Achievement and Kindness

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

This quote comes from Jesus’ teaching which we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount. The section of Matthew’s Gospel from chapter 5 through chapter 7 is usually considered to be the sermon which Jesus gave on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. These verses are considered to be the underlying foundation for all of Jesus’ teaching. Included here are the “blessed” statements referred to as the Beatitudes, teachings on attitudes leading to actions, love for enemies, prayer (words of the Lord’s prayer found here), material possessions, worrying, judgment, and cautions regarding pitfalls. In the midst of all this we see guidance about what we should seek in life.

I began thinking about this passage after having read an article asking if showing kindness is a hindrance or aid to achievement. The author of the article cited some studies which were conducted to help determine the role of kindness in achievement. Many people view kindness as a hindrance to personal achievement because it shows weakness and a willingness to give versus striving to obtain. However, what the studies found was exactly the opposite. Those individuals who demonstrated kindness in their professional and personal lives, tended to reach a higher level of achievement.

My theory is that by extending kindness towards others, those who receive from your acts of kindness are more supportive of you reaching a goal, or set of goals, which you have set for yourself. They may even work to help you in obtaining what you seek. While those who view a person focused solely on themselves and not expressing kindness through words and actions, are less likely to attempt to support and work for the success of the individual.

This brings me back to the passage from Matthew 6. Here we are called by Jesus to seek those behaviors and attitudes which are within the character of God. From my reading of Scripture, it is clear to me that God intends for us to show kindness to one another. In the Old and New Testament, we are exhorted multiple times to show kindness to those who are oppressed, orphaned, or otherwise in a difficult situation in life. Jesus teaches that we are to show kindness not only to those who are similar to us and whom we like but also to our enemies. Kindness is definitely a component of the kingdom of God. Therefore, kindness is something which we should seek to demonstrate.

I am led to see the findings reported in the article which I read to be in coherence with the verse from Jesus’ sermon. By seeking God’s kingdom, through kindness, a person can obtain a higher level of achievement than using whatever methods will bring others down.

Out of the Boat

Some years ago I led a discussion group who explored the book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat, written by John Ortberg. Ortberg used the passage from Matthew 14 in which Jesus comes to the disciples who are caught on the water during a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus challenges Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water to him. Peter begins the journey but becomes afraid and starts to sink. When Peter calls out for Jesus to save him, Jesus lifts him out of the water, and they safely return to the boat and the other frightened disciples. Ortberg presents the understanding that in order to achieve something great, we have to be willing to take the risk of getting out of our “boat” and following Jesus’ voice.

I have always found the passage from Matthew to be somewhat intimidating. I can easily relate to Peter who wants to be bold enough to step out but then becomes frightened and seems to be sinking. Generally in life, I have been an individual who tries to play it safe. I weigh all my options and attempt to calculate the possible outcomes of my decisions before making an attempt. There have been a few rare occasions when I have stepped out quickly but soon rush towards safety once again. Yet, the passage Matthew and the words of John Ortberg challenges us to take risks if we want to achieve some type of success.

A person doing a Google search for motivating quotes involving risk will run across a significant number of quotes. Just search, “without risk there is no reward,” and you will find that quote attributed to a number of individuals. The search will also provide a long list of similar quotes with generally the same message. Yet for so many to promote this concept, there seems to be a limited number of people willing to step out of their boat. There are far fewer churches willing to take the same type of actions.

The reason that I chose this book with its focus on the passage from Matthew for my discussion group was because I felt a need to challenge myself, the members of the group, and the congregation which I was serving to step out of our boats. In this imagery, the boat represents the safe, the familiar, the comfort zone of our lives. As I continued to watch the changes taking place in the world around us, I came to realize that if the church was going to have a meaningful impact on these changes, we would be required to get out of our boats and “walk on water.” In essence, do what we did not think was possible, or we could even understand at the time.

