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Phil Stack
I Am a Good Person

Assessing the Good

Good is a word—and more. It represents a description. It is a word applied with great ease and frequency. It is so versatile it can apply to anything, a piece of paper, a curtain, even a person.

Good is like a piece of taffy; it stretches. It doesn’t cease with “good morning.” It is drawn out with a “good afternoon” followed by “good evening” and the beautiful and sometimes romantic, “good night.” Life is filled with the word. There is the good neighbor, good faith, and sayings like “Good golly, Miss Molly,” “The greatest good for the greatest number,” “Lady be good,” and “The good, the bad. and the ugly.” There is the Cape of Good Hope , good fortune, Good Queen Bess, The Good Shepherd, and Goodyear Tires.

Good is an infestation. There is more good in the world than there are ants crawling in the jungles, and, I am advised by the bug people, they too are good.

Good is cross-cultural; it crosses religious boundaries, it has no sex discrimination, and it has no territorial bias. Good speaks for unity because it can be derived from everything imaginable.

Reach for the Good in the clay and the dirt,
and build your statue of priceless worth;
Stroke the good in coloring,
then paint the lovely birds that sing.
Find the good in a fallen tree,
and let it shelter your family.

Take an “o” from “good;” God is there. Good, like God, is everywhere.

The Primary Mover of All That Is Good

At the Smithsonian in Washington , D.C. there is a huge pendulum attached by a cord high up on the ceiling. Its function is to move back and forth. But who caused it to move?

Just like the pendulum, the universe had a start and God made that first move. Nothing moved until He gave a first nudge. A good act is like that. It won’t happen unless someone initiates it. Someone first notices a need and says, for example, “I will help build that house for the poor,” or “I will share my potatoes.” It follows that if you have abundant power, you can do great things. However, if you have only potatoes, then potatoes are the best you can give.

But why do we give the vegetables? Perhaps because there is hunger, and we have compassion. We may give because the crop was good, and, having more than we needed for ourselves, we share out of our abundance. We may give because we anticipate something in return or because we want to show off and give our good image a face-lift. But something is left out. When citing the various reasons for performing a good act we forgot the most significant one of all, obedience to God. We fulfill another’s need not because of self-interests, which are often ruled by unbridled emotions, but because we obey God. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is His clear directive.

When there is an observed need, we listen at two levels of obedience. First, we listen at the level of the person’s need, like hunger. The condition speaks out as clearly as words. Second, we listen to God and hear, “Obey my word; feed the hungry.” The belief system is with God. All guidance, therefore, for combining need with the appropriate good act, occurs with a fervent desire to obey God.

God Created Man and He Called It Very Good

When God created earth, He called it “good,” and when He created man, He called him “very good.” Likewise, the role of man is to convert the raw material, the changeable gifts of the earth, which are good, to a very good, self-serving, practical condition. The gift of a tree, for example, is good. However, utilizing intellect, the tree can be made into a house, which is very good. The tree can also become an object of joy and good cheer at Christmas time.

An intended purpose of human beings is to strive for perfection, to be progressive, to convert what is good into a very good condition. The purpose is to improve the quality of man’s life, to serve in enhancing his worth, dignity, and capacities.

In the moral sphere, God seeks from man a pursuit of unity. A quaint example is a child’s drawing of a person with an arm missing. The picture is not complete. Draw an arm in the appropriate place and it becomes a unit, a total picture of a person. Consider also a man pursuing a woman. They merge into a love unit, a total composite of he and she. Their oneness is further solidified by the birth of a child.

Suppose you find a person shivering in the cold. Something is wrong with that image. It represents a need without fulfillment. But what does the need require to make right the image? Warmth. With a chivalrous gesture you offer your coat, deciding to be cold in his or her place. By adding warmth, you have completed the picture. You have established a unity, a oneness. It is not unlike the bitter cold of empty space becoming, all of a sudden, warmed by the creation of God’s universe.

When a need and a good act combine, there is a sense that they were meant to come together.

What Makes You Want to Be Good?

You may want to be good because you see the proper qualities in yourself. You judge yourself to be compassionate, helpful, giving, and obedient.

You may want to be good because of the benefits you will accrue, believing in the tenet, “What goes around comes around.” Furthermore, people will like you if you are good, and they will accept you for your positive qualities. They will see in you virtuous attributes: honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, and kindness. You may feel compelled to be good in order to follow an example obediently.

