Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Kindness is a Catnap

News of a simple act of kindness on a New York subway has gone around the world. A young black man, head covered by a hooded sweatshirt, fell asleep on the shoulder of an older Jewish passenger, whom the media identified as Isaac Thiel. When Mr. Theil let the sleepy stranger take a little catnap on his shoulder, he said it was because, “I simply remembered the times my own head would bop on someone’s shoulder because I was so tired after a long day.”

Another subway rider was so struck by Theil's nonchalant empathy that he snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “Heading home on the Q train yesterday when this young black guy nods off on the shoulder of a Jewish man. The man doesn't move a muscle, just lets him stay there. After a minute, I asked the man if he wanted me to wake the kid up, but he shook his head and responded, ‘He must have had a long day, let him sleep. We've all been there, right?’”[1]


“The greatest thing a man can do for a Heavenly Father,” said Henry Drummond, “is to be kind to some of His other children.” And Frederick William Faber commented, “Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.” Someone else has suggested that “If you want to surprise someone these days just be kind to them.” Interesting don’t you think? Kindness isn't something we expect from others or ourselves anymore. Just think for a moment, when was the last time someone held the door open for you? What about a simple “Thank You” to the cashier or bag boy? What about picking up a piece of trash in the parking lot that wasn’t yours? 

Paul lists kindness among the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Kindness could take the form anything from good manners, to offering your seat to someone standing up in a crowded place, or to putting coins in someone’s expired parking meter. If you catch the fever, kindness can be a lot of fun because you never know what opportunities may pop-up where you can surprise someone with a helping of grace.  

In Ephesians 4:32 we read, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” In Colossians 3:12 we are to be “clothed in kindness,” among other things. Moreover, we are told in 1 Cor. 13:4 that, “love is kind.”

Of course, Jesus is the ultimate example of the kindness that makes us stop and take note. He was kind enough to save a Jewish family from embarrassment by not letting the wine run out at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12). He was kind enough to eat lunch with Zacchaeus, a con-artist tax collector that everyone hated (Luke 19:1-9). He was kind enough to make time for rambunctious children (Mark 10:16) and kind enough to acknowledge a woman who’d been a twelve year outcast because of her disease (Mark 5:25-34).

Max Lucado has pointed out, “The kindness of Jesus. We are quick to think of His power, His passion and His devotion. But those near Him knew and know God comes cloaked in kindness. Kind enough to care about a faux pas. Kind enough to have lunch with a crook. Kind enough to bless a suffering sister. Why? Because love is kind.”[2]

Being kind is a risk, we could be misunderstood or taken advantage of, but it is worth it. When we take the time to help someone else we're allowing God to work through us. Who knows the ripple effect our kind acts will cause! Imagine what a kindness revolution could do?    

[1] Yasmine Hafiz, “Sleeping Stranger Subway Picture On Q Train Defines Empathy And Is A Lesson In Being Good,” Huffington Post Religion, 6 November 2013 < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/06/sleeping-stranger-subway-picture_n_4228826.html>
[2] Max Lucado, A Love Worth Giving (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 26. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Spitting into the Wind

You may not know what Minecraft is, but chances are if you have children or grandchildren they can tell you all about it. It happens to be one of the most successful and innovative video games of recent history.  Since 2009 it has sold some 54 million copies, making it the third most popular video game of all time behind Tetris and Super Mario Bros.

Minecraft is a game where you dig for different kinds of 3D blocks which can then be used to build all kinds of structures. Since there is no defined storyline, or main objectives the game allows players to be their own “gods” because whatever they can imagine, they can build in this virtual world. With such a gigantic, digital sandbox to play in, no wonder kids of all ages are obsessed.

However, Business Insider recently reported that the creator of Minecraft, a self-taught Swedish programmer Markus Persson, has not found the happiness that his game has given to so many people around the world. In 2014 Persson sold Minecraft to tech-giant Microsoft for $2.5 billion! Here is what the article reported:

“Persson certainly looked like he was having a blast, living the big life. He bought a $70 million mansion, complete with a massive wall of candy, and has been hosting wild parties ever since.
But he's really bored and deeply lonely, he revealed in a series of tweets. “The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance,” he tweeted. In another social media post he said, “Hanging out with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I've never felt more isolated.”[1]

When I read those words of disappointment my mind went back to Solomon’s journal of Ecclesiastes. As one of the wealthiest and wisest kings in Israel’s history, Solomon was a man who had it all and tried it all. He was a man of wisdom, wealth, wine, work and women. Imagine a man with the brains of Bill Gates, the bucks of Warren Buffet and the promiscuity of Hugh Hefner and you’ve got a good mental image of the kind of playboy excess that dominated Solomon’s mid-life crisis. After enjoying unbridled success here is what Solomon said:

“I’ve been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth. And let me tell you, there’s not much to write home about . . . I’ve seen it all and it’s nothing but smoke—smoke, and spitting into the wind” (Ecc. 1:12-14, MSG).  

Solomon’s words are still just as relevant today. The reason why success, fame, money and pleasure never ultimately fulfill is because they operate on the law of diminishing returns. A plie of money, a giant mansion, your name in lights, a snort of drugs or a supermodel on each arm may bring temporary happiness, but then when the high is gone the one searching for meaning is left with a profound sense of emptiness.

