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Posts Tagged ‘goodness’

Waiting is hard enough; now I understand I must wait with an attitude . . . a good one.

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord. [Psalm 27:13-14, NIV]

I’m thinking it’s really not about the waiting at all. I’m thinking the message is about faith, and once I am secure in the goodness and Presence of God, waiting becomes a by-product. I don’t need to be concerned about time or results then.

Confidence is built on a foundation of belief. This reality is not just in the spiritual realm but in anything I tackle. Of course, misplaced beliefs can morph into obsessions. Not good. In fact, the more I think about it, the only safe place for faith is in God alone. Despite their best efforts (including my own), people will disappoint, things will break, circumstances will change, colors will fade.

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1956

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1956

One other requirement: I must look (really look) to see the goodness of God in this world. My eyes are too often blinded; my brain so much in high gear, that I miss the moment. I miss the “yes” of life.

“But as for me, I enjoy shooting a picture. Being present. It’s a way of saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” It’s like the last three words of Joyce’s “Ulysses,” which is one of the most tremendous works which have ever been written. It’s “Yes, yes, yes.” And photography is like that. It’s yes, yes, yes. And there are no maybes. All the maybes should go to the trash, because it’s an instant, it’s a moment, it’s there! And it’s respect of it and tremendous enjoyment to say, “Yes!” Even if it’s something you hate. Yes! It’s an affirmation.” [Henri Cartier-Bresson]

 

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Art by Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison

I had an epiphany this morning. The Book of Life only has the good stuff in it. I mean, it’s not a list of all our mistakes, our sins, or our misdemeanors. That’s the point. If one’s name isn’t in the “book,” it’s because there’s nothing to write. That which is written there, nurtures life in others.

Revelation 20:12, 15
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. . . . Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

The other day, we had our micro-church (small group) meeting and talked about the feeling some of us have about “not doing enough.” [James 2:14-26] And at that time, I shared how that feeling or self-perception can morph into condemnation, which is NOT from God [Romans 8:1]. It’s like this: the poor will always be with us [Mark 14:7], the need will always be greater than what we can give. This is the nature of our current world, filled with strife, jealousy, and yes, even evil. Everywhere we look, there are people who are in ill health, depressed, lonely, out of work, addicted, or just plain lost. Each of us cannot tackle every misfortune. But we can touch one. And then another one.

We must, as they say, “keep on keeping on.” And that means, doing what we can, when we can, because we can. Each good work, each loving deed, each prayer, and each kindness works to tip the grand scale toward love and away from despair. We tend to minimize our good actions because they seem so small in the face of a daunting and urgent need. That’s unproductive thinking.

None can know the impact that a single kind remark might have.

I remember, a long time ago, I wrote a note to a woman who was participating in a retreat (Walk to Emmaus, for those who are familiar with it). Several years after that, while sharing my story at a Women’s Aglow meeting in a completely different state, this same woman came up to me with the note, now old and somewhat crumpled in her hand, and told me, with tears in her eyes, that my note had saved her life. I have no clue what I even wrote. And yet, this tiny act, so seemingly insignificant, became the difference between life and death for someone else.

As Yoda said, “do or not do, there is no try.” And so it is with the extension of self toward others. Do. But do not judge what you do, this is not the way of love and God.

When Jesus walked this earth, did he not face even more insurmountable odds. One man, then three, and then twelve, changed the face of humanity in three years. Ok, so he did a few miracles, but ultimately, I’m not so sure those are the actions that made the real difference. I think it was his authentic presence, his touch, his listening ear, his compassion, and his unconditional of acceptance of everyone he met. He showed us “human,” the way human was intended to be from the beginning.

Today, I can choose to write into the Book of Life.

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Photo by Mike Dykstra

How often do we need to remind someone? In my house, we must remind teenagers every day (and more than once a day) to clean the cat box, empty the trash, and put the dishes in the dishwasher. And how many more times if we added, “choose what is good today.”

Titus 3:1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
[NIV 2011]

I haven’t been able to verify this piece of information, but I did read somewhere that parents, in order to teach a small child or toddler to say “please” and “thank you,” must be remind the child at least 10,000 times before he or she will remember. That’s daunting. In a year, that’s 27 times a day. And if one has more than child . . . you do the math.

