Tuesday, February 19, 2008

JUICY FRUITY GOODNESS - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 7 - February 16, 2008

“God is good…”
“All the time…”

The phrase, “God is good,” calls for a response. No matter what Christian gathering I have been in, the congregation or audience knows to respond, “All the time.” This exchange is always echoed by its reversal: “All the time,” “God is good.” If I were walking down the street and someone said, “God is good,” my mind would automatically finish the phrase. Like “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know,” “God is good…” is etched permanently in my mind.

I guess if you had to boil down the Good News to six words, “Jesus loves me” and “God is good” would just about cover it. Knowing that I’m loved is essential to my well being. And when things are going wrong and my life seems to be falling apart, it’s vital that I believe that God is good, ALL THE TIME—even when God seems absent.

David—the shepherd boy turned King of Israel—knew the meaning of crisis. When he was facing a giant, running for his life from King Saul, worrying himself silly over a rebellious son, running from his own sinful nature that led him into adultery and murder, or grieving the death of his newborn son, David inevitably sought God’s goodness. “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” And he encourages us to, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

In spite of one adversity or blunder after another, David firmly believed that, “God is good…all the time.” This does not mean, however, that David always felt the presence of God and God’s goodness. Many of his psalms record his fears, despair, loneliness, and his desperate cries to God to reveal his presence and purpose. In the midst of our own crises and losses, we easily identify with David’s feelings. We wonder, “Where is God?” In the midst of emotional pain, our focus narrows and we tend limit God’s goodness to our current situation. If we’re suffering, then God must be “away from his desk” and not returning our urgent voice mail messages.

We need to broaden our focus and reconnect with the truth that God’s goodness is inexhaustible and ever present. “God's providence has been supplying unending resources for life for 6,000 tumultuous years of human history,” states John Ritenbaugh. “These come as air, water, food, housing and reproduction and all the uses man's creative mind and energetic workmanship put them to. Even our minds and workmanship are products of God's goodness!” And, “in spite of our stiff-necked and rebellious conduct, He has continued to bear patiently with us, forgive us, supply us with life and knowledge and move us forward with His purpose.”

Yes, life is tough—and a lot tougher for some than for others—but our lives are permeated with God’s goodness and presence. We are bombarded daily via the news with countless examples of sin, downright evil, and mass destruction in the world—from the daily webcam of Brittany’s life to acts of terror around the world. Thus, we have to make a concerted effort to live out our spiritual heritage of goodness.

We can reconnect with God’s goodness by being God’s goodness in this sin wrought world. Juicy Fruit Goodness:

· begins with intention (It is possible to do good things, but for the wrong reasons, for example, to make ourselves look good or in the hopes of getting something in return.),
· is done out of goodness of heart, no strings attached, no hidden motivations,
· can be gentle (aid, forgiveness, mercy…) or sharp (confrontation, correction…), and
· is always done with the well-being of the recipient in mind.

“Ya’ll be good now, you hear?”

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
John Wesley

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

JUICY FRUITY KINDNESS: Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 6 - February 9, 2008

“‘ My kindness shall not depart from you.”
Isaiah 54:10

“Jesus B.” Jesus what? “Jesus, be,” says Pastor Jim Lyon (Madison Park Church). The point of his sermon is that we are to strive to be like Jesus: Jesus, be. Jesus describes God as kind and instructs us to “be” kind as well: "I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind..” (Luke 6:35 The Message)

While being kind isn’t always easy—and often is not my initial gut response to a challenging situation—I have a “God-created identity” with a spiritual predisposition to be kind: to Jesus “be.” The kindness gene is encoded in my spiritual DNA.

Most mornings, while still lying in bed, I whisper in my heart, “Thank you, Lord, for this day and for your loving-kindness which lasts forever.” Psalm 143:8 confirms that I’m on the right track when I acknowledge God’s loving-kindness before my feet hit the floor in the morning: “Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.”

“Loving-kindness” is kindness extraordinaire; kindness that goes the extra mile; kindness that permeates a personality; kindness bestowed on friend and foe. It’s difficult to describe, but I know it when I experience or witness it.

I experienced synchronicity (“the coincidental occurrence of events,” or as I like to call them, “God-incidences”) as I was preparing this column on kindness. While surfing the web in search of kindness, I learned that February 11-17 is “Random Acts of Kindness Week.” There was no rhyme or reason to the timing of my series on the Fruit of the Spirit; I never got the memo that there is such a thing as Kindness Week; and I’m not organized enough to plan ahead to coordinate such a meeting. It just so happened that this column on kindness falls on the eve of Kindness Week: God-incidence!

