressions. Most advertising messages entice us to do or buy with little conscious thought. Sound bites and video clips attempt to persuade us through impression without solid evidence. What we call relationships are often little more than mutual good first impressions. Shallow people can make a strong first impression, but there is no depth to their relationships.

4. Connections require intersecting lives; impressions are the result of projecting images. Jesus’ ministry was not about making first impressions but about making people whole. His ministry would have been a public relations nightmare: he spent time with the wrong type of people, who were in the wrong places, so they could be right with God.

3. To make the right kind of connection, you will have to disconnect from the wrong kind of habits.

2. Often, the most difficult person you connect with is yourself. Instead of trying to know who we really are and what our values are, we work on and hone the image we want to project. Only as we connect with Christ can we engage and embrace our true “self.” In Him, we recognize that we are made in the image of God, sinful, and also, forgiven. Ignoring any portion of the human truth trinity will cause us to believe a lie about ourselves.

1. Broken character both leads to broken connections and results from broken connections. The way you connect will shape and reveal your character.

I invite you to connect with God, to connect with the truth about yourself, and to connect with others.  When you do, you will be taking positive steps down the character path.

Gary Fenton
Follow on Twitter @CharacterPath

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Fenton Friday Five

As Christians, every dimension of our lives is to be experienced through the filter, or governance, of the Lordship of Christ. Therefore, Christians celebrate differently than non-Christians. Below are five guidelines for celebrating Christmas as a holy season rather just a holiday season.

5. Celebrating a holy season begins with gratitude. The Christmas event, or the incarnation, is a gift that God has given. Gratitude is more than obligatory words of thanksgiving to God about His gift; it is an approach to life. Recipients of grace should never resent their circumstances because we know we have life: forgiven life, Spirit-filled life, and eternal life. So, what is there to resent.

4. Celebrating a holy season involves the language of the heart more than the language spoken with the tongue. Yes, it involves both, but some Christians get so riled up with hearing “Happy Holidays” that they do not experience a Christ-filled Christmas. By all means, say “Merry Christmas” but give some grace to people who do not. Grace is the language of the heart.

3. Celebrating a holy season always leads to worship. Worship is not a synonym for attending church. During this season, attend services at church with a sense of awe and splendor. Christmas is a miracle.

2. Celebrating the holy season of Christmas means we seek to be aware of the ways God is present and active in our world today. While God became flesh in Bethlehem, He is still present through His Spirit in His people in Birmingham. If you celebrate the presence of God in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago without the awareness of God’s presence today, you make Christmas only the anniversary of a holy day.

1. Celebrating the holy season will inevitably lead to serving others in Jesus’ name. The birth of Jesus is about the kingdom of God, or the rule/reign of God, being near. The rule/reign of God in our heart always leads us to live out the role of the servant. We are to serve with our time, money, and energy.

I invite you take steps down the characterpath today.
Gary Fenton
P.S.  You are invited to follow on Twitter @CharacterPath.

 

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Fenton’s Friday Five

5. Loyal friends are not those who have your back, but those who will speak the truth to your face. Recently, I heard Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, speak. During her presentation, she said, “Loyalty is about speaking truth to power not about having someone to cover your back.” I think she is on to a cultural character flaw. We have bought in to the gang culture which punishes “snitching.” We have deeply woven it into the corporate and government world, which punishes “whistleblowers.” A retired public official, who publicly exposed the flaws of government systems and leaders, was asked how he could expose his good friends who gave him a job. His response was, “I have told them this before, but now I have gone public because I do like them and I so hope this will help them to change.” He is a loyal friend. Never trust a friend to have your back if he has never spoken truth about you to your face.

4. With #5 in mind, here is my latest definition of loyalty: Authentic loyalty is consistent adherence to principles rather than allegiance to personalities.

