With this one word, most of the world's problems could be solved. Why? How? When? Can character really be relevant to the 20th century? Is it for the young? We now find out.
THIS IS A mind-shattering age we live in! It's the age of "Mary Jane" and "Jesus Rock." Shaggy-haired musicians beat out the amplified rhythms of the blues, "trips," sex and religion while the world's youth jerks and cavorts mesmerically before them. Society's older members look on helplessly as the generation gap widens. The Establishment flounders, while crime, unemployment, taxes, divorce, inflation and ecological crises soar out of sight. To some this is the "dawning of the age of Aquarius" as interest in the occult, associated mysticism and other "black arts" enjoys new popularity. Bookstores stock their shelves with volumes on astrology, Tarot, I Ching, and witchcraft — and do a land-office business. In this age of "anything goes," dirty bookstores and so-called "adult" movies are springing up all over the face of America like chicken pox. Nudity in the theatre and "bottomless" nightclubs are becoming fashionable. This is also the age of rebellion and demonstration. Campuses are being torn apart by racial, political and ideological strife of every stripe. Banks have been burned and police officers murdered. The "fuzz" never had it so bad! Youths, blacks, whites, women, the "New Left" and others take to the streets with marches, sit-ins, demonstrations and protests. The silent majority remains silent and the revolutionaries shout, "Right on!" "Hell no, we won't go!" chant the opponents of the draft. And of those who went to Vietnam, about half have experimented with drugs in some form! This is quite an age all right! It's the age that beat the Beatles and killed Janis Joplin and Jimmie Hendrix. This is YOUR AGE! And it's a tough age to grow up in! It's a thwarting and a frustrating age. This is a time of enormous psychological pressures, especially on the young. The pressure is on to CONFORM, to blend with contemporaries of one's own age group and "run with the pack."
How Does It Happen?
How does a young person become caught up in the vortex of conformity? How does a lovable, seemingly innocent little child become transformed into a foul-mouthed, long-haired, pot-smoking hippie? What processes effect such a transformation? The first major influence in any child's life is, of course, his parents. Until about age six, Dad and Mom are the ultimate authority on everything, The child imitates their mannerisms, actions, personality traits and, to a degree, their likes and dislikes. Then the child enters the school environment. A new influence is added in the form of the teacher. Before long the child comes home quoting "Miss So and So." The teacher's influence may, in some cases, begin to override that of the parents. As school-life continues, the child becomes increasingly conscious of the other children. By junior high school the influence of the "peer group" may begin to outweigh that of the parents and the teachers. is the student passes through the high-school years, the sway of the "peer group" emerges supreme! The average young person then becomes vastly more concerned with what is "in" than with parental wishes or the desires of his teachers! The high-school student DESPERATELY wants to be ACCEPTED by his or her contemporaries! In order to accomplish all this, the teen-ager must conform to existing peer-group standards and vogues! He must do what the other kids do and "run with the pack." To do otherwise is to invite social ostracism. Unless the student falls in with current clothing styles and musical vogues, he is an outcast! If "bombing around" in a chopped, four-barrel, no-tread, fire-breathing beast of an automobile is "in," then you'd better "get with it"! It is vital to "dig" whoever is currently popular on the rock scene. If maxis are in, then that's the thing to wear. The pressure is also applied to conform to existing sexual standards. It is not easy to survive without conforming to the mores of this high-velocity society Many teens find the only way to bridge the gap between the Establishment (parents, teachers, police, rulers, etc.) and their peers is to play "Jekyll and Hyde." They conduct themselves one way around the Establishment, and another around their peers. There are changes in vocabulary, personal habits, hair styles, facial expressions, etc., in order to conform to the wishes of whichever group the young person is with. This constant adjusting and readjusting is a tremendous strain on the young mind! Many youths finally resort to an open break with the Establishment. They become part of the growing army of disillusioned youth "sittin' on the dock of the bay."
What the World Needs Now...
In a permissive, hedonistic and violent age the pressures to conform are gigantic and seemingly irresistible. It is not easy to live a clean, moral, wholesome and ultimately profitable life in the midst of a dying, decadent, out-of-control society. It is intensely difficult to resist the pulls and lures of drugs, sexual looseness, X-rated movies, pornography, violence and all the other evils that are gnawing at the fibre of modern society. This is the age that turned off the "turned-off generation." But it doesn't have to turn you off! You don't have to drop out, split and make the drug scene or join a commune! You don't have to conform to the antics of a society that is rapidly hurtling itself into oblivion! You should be DIFFERENT. And in a POSITIVE way. Just because it is difficult to live sanely and rightly doesn't mean it is impossible. "What the world needs now is love, sweet love..." so says the song. And it's true! The world does need love. But that's not ALL IT NEEDS! If this strife-filled, war-torn old world is to survive into a better age, then its people need something else besides love. Something to make love work. What the world desperately needs is a solid nucleus of young men and women with CHARACTER.
What Is Character?