Even though the book was written almost twenty years ago, I still sense there is a need for individual believers and communities of faith to get out of the boats. I realize that we might be frightened. The world is not the world when Christendom reigned. The perception of the church and of Christians have been damaged in the eyes of those who are not engaged at this time. There may even be the feeling for many within the church that this is a hostile time. Historically, when the Church has experienced hostile times (perceived or real), the Church retreats. This is one of the human instincts associated with fight or flight. We hide behind the familiar and in our sanctuaries.

However, I think it is exactly during these times that Jesus stands and calls to us. Jesus invites us to come out onto the stormy waters and meet him. He tries to draw us out of our boats. Why? It is only by getting out of our boats that we are able to achieve something of significance. Jesus wants us to be significant in the world. Not wielding power or exacting our will upon the world but being in the midst of the world’s storm, so we can provide assurance and presence. During our personal life storms, Jesus is present with us and assuring us we are not alone. He calls us to do the same during the storms which the world is experiencing. By being present, we can demonstrate what it means to love as Jesus has shown us love.

The challenge remains… are you going to get out of the boat? Are our churches willing to get out of the boat? Remember — If you want to walk on water (do something significant), you have to be willing to get out of the boat (take the risk).

Don’t Worry

In the late 1980s, Bobby McFerrin released a song entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Here are the opening stanzas of that song:

Here’s a little song I wrote

You might want to sing it note for note

Don’t worry, be happy

In every life we have some trouble

But when you worry you make it double

Don’t worry, be happy

Don’t worry, be happy now

Bobby McFerrin

McFerrin reminds us that when we worry, our troubles double. Easier said than done, right?

This concept of being worry free is not a new one. Jesus introduced this same thought as we find recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew. (See Matthew 6:25-34) Jesus points out here that worrying cannot add a single hour to our lives. In fact, scientists tell us that excessive worrying has a very negative impact upon us physically. (See this article from WebMD) So what do we do about our worrying?

I think that we worry when we do not feel we are in control of a situation. We cannot decide the outcome. In these moments, the feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming. Since it appears that control is not in our hands, we do the only thing which seems within our control—we worry.

Once again, the words of Jesus found in Matthew can be helpful. Jesus tells us to seek out the Father in such times. He says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Something in our control is presented to us here. We can seek God, an action within our control. We are not helpless. God gives us a promise that if we seek God, all which we NEED will be given to us.

Bobby McFerrin had it right — Don’t worry, be happy. Instead of worrying, we can be happy in the knowledge that the Father knows what we need and will supply those needs for us.

Like a Child

Santa Clause

Easter Bunny

Tooth Fairy

These are all characters from our childhood which most of us understand in a much different light now that we are adults. However, when we were children these characters were as real to us as the people living in our house. We heard stories about them. On specific dates or times, we expected them to arrive at our home. We planned for them. We may even have written notes or set out special treats for them. Each of us tried to sneak a glance at them. But then we became adults and realized that our understanding of them had changed and most of us stopped believing in them.

My husband and I were having a conversation last week about the difficulty of believing. We were looking at the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. The passage we were discussing was John 21:19-30. In this passage Jesus appears to the apostles who are locked in a room in fear. One of the apostles, Thomas, was not present and when he was told about the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, Thomas struggles to believe. My husband pointed out that the difficulty most of us have, like Thomas, is that we no longer accept aspects of life as we did when we were children. We want some type of evidence if we are going to believe something is real.

I agreed with that but was reminded of something recorded in Scripture and attributed to Jesus, “And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matthew 18:3, NIV) I had always viewed this statement completely concerning access into the kingdom. But my discussion with my husband brought about an “aha” moment. Being part of the kingdom means believing in the improvable. Like a child, we accept something not based on evidence but on the feeling that it is real. Thomas was acting as an adult and needed evidence that Jesus was truly resurrected. Thomas did not have that child wonderment and acceptance of something that could not be totally explained.

A number of us struggle with not just the concept of the resurrection but with the reality of God. We search for evidence. We want someone to prove to us that what we have been instructed to believe is real. The stories which we heard growing up, the words we sing in worship, the variety of celebrations related to events recorded in the Bible, are all nice concepts but at times we struggle because there does not seem to be any proof. When life throws a curve at us, we ask ourselves are any of these ideas which I claim to believe real?

