Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Fifth Fruit: Kindness (MNM 9)




Happy 2015, and welcome back to our study!  I don’t know about you, but Christmastime brings a good bit of chaos into my life and heart, and I’m usually breathing a deep sigh of relief when the slower pace of January finally arrives.  I hope that you, too, are enjoying this post-holiday season.

Soaking in the Scripture (Section 1)

You may remember spending time in Psalm 139 as part of our reflection on the fruit of love.  As a way of re-entering into our study and also to prepare for this week's focus on kindness, let’s return to that passage.  I invite you, again, to spend time looking it over, this time in your own Bible.  Read it more than once, perhaps in different translations, or even aloud.  

Is there a word or phrase that strikes you as newly relevant to your life during this season?  Is it perhaps different than the one you noticed in the fall, when we first reflected on this passage?

Give yourself some time to think, journal, or talk with a friend about the thoughts that emerge from your time of reflection.

Also, try and find time to share parts of this passage with your family members in ways that are appropriate to each of them, and see what kinds of conversations happen.

Digging Deeper (Section 2)

Begin by re-reading Psalm 139 and recall the ideas that continue to come to mind as you reflect on it.

Perhaps your experience is different, but the Psalm 139 studies I’ve encountered emphasize its focus on God’s deep, abiding love for each of his children.  You may recall that this was a primary thrust of September’s reflection on love:

·            First:  Every single human in existence has God’s fingerprints all over him or her.  Each and every one of us was imagined, designed, and lovingly hand-crafted by our heavenly Father.

·             Second:  He didn’t just create us.  He continues to take interest in every part and each day of our lives.  As this amazing passage shows, our God’s eyes follow us everywhere, and He thinks about us constantly and with affection.

Today, I invite you sink the roots of your heart deep into the nourishing, stabilizing soil of this truth:

God’s love described in Psalm 139 applies to you.

·             YOU were imagined, designed, and lovingly hand-crafted by our heavenly Father. 

·             YOU have God’s fingerprints all over you—your body, your mind, your personality, your abilities, your temperament, your likes, and your dislikes.

·             He didn’t just create YOU; He continues to take interest in every part and each day of YOUR life. 

·             Your loving Creator-Father’s eyes follow you everywhere,

·             He thinks about you constantly and with affection.

One Family’s Story (Section 3)

Even though I grew up in a loving Christian family, it still took me until my 30s begin really embracing the truth of God’s love—and especially to accept the idea that His love could be for me.

Here’s why.  Even as I allowed myself to begin sinking into the idea of God’s affectionate, abiding love, I kept hearing an insidious, accusatory whisper.  I tried to ignore it, because it tried to unravel Psalm 139’s beautiful, comforting tapestry.  But it continued to echo from the shadowy corners of my mind.

Maybe you hear this question too:

What about the parts of me
that aren’t quite so love-able?

What about my shortcomings?
My flaws?
My failures?

What about the parts of me that aren’t as polished,
aren’t as shiny,
don’t glow quite as brightly?

What about the parts of me that are just plain dark?

If that question makes you wonder whether your less-than-loveable-ness somehow disqualifies you from receiving God’s love, consider this:

God already knows about those parts of you (see verse 15).  There isn’t even a tiny part of your personality, your affections, your strengths, or your shortcomings that is a surprise to God.

Even so, He loves you.

When you consider God’s love for you, do you allow it to encompass every part of you? 

Not only the parts that are successful,
but also those that cause you to fail?

Not only your aptitudes and skills,
but also your shortcomings,
and the places where you need help?

Are you anchored in the truth that that the less-than-perfect parts of your identity merit and receive the same abiding love as the “good” parts?

Recently, a sermon given by pastor Rick Dunn prompted a local print shop, Knoxville’s The Happy Envelope, to create a visual depiction of that day’s teaching.   Maybe you were there that day.  Maybe not.  Either way, here’s what it said (and if you'd like to purchase your own copy of the poster, click here):

Who you are
and who you are not
is uniquely designed
to offer Christ’s life to the world.

How you are gifted
and how you are not gifted—
this is designed
for how you’re to make Christ known to the world.

What you possess
and what you do not possess
Is uniquely designed to make Him known.

What you can do
and what you cannot do
is His design to make Himself known through you.

You are uniquely designed
to offer Christ
and it is your lack
(who you are not,
what you don’t possess,
what you can’t do)
that is the most powerful part of the story.

That’s the gospel.

As you reflect on God’s all-encompassing love and the beauty of this gospel, I invite you to take whatever time you need to ponder . . . .

