January 2010

There is a truism that states, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Herein lies the centrality of kindness to the effectiveness of our Christian witness. We are told we will be known by our love, not our doctrines, not our knowledge, not our beliefs, not our educational and health institutions, but our LOVE.

Indeed, kindness is a “witness in and of itself of what our God is like.” Indeed, part of the answer to the question posed in Micah 6:8 as to what it is the Lord requires is to “love mercy.” That’s an interesting way of putting it…it doesn’t say to “show” mercy or “do” mercy,” but to love it. We are to be so in tune with God’s heart that we desire mercy for others, just as He desires it for us!

Another saying — not so true — hold that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” This is perhaps one of the most terrible lies we ever teach our children, who learn soon enough that words DO hurt. And too often, they’re the weapon of choice, particularly with those closest to us. Perhaps the most effective way we can demonstrate kindness is to speak encouragement, always seeking to build others up…or at least never to tear down.


The story of Jonah provides a unique insight into various aspects of God’s patience, namely His patience and forbearance with those who know no better AND His patience with His people.

The same dichotomy can be seen in the opening chapters of Amos, where a list of horrendous crimes committed by the nations surrounding Israel is catalogued before coming to what, in comparison, seem “minor” infractions, but because they are committed by God’s people who are held to a higher standard, the oppression of the poor is held on a par with the murder of a pregnant woman.

Whenever considering characteristics of God that we in some way share, it is critical to understand that God’s perfect manifestation of said characteristics will always differ from ours. We see various instances throughout the Bible where God’s patience reaches a limit, but this is in the context of omniscience and eternity (as it usually takes multiple generations for His limit to be reached). Since we share neither of those characteristics, we must be careful of allowing our patience to run out (and mostly careful of what form this takes).

Mostly, as we consider God’s patience with His people, we would do well to remember with humility His patience with each of us individually. As we consider how we should bear with others who might not be in the same place as us, we would also do well to remember that we’re a work in progress…therefore, we’re likely not where someone else is, who hopefully is bearing with us in patience as we continue on our path of Christian maturity. May we all bear with one another in love and humility, encouraging and building up the body of Christ!

How are we to find peace in a world ravaged by war? In a world where terrorism is an ever-looming threat? In a world where catastrophes such as the devastating earthquake in Haiti can strike at any moment?

What is this peace that is promised as a fruit of the Spirit? That Christians are promised in this tumultuous world?

God’s own overtures of peace offer the best example, for He entered His created world that had been overrun by the enmity caused by sin and offered His creation reconciliation — a way back to the edenic fellowship between man and God.

Note that He was not the cause of the problem, but He offered the solution. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) We must be proactive in finding resolution to conflict, regardless of who is in the wrong.

We must also find balance in understanding that any peace on this earth will be imperfect, and must be achieved among turmoil. Right now, people around the world are overwhelmed by the devastation in Haiti, wishing they could do more, but we must not be so overwhelmed that we don’t do what we can, while recognizing that it is not enough and allowing that to motivate us to continue in our efforts long after it has passed from the headlines.

The peace that Christ demonstrated was not easy — it takes a constant connection with God and a commitment to doing His will.

At this time when we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech helps us to understand further the struggle and long-term commitment to achieving the peace God has promised:

…I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which …has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

…nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. …

…I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that … there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. …

“And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.”

I still believe that we shall overcome.

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. …

I’ve encountered some bad (albeit well-intentioned) teachings in my life about how a Christian should always have a smile on their face. This negates the reality of suffering in a sin-infested world, doesn’t take into account the many ways in which God speaks to us in His Word (including Lamentations), and certainly does not have Gethsemane nor the cross in view. In short, such teaching fails to make the distinction between a superficial happiness and deep inner joy.

As we see, the command to ‘rejoice always’ is conditioned by this rejoicing being “in the Lord.” (Phil 4:4) This is not a superficial smile pasted on to gloss over pain and ease others’ discomfort, but a knowledge that “this too shall pass,” and that we are living in the expectant hope of the ultimate realization of a place with no more tears, nor sorrows, nor pain. That time is not now, but we are encouraged in John to “be of good cheer,” despite tribulations of this world, for Christ has overcome.

