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Whatever Happened to Kindness?

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When I talk with my grandchildren I always discover new words that are popping up. Some are a great deal of fun, but others may leave me scratching my head. For example, one of my grandsons will often respond to something good that is being suggested as “solid.”  Another grandson is known to say something is really “bad” and that now means “good.”

It seems like just yesterday that many of us said something was “cool” at similar times. Oxford Dictionaries Online say we add about 1,000 new words per year and other words disappear or appear to shift in meaning or usage.

One word I hear far less than I once did is the word kind. I recall hearing admonitions to be kind to others not only from my parents or Sunday School teachers, but also my school teachers. I even heard it on some of the popular TV shows of the 50’s.

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In the turbulent 60’s the word kind seemed to begin to fade from common usage. I specifically recall it reappearing when President George H.W. Bush called for a “kinder and gentler” nation in accepting his nomination to the presidency in 1988.

As I go about daily life I am persuaded that we need more kindness than ever before. If I ask someone what kind means, he or she will often say it means being “nice.” That is somewhat of a vague description when the dictionary states plainly that it means, “being friendly, generous, and considerate.”

Proverbs 11:17 (NLT) makes a strong case for kindness:

“Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you.”

Given the state of the world, society, our neighborhoods, schools, and government that could point to why so much destruction is occurring.

I recently was reading Romans in the Message and in chapter 2 as we near the end of verse 4 Paul gives insight into the kindness of God and its use:

“God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.”

I wonder if kindness began to dim when we were deceived into believing it reflects weakness.

Andrew J. Bauman noted in Stumbling Toward Wholeness:

“Love precedes kindness. Without love we cannot be kind.”

That suggests the core issue is love or the lack of it, love that comes from One greater than us. Too often we love (or try to) based on a feeling. The Lord loves because He is love.

And here’s the deal. We need to start with accepting it from Him and appropriate his kindness toward us to be transformed into someone who is kind. Somehow we get that part mixed up and either let ourselves totally off the hook or hold ourselves hostage despite his offer of grace.

“Kindness to self is a lost art in Christendom, yet without it we become stuck in the early part of the restoration journey. Kindness is the grease of God to get our transformation moving. Kindness gives us the ability to press on even in the darkest of times.”

Andrew J. Bauman

Maybe we get mired down in that belief I mentioned earlier: kindness means niceness. It is not mere kindness.

Bauman says: “Kindness is not for the faint of heart nor the chronic people pleaser.”

If we are looking for examples of kindness in scripture, we can start with the father in the parable of the prodigal son. We can also see it in the confrontation of Nathan to David when David orders Uriah the Hittite to the front lines of battle for a certain death so David won’t be exposed for sleeping with Uriah’s wife.

Nathan loved David. His loving confrontation is an example of kindness toward David. Why?  It led to David’s repentance. There could be no greater kindness to someone Nathan loved. There you see again that love is the source of the kindness.

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If our daily life is not showing evidences of kindness, it’s time to look beyond the superficial behaviors that appear kind and look at our heart condition.

In Galatians 6:22-23 (NIV) Paul writes plainly that kindness is a fruit of the Spirit at work within us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Whatever happened to kindness?

When our heart condition is not residing in the grace, mercy, truth, and love of the Lord, it seems unlikely we will see much evidence of kindness in our life.

And maybe that is where we need to start realizing that it starts with each one of us becoming what we say we are, so that the entire world can see the Lord’s transforming grace at work.

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Are We Contagious?

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In the northern hemisphere we are caught in the throes of winter and most places I go, I see hand sanitizer dispensers to help all of us stay healthier. Ads abound about risks of flu, washing our hands, not coughing around others, and more.

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Disease is contagious and can be easily spread from one to another. We see that in epidemics and rare but dreaded pandemics. As a result, the question about contagiousness suggests a caution about taking a risk of being around anyone who is labeled as such.

As a result the word contagious shows up in a pretty negative light oftentimes, but is it really always a “bad actor?”

Can it ever be positive or a gift?

The dictionary speaks of something (usually disease) that is “spread from one person to another by direct or indirect contact.”

I confess that I initially ascribe the worst sort of view to the word, but I am rethinking my evaluation because there are other things that can be decidedly positive that are also contagious.

It’s been said that we tend to become like the people with whom we spend our time. In most cases it isn’t that they are directly teaching us something (even though sometimes they might be). Most of the time it is because we “catch” whatever it is that emanates from them – good or bad.

