Here’s an interesting experiment akin to Pavlov’s dogs: During a conversation with a young person—defined as anyone under thirty, or maybe sixty, years old—mention one of these trigger words: Church; God(not in a profane sense); Jesus(again, not profanely); Christ(Get it now?); Grace; Salvation; Forgiveness; or worse, Abstinence. Observe the subject’s facial expression and body language. If the subject exhibits eye-rolling, squinting or shifting eyes as if searching for an escape route, a frown, condescending smile or screwed-up mouth, crosses his or her arms or leans back slightly, she/he/it is skeptical about anything vaguely religious-sounding.
Invite said young person to church, and the first words you’ll probably hear are, “But it’s not fun!” or “But it’s boring!” Which are the same thing. Add to that invitation the fact that they can’t take their iPod with them, and the reaction may reach critical mass.
Observing a reaction isn’t the same as understanding it or knowing what you can do about it. It’s as if the subject demographic has a severe aversion to things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Actually, I doubt mild stuff like love and joy stimulate such hostility; the problem is with the expectation words, as if they translate to rules designed to spoil your good time. So, let’s briefly explore what those other words imply.
Peace isn’t passivity. It’s not about wearing boring, old-fashioned clothes, or about not wearing makeup or spiked hair. It’s not total withdrawal from stuff that gives you that adrenalin rush. Peace is feeling at ease with other people, including God, and loving them because God does, even though they don’t deserve it. It’s looking for the best in others, rather than letting their faults get under your skin—I mean, everybody’s got faults, right? And peace is loving yourself, because Jesus loved the imperfect you, enough give his perfect life to buy you back from that scuzzbag Satan, who owned you lock, stock, and barrel. In other words, peace isn’t just a lack of conflict; it’s the quality that delivers you from conflict.
Patience can be problematic, as it’s one of the hardest character traits to get right. But that doesn’t mean having it isn’t worth the hard work of getting it. For one thing, patience leads to peace. You don’t like it when people are impatient with you, right? So how can you justify jumping all over others when they aren’t quick enough. Lots of people are naturally slow—I was born slow—and aren’t trying to exasperate you. Give ‘em a break, even if you are quicker than they are.
Kindness is kinda old-fashioned in this day of attitude. Somebody torpedoes you in the hallway and your armload of books and papers goes all over the place. You don’t expect anybody to stop and help you pick them up so you won’t be late for class, but when that rare, kind person pitches in, you really appreciate it. That kind person helped you, not because he had to, ‘cause you wouldn’t have known that he hadn’t. He did it because he wanted to, just like Jesus wanted to die for your sin. You can’t die to take away anybody’s sin, but you can lend a needed hand.
Goodness isn’t necessarily the opposite of badness. Lots of bad people act good for a purpose, so they can feel good, or to get on your good side so they can use you. Goodness also means high or satisfying quality, such as good-quality clothing, food, or even high-tech toys. But mostly, goodness is integrity, or doing what’s right even when no authority figure is watching.
Faithfulness is keeping your word. An old-timey phrase goes, “My word is my bond,” which means it’s as good as money in the bank, completely trustworthy.
Gentleness is the way you treat people, even those you don’t like. It’s doing your best not to hurt them, like telling the truth in a non-hurtful way, rather than jabbing them with it like a knife.
Oh, the hardest is, of course, the last. Self-control means going against what you want to do or say or be, just because you want to do or say or be what’s best—not what will give you the most personal gratification.
Well … sorta. All those great character traits are impossible without God’s Holy Spirit coming into your life to help you bear His spiritual fruit. Thing is, no one wants to be a barren vine, good only for burning in the slash pile. But without God’s Holy Spirit tilling your soul’s clumpy, dried-out soil, and pruning all the useless suckers from your branches, you will bear only shriveled, worm-eaten fruit.
Yes, Jesus died and rose from the dead to give you eternal life, but if you’re a true Christ-follower, you will be and have so much more.