Goodness and Micah 6.8 A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

 

I love the quote from the picture above: “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”  This is one of those aphorisms that just sounds right when you read it, hear it, or say it.

But it begs some questions.  First, what is goodness?  Second, how can we be more good?  And lastly is demonstrating goodness in our lives truly a foolproof investment?

 

What Is Goodness?

Biblically speaking, goodness is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5.  It’s often paired with kindness, probably because many people find that the two of them are difficult to differentiate.  The argument goes something like this: a kind person is good and a good person is kind.  True all the way around.  But that still doesn’t mean that the two concepts are the same.

As I’ve written about before, kindness is the ability to care for all people, whoever they may be.  But what is goodness?  Here’s my working definition: Goodness is demonstrated in our lives when we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  Obviously within that definition kindness can and should be found.  But kindness is more about generally demonstrating compassion, while goodness is more about generally demonstrating righteousness and justice.

I come to this conclusion because of the way the Bible presents goodness.  When Jesus is called “good teacher” and is asked about what “good deed” must be done in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus gives some insight to this notion of goodness (Luke 18.18 and Matthew 19.16).  To both Jesus responds by saying that there is only one who is good — God himself.  Therefore, it is God and God alone who can define goodness.

But this is a major rub for us.  We want to define what is good.  We want to be able to say, “I’ve accomplished it…I’m good now!”  But our definitions of goodness will be faulty for any number of reasons, chiefly because we are selfish.  At the end of the day, we’ll define as good that which benefits us as individuals, family units, or communities.

But how does God define goodness?  You may have already gotten a hint of where I’m about to go. Perhaps the best place in all of the Bible to learn how God defines goodness is Micah 6.8:

 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

So based on this passage it seems clear that goodness looks like acting justly (fighting for what’s right and against oppression), loving mercy (putting the interests of others before our own), and walking humbly with God (having a devoted and intimate relationship with God).

Thus goodness seems to have to do with right relationships with others, whether other humans or God.

This may not sound earth-shattering but it is. When many of us think about goodness with think about personal piety.  We think about things that we do and things that we don’t do…probably more the things we don’t do!

 

“…Or with Girls Who Do!”

There was a funny saying in Christians circles where I grew up.  I went like this: “I don’t drink, smoke, or chew and I don’t go with girls who do!”

And while this little rhyme is funny, it’s also quite sad.  Here’s why: it highlights a sobering reality…followers of Jesus tend to be more identified with the things we don’t do and the things we oppose than with the things we actually do and the things we wholeheartedly support.

A quick perusal of the news or Google results will confirm this.  Christians tend to get the most attention by abstaining from sex, alcohol (or at least drunkenness), gambling, etc. and from being anti-LBBTQ, -abortion, -premarital sex, etc.

Here’s an honest question in response: Wouldn’t it be better to be know by the things that we do and the things we support?  Wouldn’t we rather the world know that we care for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant?  Wouldn’t we rather the world know that we support protecting the rights of the fragile and forgotten?

Wouldn’t we rather the world know about the goodness that we demonstrate through our actions rather than the personal piety we attempt to build up privately?

Obviously the answers to all of those rhetorical questions is “yes.”  It would be amazing if the world could begin to see us differently.

 

It’s Time for a PR Campaign

So we have a public relations problem and we need to work to solve it.  Why?  Not because it’s nice or politically correct.  No.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because we want people to come to know Christ and his transformative power.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because we long for our cities, towns, and villages to be made better thanks to the presence of those who claim Christ.

We need to launch a fully-fledged PR campaign because the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20) demands we do so.

But how?  One word: GOODNESS!

If we became the kind of people who were so deeply connected to the Spirit that his Micah-6.8 goodness oozed out of us everywhere we went, our reputation in the world would change for the better!

People would begin to see and experience the love of God through us, his ambassadors here on earth.

Friends, this is our duty.

Only one thing remains: Obedience.  Will we do it?!?

 

What do you think?  What does goodness mean and how can goodness change the world?  Let me know in the comments below!

Kindness and Everything Nice A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

Kindness.  The ability to care for all people, whoever they are.  The character trait of being radically others-focused.

Is it a lost art?  Was kindness ever really all that prevalent?

I’m not sure, but my experience tells me that true kindness is so foreign to the typical human condition that most of us experience it (as giver or receiver) all too rarely.  But the interesting irony is that when we finally do experience or hear about kindness, it is radically life-giving.