How has your heart become more deeply rooted in
the TRUTH of God’s abiding,
attentive,
affectionate,
soul-changing,
wound-healing,
hope-restoring
LOVE
for YOU?


Your Family’s Story (Section 4)

We’ll begin today’s activity by reading Ephesians 4:31-32, a passage that may be familiar.  Here it is, in a few different translations:

Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others.
Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude.  Instead, be kind and merciful,
and forgive others,
just as God forgave you because of Christ.
Contemporary English Version (CEV)


Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander,
as well as all types of evil behavior.  
Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another,
just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
New Living Translation (NLT)

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander,
along with every form of malice.  
Be kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you.
New International Version (NIV)

You probably noticed in each of the translations that the word “kind” is in bold face.  Why?  Because this word in Greek (χρηστότης  or chréstotés) is also the root of the term Paul uses when naming the fifth fruit of the spirit—kindness.   And according to blueletterbible, this word can be defined as a disposition towards others that is—no surprise here— KIND, benevolent, tender, and compassion-filled.  So if we want to know what Paul means when he mentions kindness, we can look at this fuller description in Ephesians.

Next, though, I invite you to think about your answers to a handful of questions about putting kindness into action.  Some of the questions may be a little unexpected, but I hope you’ll stick with it until the end. 

1.  Start by brainstorming a list of the people in your life to whom it is easy to extend kindness.  If it helps, write down their names, or recruit a family member to help you think of a more thorough list. 

2.  Now see if you can determine what about these people invites your kindness. 

·             Perhaps the reason for your difficulty is as innocuous as an annoying habit this person has, or a lack of shared interests.
·             Is it because they are simply easy or pleasant to be with?
·             Is it due to your shared interests, life experiences, or values?
·             Is it because they are kind to you, or offer their encouragement?

3.  Last, see you if you can determine your overall perspective towards these individuals.  Do you see them from a compassionate viewpoint?  Is it easier to forgive their occasional shortcoming?  Do you think of them with benevolence (ie. wanting good things for them)?

4.  Next, take some time to think of the people that tend to make it harder for you to extend kindness.  Although you want to avoid slipping into a “gripe” session, you may find it helpful to discuss this with a family member as well (perhaps without mentioning names).  

5.  Once you have a list, try and discern what about these individuals might make it more difficult for you to be kind.

·             Perhaps the reason is as innocuous as an annoying habit this person has, or a lack of shared interests.
·             Maybe he or she unintentionally makes life harder than it has to be by being fussy, worried, negative, or discouraging.
·             Perhaps this person simply doesn’t seem to like or enjoy you, or doesn’t value the same things as you.
·             Or maybe s/he is purposefully unkind, mean-spirited, or even downright cruel.

6.  Finally, (and I encourage you to be painfully honest with yourself here) consider your typical perspective towards these individuals.  Do you look at them from the same compassionate vantage point as you see those on your first list?  Do you most often want good things for them?  Or do you find yourself being not-so-very-concerned about their well-being, perhaps even harboring the occasional grudge, a degree anger, or even—dare I say it—malice?

At this point, I might as well admit what you’ve probably already guessed.  While you’ve probably travelled much farther down the road towards kindness than I have, the truth is this:  I’ve harbored my own share of not-so-nice attitudes from time to time.  At least for me (and maybe for you sometimes) it’s just plain hard to maintain kind-heartedness, especially when someone is continually annoying, difficult, or mean.  When that happens, it’s human nature to withdraw . . . to replace our compassionate, benevolent, ready-to-forgive  perspective with something unfeeling, thick-skinned, intolerant, and even a little cold-hearted or vindictive.

So here’s the challenge—definitely for me.  But also for you, if you’ll take it.

Choose the person who tops your list of people that are tough to treat with kindness.  Visualize this individual.  Re-experience the thoughts and feelings that flood your mind when you see his or her face.

Then, consider this: 

·             Just like you, this person has God’s fingerprints all over him or her.

·             Just like you, this individual was imagined, designed, and lovingly hand-crafted by our heavenly Father.

·             Just like you, God didn’t merely create this person.  He continues to take interest in every part and each day of his or her life.

And that’s not all.

Just like you,
this person was created with qualities and characteristics
that aren’t quite so love-able.

Just like you,
this individual has shortcomings,
flaws.
failures.

Just like you,
this God-crafted person may wonder and worry
about the parts of him or her that
aren’t as polished,
aren’t as shiny,
don’t glow quite as brightly.

