There is a wonderful book called The Face of Christ by John MacBeath. In it, the author speaks of the kindness in Jesus’ face. This is something to think about! He had such an amazing countenance that children flocked to Him, women instinctively trusted Him, and men left all to rally behind Him. I have had two children of my own and have also been an elementary school teacher for several years. Little children do not like to be near angry, sullen people. They certainly do not run to sit in the laps of frightening men. Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of Lords, with more power and authority than we can even imagine, yet His face revealed His great kindness.
His kindness brought Him from glory to a humble manger in Bethlehem. His kindness led Him up Calvary to the cross so that we could be reconciled to God. His kindness is shown in His actions, and Romans 2:4 tells us that it is His very kindness that leads us to repentance. Jesus' kindness is proof of His love for us, and by it we respond.
In the same way, it is the kindness of Christians that could lead many to Christ. The problem is, of course, that most of us find it a struggle to be nice with much consistency. A poor night's sleep, a check-engine light, an unexpected bill, a frustrating situation at work - so many things can derail even the best intentions to be kind to others. And what about the way we act when no one else is looking? We have the strangest tendency to be the rudest to the people we love the most - the people right inside our own homes. We just don’t want to have to exert much effort at home. But we must. Nations are made up of families, and our nations suffer when our families suffer.
Kindness is simply love put into action. In an earlier blog post, l mentioned the idea that love will always find a need and meet it. A parent can show love by giving his undivided attention to sons and daughters. Spouses can show kindness with little gifts or notes, or with attention to details. If I am out in the car and know my husband has a business trip early the next morning, I could fill up the tank – even if it’s cold and rainy and I’d rather just go home. When I’m busy helping the children with homework, my husband could put up the dishes and tidy the kitchen even though he has other things to do.
Kindness often involves sacrifice on our own part. But that is the point. If love is unselfishly choosing for the highest good of someone else, the kindness is proving that I choose for that person’s highest good.
Our neighbors would be shocked if we did things like mow their yard, too, when we mow our own. Or wash their dirty car. Or offer to baby sit their kids, or even bring their kids to church. People need help, and we could offer to help them. Our churches are filled with widows, single mothers, and children without one or both parents. Are we doing our part to show kindness to them, or do we just look the other way and hope someone else will do the job? How many people, out of desperation, do things that can never be undone – like walk out on a spouse or strike their children? When someone around us is overwhelmed by life, we ought to strive to notice and offer them some help.
Kindness needs to extend beyond our own homes and churches, as well. The volunteer effort of Christians could meet many needs and alleviate much suffering. It was tremendous to see the outpouring of manpower and material aide from churches and individuals to the victims of Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago. We ought to prove our love with our kindness and resources when people have lost everything they have. It will open many doors to sharing the gospel with people.
I am reminded, too, of the option of adoption and fostering children that Christians have. Our heavenly Father has adopted us into His family, and what better way can we show kindness to the orphans of this world than by taking them into our homes? We have been so blessed; we must in turn bless others. Just as God lifted us out of the slimy pit of life without Him, so we can literally save a child from a horrible life and bring them into our godly homes.
We have some wonderful friends who have a ministry called Family First. This ministry equips and empowers entire churches to engage with the foster system in their town. Everyone can participate, whether it be through actually taking in children, or donating materials, or learning to give foster families regular breaks. Through these efforts, two entire counties in Texas now have more good families on the waiting list than kids in the system! (https://northtexas.ag/family-first/)
There are many avenues and outlets available for Christians to prove their love and the love of God for others. It is time for us as Christians to make good on our responsibility to swell the ranks of volunteers in this nation. We read far too many disturbing stories of awful predators who fill volunteer positions - could this happen so often because the rest of us won't do these jobs?
The opportunities are endless. Following is by no means an exhaustive list of volunteer opportunities in groups and organizations which would love your help:
-Crisis Pregnancy Center
-International Student Office at Universities (need adoptive families)
-Domestic Violence Shelters
-after school programs
-foster care programs
-kids’ athletic programs
-church youth groups
The list could go on and on. Who better to do these jobs than a follower of Jesus? The world is suffering, and people need desperately to see the love of God in action – through the kindness of Christians. The only thing that is holding us back is our own reluctance to give of our time and money. But when we came to the cross, we gave up our “right” to these things – all of it belongs to our master, Jesus.