The purpose of “Random Acts of Kindness Week” “is to raise awareness about kindness and to invite people to give and receive kindness daily.” It provides the opportunity to experience the fruit of kindness: JOY!

The words “random acts of kindness” are a response to the well known catch phrase “random acts of violence.” “‘Random’ does not necessarily mean ‘unplanned’ any more than random acts of violence are unplanned.”

I invite you to act upon your “God-created identity,” to “Jesus, be,” and look for ways to be extra kind this coming week. The Random Acts of Kindness website (http://www.actsofkindness.org/) documents what people all over the world are doing to promote kindness:

· In Colombia S.A., Damir, Juan and Erasmo handed out chocolates in their school neighborhood. “We were glad seeing people smiling with happy faces when they receive their chocolates.”
· "UMOJA" (togetherness), a group of Kenyan youth formed to increase community awareness of the issues of the youth, raised funds by picking up trash.
· Bookworms in Hawaii established the “Honolulu BookCrossing ‘Ohana (family)” with the objective of making “the whole world a library.” How? By leaving books they’ve finished in public places, labeled with an invitation to take, read, and pass along the book to someone else.
· “Nostalgia,” a trio in Bangor, Maine sings at nursing homes and the VA hospital.
· The Extra Milers of Jeffersonville, Indiana, identify and honor people in their community that “go the extra mile.”

Please join me in this coming week in celebrating “Random Acts of Kindness Week.” Start with a smile. Dr. Steve Elliot, a local physician, reports that when he was in Russia on a mission trip, he was recognized as being an American—because he smiled. Sad to think, isn’t it, that there are places in the world where people are so downtrodden that smiles are rare.

Let’s light up Madison County, and beyond, with our smiles this coming week. Let’s also be good listeners, mediators, encouragers, Extra Milers… Jesus, be!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

JUICY FRUITY PATIENCE - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 5 - February 2, 2008

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with patience.
Colossians 3:8

“All good things come to he who waits.” “Patience is a virtue.” I wish that I had a nickel for every time a sagely adult offered such wisdom during my childhood—to spend on Juicy Fruit gum, of course. Yada! Yada! Yada! A lot of good those words did me when I was waiting for a new toy, a special event, a new pet (although I rarely asked permission for a pet; I just showed up at home with them), or a long awaited privilege. Patience remains an uncomfortable fit for me.

Nevertheless, I must remember that the Bible instructs me to clothe myself with patience. I think my patience is hanging askew on a rusty hanger in the very back of my closet, or maybe even wadded up under a pile of out of fashion shoes that I haven’t worn for ages.

In our spiritual closets, patience hangs out with the likes of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, godliness (2 Peter 1:5-6)), purity, understanding, (2 Corinthians 6:5-7), compassion, humility, meekness, forgiveness, harmony, thankfulness, wisdom, gratitude (Colossians 3:12-17), endurance, (Colossians 1:11), experience, hope, tribulation (Romans 5:305), suffering, affliction (James 5:10-11)—

—Whoa! Hold on there! I’m not comfortable at all with those last three garments: tribulation, suffering and affliction. Surely this is a mistake. I must have accidentally switched shopping bags with someone else while shopping. I would NEVER make such a purchase—even if it was on sale at 75% off!

Much as I hate it, patience is accessorized with suffering. The apostle Paul set an example for us to, “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) And, “know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance,” states James. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

Life is difficult and Paul further advises us to put on the armor of God, including a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, and a helmet of salvation. We are also to carry the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith (the word of God). All the while, we are to pray and be alert. I need to dig through that shoe pile so my feet can be “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Sandwiched in among garments of grace, drab garments of suffering, and unwieldy armor are additional garments that Clinton Kelly and Stacy London (fashion hosts of “What Not to Wear”) would throw in the trash can: anger (Colossians 3:8), “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” (Galatians 5:19-21 The Message)

Recently I prepared a box of clothes for the Christian Center—which remained in the trunk of my car for several weeks. Occasionally I rescued something that I realized I could not live without. It’s painful to give up my comfy yet shrunken warm up pants and my oversized, time worn sweatshirts. I feel like me in them. But some garments simply must go; the same is true with the nasty rags that clutter my spiritual closet as well.

There’s also a pile in my closet of items in need of repair, plus a scarf that I started to crochet last winter. I don’t have much patience for mending or finishing difficult projects, but I really do need to get my closet in order.

I’ll need to dress myself in patience for the task. Patience does not drape loosely on my form, moving only when fluffed by my hand or a breeze. Practicing patience involves “concentrated strength,” said Edward Bulwer-Lytton. I’d better don my bib overalls of self-discipline, too!