* * *

“Take my chair,” Nancy said, seeing that I was standing. Since I was quite a bit older, she made an assessment of our mutual inconveniences and concluded that I would suffer more by standing than she. Nancy ’s good act was only for me. I was the direct beneficiary but I was also unknown to her, neither a friend nor a relative. I was certainly not the president or a king. Then she would be pleasing only out of courtesy and respect rather than noticing a personal need.

When a parent requests a child to do something, and the child responds obediently, just as Nancy responded to my perceived need, the obedience should please the parent because a certain amount of respect is indicated. When we respond to another person’s need, we have also listened, and, by listening and providing a fulfillment, we have increased the value of the person we have helped. We can enhance a person’s value with the tiniest act of goodness, or we can increase it by an overwhelming act of goodness, a good act so powerful it can be remembered always. But what person would sacrifice that much for an unknown?

Do you know of someone who will suffer for you in order to elevate your personal status, as well as the status of everyone, so all can enjoy infinite value? It would be someone who performed a good act that was magnificent, the best ever. It would be a person who would take your suffering on Himself. He would suffer not only for a single incident, but for a whole lifetime of imperfections, and He would do it in such a way that He could never be forgotten.

The grandest good act of all was Jesus dying on the cross. He was King of the universe, not merely of the world. He taught us by example to be good, that our goodness be inclusive, and that we become selfless in treating the common person as the most treasured creature of all.

When you hear from someone, “Nobody treated me so nicely in my whole life,” then you have followed the example of God. Then you have increased the value of that person with a sublime good act whose impact travels to the soul’s depth.

Jesus suffered a great inconvenience by dying and elevating you and me to the highest peak of a wonderful status, making us heaven-worthy just because we are persons.

I also want to be good, selfless, and inconvenienced as I increase the value of others, just as my value has been so magnificently elevated by the suffering of the Lord. That is my reason, my passion for being good.

How to Be Called a Good Person without Even Trying

Consider a boy who sits beneath a plum tree. The plums have ripened, and he has made no effort to reach for a plum, yet would very much like to have one. He ponders, “How can I have it and not reach for it?” and he waits for somebody else to reach for the plum because he prefers to have it handed to him. Yet, he calls himself a plum picker. He says it because it is a favored title and everyone dislikes being called that other name, idle-sitter.

Can one deserve to be called a plum-picker while pursuing only the role of idle-sitter?

Twenty young people, ages 14 to 18, gathered in a circle. “Are you a good person?” I asked them. Each, without hesitation, said “Yes.”

Then I asked, “Why are you good persons?’’ Probably being group-influenced, they replied, “Because we are not bad persons.” None volunteered to explain the good they do. None mentioned their kindness toward others. Instead, they accepted the label “good” without explanation, without lifting a “goodness-finger.” The twenty are saying, “Don’t make us accountable. Being good is not uppermost in our minds. We don’t have to pick the plums because we certified ourselves as plum-pickers already. We don’t have to be concerned with the responsibility of good acts because we are good already.”

Apparently these children have been given the good promise, the message that God will take care of them. Indeed, God will take care of them, but they need to follow the message of God expressed through good actions. To say that one is good does not mean he does good acts.

Can You Respond to Hunger If You See It?

If you see a skinny dog you might feel he is hungry; if you see skinny dogs over and over you might feel like you’re in an impoverished country. If dogs are skinny in that country you might judge that food is scarce, and, maybe, there are skinny children living there also. With all that skinniness showing you might even judge that you are in a third world country where there is much poverty.

I was in a country, driving around in a comfortable van with three children and four adults on board, where I saw an abundance of skinny dogs. I focused on the three children, ages six, nine, and twelve, because they attended a religious private school, and each child brought along a book on gospel readings. If anyone should notice the skinny dogs and skinny, hungry kids, I was sure the children would. They did not. It did not concern them in the slightest, even when I repeated, over and over, “There goes a skinny, hungry dog.”

We had a bag full of assorted candies, many more than the children could eat. “Could I have a handful of candies?” I asked. “When I see some poor children playing along the road I want to toss out some candies for them.”

No response came from the children sitting in the rear of the van. But one aunt responded, “Charity begins at home,” meaning the candy is not for sharing.

