Green wheat ripening at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Good deeds aren’t just for Boy Scouts

When’s the last time you did a good deed? When you think of good deeds, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe this is stereotypical and wrong, but I always think of Boy Scouts. I’ve only known a few Boy Scouts, although the ones I known have made it to Eagle Scout, and they’ve all been very kind people who would go out of their way to do good things for others.

This month I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23, which says: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” In the last few days, I’ve really been focusing in on goodness because it seems to be, from what I can tell, the kind side of goodness, rather than the moral excellence part. Moral excellence certainly is involved, but the actual word used is more like benevolence instead of righteousness. And I didn’t know that.

It’s good to be benevolent. It’s good to do good deeds because it’s the right thing to do, but with that kind of thinking, how long will you keep doing good deeds? What makes a good deed the right thing to do? What do good deeds look like? Are we talking about helping little old ladies with their groceries? Are we talking about tackling a purse snatcher? Are we talking about supporting a charity financially? Because if I’m just doing good deeds for the sake of doing them, I’m going to get tired of it. I know people who do good things for others because it’s the right thing to do, and that’s admirable. But in a broken world where good deeds are rarely rewarded, often unrecognized, and usually more trouble than they’re worth, I believe you need something better as a motivator than just: “It’s the right thing to do.”

If you don’t, you’re a better person than I am, because I get tired of doing the right thing all the time. And I don’t always do the right thing. I’m just going to be honest.

Aside from the fact that this kind of benevolence–this type of goodness–is a gift from the Holy Spirit, what motivates good deeds? Where should the desire to do good deeds come from?

Green wheat ripening at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Green wheat ripening at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 2:14-26.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

This is a really long bit of scripture for today, but I think it’s relevant. I love the Book of James. It’s short, to the point, and doesn’t pull any punches. This passage is often used out of context to prove that our salvation is dependant on our actions. If you think that, read the whole thing again please, especially verse 23. Here, I’ll put it up again in case there’s any doubt:

James 2:23 – And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

It’s ironic too because this is basically a restatement of Genesis 15:6, which says, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

Get the picture? It’s not our works that save us. Our works demonstrate that we have been saved. We’re not doing good things so that we can be righteous. We do good things because we have been made righteous. It’s outward expression of an inward change, like baptism. It doesn’t save you; it’s just evidence that you are saved.

And conversely, if you don’t show evidence that you have been saved, have you been? I’m not judging. I don’t know your heart. But it’s a good question to ask yourself, especially in a study of the Holy Spirit. If your life doesn’t display the Fruit of the Spirit, which is the evidence of God working in your life, maybe you ought to start asking some really personal questions about what you believe.

If you believe in Christ, you have the Holy Spirit in your life. So where is the evidence of your faith? I have to say, I’ve been blown away by what I’m hearing about people stepping up to help the victims of the tornado that tore Moore, Oklahoma apart on Monday. Maybe not all of them are Christ-followers, but I know many who are. And I am so honored to be able to call those people making such huge sacrifices my brothers and sisters.

What about you? How do you see good works? How do you view good deeds? Are they just something Boy Scouts do to earn a badge? Or are they just the right thing to do? Or are they an expression of what you believe? Think about it. Good works alone aren’t enough, just like quoting scripture isn’t enough. You’ve got to back it up. You’ve got to live it. You’ve got to get it in your life.

And the true irony about doing good for other people is that even though you’re sacrificing to help someone else, you get a bigger blessing out of it than they ever will.

Dark skies above the old school house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Keep a grip on hope

Living in the Midwest, tornadoes are a part of life. It’s like earthquakes in California or hurricanes in the South. And while those of us in Kansas are rarely casual about them, sometimes I don’t think we take them as seriously as we should.

I’m taking a break from my study of the Fruit of the Spirit this morning to join the chorus of prayers for the people of Moore, Oklahoma and the surrounding areas. I usually have something witty or moving or challenging to say, but I’ve got no words. So I’m going to remain silent this morning because God’s given us plenty of words regarding tragedy and sorrow, and no one wrote more about tragedy and sorry than prophet Jeremiah. But at the same time, for every sad, horrible thing he wrote, he also gave a reason to hope. And that’s what we need to focus this morning.