3. A tragic life is not necessarily brief or painful, but it is one that has no meaning and purpose. As some medical researchers are frantically attempting to increase longevity, others are in litigation trying to get the right to end life early. So many are trying to remove the suffering of dying; so many others are trying to remove the suffering of living. While certainly not advocating seeking suffering, we need to remember that suffering does have value. Remember the words Paul wrote: Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

2. You never operate effectively on empty; you only run on empty. We think we will refill our spiritual emptiness by trying harder, but we are only running away from the real source of renewal.  The real source of renewal is only found in repentance and re-engaging the living Christ. Spiritual passion is not the result of pushing onward and upward but of accepting God’s hand which is reaching downward to us.

1. The living with passion paradox: Going through the motions requires much less energy than doing things with passion. However, going through the motions is more exhausting than doing things with passion.

I invite you take steps down the characterpath today.
Gary Fenton

P.S.  You are invited to follow on Twitter @CharacterPath.

 

 

 

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Fenton’s Friday Five

5. Greed is both the desire for more and being satisfied with what you have without gratitude. Everything belongs to God, and greed is a denial of that principle. Greed assumes we have the right to accumulate as much as we can. However, the truth is we have the responsibility to use as much as we can for the glory of God and the good of humanity. Lack of gratitude is the failure to recognize that it all belongs to God. You will never be grateful until you know everything you have has been given to you. When you are greedy, you think about your rights; when you are grateful, you focus on your responsibilities.

4. Listening is the most important intergenerational discipline. People who listen well have good intergenerational friendships. When you listen, you give respect, which is necessary if you desire to connect up or down the age ladder.

3. The best blog (with the best title) I read this week is: Churches Without The Broken Are Broken Churches. You can find it at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/september/loving-lost-churches-without-broken-are-broken-churches.html.

2. We need at least three kinds of people helping us in our character development. We need teachers to give us good information, trainers to show us how to apply the information, and coaches to evaluate and instruct us as we apply the information in real time. Coaches may contribute more to our character success. Coaches generally have personal investment in our success because they are on the team with us. Our best coaches are in the organizations for which we work and volunteer. They need us to succeed, as well as want us to succeed. Often, the best sources of information and the best, most effective trainers may have no real investment in our success. A coach, however, only succeeds if the players succeed. When it comes to character development, it may be difficult to find a coach at work, but you can usually find a good coach in an organization in which you are volunteering. And, when you are developing in character, you are helping everyone on the team, including the coach. You are volunteering, aren’t you?

1. Sometimes the best question we can ask or can be asked is, “Do you want help or do you want sympathy?” We will talk more about this on Sunday morning, September 28, at Dawson.

May you take steps down the character path today.
Gary Fenton

PS.  You are invited to follow on Twitter @CharacterPath.

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Fenton’s Friday Five

5. Self-awareness is one of the better indicators of a capacity to change. People do not change until they are realistically aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Unless people acknowledge a need to change, they will not have the motivation to change. This relates to our work habits, personal relationships, and spiritual lives. For example, we will never become a Christ-follower until we know we are sinners. We will never grow in faith until we recognize both the command to grow and our need to grow.

4. Self-awareness is very difficult when we are in a survival mode. Patients in the ICU may need to change their attitudes, but they rarely recognize it. They are using all of their physical and emotional energy to survive. Similarly, when people are in a family or financial crises, an emotional ICU, they are often the least capable of change. In the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, the hero provided stability to the victim first, rather than telling him how he needed to change his route next time or how he should always have someone accompany him. While we have the need to tell people in crisis how they need to change, hurting people need to know that they are loved before they can even recognize the need for change. Knowing they are loved can provide the stability to then hear and receive what we say about their need to change. Love and listen before you start the change lecture.

3. Christian missions do not begin with our taking the initiative toward a lost and hurting world; it begins with understanding that God took the initiative toward us when we were lost and hurting. Mission initiatives are the inevitable response of people who understand grace.

2. Do our mission efforts really produce results? Read the following from the April 19, 2014 edition of The Telegraph (a respected U.K. publication): “In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.  Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline. By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.”

1. Favorite link of the week: read and reflect!  http://www.pbs.org/johngardner/sections/writings_speech_1.html

May you take steps down the character path today.
Gary Fenton

PS.  You are invited to follow on Twitter @CharacterPath.

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