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If we are around people who tend to be highly critical and judgmental, then despite our best efforts we will often develop more of those characteristics as well. If we are around people who are joyful and positive much of the time, we will find it more difficult to see our glass as half empty.

I have often shared that I am less concerned about what I taught my children or students or clients and more concerned about what they may have “caught” from me that I surely did not intend.

A cursory study of history will show what happens when in the midst of a fierce battle someone steps forward with courage and against all odds. Soon others join in…the courage is “caught.” It happens in every war and battle.

In the movie “Glory” whose theme is centered in the U.S. Civil War, the final scenes involve the Massachusetts 54th being asked to assault a position of the Confederate Army that is impossible and sure to result in great bloodshed. The Union unit is made up of African-American soldiers led by Caucasian officers. The task is one that would cause the bravest to shudder and give in to fear.

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Colonel Shaw is the commander of the unit and he knows that everything is stacked against them. As an officer he could choose not to lead the charge and bring up the rear, but instead he steps to the front and leads the men up the hill. It would appear to me that his courage was contagious.

It’s an example of how contagion can be a gift. We can “catch” something, some good quality from someone else, that spurs us forward and buoys up our own reluctance and fear.

If we consider the spread of the Gospel by a rag-tag group of disciples who were largely uneducated, ravaged by grief from the death of their leader, full of weaknesses of various kinds, and not known to be consistently brave, we see as the Holy Spirit filled them they gained courage. They stood “with” one another in the face of persecution and their courage was contagious and spread far and wide.

Ponder how many lives were changed by the courage of 12 men whose love and passions were contagious.

What happens in our relationships?

If we play it safe and keep things on the surface, there is little growth in deepening the relationship. We can make that choice and some of our relationships will be much like that, but if we long for friendships that are deeper, richer, and spur our thoughts, behaviors, attitudes…our character…to higher levels, then we will need to challenge ourselves to risk being more courageous.

Experience teaches us where and with whom we can move in greater openness and vulnerability and be used to spread the fruit of the Lord’s light and love within us. That kind of contagion is a gift indeed. It is absolutely necessary if we are to be channels of his love.

“Vulnerability and courage are contagious and can be caught by those we love if we can first boldly blaze the trail.”

Andrew J. Bauman

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket − safe, dark, motionless, airless − it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis from The Four Loves

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Crunch Time

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Crunch time happens to all of us at various points in our lives. We can usually identify courses and term projects when we were still involved in being educated that can cause us to shudder. I get a close-up view of those with my grandchildren who are at various stages of academic pursuit, but crunch time doesn’t end when we leave the classroom or lecture hall.

Crunch time…it’s that time period when there is great pressure to succeed or handle something unexpected. We feel it when we are running out of time or the task seems to be too big for us. It’s when our mettle is tested and we will be judged by the outcome of our efforts. We can get caught when our efforts slacked off. Maybe we wait till the last minute to get the work done or have failed to study.

Crunch time also happens when a sudden illness strikes, we are in an accident, our job disappears, or a temptation crops up when we were sure we had that thing defeated.

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A lot starts happening during crunch time. We feel the stress building up inside of us and our blood pressure may jump up. We might develop a headache or migraine. We tend to be irritable with anyone and anything. Our sleep gets disrupted.

What happens next will generally go in one of two directions. We will dig in and summon up something from somewhere deep inside us and face the challenge head on or we will cave in, give up, try to run from it or withdraw with a certainty we are not only failing but are also a failure.

That decision will largely be determined by the habits we have practiced all our lives up until that point. These are not only behavioral habits, but habits related to how we communicate, habits about what we believe, and habits about our value for relational connection.

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Developing good habits is not something we get excited about. They require discipline and practice over time…even when everything is going well. Ugh! They also chafe at our desire to be free to do what we want when we want while believing we will always be able to do what is necessary when the time comes. How the enemy of our souls delights in such folly.

Good habits, healthy habits, don’t just happen. They always require something of us.

Think about the challenging training Navy Seals, Marines, and other service members go through. Many do not make it.

Why is it so tough? 

Their leaders know the training must bring these individuals to the end of themselves again and again so the training in good habits kicks in automatically when they are in actual crunch time situations.

Bad habits are quite the opposite of good. They require no practice and initially they may appear to cost us nothing.

There is a snare with them, however. Unlike good habits requiring time and practice to become part of us, bad habits seem to adhere to us almost right away and the longer we practice them the more deeply embedded into the core of us they become. Then they are so entwined within us they are usually hard to break. We discover we are not free at all as we first thought.

