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Legacy of Character

How will you be remembered?

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Joe Delaney was on his way to becoming a superstar among the ranks of the great players in the American Football Conference. He played football for the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 1980's as their star half–back, winning Rookie of the Year honors in his first year and a starting position in the Pro–Bowl. In the summer of 1983 he was enjoying an afternoon of fun and relaxation in a public park in Monroe, LA, when he heard frantic cries for help from a pit filled with water. Three young boys had walked into the pit not realizing that it dropped off to a depth of twenty feet not far from the edge. None of the three could swim. Without breaking stride or hesitating, Joe Delaney dove headlong into the water to do what he could to save the lives of three youths he didn’t even know. There were many other people in the park that day, but not one of them jumped into the water to come to the rescue of those boys. Only Joe Delaney did. Through sheer strength he was able to throw one boy back to the edge of the pit, saving his life. Then he dove under the water to try to grab the other two boys. None of them returned to the surface. Joe Delaney couldn’t swim.

Character–building — a long–term project

Why would he do this? Where did the character come from that prompted this giant of a man, not even yet in his prime at twenty–four years old, to instantly lay down his life for complete strangers? That kind of heroic action can only flow from character, carefully developed and built over the long haul. In the process of building character, the little things mean a lot. In fact they form the foundation of character development in every human life.

Joe Delaney was rich and famous, yet he would do such things as mow lawns for people who needed help, visit elderly citizens when he went home to Haughton, LA in the off–season and pass out shoes and clothes to kids on the street whom he had never met. Quiet, relatively unnoticed acts of kindness and concern for his fellow man added more and more to the legacy of character that was already starting to take root in his life at the time of his death. Doing the right thing was obviously a big part of Mr. Delaney’s innermost being. Doing the right thing, no matter what the cost, was first and second nature to him.

What is character? How is it acquired? Why does it make such a huge difference in our lives? It has been said that character is what you do when no one is looking, but that is only partly true. Webster’s dictionary defines character as, “moral strength; self discipline, fortitude.” In other words, character is a pattern of behavior we follow all the time. It is a compilation of good decisions and right choices, involving relatively little things, layered one on top of the other until a very special human being emerges—ready and willing to do very special things, both small and great. It involves values, standards and qualities that add up to who we are and what we do on a daily basis. Mr. Herbert Armstrong generally defined character this way: 1) Knowing what is right. 2) Deciding to do right instead of wrong. 3) Doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing as a way of life. Character is making right daily decisions and choices in the little and big things of life. And make no mistake about it, little things mean a lot in this whole process. Decisions to be punctual, work hard, study diligently, keep your word and pay your debts exercise and develop character. Choosing to be lazy, to be sloppy, to cheat and to gratify the self erodes and demolishes character. The choice is get or give, right or wrong, take the high road or take the low road. And it always involves free moral agency. Nobody else can make those choices for us. We must make them ourselves and stick by them.

Character takes time—precious time—to produce. It is not formed quickly. Rather, it develops little by little over weeks and months and years of doing what is right until it begins to add up. On the other hand, character can be destroyed very quickly. One wrong decision can undo weeks of self–discipline. A truly successful and fulfilling life is built from a blueprint of consistent right choices—character. In the absence of character, the end result is a life of shuffling, boring mediocrity, or worse yet, a hollow, meaningless existence. One way or another, who we are will eventually shine through in what we do—for better or for worse.

The perfect example of Christian living

Jesus Christ of Nazareth was the personification of perfect, holy, righteous character, exemplifying it in both physical and spiritual attributes. When you carefully study His life, example and teachings throughout the Holy Bible, you clearly see a pattern of choosing right over wrong, good over evil, give over get, and serving others instead of waiting to be served—every single time. People who live life like that are Christians in the fullest sense and meaning of that word. They have chosen to go down the right path, setting in motion a cycle of good, solid decision–making. This pattern of choices guides them away from the untold misery and pitfalls lurking down the wrong path. A stunning example of this, which occurred just before Christ’s arrest, brutal scourging and crucifixion, is found in Matthew 26:39. He said, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Instead of taking the easy or comfortable route, Jesus Christ obeyed the Father to the point of death!

The apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He knew that is the only way he could be like Christ. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” The abundant life! That’s what He wants everyone to have. That involves more than possessions, power or fame. Real abundant living is all about peace, happiness, interesting challenges and personal fulfillment. It involves doing the good and right thing, leading to the best consequences possible. The outcome of these actions is rewarding and wonderful, not only for ourselves, but for others as well. Abundant living always flows from a deep well–spring of character, constructed upon a foundation of discipline, sacrifice, temperance and integrity. It generates happy marriages, successful children and exciting, balanced living that grows and matures with each passing year.

The legacy lives on

Reporter Rick Reilly wrote an article about Mr. Joe Delaney in Sports Illustrated magazine dated July 7, 2003. In it he said, “He was buried on the Fourth of July, 20 years ago. A telegram from President Reagan was read at the memorial service. The Presidential Citizens Medal was awarded posthumously. Three thousand people came to his funeral. A park in Haughton was named after him. No Chief’s player has worn number 37 since. The 37 Forever Foundation, a nonprofit group in Kansas City, honors him to this day by providing free swimming lessons to inner–city kids (No Ordinary Joe).” He left behind a wife and three daughters and now four grandchildren. This special man lost his life much too early, but the legacy of his character lives on for the rest of us to see and learn from.

Jesus Christ leaves us an even greater legacy and example of righteous, Godly character at the very highest level. God wanted all of mankind to make the right choice all along. Notice what He says in Deuteronomy 30:19: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” As we learn to obey God and His word, we are choosing blessings and eternal life, and we are building a legacy of character that will truly stand the test of time.