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Paying $50,000 to tell the truth

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Nate Smith (second from left) and his dad Pat Smith (second from right) after his amazing 89-foot hockey shot. (Credit: Brendan Burnett-Kurie / AP)

Honesty just cost a family $50,000.  Eleven-year-old Nate Smith shot a hockey puck 89 feet into a 3.5-inch hole in a board laid over the mouth of the goal.  For this remarkable feat, he won $50,000 from contest organizers.  However, his twin brother Nick was supposed to take the shot; his name was on the ticket that Nate used.

No one but the family knew.  They could have pocketed their money and kept their secret.  But their father, Pat Smith, chose instead to notify contest organizers.  The promoters then decided not to give the money to the Smith family, donating $40,000 instead to youth hockey leagues in Minnesota.

What was Pat’s motivation?  He wanted to teach a lesson to his sons: “They learned that honesty is always the best policy, and you can never go wrong telling the truth.”  His strategy apparently worked, as Nate responded, “Some people wouldn’t tell the truth, so it’s cool that we did.”

By contrast, consider the story of a frontier preacher and his two sons who found a stray dog and decided to keep it.  The dog was coal black except for three white hairs on his tail.  One day they saw an ad in the local paper for a lost dog that fit their stray perfectly, including those three white hairs.  With the help of his boys, the preacher carefully pulled out the three white hairs.

A few days later the owner heard that the preacher had a dog like his and came by.  But he couldn’t find the three white hairs, so he had to give him up.  Later the preacher wrote, “I kept the dog, but I lost my boys.”  Their names were Frank and Jesse James.

Yesterday we considered the fact that character has consequences.  Attitudes become thoughts, which become words, which become actions, which become habits, which become character, which determines destiny.  Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that “character is higher than intellect.  A great soul will be strong to live as well as think.”  Abraham Lincoln agreed: “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.  The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

How do we build godly character?  That is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, seeking to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29).  If you and I would submit this Friday to him, giving him control of our attitudes, thoughts, words, actions, and habits, he will mold us in the character of Christ.  Then we will manifest the “fruit” or results of the Spirit in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Would others say that these fruit are growing on the tree of your character today?