It was lunchtime. All four adults and three children decided on fried chicken. A whole bucket of aromatic chicken pieces—breasts, thighs, legs, and wings—were soon being gobbled up by the group. I consumed four pieces along with mashed potatoes, peas, beans, and slaw. I soon began to collect the leftovers into a plastic bag for the skinny dogs.

Just as I was about to enter the van with my bag full of chicken scraps, something began tugging at my bag. I looked down to find two soiled children looking up at me. One was holding the bag and pointing to his mouth. I opened it and suddenly a tiny hand plunged inside grabbing a hand full of scraps.

“Wait,” I said. “Take it all,” and I handed the older, more aggressive boy, the whole bag. His sullen face brightened with a gigantic smile of joy as his skinny, dirty body writhed with excitement. Then he dashed off holding the bag, followed by three other skinny kids.

I wondered what the three children would report to their teacher regarding the trip?

Hearing What You Should Do Does Not Mean You Will Listen

If a child hears, “Love one another as I have loved you,” or “Feed the hungry,” what will happen? Probably nothing. The format of the preacher is to tell you what the Bible says you should do. He can preach incessantly with clarity and vigor and never know the impact on the lives of the listeners. A few compliments are offered afterwards expressing polite satisfaction, but it is an aesthetic or intellectual satisfaction, not a spirited, “Now I will do things differently.” I have never seen a church where the flow of God’s goodness through its members is assessed from one week to the next.

It is difficult to shift from “God will provide” to “Love thy neighbor.” “God will provide” is a more popular sermon, I think. And if it brings money into the church coffers, then maybe you will hear the “God will provide” kind of sermon more regularly. Yet we should study the veracity of this issue.

The choice we have is to take or to emulate, to receive from God or to do as God does as an act of obedience. Perhaps there should be a blending of both in the same person. In difficult moments you ask for God’s assistance; in strengthened times you take care of your neighbor and behave God-like toward him. If you have learned to emulate God and are inclined to disseminate God’s goodness, your good acts may spread further that you would think. It is my contention that many people know that they should be good but are not entirely aware why they should be good, how to be good, when to be good, or where to be good. Therefore, they may not realize the fullest manifestations of God’s goodness through them.

This book is intended to offer examples and insights that may increase the flow of God’s goodness, through everyone, into a needy world.

Do You Want to Be a Good Person?

Not everyone feels they are a good person. I made two hundred buttons which read “I am a good person” and distributed them among many people. A dozen of the two hundred hesitated or refused to wear the button, saying, “Only God can make that judgment.” One elderly woman refused a button because, as a child, her chores had doubled for “tooting her own horn.” One refused for a completely opposite reason, announcing, “I don’t need your button because everyone knows I am a good person.” The vast majority accepted the button and promptly pinned it on, stating forthrightly, “Yes, I am a good person.” Interestingly enough, there were quite a few who responded, “I try to be.” These were willing to wear the button as a reminder to improve themselves. “I’ll look at the button,” remarked one store clerk, “when I need to control my temper.”

Some Variations of Good Acts

Singular good acts: These acts have a simple objective. You help someone cross the street, and your good act is done. You hold the door for someone, and the good act is finished.

Multiple good acts: You do several good acts for the same person. Give him a ride, buy him food, and pay for his hotel. Here the caring is much more intensified and comprehensive. Multiple acts are not easily forgotten.

Simple or routine good acts: A smile or a “good morning” represents a simple good act. It is what we do every day. It is part of the “good manners” others expect of us. The routine good acts are individualized. How and when one manifests them is unique to that person. Change that routine, that idiosyncrasy, and everyone notices.

Complex or sacrificial good acts: You accept refugees from another country. They cannot speak English. You feed them, buy them clothes, give them medical attention, and find them work. You help organize their lives in a new society and then allow them to journey to a place where they feel comfortable with friends.

Immediate response with good acts: These are urgent. They require emergency care, such as rushing a person to the hospital. These can also be emergency issues that arise from natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.

Future effects of good acts: Teach a child by word of mouth or by example the merits of good conduct. What good acts we perform in our families today will help strengthen the adaptive goodness quality in our children during later years.

Unilateral good acts: You perform a good act, such as giving your neighbor a basketful of your garden potatoes, and you receive no tangible item in return. The process of giving goes one way. For that reason it is not the most popular interaction involving a good act.