As with all of the other fruit of the Holy Spirit, we will find that when we show kindness, we will find ourselves filled with yet more kindness to give. There is no limit to the kindness the Lord lavishes on us, and He will give us as much kindness as we are willing to give away to others.
Something Special -
My good friends Andrew Youngblood and Krystopher Scroggins have a wonderful production called the Campus Ministry Leadership Podcast. This past week, I was privileged to be the featured guest, in an episode called "Developing a Culture of Reading." I invite you to take a listen here...
Your Word, O Lord, is eternal, it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.
- Psalm 119: 89-90
The amazing thing about this piece of scripture is that it was written thousands of years ago by a simple shepherd boy who later became a great soldier and king. Throughout the ages, this very song of God's faithfulness has rung true to people of every walk of life. God has made himself known to kings of the earth, and to a dying thief on a cross. Men and women of every age, color and class have known Him and his saving grace, and can attest to His goodness. Some of the greatest and most influential people of all time have walked with Him and talked with Him, and - this is something that I will never cease to find amazing - I know Him, too!
The faithfulness of God is beautiful. He has always been and He will always be, and He never changes. The Bible tells us that God is loving, merciful and just, and He always will be. He is loyal, constant and steadfast. No matter what grievous sin a man or woman has committed, God is faithful to forgive when that person repents because He graciously paid the price for our sin with His Son. Jesus Himself told us in Matthew 28, "And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age." Moses encouraged Joshua so many hundreds of years ago in Deuteronomy 31, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you."
God's promises are many, and He has never failed to uphold a single one of them. Men fail and fall short and discredit the name of Christianity as a religion, but God has never failed. Try as people throughout the ages might, no one has been able to tar the name of the Lord.
Human beings, by our own sinful nature, are not like this. We, every now and then, have been known to do some noble and selfless things, but for the most part we are entirely selfish and self-seeking. Often times, even when we do something good or kind, it might be for a selfish motive. We become weak and lose heart and back down just when we are needed most. We let down the people we love, and we let down ourselves.
Husbands and wives are unfaithful to one another physically and emotionally. Parents neglect their children emotionally and in every other way. Workers are unfaithful to their employers in poor effort and lack of commitment to a job. Citizens are unfaithful to their governments by not paying taxes honestly and by not voting. Church members are unfaithful to their church home by not participating in the mission of the body with their time and finances. We talk about friends behind their backs, and we can be bought for most anything with a very low price. Faithful is not a word that could be used to describe the human race.
That is what makes the work of the Holy Spirit so amazing. Through the power of the Spirit, God imparts His faithfulness to us; we who are unable to be faithful on our own are changed.
Think how different the world would be if Christians allowed the Holy Spirit to bring an increase of this fruit of faithfulness into their lives! Faithful - never leaving, never forsaking, never even considering leaving or forsaking as an option.
What if Christians started being faithful as Christ Himself is faithful? What if we suddenly began staying true to our wedding vows, and began raising our children with love, discipline and kindness? What if we began serving our neighbors, our companies and our churches faithfully? What if we began taking the Great Commission seriously and either gave heavily of our finances for missionaries to go, or went to the mission field ourselves?
The rest of the world would sit up and take notice if the church suddenly began acting like her Master.
We lose much of our impact when we are not faithful. The world will not look to us when we are no different, and the people around us have a much harder time seeing a true picture of Jesus when we misrepresent Him. Our own children will not follow Christ if they leave our homes with the impression that Jesus has not the power to make life different.
There is good news, of course! The bottom line is that the Lord is different. He is who he says that He is, and nothing will ever change that. God is faithful, and His Spirit will impart this to us when we ask. He will deliver us from our selfishness and unfaithfulness, and will help us become men and women who impact the world with the faithfulness of our God.