"Character... what's that?" some might say. Character is the most necessary ingredient any person must possess in order to achieve satisfaction and ultimate success in life! Without it, no person can achieve a happy, meaningful life. The acquisition of character is the key to fulfilling the whole purpose in human life. NOTHING could be more important! Here is a good working definition of character: "True character involves the capacity and the willingness to find what is right, the will to choose the right way, then the strength of will to resist all other actions and impulses and DO what is right!" How many people do you know whose lives personify that definition of character? Does yours? Imagine how much the world would be changed if all mankind possessed true character? THAT'S what the world REALLY NEEDS NOW!! If this world really is to HAVE a tomorrow — and it shall! — then its young men and women of today need to begin to develop the character to build that tomorrow! This world needs young people who are willing to step out into the world, seek the right way and have the intestinal fortitude to follow it NO MATTER WHAT. There is no room for compromise here.
Character Development — Is It for the Young?
"Religion," assert the young, "is for little old ladies in felt hats!" To millions of modern teen-agers, becoming a "Christian" is the "squarest" thing they could possibly do. Youth, they allege, is the time to "sow your wild oats" and "have a ball." Old age is the time to "get religion" they will claim. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. True religion involves the development of CHARACTER! Today, more than ever, youth needs character. At this turbulent, crisis-filled juncture in human affairs, a solid nucleus of character-filled young men and women is a crying necessity. This world desperately needs young people who are willing to seek out what is right, and then, in spite of all influences to the contrary, have the courage to step out and perform it. Only those willing to do so will ever achieve maximum success and happiness in this life. Tomorrow's World of productivity and abundance will be made up of such young leaders.
The Creator's Instruction Book is filled with examples of j o m g people who were not afraid to demonstrate character in spite of very trying circumstances. Such examples "were written down for our instruction upon whom the end of the ages has come" (I Cor. 10:11, RSV). Our first case history is that of a young Hebrew. If he were alive today, he would most likely be named "Joe Jacobson." In Bible terms, however, he was known as "Joseph." His father's name was Jacob. Joseph was the next-to-youngest of twelve brothers. Our story opens when Joseph is seventeen years old (Gen. 37:2). Joseph and his brothers had the responsibility of taking care of their father's vast flocks of sheep. As a result, the young men spent a great deal of time together. Joseph was his father's favorite son and Jacob did not try to hide the fact. In fact, Jacob even made Joseph a special multi-colored coat as a symbol of his love (verse 3). Joseph tactlessly flaunted the garment around his brothers. As a result the brothers became intensely jealous and hateful toward young Joseph. They spoke sarcastically and cynically to him (verse 4). In addition, God had inspired Joseph to have some dreams of prophetic significance. In the dreams God symbolically indicated that there would come a time when Joseph would rise above the rest of his family. In his youthful exuberance, Joseph could not help boasting about these dreams to his brothers. This certainly did not help matters. This only intensified his brothers' animosity toward him. As their anger and jealousy reached a fever pitch, the young men began to plot Joseph's death. However, the oldest brother, Reuben, was a little more levelheaded than the rest and he restrained them. He suggested they throw Joseph into a pit, from which he hoped to later rescue him and return him to Jacob. Judah, the more practical-minded brother, came up with a "better idea." He suggested selling the seventeen-year-old boy into slavery. Some of his brothers then cast Joseph into a pit and went off to eat and to consider this latest plan. While they were eating, some Midianite merchants happened by. Joseph was then pulled out of the pit and sold to them for twenty silver pieces. They in turn, took young Joseph to Egypt, where lie was sold as a slave (Gen. 37:5-28). Then Joseph was purchased by a high-ranking Egyptian officer named Potiphar. Joseph matured a great deal in Potiphar's household and was given a very responsible job administering his business affairs. Ultimately, all of Potiphar's affairs were directed by the young Joseph (Gen. 39:1-4). Now let's step back a moment and get the whole picture. Here is a young man (likely in his early twenties now) who had everything going for him. He was trusted and responsible for the administration of great wealth. In addition to this "... Joseph was good looking and handsome" (Gen. 39:6, Moffatt translation). He had ability, brains, good looks and an excellent job. But like most modern young men, he was also exposed to rather overwhelming temptations! Notice how Joseph handled one such temptation in Genesis 39:7-1 2 (Living Books of Moses version). "One day... Potiphar's wife began making eyes at Joseph, and suggested that he come and sleep with her. JOSEPH REFUSED... 'HOW CAN I DO SUCH A WICKED THING AS THIS? IT WOULD BE A GREAT SIN AGAINST GOD.' But she kept on with her suggestions day after day, even though HE REFUSED TO LISTEN...then one day as he was in the house going about his work... she came and grabbed him by the sleeve demanding, 'Sleep with me.' HE TORE HIMSELF AWAY... HE FLED FROM THE HOUSE..."!!! Many young men of today would have welcomed such a situation. But Joseph was not an ordinary young man! He was different in that he had CHARACTER. He KNEW what was right, and in spite of intense and repented temptations his powerful character prevailed. The events that followed ultimately led to his being brought to the attention of the Pharaoh and finally his being made the Prime Minister of all Egypt. As a result of his character, Joseph achieved glittering success. Joseph fulfilled God's instruction as expressed in I Corinthians 6:18. He fled fornication! How many others would have done so? But then, how many others were qualified to be Prime Minister?