Reciprocated good acts: Good acts that occur with a payback are very common. You give your neighbor the potatoes, and she gives you a jar of her canned beets. In the business world reciprocation is rampant. Each time you chose to have an item or a service and you pay for it, you have reciprocated.

Manipulated good acts: Transactions can be unjust or uneven. In the manipulation process one tries to achieve a benefit or gain that is more than one is entitled to having. Deception through misrepresentation, lying, and cheating are methods of looking good by establishing an untruth about oneself. These are often risky endeavors because they may result in mistrust or a negative image that is difficult to alter.

Sincere or deliberate good acts: These good acts are done purposefully. For these you go out of your routine. You seek the need, like a missionary does, rather than simply waiting for it to accidentally cross your path. You plan your day with the intention of being sensitive to the needs of others.

Accidental good acts: Each day when you drive your car you are surrounded by good acts. These are the drivers who are careful not to hit you. Because they protect themselves, they also look after you. Their act is good, but not intentional.

Concentrated good acts: Good acts are most concentrated where love is strongly and exclusively expressed. It seems that the nature of man and woman is to develop close, one-on-one relationships so that good acts have a massive, singular focus. It is a good atmosphere in which to begin family life and to saturate it with good acts.

Diluted good acts: Because certain human relationships are important for our stability, we concentrate our good acts in those connections. When we move outside of that boundary of meaningful, personal relationships our good acts lose their intensity. Our good acts turn into habitual good manners and polite words that embellish social decorum. Diluted good acts differ from concentrated good acts in that they are less permanent, less involved in commitment, and may be used as manipulations involving material gains.

Some Types of Needs

Healthy needs are essential requirements that help sustain our lives. These include food, water, clothing, shelter, and oxygen. Addictive needs involve a craving. These come in various categories and are very common—for example getting hooked on a drug, gambling, shopping, eating, or many others.

Any healthy need allows us to function optimally in both mind and body. Needs have different levels of intensity. In fact, we are often so preoccupied with our own needs that we can’t see the everyday needs of others.

The need to be asked: In order for good to flow outward from a person you need to ask. The Salvation Army has its kettle, which asks for your good to flow. Toss in a buck, and your good has flowed, meaning it has gone from you, to the kettle, to a person in need. Similarly, anyone can easily get at least a little good to flow by asking.

“Ask and it shall be given unto you,” said the Lord.

Surrounded by many shoppers at the grocery store, I was searching for an item. I decided to tap the resource standing conveniently just next to me. “Where do I find the Saran Wrap?” I asked my resource, a woman looking at the canned vegetables.

She stopped, put her hand to her chin, and replied, “Let me see—down by the pop and potato chips; one, two, three rows from the end.”

“Thank you so much for your kindness,” I replied. That pleasantly helpful person had tossed a coin into my kettle. It is like sprinkling God about in the grocery store. It is He who must certainly derive satisfaction from allowing His goodness to show.

The need to be noticed: Besides the need to be asked to help is the need to be noticed. For example, a man with a carton of cigarettes stood behind me in a check out line. I noticed and asked, “You going to smoke all of them?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Do you want to stop?”

“Been smoking since I was 15. I know I should.”

“Good luck. Hope you make it.”

“Thanks, I’ll try.”

Most people enjoy being noticed. Furthermore, it is an innocuous, simple act of giving value to someone. To notice him is to say he is worth noticing. It is like saying, “Hi there, I see that you exist.” The cigarettes are but the go-betweens, the concrete items that are superficial to the person-to-person encounter. Thank goodness for the go-betweens. They are the keys that open the door to our hearts.

Need for a comfort zone: For good to flow freely it requires a need for an appropriate comfort zone.

It is wonderful to feel secure, especially about home. One morning when I was leaving home I overheard a neighbor say to her daughter, “Have a good day at school, honey, and I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

“That is really neat,” I thought. Stepping down from the parental pedestal and acknowledging a human frailty in front of your child is a powerful act of caring. An apology is a relaxant. It puts the mind at ease for both the offender and the offended. Coming from a parent it is especially important because it communicates the message, “All is well at home.” 

