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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Fenton’s Friday Five – Labor Day Edition

5. Spiritual cynicism is distrusting anything you cannot fully understand.  A spiritually sensitive Christian passionately pursues knowledge and understanding but also leaves room for mystery. If we only worship God because of what we understand, we will not experience the awe of worship.

4. Six days you shall labor” may be the most ignored thought in the Ten Commandments.  I doubt this truth is what you wanted to hear as you make your plans to “veg out” on the long Labor Day weekend. Some Christians rationalize that they are keeping the fourth commandment, “remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy,” by showing up for an hour at church each week. They often totally ignore that the same commandment instructs us to work 6 days. We are not commanded just to work 40 hours a week or have a 9 to 5 job for 5 days a week. The biblical command is a six-day workweek. While you would expect a “workaholic” who needs to recover to say this statement, I assure you that this is not a “Forgo Your Day Off” blog sponsored by the SSOA (Sweat Shop Operators of America.) Of course we need time away from our places of employment for rest and recreation and spending more time with our families. Spending more time at the office, the store, or in front of the computer is not necessarily a virtue, but many perceive work as something to be avoided if possible.

Work is not a necessary economic evil that is only required as long as you need money. This command is unrelated to income but is directly related to holiness. In the creation story, God commanded Adam to work in the garden He had created (see Genesis 2:15).  To work is to engage in that which glorifies God and benefits man. This can be done as a volunteer as well as a paid employee. Avoiding work, responsibility, and constructive engagement will increase boredom. As a society, we appear to be on the way to recreating ourselves into meaninglessness. By all means engage in recreation, but don’t expect your recreation to provide meaning and fulfillment in your life. We are created to work with our mental and physical gifts for six days. Stay engaged in serving and you will keep this commandment. Tim Keller has great additional insight on the Christian view of work and vocation in his book Every Good Endeavor. This is a very good read for Labor Day as you will be “working your mind” when reading this book.

3. When reading and thinking about the “wrath of God,” you may want to mentally substitute the words “justice of God.”  When we use the word “wrath” today, we generally associate it more with a desire to punish rather than a desire to make things right or just. God’s wrath is always both just and redemptive, while frequently our wrath is only  punitive.  We should not and cannot eliminate the concept of wrath of God but we need to understand it in the Biblical context.

2. Now is the time for all good Southerners to talk college football. Familiarity with football terminology is necessary to communicate in our part of the country this time of the year.  One of the better football analogies I saw this week is found in the Dawson Library display window:

KICK OFF YOUR GAME PLAN

GO DEEP in the Word

WIN others to Christ

HOLD THAT LINE in defending your faith

TAKE A KNEE in prayer

HEAD FOR THE GOAL LINE with a life lived for Him

1. The character you have tomorrow will be determined by the choices you make today.

Gary Fenton

You are invited to follow on twitter @characterpath


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Fenton’s Friday Five

5. The most dangerous blog post of the week was written by Ann Coulter who accused the missionary physician who contracted Ebola of Christian narcissism. While I often agree with her political insights and am occasionally entertained by her wit and over-the-top sarcasm, this time she entirely missed the point of Christian missions. We minister to the poor and impoverished in the name of Jesus because of the command of Jesus, not to promote a particular political philosophy or because it is practical. Christian missions and ministry are to some extent impractical. We are taught that the poor will be with us always, and yet, we are to minister to them. Christian missions and ministry are never political or economic strategies; they are intentional acts of obedience to a holy God. Coulter provided more ammunition to those aiming their verbal guns at Christian missions. But simply ranting and raving over Anne Coulter’s ranting and raving is not enough. This week, support the work of international missions through prayer and giving.

4. Best article of the week is by Dawson’s Ginny Bourland in The Alabama Baptist. The “Back to School” front-page story is a must read for every parent and grandparent. I am not promoting this because I am Ginny’s pastor, but because it is a powerful and needed statement for the body of Christ.

3. The news about Christians being persecuting is both concerning and convicting. Most of the response is motivated by concern, but I am personally convicted that I have not consistently prayed for the persecuted church. I have occasionally shot up some “drive-by prayers” when I have read a touching article or viewed an emotional news story showing the suffering of Christians. I am committing to pray every day for Christians who are physically suffering for the gospel, and I invite you to join me.

2. My 2014 fall resolution: “The quality of my life will not be determined by the record of my favorite college football team.” I usually wait and make that resolution after their first loss, but it is spiritually healthier to do it before the season. I know what you are thinking…and no, I am not preparing myself for a bad season by my team.

1. Is greatness a legitimate ambition for the believer in and follower of Jesus? The answer will be revealed at 8:25 a.m., 9:40 a.m., and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday at Dawson!

 May you take steps along the characterpath today.

Gary Fenton

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