A few examples are in order:

  • My mother-in-law recently complimented a stranger’s dress, which led to a several-minutes-long conversation that was mutually beneficial for my mother-in-law and the woman in the dress.  They ended up talking and walking together for more than a block!
  • This past weekend a football coach was on the way home from a game that his team won.  It was raining like crazy when he saw two people who looked scared and lost.  He pulled over and offered them a ride.  The two men jumped in the coach’s SUV and over the ensuing conversation it became clear that the two strangers were fans of the team that lost to the coach’s team.  Both of the strangers reported to the media that they were genuinely surprised by the kindness of the coach.
  • Lastly, a friend recently told me of how having someone help him un-wedge his bag from a seat on a plane while he was trying to make his way to his seat renewed his faith in humanity.

Friends, the simple truth is that kindness really can go a long way.  And, I think this is in part because we experience it so rarely.

However, each time we do experience it, it brings a smile to our faces like just about nothing else can.

 

Why Kindness?

So, here’s the big idea: As we are led by the Spirit, he will make us more and more kind.  And as we are more kind people will be drawn to God, whether toward a closer relationship with his as followers of Jesus or toward beginning a relationship with him if they are far from God.

We see this in Jesus’ life very clearly in many places.  One of my favorite places is in Mark 1.40-42:

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

What is meant by the first part of verse 41?  Why was Jesus indignant?

  • Some translations have “filled with compassion” instead of “indignant.”  And while there are some ancient manuscripts that agree with that phraseology, “indignant” is the better reading.  There are two reasons: 1) “indignant” generally appears in more reliable manuscripts than “full of compassion” does; and 2) the harder reading is to be preferred.  Let me explain that second point.  When there are two readings, both with some ancient manuscript support, the one that is harder to understand is thought to be more likely to be original.  The reason?  Well, the theory goes that if an ancient scribe came across “indignant” in this passage, he might think it doesn’t fit.  And intentionally or not, he may change it to something that fits better, like “full of compassion.”  So, based on these lines of reasoning, “indignant” is probably the right reading.
  • So what do we do with this reading then?  Was Jesus mad at the leper?  No.  This doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t fit with what we know about Jesus from the rest of this Gospel or the rest of the New Testament.  Jesus is consistently kind to ostracized people, including several other people suffering with leprosy.  Jesus being mad at the leper doesn’t fit in this particular story either.  If Jesus was mad at him, why would he touch him (which was a great act of kindness…think about it!), have a conversation with him, and ultimately heal him?
  • So what was Jesus indignant about?  Here’s my take: Jesus was mad at the situation that leprosy had put this man in.  His whole world had been crushed — he was separated from his family, friends, jobs, religious experiences, etc.  He was isolated and desperate.  In fact, his situation was so bad that he was relegated to begging from strangers for help.  Jesus was indignant that a man who was made in God’s image and for whom he would soon die would be demeaned in such a way.
  • So Jesus saw this man, treated him like a human, felt deeply about his situation, and then acted in order to bring about wholeness and health.  That is a true act of kindness!  Not a random act of kindness; no, an intentional act of kindness to a person who seemed to have randomly crossed his path.

We would do well to imitate Jesus!  As we are led by the Spirit, whose pain and suffering do we need be be indignant about?  To whom do we need to show kindness?

This next paragraph is the one paragraph that I hope to internalize more than all the others in this post: You and I can’t will ourselves to be more kind.  We can’t and we know we can’t.  We know that in our own strength we are going to act selfishly more often than we’d like to admit.  So we must submit to the Spirit, listen for his lead, and then obey!

 

What do you think?  How can we demonstrate kindness more and more as a result of being led by the Spirit?  Let me know in the comments below!

Patience Is Suffering with Grace A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

patience

By: Oran Viriyincy

Patience is Suffering with Grace

Of all the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, not to mention the Christian life in general, patience is the one area where I need to show more evidence that my life is guided and directed by the Spirit.  And living in Los Angeles County doesn’t help this at all!

The picture above looks all too familiar to me.  I have somewhere to go and I need to be there fast.  It’s only a few miles away.  I jump in my car, confidently pull out of the garage thinking I’ll get there in no time.

But there’s construction, an accident, an event at the Rose Bowl, and a school zone.

Ugh.

I have to wait.

But it’s not just driving that tests me…

It’s texting too.  See if this sounds familiar: I send an important text to someone.  They don’t respond immediately.  Five minutes pass and nothing.  Hours pass, no reply.  Two days come and go and still nada!

I think to myself (or say to my wife!): Ugh!  This is so annoying!  Why don’t they just reply!

But the reality of the situation is that I make people wait all the time for text replies.  I’m such a hypocrite!

I could go on and on — the internet is slow, people are in my way, something doesn’t work as it was designed, etc., etc., etc.

And here’s the thing: I know I’m not alone.  A recent survey found that we’re all impatient and that we make decisions about where we do business and how we treat people based on how long we have to wait!

So when we think about patience, an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, which can be defined as suffering with grace, I think it’s fair to say that we’re in need of a bit more!

 

How do we get more patience?