Dark skies above the old school house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dark skies above the old school house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Lamentations 3:19-39, 55-57 (MSG)

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way:

Stomping down hard
on luckless prisoners,
Refusing justice to victims
in the court of High God,
Tampering with evidence—
the Master does not approve of such things.

Who do you think “spoke and it happened”?
It’s the Master who gives such orders.
Doesn’t the High God speak everything,
good things and hard things alike, into being?
And why would anyone gifted with life
complain when punished for sin?

“I called out your name, O God,
called from the bottom of the pit.
You listened when I called out, ‘Don’t shut your ears!
Get me out of here! Save me!’
You came close when I called out.
You said, ‘It’s going to be all right.’

The chicken coop at Safe Haven Farm after a bad wind storm in November last year, Haven, KS

Are you good enough?

Have you ever heard someone say they’re not good enough to be a Christian? I have. I’ve talked to people who just don’t think it’s possible for them to trust Christ because they aren’t good enough.

But the truth of the matter is that it’s not about being good enough. No one is good enough. No one is good.

Goodness isn’t something that comes from us. We don’t know how to be good. Goodness is something the Holy Spirit produces in our lives when we accept Christ. So many times that goodness people see in a Christian’s life isn’t them at all–it’s evidence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

The chicken coop at Safe Haven Farm after a bad wind storm in November last year, Haven, KS

The chicken coop at Safe Haven Farm after a bad wind storm in November last year, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit because I want to be able to identify the qualities in my life that show that the Holy Spirit is working in me. And today we come to goodness.

According to the Amplified Version, the word in the verse actually means benevolence. I think that’s interesting because I would have thought it meant being good–as in being righteous or possessing moral integrity. But goodness has many faces.

Benevolence is a timely thing to be discussing right now, especially with the rash of severe weather that blasted across Kansas last night. Wichita got hit hard, which doesn’t usually happy. Usually the city will just get hail and high winds, and the tornadoes will take a break as soon as they hit the city limits. But there was a tornado at the airport last night. I haven’t heard details, but I know damage was done. And I know a lot of people don’t have power, and even more have significant storm damage.

It’s after storms like this that you see one of the things I love about the Midwest–people helping people without any thought of reward or recompense. They’ll help repair damage. They’ll help clean up yards. They’ll help put back roofs and windows and doors. They’ll be shoulders to cry on and hands to help build up again.

This is life in Kansas.

But it shouldn’t just be in Kansas. And it shouldn’t just be after a storm. This kind of goodness, the heart that yearns to help others even when there’s nothing in it for us, is the kind of goodness that God will produce in our lives if we let Him. We’re not born with the desire to sacrifice. We’re not born with the urge to help other people. We’re not born good.

God knows that. He doesn’t expect us to be good enough. He expects us to look to Him and trust Him, and He will count our faith in Him as being good enough. And the more we look to Him, the more we trust Him, the more we get to know Him, the more goodness will grow in our lives.

Do you find it hard to be good? Do you find it difficult to do good for others? That’s not unusual, necessarily. It just means your human. But the more you get to know God, and the more instep you are with the Holy Spirit, the more goodness you will do, and the less challenging it will be. It’s one of those habits you’ll build. And then one day, someone will tell you they can’t be a Christian because they’re not as good as you are.

And when that happens, don’t be shocked. Don’t be silent either. Make sure you communicate that any goodness in you comes from the Holy Spirit and not yourself. And see what they say to that, because deep down inside, I really believe that every human being wants to be good. They want to be that person who makes a difference to others.

I honestly believe that’s why superhero movies and comics and cartoons are so popular. We all dream of being good enough to be a hero to someone else. But the simple truth is that none of us are good enough on our own, and that’s why we need the Holy Spirit.

So ask Him to help you be good today. Not just good in a moral sense but in a compassionate sense. Ask Him to help you see the people who need help and to give you the strength and the courage to show them benevolence, whether it’s helping them clean up storm damage or just offering a smile on a long workday.