Yet I go back to the words of Jesus mentioned above. Each of us have to become like children. Not that we are to return to temper tantrums but that we believe without all the evidence. This does not require us to abandon all the education and knowledge we have accumulated. Instead, this requires us to accept the reality that no one knows everything. We have to acknowledge that there remains items which are without explanation. We believe in what we have not seen as a child is able to do with Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy.

If you are struggling with this type of belief, I recommend you sit down and watch The Polar Express or Rise of the Guardians. These movies will help you understand the importance of believing as a child. When we stop believing in what we do not have evidence for, we lose out on the chance of discovery what is truly possible.

Enough?

When is enough enough?

This seems to be a question which infiltrates all aspects of life. The onset of consumerism since the Industrial Age has led to a viewpoint that a person can never have enough. In the Spring 1955 edition of the Journal of Retailing, Victor Lebrow who was a marketing consultant wrote:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms.

Victor Lebrow

The added desire for instant gratification to this consumerist approach to life has created the dynamic of scarcity. People often look at life and say that “we do not have enough to…” A feeling of scarcity leads to hording, greed, and even violence as we strive to protect what we have or get what we do not have. Yet, perception and reality do not always align.

As a Christian, I am not immune to this battle for “enough.” Throughout the Christian Bible ample verses and stories speak to this dilemma. One is  found in the Hebrew Scriptures located in the story of the Hebrew journey from Egypt to the promise land. The people had been complaining to Moses about not having enough food to eat and how it was so much better back in Egypt. Moses was tired of their constant whining and blaming him for their plight. He decided to take the matter up with God and God made a promise to provide plenty of food for the people each day. You can find this story in Exodus 16. God did provide manna (a flaky substance) and quail every day. Clear instructions about the collection of this food were given:

Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.

Exodus 16:16

No one is to keep any of it until morning.

Exodus 16:19

Initially the results turned out wonderful.

And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

Exodus 16:18

Yet, the fear of scarcity set in and so…

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

Exodus 16:20

Jesus also tried to deal with this battle of scarcity dduringhis ministry. He incorporated the idea of having enough for each day in the prayer which he taught his disciples, a prayer which today is known as the Lord’s Prayer… “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

From these examples, we come to see that we are provided with exactly what we need each day. We actually have an abundance of what we need. Now this may not mean we have everything which we want but there is a clear difference between “want” and “need.”

Yet, we tend to live in the attitude of scarcity and not one of abundance. We say things like…

“If I only had more time, I could get my work done and volunteer.”

“If I only had more money, I could pay my bills and give to support those with food insecurities.”

“If I only had more (fill in the blank), I could (fill in the second blank).”

According to Sentier Research as quoted in an article on seekingalpha.com, the median income in the United States in June 2018 was $62,175. Compare this with the country of Burundi which had a median income of $730. Some would have to argue that a majority in the United States could not claim scarcity in income. All of us know that money alone is not a gauge of abundance. Similar examples can be identified in other measurable aspects such as material goods, opportunities, skills, education, and environment. This is not intended to say that individuals in the United States which lack this abundance are not present. Median means that there are many who are below the numbers listed above. Nor am I arguing that there should be guilt associated with abundance. My point is when we adopt an attitude of scarcity, we tend to forget the abundance which is available to us.

This attitude does not confine itself to our personal lives. Our corporate experiences are infiltrated by this attitude as well. It seems natural since if we as individuals focus on scarcity, the groups which we are members of will also look through the lenses of scarcity. Whether it be government, organizations, or even the church, comments and approaches linked to a view of scarcity seem to be the modus operandi. A long list of reasons why something cannot happen is much more common than a list of ways to make it happen.

An attitude of scarcity results in us saying why we cannot do something. An attitude of abundance shows us why we can.

I encourage each one of you to adopt an attitude of abundance. See how this might change your perspective on life and thus, your life as a whole.