And so it is Christ’s example we should follow in seeking to understand this joy, for certainly He fulfilled the prophecy foretelling He would be a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), but He endured suffering for the “joy set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2-3) This joy, then, must see things with heaven’s eyes, in light of eternity. We would do well to consider what we are willing to endure for the joy set before us, for Christ has secured that joy for us!

Lest we fall into the other errant teaching that would have us think there is nothing to enjoy in this world, and we should be ever-vigilant that we not be caught having fun, Christ left us plenty of examples to counter that, as well. In When God Whispers Your Name, author Max Lucado points out that Jesus took his followers to a party on His first journey:

His purpose wasn’t to turn the water to wine. That was a favor for his friends.

His purpose wasn’t to show his power. The wedding host didn’t even know what Jesus did.

His purpose wasn’t to preach. There is no record of a sermon.

Really leaves only one reason. Fun. Jesus went to the wedding because he liked the people….

So, while we’re promised tribulation, if we have that love of which we spoke last week and truly like these other people God has created and given us fellowship with, we will surely experience joy on this earth, as well as in the world to come. And if we are true to Christ’s example, our lives here should be lived in such a way that they bring joy to others. After all, Christ enjoyed His short earthly life so much that He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, and was counted a friend to sinners and tax collectors (Matthew 11:18-19)…who do you count among your friends?  Perhaps we need to widen our circle!

Imagine what our homes, schools, workplaces, churches, communities would look like if those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ truly exemplified the “noblest and highest form of self-sacrificing love” described in this lesson! What if we each had this love that included every facet of our being and let if flow out to those with whom we come into contact, acting intentionally for the good of other? Indeed, reflecting the way God Himself would act toward His beloved creation… 

While we know we cannot create a heaven here on earth, we are to called to be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), which indicates that we are to live as citizens and representatives of heaven within this sinful world. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” it is at once both a present and future reality. Indeed, as Walter Rauschenbusch notes in Christianity and the Social Crisis: 

The kingdom of God [in Hebrew tradition] was a social and collective hope and it was for this earth. The eternal life [of the Greco-Roman world], was an individualistic hope, and it was not for this earth. The kingdom of God involved the social transformation of humanity. The hope of eternal life, as it was then held, was the desire to escape from this world and be done with it. 

How, then, can we properly balance the future hope with the kingdom of God on this present earth? 

By demonstrating His love to self. While I’d steer clear of the kind of self-esteem taught within today’s secular society, Christians should not swing so far to the other extreme that they neglect the part of the command to love our neighbor that indicates how, namely “as yourself.” If seen in its proper perspective, this is actually incredibly helpful in our understanding how to love others. As C.S. Lewis describes in his classic Mere Christianity: 

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive.’… Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either…. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not to hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. 

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction…. But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. 

By demonstrating His love to our neighbor. [Luke 10] When questioned about what must be done to inherit eternal life, Jesus first turned the question back around to the inquirer, who rightly answered about loving one’s neighbor, but then asked, “Who is my neighbor?” It should be noted in Jesus’ response through the parable of the good Samaritan that He did not actually answer who “my neighbor” is, but “reframed the…question…to ‘To whom will I be a neighbor?'” (Frank Tupper, A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God

By demonstrating His love to our enemies. There is no more limitation on this command than there is on “loving one’s neighbor” or being one’s “brother’s keeper.” The objection to this often comes from what seems unrealistic in this world — turning the other cheek and appearing “weak.” What must always be remembered, however, is that it’s about the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world, or the tyranny of the here and now. 

Too often, we fall into the same pattern as the one who questioned Jesus — we ask questions we already know the answer to; questions God has clearly answered. So what does this love we’re called to look like? Look no further than 1 Corinthians 13. Is it easy? No. Can it change the world? Absolutely! Is it worth it? Jesus certainly thought so when He came while we were yet sinners that we might be saved.

[RELATED: “Faith, Hope, Love – the “Trinity” of the Christian Life?Why do ‘these three remain’? Why is the ‘greatest of these’ love?]