Apparently, it’s not much better with adults who must learn the basics of walking out the faith, the very faith they have chosen to follow and even profess. They must be reminded to choose “good,” to obey authorities, to be considerate and to be gentle towards everyone.

If we must be reminded, the implication is clear: we’re not doing it. I’m not doing it either. Why?

As Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Is it really just forgetting to do it? That’s what my kids say, “I forgot.” My husband is particularly irked by his ignored requests, taking that behavior as a choice and therefore lack of respect.

Maybe it’s just our human tendency to take the easier way, the wide road. After all, choosing to “do good” might take me out of my way or inconvenience me. Being obedient might entail putting that person’s request above my own plans. Or, it could be a type of laziness.

But what about the other elements of this teaching from Paul to Titus? What excuse would there be for not keeping the peace or conducting oneself gently? Is it easier to be argumentative and domineering? Perhaps it’s a safety issue again, a control issue. Somewhere along the line, the idea of being gentle feels too much like being a door mat and keeping the peace may mean giving way to my ideas or my decisions.

Or, maybe I just need to be reminded.

Where do the reminders come from? Sermons? Reading? Small group meetings? Blogs? Music? Yes to all of these and more. We immerse ourselves in these mediums to help us remember.

Other faith traditions do the same thing, keeping feasts and festivals and rituals to help the people remember the why’s of faith.

Today is Good Friday, 2011. It is a day for us to remember the Christ who died, crucified, and the mystery that would be revealed. And as we do, we might also remember the rest of the story, the part that leads us to choose a better way each day.

Thanks be to God.

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A Pure Heart painted by Jan Oliver

Is it true? Do the pure of heart recognize pure motives in another person? Or, even more mysterious, can the pure find something pure in anyone? Is it another way of thinking about the “sacred other?” How sorrowful, then, to dwell in the opposite world, a type of hell surely, where nothing is pure.

Titus 1:15
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.

I was quite moved today while listening to the audio book of Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese when a minor character, Deepak, a 5th year resident doctor who has been close to completing his residency many times but has, time after time, been cut out by the system, speaks to his young intern, Marion. Finally, circumstances take a turn for Deepak, his first real hope in ten years that things will work out. He shares his long-standing belief that good does triumph over evil, that hard work and honesty and integrity do prevail along with patience and long suffering. He is so clearly a good man, a humble man who loves his work and believes in this “power of good.” He is of the pure heart variety, and I found him remarkably drawn, this character in the book felt real and knowable.

The pure of heart do suffer because of those who do not recognize them. Those pure-hearted ones are taken advantage of; they are often swept aside; they are maligned in their silence.

In our small town, it is a political season in which a mayor will be elected (or re-elected) and a city council re-populated with new or old faces. The rhetoric is flying and I wonder, are there pure hearts among them? Can I still my own heart long enough to recognize them? Can I get past my own judgmentalism and pre-conceived notions? Can I tap into my small spot of purity where the Holy Spirit dwells within and where truth can be uncovered?

I am also in the vortex of another political storm, where integrities are coming into question, where truths are unclear, where memories have become short-sighted. And today, I realized, sorrowfully, that my friends may continue to be maligned because corrupted hearts may not recognize them. And despite the purity I can see; it does not give revelation to others. At least, for now. But like my sweet doctor Deepak, a time will come when purity of heart and motive will emerge. I must believe that too.

Just yesterday, I discussed with new friends how we cannot know the ways of God’s hand. What may appear as defeat on the outside, may be victory within. What plays out in sorrow now, may reveal a greater glory later. I must hold to this understanding.

After all, Jesus modeled this same scenario. He was betrayed, wrongly sentenced, and crucified. Most of his followers were broken and dismayed. Their cause for good appeared broken. They looked at the circumstances in 3-D only, not knowing that other dimensions were turning upside down. They allowed the corrupt to veil their hope.

We must stand fast. The pure of heart must hold to this: Sunday’s coming.

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Following all the rules, obeying all the laws, coloring inside the lines, striving for perfection: these are the phrases that come to mind when I ponder the phrase, “legalistic righteousness.”

