The Kindness Of People—Or Not


News reports tell of heated moments in grocery stores as tension rises because of empty shelves and long lines. I heard of one woman in particular who berated a stock guy (a nice way of saying, she cussed him out) because they hadn’t refilled the shelves with the item (I think it was toilet paper) she wanted.

That seems over the top, but I just did a search on YouTube for a video of the incident, and found instead dozens and dozens of other altercations between store or gas station or restaurant workers and their customers. All those had nothing to do with the fear-driven reactions of today.

In some cases, the outrage had racial implications because of language or ethnicity. In others the anger was directed at a person’s political stance. In a few, the inciting issue was some person’s disability—stuttering or inability to hear. And some were directed at an individual who made a mistake or who didn’t perform up to expectations.

None of those altercations came from a spirit of kindness.

Certainly kindness was not the motivating factor that caused the customer to berate the stock person for empty shelves.

How unlike the encounters I’ve had this past week. A number of caring individuals—some neighbors, some friends—have called to check up on how I’m doing and whether I needed anything. One couple came out in the rain to bring me some supplies, just because they are kind.

When I did have to wait in the long grocery line last Friday, three or four of us had a pleasant time chatting and watching each other’s cart or basket when the need arose. The overworked clerk and bag person were both pleasant and appreciative (and exhausted) and obviously working to their max to move people through the line as fast as possible.

In truth, kindness is a choice. People can choose to be kind to whomever they want. But the fact is, if we focus on what we want, and don’t consider what the other person is faced with, we most likely will pass up an opportunity to show kindness.

Kindness does not come naturally. In some instances, people respond to kindness with kindness. That’s not always true, but it’s more likely that a kindness will generate a return kindness than a harsh or cruel comment or act, will.

In the case of the public, many people are “neutral.” They stay to themselves, not responding harshly and not responding kindly. Just not responding.

I find it interesting that Scripture calls the Christian specifically to kindness—along with a list of other transforming responses which should govern our relationships:

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. (Colossians 3:12-13; emphasis mine)

At the same time, kindness is listed as a fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23; emphasis mine)

So kindness is both something God gives Christians and something He wants us to choose. Sort of like quenching or not quenching the Spirit, I suspect. Yes, we have kindness as a fruit, but we need to decide to use what we have.

Maybe that’s something we can pray for—for ourselves and for other believers who are in our lives. Because in theory, Christians are best equipped to show kindness and ought to do so no matter the responses of others.

And praying for God to enable us to use the gift He’s given us certainly takes care of the “praying according to God’s will” issue. I mean, I don’t know if it’s God’s will for me to catch the virus and suffer because of it, or to be quarantined for some time, or to get along without something I thought I needed. But I do know with certainty that I am to show kindness. Not just to those who are kind to me, but to the neutral people and the cruel people, too.

Also in Scripture: “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1a). The KJV translates gentle as soft. In other words, not responding to anger with anger. That’s a tough one, but this is God’s counsel. We can be sure it’s right.

Published in: on March 18, 2020 at 4:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Joy And The Holy Spirit


Most Christians have probably heard or read that joy is not the same thing as happiness. I think we’re pretty clear about the distinction.

A quick study reveals that joy is grouped with patience, peace, love, faithfulness, and a few other traits to constitute the fruit of the Spirit.

Why, then, I ask myself, do I think I need to manufacture joy?

And since the Holy Spirit is the source of joy, wouldn’t it be fair to say, if I’m not experiencing joy, I must be quenching the Holy Spirit?

I mean, Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t make joy an optional piece of fruit. If we have the Spirit, we have the fruit. It’s a matter, then, of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Or not.

As I’m writing this, the little chorus “The joy of the Lord is our strength” comes to mind. The words simply repeat that line over and over — a line from Nehemiah 8:10.

The returned exiles, struggling to make a go of it in the homeland most of them had never seen before, asked Ezra, one of their leaders, to read the book of the law. He read from dawn to midday. A group of others then explained the text and taught the people what it all meant.

Their reaction? Nope, not joy.

They were weeping and mourning. The Law exposed their sin, and they were undone.

That’s when Nehemiah stepped in. Stop crying, he said. Today is a holy day, set aside for the Lord. Get up and let the feast begin. Don’t grieve. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

And the people calmed down, got up, and celebrated “because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).

Except, two verses earlier, their understanding caused them to grieve. But now? Celebration. How can that be explained apart from the joy of the Lord?

The Spirit convicts of sin. The proper response should be sorrow leading to repentance. And then comes joy, not a manufactured joy or an inauthentic emotion.

The reality was, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They were still returned exiles struggling to get it together. In their own estimation, they were still slaves:

Behold, we are slaves today,
And as to the land which
You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty,
Behold, we are slaves in it.
Its abundant produce is for the kings
Whom You have set over us because of our sins;
They also rule over our bodies
And over our cattle as they please,
So we are in great distress. (Neh 9:36-37)

Under those circumstances, Nehemiah gave them that salient truth: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Not bitterness or complaining, certainly. But not continued grieving, either. And not what we rely on today, a can-do spirit.