Just like you,
this individual may be frightened by the parts of him- or herself that are just plain dark.

Just like you, this hard-to-love person may wonder whether his or her less-than-loveable-ness somehow disqualifies him/her from God’s love.

Just like you, there isn’t even a tiny part of this person’s personality, affections, strengths, or shortcomings that is a surprise to God.

Just like you, this individual can be anchored in the truth that that the less-than-perfect parts of his or her identity merit and receive the same abiding love as the “good” parts.

Just like you, all people need to know that

Who they are
and who they are not
is uniquely designed
to offer Christ’s life to the world.

How they are gifted
and how they are not gifted—
this is how they are to make Christ known to the world.

What they possess
and what they do not possess
is uniquely purposed to make Him known.

What they can do
and what they cannot do
is His plan for how to make Himself known 
to them, and through them.

Their unique design is for the purpose
of knowing and offering Christ.

And it is their lack
(who they are not,
what they don't possess,
what they can’t do)
that is the most powerful part of the story.

When we view every single person through the compassion-tinged lenses of God’s love for them—for all of us,
we can be newly equipped to be a flesh-and-blood, truth-giving, life-saving example of
God’s abiding,
attentive,
affectionate,
soul-changing,
wound-healing,
hope-restoring
LOVE.

You and I have the amazing privilege of making HIS love known to every single person—
past, present, and future—who exists.

And that, too, is the gospel.


Wisdom for the Journey (Section 5)

The spiritual fruit of kindness is most closely related to non-cognitive traits such as citizenship, forgiveness, open-mindedness, humility, and social intelligence.   Another word which encompasses all of these qualities is HONOR, which is what this week’s readings have emphasized.

While we can train our children to behave in ways that are honoring towards others (and while we, as their parents, can act in ways that look kind), my own conviction is that honoring begins with the way we choose to see people—especially those who are more difficult for us to honor.

When we emphasize our differences with others, focus our attention on their shortcomings, or spend our energy on identifying their flaws, we are choosing to overlook the fundamental truth that they—like us—are created by the same loving God who created us. 

When we choose, however, to stay mindful of the truth that every person we meet is lovingly hand-crafted by our very same Heavenly Father, it can change the way we view them.  And this, in turn, can make a radical shift in how we treat them--as lovingly created individuals who are worthy of our kindness, who are worthy of being treated with honor.

Choosing to keep this reality in the forefront of our minds gives authenticity to our actions, so that both in how we treat them and in how we view them, we are truly honoring each person, wanting what is best for him or her, and extending God’s life-changing kindness in the same way that He and other believers have extended it to us.  

So, as you talk with your children, and as you celebrate the fact that He has created each member of your family, remember to help your children truly understand that all kinds of people are beloved creations of the very same heavenly Father.


Then, consider together the practical ways you can show honor to the people in your world.

I'm attaching some links containing food for thought and practical suggestions:

Here is a great list of conversation skills to emphasize with our children.


I've just noticed (at a quick glance) a couple of helpful posts on livestrong.    This one has to do with encouraging our children to learn the importance of eye contact (something I wish I would have emphasized more with my own now-middle-schoolers).  This link contains some fun games for reinforcing good manners (which is, after all, one of the most important ways we show that we honor someone else).

Perhaps even more important than teaching our children these skills is whether or not we are modeling them ourselves.  And a great litmus test for that happens every day at home--in how we respond to each other.  This article, in particular, has a wonderful discussion of how kindness functions as a generous spirit--especially with our spouse.  I found it not only informative, but also convicting (in a good way!).

And one more:  One of my dear friends, Wendy (who will be featured in an upcoming post) is especially gifted at making people feel welcome and loved every time they enter a room.  There's just something about the way her face lights up--how she stops whatever she is doing to meet your eyes, smile, and greet you--that sends a clear message: 

 "You are welcome here! 
I enjoy you!  
I am glad to see you!  
I am so happy that you exist, and that you are here today!"  
Who doesn't love being greeted that way?  Such a warm welcome may seem like a minor or even unimportant gesture (and can often be an inconvenience), but--as this article points out--it is one of the most meaningful ways we can honor the people with whom we are in contact.  Yet the many distractions in today's world often keep us from practicing this simple but powerful habit, especially with our very own family members. 

That's all my suggestions for the moment, but I would love to know how your family puts love into action with the people with whom you cross paths.  Feel free to leave any comments or links here . . . or to share any stories of how someone's willingness to take time to honor you has been meaningful.

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Goodness is the next spiritual fruit we'll study.  Click here to continue.