I’ve heard a lot of jokes and funny stories from preachers. One that has stuck in my mind was about a little boy who kept looking behind him as he was walking home from church with his grandmother. She asked why he kept looking back, and he responded that he was looking for Shirley Goodness and Mercy. The grandmother didn’t understand and asked what he meant. The child explained that the preacher said that Shirley Goodness and Mercy would be following them, and he wanted to see who they were.
In the last post, Goodness Gracious, I wrote about goodness that comes from the Holy Spirit, and how we all need grace. Because the post was so long, I posed a question that I didn’t answer – “Really, who thinks of goodness as a powerful virtue?”
There is a counseling theory that has proven to be effective for many people in a variety of situations, cognitive-behavior theory or CBT. I won’t get into the details of it here, as this is not a counseling blog, and my counseling is still in its infancy, but essentially, it looks at how our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interrelated. When we change our thoughts (or emotions or actions) it affects the other two (Corey, 2015).
This brings to mind one of my favorite Bible verses.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.” Philipians 4:8
So, what are the good things we can think about? We know it is good to be with people we love. It is good to laugh with friends. It is good to forgive. It is good to help others. It is good to have what we need, to drink cool water when we’re hot and thirsty, to have enough money to pay bills, and to prepare for what is coming ahead. It is good to acknowledge someone’s hard work.
Sometimes, we don’t have those good things. I’ve had times when I was lonely, hungry, broke, and worked hard with little to no appreciation or acknowledgement. It can lead to bitterness and anger, am I right? I got all caught up in bitterness and it choked a lot of good things in my heart.
One of the ways goodness was choked out was that I was disappointed and hurt when my expectations for how people should treat each other was not met. Then all the good things I read in the Bible, or heard, seemed false and unrealistic. I was trying to see a correlation between the two, and it just wasn’t there. It’s especially painful when these problems are within your own family.
Here’s a quirky kind of thought I’ve had about Jesus. Essentially, He’s the ultimate, perfect, big brother. He tells us how to live, sets an unattainable example that none of us can compete with, and has the best relationship with the Father – is the Father. When families get together, there’s always that fun teasing – “Remember when. . .” to remind each other of embarrassing moments and shortcomings. What can anyone say about Jesus? ‘Remember when you stayed at the temple, and mom and dad didn’t know where you were?’ Maybe it sounds a little too familiar to think of our Savior like that, but it helps me remember that He is real, and really knows what it’s like to live in a family.
But then, God gave me His grace – and mercy. He could have given up on me. I thought He had.
Mercy. Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
I think the power of goodness is in having a free, strong mind.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV)
The power in goodness is that even in hardships, even in front of enemies, we can do good things, keep our minds on good things, and feel good things because we know we have God’s mercy.
Think about it.
(2015). Theory and practice of counseling and
psychotherapy . Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Exams – Graduations – Selling Our House – Leaving Our Son at College Making Our Nest Truly Empty – Managing 3 Moves in 1 Summer – Starting New Jobs – Adjusting to Living Overseas
Right now, we’re still waiting for the majority of our belongings to arrive, we’re working through getting acclimated to new stores, new places, new road rules, and for me, it’s all in a new language.
God has been Good, and I’ve witnessed His Grace extended to our family and me over this whole period. It hasn’t been easy; we’ve all had times of fear, grieving losses, saying good-byes, and loneliness. But, there are also feelings of excitement for all the new beginnings.
Eventually, we’ve all had to come to a place where we have had to let go and move forward – again. God has been faithful to provide and orchestrate so many good things. Things having to do with timing, relationships, and working through mistakes we’ve made.
By all means, the transition is far from over, but I think
the initial jolt has passed.
As an aside and reintroduction – I wasn’t sure if I would write again. I am fighting my natural tendency to hide and stay private. I’ve learned that is a pretty safe thing to do – especially when in a new place. But – I don’t think God wants me to stay hidden and safe. As long as the Holy Spirit puts on my heart something to put on this blog, I will stay obedient. I don’t understand how what I write matters much, but I know it’s not about what I think or imagine as long as I commit and submit the whole of it to God.
So, full disclosure, I am not a theologian. I have not attended seminary, and what I
write is based on what God is teaching me through His Holy Word, prayer, life
experiences, and spiritual growth. I can
only share my perspective, and knowing that, I understand others’ perspectives
may differ. As long as you, the readers,
understand and agree that we are all going through life together, learning as
we go, when we have disagreements, may we do so in good faith that God is
teaching us through His Holy Spirit and one another.
I know that with rebooting this blog, I want to post with greater consistency, committing to at least one post a month. I love getting feedback from you, the readers. I do review the comments before they go public, so if you don’t see your comment right away, it may be because I haven’t seen your comment yet. It may take a little time especially since I am in a drastically different time zone than anyone in the US.