Daniel is another sterling example of a young teen-age boy with strong character. Daniel's character was tested in a different area of life than was Joseph's. The time was 604 B.C. The house of Judah was in the process of being conquered by the Babylonian Empire under the leadership of King Nebuchahezzar. The king had instructed his top eunuch to select some youths of Jewish nobility to undergo a special training program to prepare them for service in the Babylonian government. Among those selected was a young man in his mid-teens named Daniel. He was an outstanding youth in every way. Those selected were to be "... strong, healthy, good-looking lads... those who have read widely in many fields, are well informed, alert and sensible, and have enough poise to look good around the palace" (Dan. 1:4, Living Prophecies version). During their three-year tenure they were to be given a special diet of exotic foods similar to those the king himself dined on. However, Babylonian dietary standards were not up to God's. Daniel realized that to indulge in this diet would physically defile his body! (Dan. 1:5, 8.) Being a young man of character, Daniel was not about to compromise with God's high standards. No matter what! The young Daniel faced a seemingly insurmountable problem! He had been instructed to eat and drink certain foods and wines. To disobey could have meant death. After all, he was a prisoner. He was taken from a conquered nation. To turn his nose up at the royal cuisine would have been considered an insult of the grossest sort. And to have resisted the express wishes of the Ring himself was incredible to say the least. But Daniel was determined not to compromise. Wisdom is an important accessory to character. Realizing he was treading on thin ice, Daniel diplomatically and tactfully suggested a test. He knew if he could prove the efficacy of his own diet over that of the king, then he might be allowed his own diet on a regular basis. He requested a diet of vegetables (pulse) and water. (Not that he was a vegetarian. It is likely the meat offered by the Chaldeans had not been properly slaughtered according to God's Law or perhaps it had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Lev. 3:17; Acts 15:20. Or possibly only those meats considered "unclean" were being served. Lev. 11; Deut. 14.) In any case, the chief eunuch agreed to the test and it was carried out. At the end of the 10 day period, it was evident that Daniel's diet had benefited him greatly (Dan. 1:8-16). Daniel and his friends were then allowed to continue on the diet they had chosen, and the king's cuisine was withdrawn. Daniel's character, wisdom and determination to do right had paid off!
Another Test of Character
Some years later, under a different administration, a government order was issued forbidding anyone to pray to any but the king himself (who was considered a "god"!). This ruling was to be enforced for a one-month period (Dan. 6:7). But Daniel was in the habit of praying thee times a day to the God of Israel. He was not about to discontinue this practice which enabled him to remain close to his Creator. In the face of being torn to shreds by vicious lions, Daniel maintained his custom of praying regularly! H e would not be moved from doing what was right! The government officials — who were intensely jealous of Daniel — found him doing so and had him placed in a compound of ravenous lions. A large rock was placed at the entrance barring any escape. Daniel spent the entire night in the company of these great cats and was released in the morning unharmed! (Dan. 6:10-23.) Almighty God sent an angel to protect Daniel. Once again the strong and faithful character of Daniel paid off!
Youth No Excuse!
"If I'm old enough to fight (in military service), I'm old enough to drink!" assert many modern youths. When it comes to the use of alcohol, cigarettes, or the indulgence in premarital sex, many youths will vehemently proclaim their eligibility. Yet when it comes to learning moral principles and exercising character and self-control — that's for old folks. But it's nothing new, Youth has long been used as a "cop-out" from responsibility. Centuries ago, God chose to use a young man to warn a whole nation of impending national disaster. But like so many modern teen-agers and young people, he too used the old dodge "I'm too young" to avoid responsibility. His name was Jeremiah! Let's notice what transpired in Jeremiah 1:5-6. God said to young Jeremiah: "...I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Here was a giant responsibility thrust on the youthful shoulders of Jeremiah. But notice his all-too-familiar reaction! "'O Lord God,' I said. 'I can't do that! I'm FAR TOO YOUNG! I'M ONLY A YOUTH!"' (Living Psalms and Proverbs With the Major Prophets Paraphrased version.) But God recognized Jeremiah's "cop-out"! Notice His reply! "But the Lord said to me, 'DO NOT SAY, I AM ONLY A YOUTH..."'! (Verse 7, RSV.) Of course, Jeremiah changed his attitude and went ahead and fulfilled the responsibility God had given him. As a result of demonstrating character and doing what was right, Jeremiah was instrumental in preserving the royal dynastic line of Israel. Youthfulness should NEVER be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility. The development and exercising of character is not limited to "old fuddy-duddies." Moral excellence and firmness can be demonstrated by children, teen-agers and adults alike. At this crisis-filled point in the human chronicle, God is once again using young people to do His Work. More than ever before, we all need to develop strong, abiding CHARACTER. God wants us to be successes in life, to be truly happy, and to realize our maximum potential as human beings. You owe it to yourself to look into the matter of character development and begin your own personal program in it.