Their strength came from what only the Spirit could provide — joy from the Lord.

Ironic, then, that quenching the Spirit leads to the opposite of what someone going through difficult circumstances needs — strength. The little recap of Jewish history in Nehemiah 9 spells it out:

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth,
And You gave them water for their thirst. (v. 20, emphasis mine)

Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want;
Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. (v 21)

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples … (v. 22)

You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven … (v. 23)

So their sons entered and possessed the land… (v. 24)

They captured fortified cities and a fertile land… (v. 25)

But they became disobedient and rebelled against You (v. 26, emphasis added)

Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them. (v. 27)

Listening to God’s Spirit strengthened the people; rebelling against Him, didn’t.

So what was it those Israelites Nehemiah addressed, understood that made it possible for them to calm down, stop grieving, and celebrate?

Not a change in their circumstances, as I’ve noted. Not the promise of a change in their circumstances either. Rather, I believe they understood how faithful the Lord is and how He had not left them or forsaken them, and that He would not. They had the Lord, so they had His joy which gave them strength.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2011.

Holiday Coffee Cups And Being Thankful


Starbucks cupsAs many know, Starbucks has brought out their holiday cups which do not mention which holiday we’re celebrating. A former pastor named Joshua Feuerstein, who now seems to make his living, according to the Washington Post, by making video rants and DVDs for which he accepts donations, posted his infamous complaint of this year’s cup:

Feuerstein claims that Starbucks wanted to “take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups” because, according to the caption on his video, “they hate Jesus.”

Feuerstein goes on to explain that when he visited a Starbucks store, he told the employee making his drink that his name was “Merry Christmas” so that his cup would read “Merry Christmas.” He later says “Guess what, Starbucks? Just to offend you, I made sure to wear my Jesus Christ shirt into your store (“Why #MerryChristmasStarbucks is Everything Wrong with American Christianity” by Nate Lake)

Apparently a good number of Mr. Feuerstein’s two million Facebook followers punched the “Like” button, and he, who would “stick it to Starbucks” appeared on CNN.

Sadly his complaint now stands as representative of Christians. Except, any number of believers (like Nate Lake in the article I quoted above) have taken issue with what he’s trying to accomplish, and more importantly, how he’s going about it. There’s also the push back to the idea that this rant against Starbucks is a Christian complaint.

All well and good until some people started complaining about those who were complaining about Mr. Feuerstein’s complaint.

And we haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving yet.

In fact, I wonder if all this complaint leaves room for us to celebrate Thanksgiving. Are we Christians indeed a thankful people? Or are we an entitled lot who think a secular company owes us a holiday cup that acknowledges Jesus Christ? Or that secular media owes us a correct characterization of who Christians are and what we believe? Or who think we should, like the secularists, be guided by all that is politically correct.

It seems a little silly, but the core issue seems to be, I love Jesus and you should too, but because you don’t, I’m going to boycott you. Or rant against you. And purposefully offend you.

The counter then became, I love Jesus and you’re sullying His name by your offensive tactics and giving the media and all secularists an occasion to mock Christians.

Which then engendered, Why are you making an issue of something so trivial? Stop protesting so much.

Mr. Lake’s article, with which I agree in principle, is a call for Christians to treat those in our society who don’t believe as we do, with meekness.

I read another article by Pastor Kevin DeYoung, with which I also agree for the most part, entitled “Christmas Is Not For Cranks.” The call here is to see the light in our society and not just the dark:

The same malls that may wish to rid their public space of the most innocuously “Christian” greetings, will pump out the most blatant Christian propaganda from their loud speakers by playing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World.” Let’s not curse the darkness when there is still much light for which we can give thanks.

Well, yes.

But maybe we should first realize that Christmas actually is for cranks. We, cranks and offended alike, are sinners standing in need of the Savior whose coming we ostensibly are celebrating.

I think there’s one way we can check our attitude about Christmas: by first celebrating Thanksgiving. I know as a holiday here in the US it’s been reduced to a big family dinner (usually, but not always, with turkey), football, and, of late, shopping, or at least plans for shopping.

Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing my family, I love turkey dinners with all the scrumptious dishes I never make any other time of the year, and I love football (shopping less so! 😉 ). But lost in all the plans and preparation and travel and conversations and hilarity is a time of actual thanksgiving. In my family we still pray before our meal, and we do thank God for what He’s given, but when we stack up all the other things we do, thanksgiving gets a mighty small sliver.

Of course, I can’t say what others do apart from our time together. What I’m really concerned about is what I do, in my heart, as I approach Christmas and celebrate Thanksgiving. There’s a line in Psalm 84 about singing for joy to the living God. Every time I come to it, I think, I want my life to be filled with joy so that it overflows in song.