When I was young, memorizing scripture was part of Sunday school, Sunbeams, and the many other organized church activities that was just a basic expectation for our family. The emphasis was to learn it in order to apply it.
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” Psalm 119: 11 (ESV).
The verses I memorized as a child were instrumental in how I
developed my faith and guided my decisions.
As an adult, I find it exhilarating to review those simple, basic verses
to see the absolute beauty and truth in them.
One of the earliest memory verses I can remember is the Fruit of the
Spirit, found in Galatians.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5: 22 – 23 (HCSB).
Two simple verses with a nice, tidy list that should be
simple to memorize, right? Yet, I still
have trouble remembering all nine virtues, so I know it is good to spend some
I will be writing about those virtues for the next several posts. This will be kind of like a Bible study series. I am sure there are many other Bible studies, sermons, and devotions written on the Fruit of the Spirit. In order to maintain originality, I am choosing to not read and present someone else’s thoughts. If I do find something that I think is valuable to add to the conversation, I will most certainly give credit and reference the author. However, as someone who grew up with these kinds of scriptures as foundational building blocks, I think it’s important to consider them again through the eyes of an adult, rather than a child.
Let’s start with Goodness.
“Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Psalm 34:8
Since goodness and righteousness are so closely related, it can be a bit tricky to not get sidetracked to issues that are sensitive and divisive, like self-righteousness and condescending judgmental attitudes. I’ve touched on those topics in previous posts, specifically Judgmental Christians and Not That Big of Deal. I want us to consider the positive associations of goodness.
Yet, good and righteous are so close, that there are times when I am faced with a real dilemma. As an example, there’s a question that is often found on surveys that I find difficult to answer. I’ve seen it in one variation or another, but essentially it asks –
‘Do you believe most people are basically good?’
I struggle with this question because on one hand, yes, I do believe most people do try to be good, make good choices, and view themselves as mostly good, myself included. However, scripture tells us that no one is good, or righteous, and that we all need salvation.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” Romans 3:22 – 24 (NIV).
Like the word “love”, I think “goodness” gets used in a variety of ways. It starts to become diluted, weakened, and even twisted to mean the opposite.
Someone can be labeled a goody, two shoes, something can be called too good to be true, and even lyrics are used to show that it isn’t good to be good as in “The Good Die Young.”
And of course, the quote often used to justify bad or rebellious behavior of women – “Well-behaved women seldom make history” (1976, L. T. Ulrich).
I mean, really, who thinks of goodness as a powerful
virtue? There’s excitement in doing the
wrong thing sometimes.
Paul writes about Moses, “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin” (NLT). Hebrews 11:25
First, I think we need to discuss moral development and our tendency to put goodness on a rating scale. For example, children often see the world in black and white, something is either good or bad, with nothing in between. If a young child has a bad or scary experience with a dog, then in that child’s mind, all dogs are bad. As an even better example, we’ll use the “rule” that most children learn, that it is bad to write on walls.
As we get older, and we develop more advanced cognitive
abilities, we soon find our childhood beliefs challenged and we test the
So, a child decides to write on a bathroom wall or desk. The “rule” becomes a little grayer as we begin to rationalize our actions as not so bad, better, or worse. That’s when we here things like, “Everyone else is doing it,” “She did it first,” “I only wrote . . .,” and so forth. If you wrote something small where others had already written, and nobody seemed to get into trouble, then you were still pretty good. You weren’t going against what was socially acceptable. But, if you wrote something like a threat with curse words in a conspicuous area, where no one was supposed to write, for everyone to see, then, you were a “BAD” kid. And bad kids were ostracized and punished. (Or by some students, completely accepted and considered heroes, especially in middle school where rebellion is normal and developmentally appropriate, depending on the target of the threat.)
As adults, we have pieces of our childhood lessons mixed in with our ability to think abstractly and greater experience. We are able to rationalize even more, and we can hold several different positions at the same time. The action of the child was bad, the child is not bad, and if we know what the child is going through at home, or in the school, we are likely to blame the parents – then the parents are bad.
Okay. Enough. There’s a vicious circle to it.
Society says we all have our own truth. We certainly all have our own perspectives and experiences, and those are what inform our beliefs about the world. Comparisons and experiences can create confusion causing us to doubt what we thought we KNEW to be true. Unfortunately, sometimes good things get twisted into looking bad and the other way around. I think most often, we just jump to conclusions without having a clear picture. Especially with social media – we are still in that middle school, join the crowd or be pushed out, rejected, mentality. It all becomes relative.