Philippians 3:4b, 6
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: . . . as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Actually, to be honest, just the word righteousness all by itself conjures up all kinds of negative vibes. Well, not completely true. I mean, if I connect the idea with God, then the word smooths out. God can carry righteousness as a banner and that seems perfectly natural. God is righteous and always does the “right” thing, says the “right” words, always has the “right” motives.

Not so, human me.

The synonyms are a lot nicer. I don’t have any problem in my desire to be good or virtuous. I also wouldn’t mind being viewed as holy or godly or devoted. How about benevolent, generous, honorable, or honest? All, quite fine.

But righteous? Blech! I see myself standing there with arms crossed as I look down my nose at the rest of the world. It does not feel loving or friendly or considerate of others.

In the name of the “narrow way,” I see other followers of Christ take this stand. There are Christian sects who go from door to door to proselytize their brand of righteousness and when they are shooed off the property or have a door slammed on them, they consider it a blessing, a confirmation of their way.

And still other faithful, perhaps their God has a different name, and yet, they too act out of a strong sense of righteousness to the point of death for the cause.

Righteousness is elusive. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. . . . ” [Luke 18:19] Here is the heart of true righteousness, in God alone and thereby, through the Spirit within. Any righteousness or “right living” that is grounded in my own efforts is, by its very nature, “legalistic righteousness.” It’s a show and a sham.

Keep me mindful, O Lord, of your presence within so that my words and actions are joined by the threads of your Spirit. Selah.

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The good work is transformational. God initiates that good work and the Holy Spirit contributes to its continuance in partnership with me. The part that I play is my unique contribution. The light is pure while I am the nicked, scratched, yet functioning crystal prism.

Philippians 1:6
. . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The good work is polishing the glass, repairing the damage, making my vessel a more accurate expression of what is within.

Sometimes I lose my confidence that God is still working within me to transform me. But then, in brilliant moments of clarity or flashes of understanding, I see Truth. My role is to embrace my life and all that has been given to me, the challenges as well as the joys, the hardships and the plenty, the health and the disease, all of them are my share of the good work.

As I hold fast to the unwavering inner light, that one and only Holy Spirit, I can give that hope (also called the blessed hope) to others. I have never been moved by the salvation message regarding some heaven or hell of the future, but I am sure of the power of God to fill a life today to stand against all things, from the tragedies of Job, to the ravages of war, or the blindness of greed and ambition.

This is the hope of glory: the Light within working goodness outward.

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Print by Missy Mohn Schwartz

In how many ways do I have to be told that the essence of walking after Christ is birthed in the Spirit. This is an inside-out faith, not the outside-in. The law was created to initiate the “external” expression of faithfulness. The Messiah finished this work by planting it within.

Galatians 5:22-23
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.

If I can operate in the center of love, joy, peace, etc. then the law is unnecessary because I wouldn’t break the essential laws (10 commandments at the least). One doesn’t lie or covet or kill someone we love or cherish. The gentle soul does not rage or participate in sexual orgies. Self-control brings all things under its umbrella.

At the same time, none of these Spirit fruits can be manufactured externally alone. I can’t act in a patient way without being patient. I can’t exhibit kindness without knowing what kindness is . . . or goodness. . . or peace. Love (in this context) is not just a that girly-boyfriend feeling, it’s “agape” and carries the deepest of meanings and expressions. There are inner motives that drive these fruits of the Spirit. They are fruits that must come directly off the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

And as these fruits become ripe within, they become ready for harvest. And when they are harvested, they are distributed freely to all those around us. . . slave or free, gay or straight, black or white or brown or red or yellow or mixed media, Muslim or Hasidim, Mormon or Witnesses, young or old, male or female, . . .

If we are fruitless, then there is nothing to harvest and the only protection we have, the only way to curb our less admirable desires, is the law. First, there is the spiritual law that God gave as a covenant to the people. But, if that fails, then there is the secular law. Neither is particularly known for mercy or grace.

Perhaps we should be more like those cliche mothers who are reaching out encouraging others to “Eat, Eat, Eat,” or like Jesus, “Take, eat; this is My body.” [Matthew 26:26b]

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