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Posts Tagged ‘virtue’

Now here’s a word we don’t use much any more: forbearance. I understand why, it has so many possible meanings, from patience to easy-goingness, to restraint and endurance. It’s actually a type of grace. Forbearance is usually undeserved.

Colossians 3:12-13a, 14
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive . . . And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

And so, with these definitions in mind, I consider how the power of love can bind this unique grace to the other virtues, how love must be luxuriously forbearing. In fact, all of these virtues only become so when grace or forbearance is present.

According to Luke, Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.” [Luke 6:32-33]

Forbearance is a key to virtue. How many paradoxes will I discover for myself before I can actually embrace them? When will I really swim upstream like the salmon? What will finally drive me to act the opposite to every habitual behavior and response in me? When will I forbear instead of rail against those personal injustices, those unlovely remarks, or those exploitations?

To live out true paradox, like forbearance and love, requires the deepest inner strength and self-awareness. Otherwise, the day to day slips into victim-thinking or doormat behavior. Forbearance must be conscious, mindful, intentional, and eventually, after a lot of practice (in the Presence) and interplay with the Holy Spirit, it might become a norm.

Now there’s a great big hairy audacious goal.

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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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Sometimes we have to back into this process. What I mean is that there are times when circumstances drop into our lives and we are faced with learning perseverance the hard way. It can be done, but it’s not God’s best for us.

For instance, you might become ill with a serious disease that will take months or even years to battle. If you have not built on the phases Peter lays out in II Peter 1:5-7, you will probably discover that you must go back and pull them into the equation. If you want to live, you’ll do whatever it takes. And so, you endure. But as you endure, you discover you must control yourself, your anger, your frustrations. Careening emotions do not help the process. And then, you discover that the more you know about your disease and how others have handled it, the more knowledge you have, the more understanding you have of your circumstances, the stronger you feel. And then, you may find a desire to share that knowledge with others in the same situation. You may actually find that you feel better when you reach out beyond yourself and “do some good.” And finally, your faith in God is re-kindled!

And then, you head back up the chain and you are amazed to discover that you are stronger in each area and you are able to endure another day … another hour … another minute.

I discovered some of this backward/forward movement when Mike and I were in the adoption process for Lily. Being steadfast in our determination to adopt her was foisted upon us for a full two years. We did not go gently into this period of perseverance!

Perhaps it’s more accurate to call this process cyclical. It wasn’t a straight path from faith to virtue to knowledge to self-control to perseverance for me … it felt more like a circle and often there were times when I felt like I was on a race track going round and round and round with no progress; suddenly, a ramp would open up and we would be on another level. Yes, it was still going round and round but the view was different, the road was different, the goal was more clearly in sight, and the fire of hope was fanned into flame again.

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It’s interesting to me that self-control is the 4th leg of this journey for sustaining our faith over the long haul. This bears some comment in my mind that you must have your faith, then your virtue or ability to “do good” and then knowledge to understand the why of it all and only then, is true self-control possible.

This is a key for me right now, today. You see, I suffer terribly from lack of self-control … that is, self-control of the right type. Over the years, I have confused self-control with “control” in general. In other words, I try to control my environment and the people in my environment as a substitute for controlling myself. This is not God’s best plan for me (or for the poor souls that are entangled with me – e.g. my family).

I think things are getting better. One way I have learned to enter this process is by taking a “holy inventory” each day. During my devotion time, right after praising God for “who He is,” I speak the scripture outloud, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” [Psalm 139:23-24] and as God reveals those moments in the past 24 hours that were displeasing to Him, that were sin, that were out of control, I ask for His forgiveness. This is a cleansing time allows me to move on.

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One of my favorite discussions of wisdom is actually on a website that has nothing to do at all with scripture, but is, instead, about knowledge management and systems thinking. The particular article is called Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom by Gene Belliner, Durval Castro, & Anthony Mills.

They divide the mind’s capabilities to handle “content” into five areas: Data, Information, Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom. They say the first four categories have to do with the “past,” that is, how the mind deals with what has been or what is known. Wisdom, on the other hand, deals with the future and interprets what has gone before in order to move ahead.

They actually chart out the five content areas:

  • Data: symbols
  • Information: data that are processed to be useful; provides answers to “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” questions
  • Knowledge: application of data and information; answers “how” questions
  • Understanding: appreciation of “why”
  • Wisdom: evaluated understanding.

I find this a useful chart in thinking about II Peter 1:5-6. If these verses are talking about knowledge in this sense, it means working through the “how” of being or doing good… it’s the application of what it means to be a person of faith. However, if it is wisdom, then it’s more contemplative, comprehensive, and evaluative. It means we are taking the next step in choice. We have understanding to with the faith & virtue. It is a type of “revelation knowledge.”

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I think we know all this stuff about “doing good.” I mean, I think we know we are supposed to “do good” … we know we are supposed to act virtuously. We know we are supposed to take the “high road.” But we often don’t. Why not?

If it’s true that doing good helps us to “… never fall…” and “… receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (II Peter 1: 10-11), then the converse is true… not doing good or just not choosing to do good, will lead us down a different path. I think, particularly in our culture, that we have become complacent. Many of us go about our every day … not necessarily doing “bad things” but also, not choosing good things either. We are dull. We are lukewarm. We are a bit lazy.

There is some energy required to move toward moral excellence. It takes effort to choose the better way. It’s a conscious choice. John Sandford speaks often of the “slumbering spirit” and I think this condition applies here as well. We must be wakeful and alert to the Holy Spirit. We must be wakeful and alert to opportunities in our daily walk. Look! Today, I expect to be challenged. I expect you will too.

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In order to “do good” or choose good over evil, one must first “recognize” what is good. That may seem obvious but I’m not so sure in today’s world that it is done so easily. The world has become quite complex and the “knowing” of what is good requires thoughtful and prayerful attention.

Certainly, the Word gives us a strong foundation for choosing good, but this element seems to fall under “knowledge” which is our 3rd step noted in our anchor verses, II Peter 1:3-10. Choosing the virtuous or excellently moral way comes first. So, if it is not based on our own knowledge, it must be rooted within and then tempered and fine-tuned with knowledge.

Let’s remember, the foundation was faith. If we have grounded ourselves in faith and communion and intimacy with the Lord, our ability to recognize “good” begins there. A key element then is hearing the Lord within our spirits. It is important to nurture that sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, our Teacher and Counselor, who is always speaking, whispering, and encouraging, “go this way, not that way.”

Touch the Spirit in prayer and the ability to identify and “choose good” grows from that seed of faith.

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