All of the signs are pointing to the fact that springtime is coming in Huntsville, Texas. The weather is entering its most Jekyll-and-Hyde phase, freezing cold one day and then eighty degrees the next. But the most sure sign of spring is the explosion of yellow pine pollen that is hovering over our entire town like a cloud. This happens every year and lasts about three weeks, and during this time everything is covered in a thick layer of yellow dust. It is not very pleasant or attractive, but it means that the piney woods are alive and growing.
It is this time of year that many people are driven outside into their gardens. There is something deep within us that loves to be a part of the growth that happens there, whether it be fruits and vegetables or flowers. It is so satisfying to put in the work and then be able to see or even taste the fruits of your labor.
How interesting that mankind's story begins in a garden. We can read in the book of Genesis that in Eden, the tremendous creativity of God was on display in the flora and fauna of the earth, as was His great heart towards His creation as He stopped each day to admire His handiwork. God loves all that He created, and wants us to be fruitful and to multiply. He has also made everything work together so beautifully that much of what we need to know about spiritual life can be seen in and through the material creation. No wonder Jesus spoke numerous agricultural parables – this is something that so many of us can relate to and understand.
One of the most well-known passages of scripture is Jesus' Parable of the Sower:
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” - Matthew 13: 1-9
There is so much to learn from this story. Here are a few thoughts to take from this parable today...
1. We can read all we want to about gardening, and technically be “gardening experts”, but nothing is going to grow until we actually plant some seed. We must take care not to fall into the trap of being Christians who are all knowledge and no action. Many of us have read so many books, have heard so many sermons, and could repeat everything you need to know about walking with God. And yet the statistics prove that so few of us have fruitful lives; so few of us regularly lead people to Jesus. We do often wonder why so many people around us are lost and hurting, and we are concerned about the lack of morality in society, but we do little actual sowing of the seed of the Good News of Jesus. Perhaps it is because we are afraid to try and fail. Or perhaps we lack the faith to believe that something might actually grow if we plant some seed. We have many reasons and excuses not to do it, and when we plant nothing, we get nothing every single time. But the mystery and miracle of it is that when we do plant seeds in the ground, very often something grows!
2. Once the seed sprouts into a tiny plant, it needs daily nourishment and tender care to thrive. It is wonderful and beautiful when a new life is born, when someone is born again. The gardener sees this miracle in the natural when the seeds she planted push up out of the soil into the sunlight. But if you let those little seedlings sprout up in the starter containers and then walk away before you get them into the ground where they can really take off, they are likely doomed to failure. They will be green for just a short time before they wither away and die. And the weeds - where do they come from, and how in the world do they grow so fast? You can pull all the weeds in a certain corner of the plot, and two days later they are back and threatening to choke the plants. All of this is the same in the spiritual - it is not enough just to take someone to a worship service or big event where they hear the gospel and respond. We must take them by the hand and go with them as they learn to really walk with the Lord. We must help them learn how to feed themselves, how to grow, how to thrive, how to deal with the weeds of life, and how to be fruitful themselves. This, of course, takes a lot of time and commitment. We must leave behind our selfish excuses and become willing to sacrifice our time and lives to build the Kingdom.
3. When the seed falls in good soil, a great harvest can take place. I love the generous nature of God. He did not just make a flower or a tree, He made a grand array of types and colors and varieties. And He made them so that when their seeds fall into good soil, the reproduction is thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was sown! This is true in the spiritual sense as well. When the seed of the Good News of Jesus falls into a ready and receptive heart, that person can be so fruitful and lead many others into the Kingdom. It is true that some hearts are stony or thorny or shallow, but none of those things are scary to a seasoned gardener. It just means some good hard work of getting the soil to a healthy place. Every gardener learns that you have to dig out the rocks, pull out the weeds and thorns, add nutrients to poor soil, and shoo away the birds. Not all soil is good for growing things, but it can almost always be made that way with time and care - and the same is true of the human heart. Some hearts are like the desert, but with someone's time and care and prayer, and with the love of Jesus, that barren heart can turn into a fertile field.
