Little Red Basketballs

“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalm 78:72, NIV). “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3, NIV).

It’s often been said that character is who you are when nobody else is around. For our purposes we will define character as the moral or ethical quality of an individual. It should go without saying that as we grow in Christ, so too should we see a definitive developing of Christlike character in our lives. Unfortunately, the development of character is not always the priority that it should be in the life of the believer and eventually, the lack of integrity, not the devil, and not the will of God is at the root of our personal failure and defeat.

When I was in graduate school preparing for the ministry I had the privilege of working for Juleen Turnage, National Director of Communications for the Assemblies of God International Headquarters in Springfield, Missouri (known then as the Office of Information). My job consisted of answering information requests from our publications like the Pentecostal Evangel and giving tours several times a day of the ministry and production facilities of the headquarters complex.

Juleen was at the helm during the many national ministry scandals of the late 1980’s and I will never forget something she said to me during that time. She commented that in our denomination we have three graduated levels of credentials: the certified minister, the licensed minister, and the ordained minister. From her perspective, the serious screening of the ministry candidate should take place at the first level when the minister is young, developing, and pliable, rather than at the ordination level when the ministry is developed and the consequences for the individual and followers is greater. Having been through the process I can certify that the greater scrutiny is given to the ordination candidate, but I’ve privately agreed with her assessment (the result of knowing thousands of ministers through the years).

We all have those character defining moments in life and hopefully we respond correctly and biblically because a wrong turn at a pivotal point in our lives can compromise our destiny and purpose in God. We can learn how to teach, preach, play an instrument or some other skill for ministry or secular purposes, but character is not a skill to be learned but the sum of the personal development of values and the consistent alignment on those values through the years.

An early defining moment for me came in junior high school. I was nominated for the outstanding male graduate that year for academic excellence and extracurricular leadership and accomplishment. An honor bestowed by the student body and approved by the administration, winning that award was a distinct possibility. The problem was that earlier in the year I had agreed to sell some little red basketballs with our school name on them as a fundraiser for the Boy’s Honor Society. Well, the months went by and being the world’s worst salesman, I hadn’t sold a thing. My share of little red basketballs was still sitting in a brown bag in my locker when the charge came from the faculty advisor to sell them or cough up the money. I blew him off until one day I received a visit from the principal on the playground who, without directly referring to the student award, made it plain to me that if I did not do the right thing with the basketballs, “I had an awful lot to lose.” He repeated himself for emphasis. Somehow he just couldn’t drill through the wood that day.

It wasn’t until graduation day and I had to watch my good friend receive my award that it occurred on me that as a member of the Boy’s Honor Society I should have acted with more honor and character in the situation. The principal tried to help me navigate this early character issue but stopped short of letting the cat out of the bag. If he told me outright I might have acted out of convenience and not out of a sense of honor. He was right but it was an extremely painful way to learn a lesson about integrity, especially for an eighth grader. If I saw him today I would thank him for caring more about the big picture and valuing the prize of character over a school trophy.

Let me encourage you to deal with the “little red basketball” issues in your life. As we grow in Christ the bar is set ever higher and the Lord expects us to walk in honor, integrity, and demonstrate consistently a Christlike character. Your issue may be anger, honesty, personal strongholds or addictions, financial compromise, sexual misconduct, an interpersonal conflict, or as simple as a promise or commitment you’ve failed to keep. As Moses discovered, the time to deal with your issue is not after you strike the rock and dishonor God in the eyes of the people. As Moses missed out on the joy of stepping into the promised land personally (instead of seeing it from afar), we too stand to miss out on God’s promotion and inheritance if we do not do the right thing and deal now with the those stupid little red basketballs in all of our lives.