Character and Choices

 

(c) 2015 Mark Warner from flickr.com

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. –Proverbs 22:1 NIV

“Identity theft sucks,” I read on the Facebook post. The writer had received a notice from the IRS that apparently someone had used her Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax return and, as a result, possibly claimed any refund she may have gotten from the state. Which she’d planned to use to pay the federal taxes.

Unfortunately, it was just one more thing in a string of unfortunate incidents that brought her to the brink of questioning her principles. After sending a check to the IRS for what she and her husband owed, she commented: “We will just continue to work our butts off to continue to pay my mountain of student loans, debt, and other bills. Who said hard work and honesty will get you somewhere?”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’re slammed with one thing after another, even though we strive to do what’s right. And then we question whether doing the right thing even matters, when others make a living cheating and stealing – and getting away with it.

Back in college, I took a three-hour-a-day summer literature class. During the break the day before the weekly essay test, several students stole the test questions while the professor was out of the room. Of course, those students would receive the highest grades because the prof graded on a curve.

That day I called home, crying. “Why bother?” I lamented to my father. “I won’t get a good grade no matter how much I study.”

I studied anyway. But it was without heart.

After we got our tests back, I approached the professor and told him I didn’t think the grade was fair.

He peered at me over his bifocals. “Well, other students in the class . . .”

“Of course they did, you stupid jerk,” I thought. “You left the test in your briefcase, easily accessible to anyone, and left the classroom.”

I’m not a confrontational person, so I shut up and put up. If I’d told the prof the truth, I would have made him look like a fool and would have had to endure the wrath of the wrongdoers. Like my Facebook friend, I questioned whether doing the right thing was worth it.

But, like any other character trait, honesty is a choice. That’s truly what forms our character – the choices we make.

It’s not that I have a temper and “I couldn’t help myself.” It’s that I chose to vent my anger.

We choose to tell the truth, report all income on our tax return, not fudge expenses, return incorrect change to the store. We choose to honor our wedding vows, keep a promise, say no to an addiction. We choose to use the turn signal at an intersection even when there’s no other traffic around.

“Character is what you are in the dark,” said D. L. Moody.

John Wooden said something similar: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Jesus blasted hypocrites because they only did the right thing when there was someone around to see (Matthew 6:1–6). They chose to do right for the wrong reason.

What is the right reason?

Because it’s what God wants us to do.

“Tell me,” the prophet Samuel said to the disobedient King Saul. “Does the LORD really want sacrifices and offerings? No! He doesn’t want your sacrifices. He wants you to obey him.” (See 1 Samuel 15:1–23)

I responded to my Facebook friend’s lament.

“Keep doing the right thing,” I wrote. “Integrity, respect, character, and a good reputation can never be stolen from you, and they are worth far more than anything the world calls ‘treasure’.”

What choices are you facing today?

Help me, O Lord, to know the right thing to do and give me the courage and strength to do it. Amen.

The Bible has a lot to say about character. Here are some verses to read and meditate on:

Habakkuk 3:17–19, Matthew 6:19–34, Proverbs 11:5–11, Proverbs 31, 2 Peter 1:5–7, John 13:17

© 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

The Power of Truth

 

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. –Exodus 20:16 (NKJ)

We were driving back to Pennsylvania after a visit with our daughter in South Carolina when it happened: a red pickup truck came rolling off the on-ramp, crossed two lanes of traffic on the interstate highway, and cut right in front of us. My husband swerved left to avoid a collision, but then we were headed for the concrete divider. So he cut back to the right, causing our vehicle to fishtail. That’s when the pickup hit us.

“I never even saw you,” the driver told us.

Fortunately, no one was injured, and we were able, after giving our statements to the police, to continue our journey home. The red pickup truck was totaled. Although two motorists stopped to make sure no one was injured, neither stayed to give statements to the police. The investigating officer determined the other driver was at fault. His insurance company paid for the repairs to our vehicle, as well as for a rental car while the repairs were being made.

End of story? No.

Three months later the insurance company called and told us a witness had come forward and said that we were at fault, that we cut in front of the pickup and caused the collision. When I paid a visit to my insurance company, I read an amended report that put us at fault, yet we never received a copy of that report. Neither did we receive any further communication from the South Carolina State Highway Patrol. No citation. No fine. Nothing. I called the investigating officer three times to find out what was going on, but my call was never returned.

So where, after three months, did this witness come from? And why, after that long, did he come forward, when there were no injuries and the damage was relatively minor? I knew we were telling the truth. I had my doubts about this new witness. But how do you defend yourself against a lie?

By telling the truth and waiting for it to prevail.

And by praying. During my quiet time, God spoke to me through His Word: “A lying witness is unconvincing; a person who speaks the truth is respected” (Proverbs 21:28 The Message).

“Unscrupulous people fake it a lot, honest people are sure of their steps” (v. 29).

“Nothing clever, nothing conceived, nothing contrived, can get the better of God” (v. 30).

“Do your best, prepare for the worst, then trust God to bring the victory” (v. 31).

After giving our statements again, this time to our insurance company, we heard nothing more about it until December when the other driver called our home.

“This has been dragging on too long,” he said, adding that our insurance company had determined not to accept this witness’s testimony.

When King David fled Jerusalem when his son Absalom rebelled and seized the throne, a servant by the name of Ziba lied about his master, Mephibosheth, the crippled son of David’s dear friend Jonathan, telling the king that his master stayed in Jerusalem to support Absalom. That was a lie so he could get in the king’s good graces and Mephibosheth’s property. The truth eventually came out, and Ziba’s treachery was exposed.

“Sin has many tools,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, “but a lie is the handle that fits them all.”

I still feel helpless against a lie. But I’ve learned that lies may travel faster, but truth sticks around longer.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Ephesians 6:13–14 NIV).

 

When I feel threatened and helpless in the face of a lie, remind me, Lord, that truth will eventually win out. Amen.

Read and meditate on 2 Samuel 16:1–4, 19:24–30; Psalm 119:129–144

(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.