I don’t think I get there by complaining.

Not that I think we should shut our eyes to offenses. But there are ways to address offenses that aren’t offensive.

In this regard, I think Mr. Lake is right that Christ’s quality of meekness is a great guide, but I think it should apply to our treatment of the cranks as much as it should to those who ban Merry Christmas.

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love isn’t a plastic smile on Sunday morning. Rather it causes us to listen to others, to ask God how we should respond, to put the needs of others first.

I’m speaking to myself here and feeling very convicted. But I’m also understanding something in a new way. The fruit of the Spirit, as I’ve heard before, encompasses love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are not “fruits” but “fruit.” It’s a package deal.

In other words, my desire to have a life filled with joy can’t happen in isolation from love and love can’t happen if it’s cut off from gentleness, which in turn is connected tightly to self-control. It’s a package.

Interesting, though, that thankfulness isn’t on the list. Yet Scripture commands us to be thankful any number of times. And to rejoice.

I’m thinking now that thanksgiving should not be something we wait to incorporate on Thanksgiving Day. And yes, I’ve heard over and over the charge that everyday should be thanksgiving day. But really, there is a time to celebrate. God instituted feast days for the people of Israel. It’s good and right and proper to think specially about what God has given us for which we can be thankful.

But maybe we should have the twelve days of thanksgiving. Or the thirty days. I know some people have determined to express gratitude for something different every day of the month. I like traditions and even some ritual. Maybe this is the time to employ it, at least a little.

Maybe between now and Christmas, I’ll employ a little ritualistic thanksgiving as part of my preparation to celebrate God giving the world His only begotten Son.

Joy And The Holy Spirit


Most Christians have probably heard or read that joy is not the same thing as happiness. I think we’re pretty clear about the distinction.

A quick study reveals that joy is grouped with patience, peace, love, faithfulness, and a few other traits to constitute the fruit of the Spirit.

Why, then, I ask myself, do I think I need to manufacture joy?

And since the Holy Spirit is the source of joy, wouldn’t it be fair to say, if I’m not experiencing joy, I must be quenching the Holy Spirit?

I mean, Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t make joy an optional piece of fruit. If we have the Spirit, we have the fruit. It’s a matter, then, of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Or not.

As I’m writing this, the little chorus “The joy of the Lord is our strength” comes to mind. The words simply repeat that line over and over — a line from Nehemiah 8:10.

The returned exiles, struggling to make a go of it in the homeland most of them had never seen before, asked Ezra, one of their leaders, to read the book of the law. He read from dawn to midday. A group of others then explained the text and taught the people what it all meant.

Their reaction? Nope, not joy.

They were weeping and mourning. The Law exposed their sin, and they were undone.

That’s when Nehemiah stepped in. Stop crying, he said. Today is a holy day, set aside for the Lord. Get up and let the feast begin. Don’t grieve. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

And the people calmed down, got up, and celebrated “because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).

Except, two verses earlier, their understanding caused them to grieve. But now? Celebration. How can that be explained apart from the joy of the Lord?

The Spirit convicts of sin. The proper response should be sorrow leading to repentance. And then comes joy, not a manufactured joy or an inauthentic emotion.

The reality was, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They were still returned exiles struggling to get it together. In their own estimation, they were still slaves:

Behold, we are slaves today,
And as to the land which
You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty,
Behold, we are slaves in it.
Its abundant produce is for the kings
Whom You have set over us because of our sins;
They also rule over our bodies
And over our cattle as they please,
So we are in great distress. (Neh 9:36-37)

Under those circumstances, Nehemiah gave them that salient truth: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Not bitterness or complaining, certainly. But not continued grieving, either. And not what we rely on today, a can-do spirit.

Their strength came from what only the Spirit could provide — joy from the Lord.

Ironic, then, that quenching the Spirit leads to the opposite of what someone going through difficult circumstances needs — strength. The little recap of Jewish history in Nehemiah 9 spells it out:

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth,
And You gave them water for their thirst. v. 20 (emphasis mine)

Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want;
Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. v 21

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples … v. 22

You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven … v. 23

So their sons entered and possessed the land… v. 24

They captured fortified cities and a fertile land… v. 25

But they became disobedient and rebelled against You v. 26 (emphasis added)

Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them. v. 27

Listening to God’s Spirit strengthened the people; rebelling against Him, didn’t.

So what was it those Israelites Nehemiah addressed, understood that made it possible for them to calm down, stop grieving, and celebrate?

Not a change in their circumstances, as I’ve noted. Not the promise of a change in their circumstances either. Rather, I believe they understood how faithful the Lord is and how He had not left them or forsaken them, and that He would not. They had the Lord, so they had His joy which gave them strength.

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm  Comments Off on Joy And The Holy Spirit  
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