If you follow Christ, if you have the Holy Spirit, it’s not impossible. It’s something He’s promised to do in your life. You just have to let Him work.

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Kindness that meets real needs

Whenever I think of being kind, I always think of rewinding rented VHS tapes after the movie is over. I know. I’m dating myself. I fully believe DVDs were invented so people didn’t have to waste time rewinding video tapes at the end of the movie. But imagine how irritating that had to be for people who worked in rental places–having to rewind tapes constantly when it should have been the job of the people who rented the movie.

In my mind, kindness is action. It’s sort of like love. We’re commanded to be kind, so it’s a lifestyle choice. But what is it exactly? I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit this month. Again, I don’t know Greek, but I can read a definition. And kindness (χρηστότης) kind of threw me for a loop because it doesn’t really mean what I thought I thought it meant.

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:12

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

This is one of the ten or so occurrences of the word kindness (χρηστότης) in the New Testament. According to this word study I’m doing, this word actually means “useful kindness,” referring to “meeting real needs, in God’s way, in His timing or fashion.”

See? Not what I thought it meant. I thought kindness was just being nice to people, whether they deserve it or not. Another definition of this type of kindness is “Spirit-produced goodness which meets the need and avoids human harshness or cruelty.” When it comes right down to it, the English language doesn’t have a word to define this idea of being both kind and good.

So where does that leave us? This kindness is a gift that God gives us when we choose to accept Christ into our lives. It’s something the Holy Spirit will produce in our lives if we let Him, but what does it look like?

I actually had a conversation with my best friend yesterday over Skype. Not the video chat but the texting kind of Skype. (Just saying, Skype has saved my sanity while she’s been on her year-long adventure in England because trying to function on a day-to-day basis without the other half of my brain has been very difficult.) But she was asking me how I was doing, and answering honestly I have to say I’m frustated because I’m at a point in my life where everything around me seems to be going wrong but I only have the time to help with parts of it.

Right now, I have major projects at work that I have to focus on. I have trips to plan for. I have responsibilities at church for ministries. I have major storm damage at my house. My mother is sick. My parents’ house has termites. I have all these friends who are graduating from college or getting married. And some of my closest friends–my sisters even–have experienced loss in their lives. And I want to fix all of it, but I can’t.

To me, in my mind, kindness is killing myself to provide for all of these problems. I want to run around and fix everyone’s issues. But I can’t. Even if I could do that, there’s too much. But the kindness that is a Fruit of the Spirit isn’t killing myself to be kind. It’s not kindness at the expense of my sanity. It’s helping people the way God helps people. It’s meeting the real needs the way God cuts through the clutter of our lives and deals with the real problems. And let’s be honest about this: None of us can do that on our own.

I’m a fixer, and I don’t like to think that there’s something that I can’t fix. But this is an unavoidable truth of being a follower of Christ. Being a follower of Christ means you accept there are some things you can’t fix. Some things you have to rely on God to fix.

Am I saying don’t even try? Am I saying to stop trying to help people? Absolutely not. We are here to support each other and help each other through life. But this type of kindness isn’t about running around like a crazy person, killing yourself to do good for people. This type of kindness meets real need. It cuts to the core of the problem.

Maybe in some instances it’s obvious. Maybe in some instances you already know what the real need is. But sometimes I don’t think we know until God reveals it to us, and when He reveals what the core problem is, then He will equip us to meet that need. And if He doesn’t, maybe you’re not the one who needs to barge in with your two cents. As a person who often barges in where angels fear to tread, that’s something for me to think about.

If you see a child getting ready to be run over by a car, go get the child. If you know someone has run out of gas, take them to the gas station so they can fill up their car. Meet needs. In most circumstances it feel like we try to fix external issues instead of the root of the problem. We try to control behavior instead of fixing the heart, and that’s where the problem is. It’s our hearts that need to be healed, and God is the only one who can do that. So if all we are able to do in our lives is point someone else to Christ, then we’ve done our job.