I think there is such a beautiful poignancy to the fact that the amazing story of humanity begins in the Lord’s garden. We too often settle for such a drab and stunted version of life, when all the while God wants us to know and share in His abundant and vibrant reality of fruitfulness. This is a beautiful season to bloom and grow.
Mighty to Save
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
- Zephaniah 3:17
Years ago, we had access to a cabin in the woods. It was about thirty minutes away by way of the back roads of East Texas, and it was nothing short of wonderful. There was no electricity and no running water, but that made it such a great place to go and relax. It was so quiet and peaceful – no traffic sounds or electronic noises, just the trees and the birds. It was always so pleasant to spend a day there.
My best memory of that camp house happened one winter day. My husband and I brought our girls, who were probably 13 and 10 at the time, out for a day of hiking and a picnic. As we pulled in, the three of them took the dogs and went for a hike, and I stayed back in the truck to take a phone call (not too far out in the woods for cell phone towers!) It was cool outside - maybe somewhere in the 50’s - breezy, with not a cloud in the sky. It was a little too chilly just to stand around outside, so I stayed in the car and was on the phone for at least twenty minutes. I started to get a little warm, but I did not have the keys and could not roll down the window. So in the middle of my phone conversation, I opened the car door to let in a little cool air - and then chaos broke loose!
My husband, as is his habit, had locked the doors of the truck as they walked away because he always likes to make sure we are safe. I still do not know exactly what happened, but when I opened the door the car alarm was activated. I had no idea how loud a car alarm could be until ours was blaring in the middle of that once-peaceful clearing. I shut the door, nothing. I opened the door again, nothing. I got out, I got back in – it was ridiculous. My poor friend on the other end of the phone call was laughing with me until we finally hung up, but I just couldn’t seem to figure it out. The horn blared away for what seemed like a very long time.
What happened next will definitely remain one of my treasured memories for the rest of my life. Up the path, through the trees came my husband. He was running fast, his strides long and steady, arms pumping, heading right for me and the truck. His hair was shining in the sun - it was even better than something out of a movie! Just then, the alarm finally quit and the woods were silent again.
He was at the truck in a moment, and saw that everything was okay. We laughed when I told him I made all that noise just by opening the door. He and the girls had been pretty far away in the woods when they heard the horn, and he thought something was wrong and that I purposely had set off the alarm to call for help. A couple of minutes later, two girls and two bulldogs came through the trees, breathing hard. Their dad had told them, “keep up!” when they all heard the alarm blaring. We had a good laugh and a good time sharing our version of the story, and that picnic day is a great memory for all of us.
But here is the thing - I will never forget seeing my handsome prince come charging through the woods at full speed to rescue me. Every time I think about it, I get chills. That man was sprinting back through the forest to help me when he thought I was in danger. He did not just send one of the girls back, he did not just call my cell phone to check – he dropped everything and ran back towards me.
This is a perfect picture of the way God comes to the rescue when we call to Him. The human condition is dire - our sin separates us from God, and there is nothing that we can do to rid ourselves of it. There is no self-help trick or medication that will remove our sinful natures. No amount of strong will or determination can change our hearts. Only Jesus, who paid the penalty of our sin with His own life, made a way for us to be free from our bondage and to be with God forever.
When we are lost in our own sin and selfishness, He is there at the ready when we cry out to Him for help. When we are sinking in mud and muck of our own poor choices, He is there to wash us white as snow - all we have to do is cry out to Him. There is nowhere too far for Him, and not one of us is beyond His saving reach. "The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing."
Many of us also have people in our lives who are lost and hurting, living without God. Some of them have never known Him, and others have willfully walked away from Him. Share the love of God with them as often as you can, and realize that Jesus loves them, no matter how far away they are. Know that God waits eagerly and expectantly, watching for them to turn to Him. Pray for them frequently and in faith, remembering this picture of God as a mighty warrior who saves, and Who is always ready to come running to the rescue. As the great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, "Think not of the sinner or the greatness of his sin, but think of the greatness of the Savior!"
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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