We (general population) believe the church says you have to be good to be acceptable to God, to the church, and you have to follow all the rules or you won’t go to heaven. I’m sure there are some churches that still teach that. Or maybe there are some churches that seem to give off the, ‘you are all guilty and worthless sinners, so do what we tell you to do’, kind of vibe. There are many churches that don’t teach that, but if one thinks that’s what church is about, then why ever go?
By the way, I was a good girl. Shocker, I know. I don’t think I ever wrote any graffiti anywhere. I wanted to be obedient, but I was also questioning the whole time. For example, I grew up in a church denomination that said, No drinking, No dancing, and No cussing. Real life Footloose. However, when I learned to read, the church’s covenant was posted on the wall, and I read to see where it said drinking wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t on there. I wondered where that rule came from. I still didn’t drink until I was legally allowed to, except for a sip here or there. (See – not that bad, still mostly good.)
In the Bible, there are lists of things that are good and bad. We most often hear of the bad things, the things we aren’t supposed to do. The Ten Commandments are written in negative form – “Thou shalt not . . .” There are many things listed in the Old and New Testament as examples of sinful, wicked, or evil behaviors. For example, just a bit earlier in Galatians we read,
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage; rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” Galatians 5: 19 – 21 (BSB).
Furthermore, we have Jesus telling us even our thoughts are evil.
“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander.” Matthew 15: 18 – 19 (BSB)
If our thoughts, even the ones that pop up uninvited, are considered bad, how can we ever display goodness? How can we be good? We know we can’t, so we justify our thoughts and actions by saying things like, “if it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” or “he/she deserved it,” or “no one knows, so it doesn’t matter.”
But God knows. He’s the only one who does know our hearts.
“A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart” Proverbs 21:2 (NIV).
When you read the whole of Galatians, even if it’s just chapter five, you will find that Paul is comparing the natural inclinations of people without God with those who have the Spirit of God guiding them. The virtues listed are the natural good things of God. Without Him, without His grace, we will continually fall short. And He knows how much we need His Grace, even if we don’t recognize the need ourselves.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior” John 3: 16 – 17 (GNT).
Sometimes we use the scaled list of good to evil to help us feel better about ourselves. Some of us who have received God’s grace, forget how much we still need it – EVERY SINGLE DAY. This can lead us to arrogant thinking that we are just naturally good and deserve the gift of grace over others. We twist the good and precious gift of grace as if we earned it, using it against others who we think are messed up more than ourselves.
Friends, we have all done or thought something bad, and we all need the gift of grace. And those of us who have experienced that precious, amazing gift of grace, need to remember to share it with others. To not hold it like a secret possession that is rare and reserved for only for a few.
Who is excluded from God’s gift of grace?
What about people out there who have been told that they are unworthy to receive God’s grace? What if there are people who believe that there is no way God will ever accept them? What about the people who believe they rejected by the church because of their tendencies, actions, and preferences? Because this is what is all really about – acceptance and rejection.
Is God’s love for everyone except ——–?
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” Mark 2:17 (NLT).
God doesn’t offer grace because we are good. God offers grace because we are not good – even those of us who are considered pretty good.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let’s be careful about how we represent the grace and love of God to those most vulnerable, the most in danger of missing out on the Amazing Grace that God freely offers. Let Him take care of working His goodness through us and in the lives of those around us. He is patient and kind, slow to anger.
We are reminded of the importance and reality of God’s judgment, the necessity of God’s goodness and grace with the words Paul wrote to the church in the book of Romans. There was a debate regarding whether or not Greeks, or Gentiles, were acceptable to God:
“There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew, then for the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, first for the Jew, then for the Greek. For God does not show favoritism” Romans 2: 9 -11 (NIV).
The only ones who miss God’s grace and goodness are those who reject Him with an unrepentant heart. May we never become arrogant in our salvation, but rather, remain humble servants, cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit through obedience.
Just a fun little ending here. I had been working on this post for a while, but I had been struggling to figure out how to wrap it up, to know if I was supposed to restart the blog. My husband and I were visiting some beautiful places here in Germany, including a famous church that is hundreds of years old. As I’m walking around the back, I see this:
Who would think it’s a good idea to carve on a famous, historical church’s pew? Goodness Gracious! I bet there’s a great story there.
Again, it is up to our own choice, our own free will, to accept God’s grace and salvation. We get to accept or reject Him.
Finally, I leave you with this encouragement:
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” 2 Peter 3:18 (NIV).
Because I believe in reading things in context, here are links to the scriptures I used to guide what I wrote:
Here’s the reference for the quote about well-behaved women. Although I haven’t read the article yet, and I suspect I will want to write about it much later, it’s important to reference and cite properly!