This existential void can only be filled by one being—God. No amount of finite things can ever fill up an infinite hole. Only God is big enough, wondrous enough, and perpetually novel enough to bring ultimate meaning and purpose to life. As Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).     -DM

[1] Julie Bort, “’I've never felt more isolated’: The man who sold Minecraft to Microsoft for $2.5 billion reveals the empty side of success,” Business Insider , 29 August 2015 <http://www.businessinsider.com/minecraft-founder-feels-isolated-unhappy-2015-8> 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Asking for Coins, Receiving Christ

The great preacher Adrian Rodgers once told of his first attempt as a young man to lead someone to Jesus.  Adrian was still a new Christian, and went into town to get some gas. Because Adrian had been at the beach that day he was shirtless and shoeless. That’s when a homeless man asked him for a handout.

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t have any money,” he told the disheveled man. As Adrian walked away, the Lord spoke to his heart saying, “I want you to tell that old man about Jesus.” But Adrian thought, “Lord, I'm young in the faith; I don't even have a Bible with me; I don't have on a shirt or shoes.” But the Lord continued to impress upon Adrian to witness to the man.

So, he turned toward the man, and said, “I don't have any money or even a Bible, but I'd like to share a word with you about Jesus.” Amazingly, that’s when the vagabond pulled out a New Testament and said, “Somebody gave me this the other day. Will it help?”

Adrian turned to John 3:16, and told the man how he could believe in Jesus and be saved. The man responded by saying “Yes” to Jesus, and they knelt right there on the street and prayed. As Adrian started to leave, the man, with tears in his eyes, said, “Son, I've been all over these United States; and you're the only person who ever told me about Jesus.”

Peter and John were in a similar situation one day when walking through the Jerusalem Temple complex they came upon a lame man who was begging for alms. These penniless preachers had no coins in their pockets to give the man, but even so they were not empty handed. According to Dr. Luke here is what transpired:

“But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:6-8).

Just like the story that Adrian Rogers told, both beggars asked for something insignificant—a few coins—yet because of a divine appointment with one of God’s obedient servants, they received something of incalculable worth. We may not be able to perform healing miracles, but we can give the people that God traffics in-and-out of our lives the Gospel of Christ.

Chances are at some point this year you’ll come across someone with a hand out. What will you do? Will you ignore them? Will you give them a few dollars and send them on their way? Will you make up an excuse like, “I’m just too busy.” Or will you listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit?

As we meet the physical needs of the hurting, let’s not forget their spiritual needs are more important. Here is a bold prayer for you to consider, “Lord, bring someone into my life that I can help and create an opportunity for me to tell them about the Gospel. And Lord, make me receptive to Your leading and give me the words to say when that time comes.”  -DM  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Access to God

One day a little boy named Willie stood wistfully at the gates of Buckingham Palace. He longed to go in and see the king. Between him and the king, however, were iron gates, rigid protocol, armed soldiers and watchful police. What he wanted was quite out of the question.
A policeman who was ordering the lad to leave suddenly stiffened and sprang to attention as a well-dressed, confident man approached. A brusque nod from the man, and the policeman unlocked the gates and stood aside. “Come with me sonny,” said the man, taking the boy’s hand. “We’re going to see the king.”

In the palace they went. Inside were forty housemaids, fifty butlers (including one man who did nothing but wind clocks all day), and six hundred rooms. The man remarked, “We are a quarter mile away from the kitchens!” but he seemed to know the way and chatted about the rooms they passed: the magnificent ballroom that contained two majestic thrones on a raised platform; the stamp rooms that housed the world’s most valuable collection; the Belgian suite with its forty-four rooms for the use of state visitors; they royal wardrobe; the music room; the dining room with a table as large as a skating rink; the dazzling green drawing room.       

Willie and the man walked on and on—to the north wing, upstairs, along endless passages, to king’s corridor on the main floor, and into the master suite. Finally, they arrived in the king’s presence, and the man spoke. “Hello Father. Here’s the little boy who wants to meet you. Meet my friend Willie. Willie this is the king.” The little boy had taken the hand of Edward, Prince of Wales, the king’s son. Through him Willie gained access to the king.[1]

If a child you don’t know appears on your doorstep and asks to spend the night, what would you do? Likely you would ask his name, where he lives, find out why he is roaming the streets, and contact his parents. On the other hand, if a youngster enters your house escorted by your child, that child is welcome.

The same is true with God. By becoming friends with the Son, we gain access to the Father. Jesus promised in Matt. 10:32, “All those who stand before others and say they believe in me, I will say before my Father in heaven that they belong to me.” In Ephesians 2:18 we read, “For through him [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” This is the reason why we are told in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.”

When was the last time you truly marveled at the privilege to call the God who taught the stars how to sparkle your “Heavenly Father”? When was the last time you spoke to Him not out of duty, obligation or need, but just to talk? As a child of King you have an open door to a Father who knows no shortage and who never sleeps. The only person who dares wake up a King at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access. -DM

[1] John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), 75.