If you see a real need, meet it. But meet it the way God would and make sure you’re clear on why you’re doing it, because otherwise the person you’re helping may not understand that you’re acting on behalf of God.

Milo growing in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Being kind doesn’t require moral compromise

Have you noticed that our world seems to thrive on the actions and statements of mean people? The entertainment industry is built on conflict, and while you can’t have a good story without conflict, you won’t have a good message without resolution. And I think we tend to forget that part and just focus on the conflict.

When I think of conflict anymore, I think of “reality” TV shows. I don’t watch them, but I hear about them. And honestly I don’t understand the allure of watching a group of people (whether they are stranded on an island, locked in a house, or trying to find a wife) act like idiots and treat each other like dirt. It’s been said that entertainment is the mirror of a society. What we like to watch is a statement about what kind of people we are. That’s been true since Rome was in charge.

So if we spend all our time watching or listening to mean people being mean to each other, what does that say about us?

Milo growing in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Milo growing in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit, the nine character qualities or life responses that are evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, and the focus for today is kindness. I grew up in church with the King James Version, and that translation uses the word gentleness instead of kindness. And I don’t suppose there’s too much difference between those two words, but they aren’t the same. And I recently discovered something that makes me very happy: an online Strong’s concordance (http://www.equipgodspeople.com).

If you’ve never used a Strong’s concordance, they’re awesome. It’s a Bible study tool that assigns numbers to Greek words for easy cross referencing. Let’s take kindness for example. In Greek, it looks like this: χρηστοτης. This word is assigned a number (5544), and if you look up this number in this online concordance, it will list all the times the same word appears so you can cross reference the specific context of the word in more than one situation.

Like χρηστοτης, it’s used only 10 times in the entire New Testament and in most instances it’s used in the context of how God relates to us in His goodness. It’s translated as both kind and good, like gentleness that stems from moral integrity. Do you know anyone like that? Do you know a person who responds to others with that sort of kindness?

This is the kindness that sees and understands that people aren’t perfect and chooses to be nice to them anyway. This is the kindness that God shows us because He is good 100%, and even though we don’t deserve it, He does it anyway. That’s the sort of kindness we need in our lives, and that’s what the Holy Spirit will produce if we allow Him to.

I want to be a good person, yes. I want to be the sort of Christ follower that stands out, who others know is different, but not at the expense of how I treat people. I know Christ followers who are unkind. I’m sure everyone does. But, boy, are they are good Christians! Those types of Christians have the kind of knowledge of Scripture that would take me a lifetime to obtain. They know so much about the Bible. They know references and definitions and everything.

But how does that person treat the people around them? Do they think they’re better? Do they have to condescend to speak to people who don’t know as much as they do? Do they look down their noses at people who don’t know the Bible as well?

That’s been my experience. I can tell you that the people in my life who have hurt me the most are the ones who spend most of their time buried in the Bible, but it’s one thing to know Scripture. It’s something else to live it, to integrate it into your thoughts and your life, to let it change you from the inside out and to listen to the Spirit when He’s talking to you. That’s how the Bible changes you. That’s what makes it a Living Book.

And I would rather understand who God is and understand the context of how we’re supposed to live than to be able to quote references and parse Greek. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to do that, but to learn to do that would take so much of my life at this point that I would have to drop the other things I’m doing–like reaching out to people.

I don’t believe the Holy Spirit would call us to kindness at the expense of our relationships. Moral integrity is great, yes, but personally I don’t think it’s true moral integrity if you treat others poorly. I don’t think it’s honoring to God if you withhold kindness from anyone.

Yes, if it’s a horrible person who is only going to hurt you, don’t invite them into a close relationship with you. Be wise about your friendships. But you can still be kind, and the Holy Spirit will tell you how. He’ll give you the strength to be kind.

So as we venture out into a world of reality TV shows where cruelty is glorified, let’s be kind. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to show us the way to show kindness to people. We don’t have to compromise what we know is right to be kind to others. But if we don’t start showing kindness to people, I’m not sure that we’ll ever really make a difference.