So, we know we need to be more patient.  But how do we get more patient?  And can we do it right now…I mean, I don’t have time to be patient about being more patient!

Here’s the truth, almost all of us have said at one time or another that we need to be more patient.  But we haven’t made long-term, sustainable changes.  We’ve not become more patient.

If Dr. Phil was here he would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

Really poorly Dr. Phil.  Really poorly.

We need more patience but we’re proving to ourselves and one another that we can’t will ourselves to be more patient.

So, what are we to do?  How can we inculcate more patience in our lives?

There’s only one way to build patience as a follower of Jesus.  And it’s by being synced with the Spirit, staying in step with him as he leads us.

That’s what Paul was getting at when he named patience as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.  He was saying that, as we live lives more in line with the Spirit, we will become more and more patient.  We’ll be able to suffer the aggravations of life with more and more grace.

By staying in step with the Spirit, he will build patience in us.  He’ll do what we cannot do for ourselves or one another.

 

Examples of Spirit-led Patience

So, what does this look like?  In reality, what does it look like to have patience that comes from being deeply connected to the Spirit of God?

Truthfully, I’m not really the guy to ask!  I’m so thoroughly impatient that every example I read about or think of seems idealized or forced.  (I know, I know…I need to be more connected to the Spirit myself!)

But there was one person who had a connection with the Spirit that was always unbroken, always effective, and always produced the fruit of the Spirit.  That person, of course, was Jesus.

And examples of patience in his life abound:

  • When he found out his friend Lazarus sick, he was patient.  He didn’t rush to his side.  He waited, because he knew that by doing so more glory could go to his Father.
  • Jesus’ interactions with his disciples are filled with patience.  They ask Jesus stupid questions, they tell people unhelpful things, they do the wrong things, they don’t get what Jesus is teaching and showing them, and they fight with one another for power.  Through all of that, Jesus was patient, knowing that there was a process they had to go through to become the people he needed them to be after he left.
  • And one majorly-overlooked example of Jesus’ patience dominates the majority of the time he was alive.  From the moment Jesus was conceived until he was 30 years old, we know almost nothing about him.  How could Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, simply bide his time as a poor carpenter’s son?  How could he grow into adulthood, while waiting to fulfill his purpose?  How could he withstand the ridicule that likely came with him remaining single all through his 20s?  One way: He was patient thanks to his deep and abiding connection to the divine life through the Spirit!

Like Jesus, we have a deep and abiding connection to the divine life through the Spirit too!  Yay!

Unlike Jesus, we don’t have the wherewithal to always rely on that connection the way he did.

But we know from the example of Jesus’ life, and from the countless other lives of people who are patient thanks to being synced to the Spirit, that patience is possible for those who surrender to the Spirit.

Maybe that’s the secret sauce: Surrender.  At its core, impatience is all about me wanting to get my way; while patience, at its core, is all about the Spirit having his way in us.

Let’s do more of the latter and less of the former!

 

What do you think?  Are you like me, impatient to no end?  Or have you figured this patience thing out?  Let me know in the comments below!

Self Control: A How-To A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

What could be a more difficult topic to talk about than self control?  Think about it — self control is nearly impossible.  We know this because we’ve tried.

There’s that New Year’s resolution that we messed up in a matter of days or weeks.

There’s that doughnut we ate even though we just started a diet.

There’s that promise that we broke even though we were trying our best not to.

There’s that argument we waded into even though we swore that we were’t going to anymore.

And there’s that commitment to God that we’ve broken once again.

Self control

johnhain / Pixaba

Self Control as Self-Policing

All of the failures I mentioned above are failures in self-policing.  We attempt to take care of our self control issues on our own.  We muster up our own strength (once again!) in order to combat our problems, many of which are caused by our own inability to enact self control.

This situation is a vicious downward spiral.  Let’s look at how it works:

  • We realize there’s something wrong in our lives…
    • So we decide that we can do something about it on our own.
  • We commit to some kind of change…
    • Promising ourselves that this time will be different.
  • We do pretty well for a little while, a day, week, month, or year…
    • But, inevitably, we fall back into old patterns, thus failing in our efforts at self-policing.
  • We identify this failure as a failure in self control…
    • Which serves to make us feel horribly about ourselves.
  • And so we decide that we want to feel better by making some changes in our lives…
    • So we decide that we can do something about it on our own.
  • We commit to some kind of change…
    • Etc., etc., etc.

But here’s the sad reality: Each time we cycle down the self-policing funnel, the feelings of inadequacy and failure only increase.  Our situation becomes more and more complicated and dire as time goes on.

We can’t do this self control thing, well, by ourselves!

Self Control: What’s the Solution?

So what do we do?