Make no mistake: the habits of a lifetime show themselves at crunch time or in extreme circumstances.

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The book of 1 Samuel gives us a contrast as we hear the story of two leaders: Saul and David. Over and over again we see David has learned to “strengthen himself in the Lord his God.” It’s what he draws upon when he faces Goliath and when he faces the unexpected attempt by Saul to take David’s life. Over and over again in the book of Psalms, in good times or bad, David calls on the Lord. Sometimes he rejoices. Sometimes he laments. Sometimes he shouts in anger. He could do none of those if he had not first practiced strengthening himself in the Lord and laying a sure foundation of what he believed about the Lord.

David also listens to and humbly accepts encouragement to stay steady in his relationship with the Lord. That is evident in his close covenantal friendship with Jonathan as one example.

Saul doesn’t appear to think of God a great deal and gets caught up in situations and circumstances as they are happening. It doesn’t show evidence of developing discipline and training in good habits. As a result he goes ‘with his gut’ and loses the position of the first king of Israel as a result. As we go through his story, we see him on a roller coaster of emotions depending on those circumstances. He can be prideful and threatening or quickly fearful and rash in decisions.

The Bible God gave us leaves us plenty of clues on what habits to develop so we are prepared for crunch time. You can find them on every page from Genesis to Revelation. They are not there to deny us anything, but to help us navigate through whatever life or the enemy may throw at us knowing with certainty what we believe, whose we are, and who will be with us.

It can be easy to balk when someone exhorts us to practice these things, to make time each day to read in the Bible and pray, to take our thoughts captive, to love others and forgive quickly, but those who do so are those who love us. They want us to be ready for crunch time.

Are you ready for crunch time?

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What Navy Seals Can Teach Us

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I confess. I love movies. It was a gift my husband brought into my life. I am not sure if I had seen more than a half dozen movies prior to our dating. His love of story played out on the big screen with plenty of action and a great musical score grabbed me.

Yes, I love a great love story and am a fan of Downton Abbey, but along the way my husband’s love of action movies has taught me more about character, great missions, and teamwork than I could have imagined. As believers, there is much we can learn from them because I see qualities in them that are too often in short supply among us.

There are two great movies rich in story line and powerful in significance that come to mind. The first is the movie, Thirteen Hours. The second is part of a trilogy we watch at least once a year since they were released: The Two Towers (expanded version), from The Lord of the Rings series (a big favorite of ours).

Were these movies different? Yes and no.

Both movies deliver a powerful story full of action and moving lines delivered in the midst of stunning backgrounds and powerful musical scores. One is an allegory written by J.R.R. Tolkien playing out the forces of good and evil, light and darkness.

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The other is a retelling of the survivors of a real life story set in the midst of the crumbling modern day Middle East where it is difficult to identify the good guys from the bad guys.

The similarity I see is that each lays out the story of a team joined together on a mission of significant importance. Lives are on the line. Trust and courage will be tested. There are no easy choices. Working together is essential. Not everyone will survive.

What makes that resonate is how it reminds me that we too often get caught up in small stories, forgetting we too are part of a great story of crucial significance.

We also are on a mission that we too easily forget. Choices can be difficult. Trust and courage will be tested. Working together is essential and not everyone will finish the mission.

What I see in a story of Navy SEALS or Delta Force missions as well as in ‘ring fellowship’ in Tolkien’s story shows me what is missing in the great story we are all a part of.

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In the stories unfolding on the screen, the teams are clear on their mission and committed to it at all cost. Whether in these two I have mentioned or numerous others like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, concern for self-interest gets set aside for the sake of someone and something else to accomplish the mission before them.

No matter how individualistic they may be at the outset, the mission is kept in focus. They also support one another and truly have each other’s back in the midst of great danger when all faith and hope can be lost. The small stories each may have come from may or may not have equipped them.

The key is that they are caught up in something bigger and more important than themselves.

In the quest for the mission to succeed, each is willing to lay down his life, his preferences, his doubts, and his ego for the good of everyone else. They work and fight together as one and in the midst of that they show great care and love for each other.  They also want no one to be left behind, alive or dead.

The Navy SEALS, Delta Force, Rangers, and other elite teams all operate under a similar code. What are the hallmarks that forge such teams?

  • Loyalty
  • Honor
  • Integrity
  • Ready to lead
  • Ready to follow
  • Never quit
  • Take responsibility for your actions and those of your teammates
  • Excel as warriors through discipline and innovation
  • Train for war
  • Leave no one behind

What if we, in the body of Christ, operated similarly keeping the Lord’s mission and our place in it in focus?