Purpose of the Church – Part 3

If you have been following my posts about the purpose of the Church, you know that I have identified what I view the Church as not being and what I view the Church as being. (If you have missed them, here are the links: Purpose of the Church – Part 1 & Purpose of the Church – Part 2.) Today, I will share my final post dedicated to this specific topic.

At the end of Part 2, I quoted a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Here it is again:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

I indicated that the Church has the responsibility to look after the welfare of all people. But how do we live out being this Church? There are 7.7 billion people and a finite amount of resources. What aspects of an individual’s welfare should we be addressing? What do we do about those who do not even believe in God? How about people who are not Christian, do we have a responsibility to them? The Church exists for those who are members, does it not? Questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen of excuses.

Like a multitude of aspects of life, we tend to complicate that which is truly very simple. We spend so much time identifying the hurdles to whatever we may be called to do that we miss the opportunities which are right before our eyes. We think only within what we know and not what could be.

I believe that living as the Church means living where we are now. By that, I mean that we address what is around us and not what is out of our realm of touch. A friend of mine used to always do a benediction which included a line that reminded all the hearers that we are where we now are for a reason. If each of us who claimed to be part of the Church took a good look around ourselves, we would find individuals who have needs which we are uniquely qualified to meet. This does not require us to develop some new talent or skill, we already have been given that talent or skill to address that specific need. We may need to strengthen the talent or skill, or learn how to apply it better to the situation before us. Yet the core is already present within us.

Imagine if each participant in the Church applied themselves each day. The impact we could have in our community and neighboring communities could be tremendous. If this happened in every place and each day throughout the world where people claim to be a part of the Church, the Church would have a global impact which exceeds any of the world’s NGO’s today. The multiplied effect of individuals practicing this simple guidance could change the course of human existence.

Another positive reality of the Church living out its purpose is that when two or more individuals join together to follow this plan, their efforts are even stronger. This is why the Church exists as a community of people on a journey of faith together. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) I believe that Jesus was not only talking about being together in worship or in a class, Jesus was talking about gathering to live as the Church. We support and strengthen one another as each of us lives out our purpose within the Church. The Church gains its purpose from the ones who join together in looking out for the welfare of all people.

If this is truly the attitude which we take as the Church, then all the excuses mentioned above drift away. The resources needed have already been provided. The belief system of the one in need has no bearing on our actions. The ones who claim to be members of the Church are having their needs met as they join in fellowship and work with each other.

Purpose of the Church – Part 2

In my most recent post, I shared my view about what the Church was not. This begs the question, “What is the Church?” In this post, I will be focusing upon what my definition to the Church might be.

As I was discussing in the last post, I clearly do not see the Church as a building. The gathering of the Church takes place in a building at times but the building is not what defines the Church. I shared that the Church is people; people in relationship with God and in relationship with one another. People who are on a journey which we call life and entwined in that journey are relationships. The Church acknowledges that this journey is communal in nature. We discover together, we learn together, we experience together, we fail together, we succeed together, we laugh together, we cry together, we live together, and we die together.

The Church is where we experience life together. Here is where support should be found. When one of us faces struggles or uncertainty, the Church surrounds that person and walks alongside. When someone is searching, the Church shares in the search by sharing experiences. When an individual is feeling attacked, judged, mocked, ridiculed, the Church embraces that person. The Church looks out for every individual but does not control or manipulate them. The Church shares the wisdom gained by experience but does not impose that wisdom on the person but lets the person use that wisdom within their own story.

One of the misconceptions that I encounter in the Church is the idea that the Church is God. I believe that this misconception comes from the interpretations of Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Too many have seen this as Jesus giving the Church license to judge people, exact punishments, and demand certain behaviors. Instead, I see this as Jesus indicating the responsibility of the Church to look out for the beneficial welfare of all people. This does not mean that the Church usurps God as the supreme authority.

I plan on doing one more post about the purpose of the Church. The last post will be sharing thoughts on how the Church lives out responsibilities given to Peter in the passage from Matthew 16.