  • First, we have to stop relying only on ourselves!  How do I know this?  Here’s a starting place — we’ve tried it on our own and it didn’t work.  We can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over hoping that the end results will be different.  That’s just illogical!  Our methods have to change!
  • Second, we need community!  In the Bible we read in Galatians 5 that one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self control.  But here’s the really interesting thing, in Galatians 5, beginning in verse 16, community is clearly in the picture.  The “you”s in the passage are plural.  Then we see clear plural language in verses 25-27 with the following: “those who belong to Christ Jesus,” “we,” “us,” and “each other.”  Also, if you think about it, each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit contributes to community and is helped by community.  The only one of them that doesn’t seem to fit is the last one, “self control.”
  • Third, we need a better idea of what “self control” really is.  The primary meaning in Greek of the word for “self control” here is “mastery.”  The idea is that by being connected to the Spirit we will become better at this whole following Jesus thing.  Why?  Because the Spirit will serve as our mentor, helping us become good apprentices of the ways of Jesus.
  • Fourth, we need to realize that self control is a fruit of the Spirit, not a fruit of our efforts.  The Apostle Paul has a clear goal in Galatians 5, and that’s to encourage his audience to stay connected to and synced with the Spirit.  He says that in so doing that, among other things, this list of benefits, which we call the fruit of the Spirit, will be developed in us.  So it’s not by hard work that we become more loving, gentle, or faithful.  It’s by the work of the Spirit in us as we are connected to him.  And the same is true of self control.

 

So, do we want more mastery in our lives?  Do we want to exhibit more self control?  Then we must realize that it requires more than just the self!  We need others, we need community, to help us, guide us, and hold us accountable.  And we need the inner-working of the Spirit of God!

 

What do you think?  How can we have more self control?  How can we be better connected to the Spirit and to one another?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Fruit of the Spirit A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

There’s nothing quite like eating a great peace of fruit.  If it’s an apple — which it should be…apples are my favorites! — then its color is perfect and it has just right right amount of crunch and juiciness.  Mmm!

But very rarely do I consider that the fruit that I love to eat is the fruit of a lot of hard work and labor!

Think about it.  An apple comes from an orchard.  And an orchard must be cared for.

The trees need watering.  The weeds need pulling.  The dead leaves, limbs, and fruit need pruning.  The apples need picking.  And the final product needs selling, packing, and shipping.

That’s a lot of work!

Fruit of the Spirit

Well, I think a similar blind spot has been a part of my Christian development as well.  When I read the famous passage in Galatians 5.22-23 about the fruit of the Spirit, I tend to think about each aspect of the fruit as a final product.  Honestly, I rarely think about what goes into the production of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a believer, whether in me or anyone else!

Maybe it’s the way that Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I mean, they’re just so consumable individually spelled out like that, right?  They’re all there in a nice little row, one right after another.

And in my experience in the Church, whether teaching/preaching/leading or being the recipient of the same, this is the way the fruit of the Spirit is taught.

Let me be a bit more specific: When we think about it, we tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as an opportunity to engage in character development.

Character Development vs. _____________?

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having one’s character developed as he or she follows Jesus.  I know mine needs some work!  I could be a bit more patient (that’s the understatement of the century, just ask my wife, parents, sister, friends, and coworkers!) and exhibit more self-control.

And according to the way I was taught to think about the fruit, my course of action when I realize I’m lacking in some aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is to work on that specific aspect.  So, when I realize that I’m not as kind as a I should be, I work on being kinder.  When I’m not as peaceful as I’d like to be, I exercise my peace muscles.

Unfortunately, this is akin to forgetting the processes behind the fruit at the supermarket.

And, friends, there is a major process behind the fruit of the Spirit — namely, walking with the Spirit!

A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

Paul spells this out rather explicitly in Galatians 5.16-18:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Before he gets to the fruit of the Spirit — the things which are brought to fruition because of a life lived synced up with the Spirit — Paul tells us what produces this fruit…walking by the Spirit or being led by the Spirit!

This phrase (walking by/being led by the Spirit) is great for a number of reasons:

  • It implies an active lifestyle of following Jesus as opposed to the popular passive/getting-fed mode that lots of Christians (myself included!) are tempted to fall into.
  • It reminds us that we need to be walked with — we can’t do this thing alone.  We need grace and guidance from the moment we’re first alive until the moment we die.  And God gladly will hold our little hands through that whole journey!
  • And it means that following Jesus isn’t about me, people like me, my church, my country, or my standards.  Nope.  It’s about being led by the Spirit!

So instead of focusing on each different aspect of the fruit, shouldn’t we focus on how walking with the Spirit brings each aspect to fruition?  In other words, shouldn’t we focus more on the process and a bit less on the results?

 

What do you think?  Do you tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as an opportunity to engage in character development?  Or do you tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as the result of Spirit-synced way of life?  Let me know in the comments below!