What would happen if we understood the significance of the unseen war we are caught up in and applied such hallmarks?

What if we stood with one another against the enemy of our Lord and us as His disciples?

What if we were committed to leave no one behind?

The Navy SEALS and the stories they live are stories we can learn from to stand more effectively with and for one another, helping each of us to be encouraged, strengthened, accountable, and focused.

When we do, we can be better than we would have been without each other.

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What Shifted?

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If limits have always been a part of humanity’s experience from the very beginning and we were and are designed to function optimally in a rhythm of light and dark, day and night, winter, spring, summer, and autumn, what seems to cause us to try harder and harder to avoid or jump over limits and limitations? We do it in every area and if we succeed, we call it success.

Have we been lulled into seduction to believe we can be limitless? We want to run faster and farther and beat records in every area. We aren’t satisfied with what we have or are, so we push ourselves harder, stay up later, go farther into debt, and chug expresso drinks and energy potions as a way to keep going. And many of us can keep that up for quite some time without remembering that even the most well-engineered machines will stop functioning as they are designed to do if their limits are not adhered to.

There was a time not that long ago when our war with limits was less intense and we even seemed to recognize a need to set them for ourselves and applauded our self-discipline. Many of you have no memory of it and are likely locked in “The Matrix” with the world pulled over your eyes.

Perhaps we are like Jenny Lind in the popular movie, The Greatest Showman, singing the song, “Never Enough.” The lyrics reveal much about her character when the words speak of never enough spotlights or stars in the sky to satisfy her soul. We may not say or sing that but are we living like that? Do we have a clear understanding of what we are searching for and would satisfy our souls?

Some of us remember when life was not so much like this. We say it was a simpler time and might recall we thought we had to work harder back then. Our jobs or work was usually more physical. We walked more than we rode. We carried and hefted and bent and looked with satisfaction at the end of a hard day’s work. We didn’t need to go to a gym we created to work out our muscles. When we finished the day’s work, we didn’t stay up late doing other things or watching TV. (TV wasn’t on air 24 hours a day.) We read more books or played games or watched the sun setting. There was honor in doing a hard day’s work.

Children learned what was modeled for them early. There was school of course but not a plethora of extracurricular activities to enjoy after school hours. We had chores to do, and our parents didn’t have time for carpools and the like. It was “normal” everyday life. Weekends had a rhythm as well. Saturdays meant more chores and finishing work and tasks not completed during the work week and Sundays meant resting.

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Sundays in good weather meant sitting on a front porch or stoop and connecting with neighbors, leisurely reading the big thick Sunday newspapers that were loaded with things for nearly every family member to enjoy. Sometimes it meant a drive to visit grandparents or other older relatives and often it meant going to a worship service of some kind with a nap at some point in the afternoon. Shops and restaurants were not open so that everyone could enjoy a “day of rest.” And never would these businesses be open on a holiday. It seemed we valued the rhythm of work and rest even if we might complain.

But maybe we decided we really wanted more of those “rest” days and didn’t want to work as hard, and dissatisfaction was sowing seeds of discontent and generating ideas about how we could make that happen so that a shift started to happen where not as many of us did physical work and we drove to cities to do other things. With extra time, we began to look for other things and ways to fill the time we thought we gained and soon we accelerated to where we are today. And we have a generation still trying to push limits and plagued with a nagging dissatisfaction many times.

But we missed some important insights in all this.

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“There is more going on than just our body’s need for rest. Our souls need rest too. But the rest that our souls need is not simply a nap. It’s the rest that comes with realizing we don’t have anything to prove anymore. We don’t have to prove we are important.

This is why we live in a culture that can’t accept sabbath; we do not believe that work is from God and for our neighbor. Instead, we believe that work is from us and for us. It’s something we pursue to become who we want to become. Our careers define us…”

Justin Whitmel Earley

Perhaps we need to look at and remember the original design built into us for work and rest and value that design and begin honoring those limitations to help us rein in the dissatisfaction in our souls and remember that only God can satisfy that itch we can’t seem to scratch.

“I believe our souls harbor a deep, nameless knowing that we were created for something far better, something unshakably solid and enduring. That ‘knowing’ is what C.S. Lewis called our ‘lifelong nostalgia’ to be reunited with our Creator.

With ancient echoes of Eden whispering in our souls, we’ve been longing for belonging ever since. And with our sinful self-wills screaming for obedience, we’ve been trying to satisfy that longing every which way but God’s.”

Sandra Wilson
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