The need to believe in God: If you have a need to believe in God, then believe. If you don’t believe, then there are abundant mind-changing influences in the world ready to help you. A belief in God is a stabilizing influence and a modifying or changing influence. It is an act whereby you open the door for God’s goodness to pass through you into a needy world.

* * *

When Bill was 26 years old he had a conversion. He was a “bad boy” until then, drinking and womanizing. He heard some preacher talking here, another there; it was getting to him. His dormant conscience was stirring. Then Bill concluded, “I can die and go to Hell.” Suddenly he was afraid. He called it “the fear of the Lord.” It made him change. Now the former “bad” Bill can recite quotes from the Bible just like Billy Graham. Today it is virtually impossible for him to give up his relationship with God.

I am the same way, but I never did have that conversion. God is in my soul, in every cell of my body. But Bill says my state of grace is less than his because I had no conversion. I wonder why am I wrong, and he is right. You let well enough alone if the need to believe in God is satisfied. There is no need to say, “My need is legitimate, but yours is incomplete.” This is exactly the issue and reason, I contend, that started the crusades and holy wars. It is exactly the reasoning of religious intolerance and, consequently, bloodshed in the world today. Bill is demonstrating beautifully, though in a smaller way, an act of intolerance.

The mind can twist anything and make it look right. If you hurt your neighbor, just say it is God’s wish and he or she should be granted martyrdom for it. That doesn’t sound like the caring, “Love thy neighbor” kind of God I know. You can reference the name of God to anything. It is just an erroneous application of a word. If the result is not loving one another or being good to one another, helping, sharing, and being unified, it has nothing to do with God.

With belief, God fuses with your mind and soul. You can’t shake it. You are Him. You live Him; you breathe Him. Your need for God is firmly placed. At this point you are not interested about a detail in the Bible that you missed. At this point you are not interested in the atheistic position that God is an illusion. You want compassion and understanding, mostly in terms of being left alone with your satisfied state of mind.

Let the person who believes believe. Tolerance means don’t tamper with that fusing between a person and his God when his spiritual need has already been accommodated. If not, that person is fair game for persuasion by Bill or anybody else who is evangelizing. Otherwise, hands off, because you may be questioning or nitpicking at that very belief that sustains a person. It is serious business because you are not only attacking what he believes, but, because his belief has become him, you are attacking him.

Anticipating a Good Act

I will move about as I ordinarily do, through a maze of straight-aways and bends, turns and bumps, one day at a time. Each day there will be a time when the maze will reveal its needful secrets. Awaiting the need, I will take my talent, courage, and awareness, and, whether I stand in line at McDonald’s or wait for a traffic signal to change, my mind will alertly anticipate the encountering someone’s need. I will see weaker arms and lend my stronger arms. I will see someone lost and give direction. To one needing talk, I will listen closely. I will be servant-like and be alert to the crying out of the need. I will act as if I were doing it for someone I loved dearly.

Knowing that I cannot do alone what I have outlined for myself to do, I will ask for the help of a counselor to accompany me. My spiritual friend will give me courage to do what was needed and joy when I can taste the sprinkle of goodness that I give. In this life I will do all the good I can, remembering:

I can influence the future; I can improve on my past.
I’ll seek a Mission Moment, a good act that will last.
With love I’ll fill that moment, for it will pass away.
The chance will be lost forever, if I do not care today.

May I Tell You What You Like to Hear?

I went about my routine business today with one exception: I was telling more people than usual what I liked about them. A lady was sitting in a wheelchair. “Hello,” I said, “are you able to walk?”

“A little,” she replied.

“You’re dress is so beautiful.” She smiled, her husband smiled, and both said “Thank you.”

I then went to the photography department to get pictures. “How in the world can you keep trim like that?” I remarked to a young woman standing near me. “What is your secret?”

She smiled and remarked proudly, “And I eat everything.”

I went to get brakes checked on the car. I was able to say something nice to a mechanic who was lacking sleep. To an elderly man who kept working hard at his job I gave concern, and to a baker, who was worried about passing his test to be a Master Baker, I gave words of hope.

I realized I was telling people things they liked to hear, but none of them were asking for it. I did this to acknowledge a positive characteristic of each. It was saying, “Hi there; I acknowledge you are not only there, but you are there for me; I am not only here, but I am here for you.” I think it’s in the context of fellowship that I tell people what they like to hear, that they may think better of themselves.



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