Kindness is the Key

Do you remember the story of Abraham looking for a wife for his son, Isaac? The story is found in Genesis 24. A servant is given the task of going back to Abraham’s family and finding a young woman who would be suitable for Isaac. The servant, obviously overwhelmed by his assignment, begins to pray.

Do you remember what sign he told God he was looking for? Let the young woman not only draw water for me, a common and expected gesture of hospitality, but also draw water for my camels. Drawing enough water for tired and thirsty camels is certainly beyond what is to be expected in any culture, but that was what the servant asked for.

Why? Because he was looking for a woman who was kind.

Kindness? Really? Ask any single person about the person they’re looking to marry, and they’ll give you a long list.

Kindness won’t be on that list.

There will be a lot of descriptions of how the person will look, dress, or even the career they will have, but if kindness is on the list at all, it will be way on down the list.

Now, ask that same question to a couple that’s been married for a very long time, and kindness, if it’s not the first thing they say, will be near the top of the list. The long-married couple has learned some things about how marriage actually works day in and day out. The world would have us think we spend every day of our married lives in the throes of passion. We don’t. We spend most of our time taking out the garbage, getting the kids to school, washing clothes, going to work, and coming home again.

We spend most of our marriages in “like.” By that I mean we spend most of our time doing life together, and kindness—doing the little things that make the other person’s life easier—is one of those little everyday things that ends up making a big difference.

You don’t have to have a big house to be happily married. You don’t have to have a lot of money to be happily married. You do, however, have to have a lot of kindness to be happily married. The days get too long without it.

So, ladies, the guy you’re dating now, is he kind?
Guys, the girl you think is so beautiful, is she kind?
For those of you who are already married, are you kind to each other?

Ask any of us who’ve been married for a while (Jeannie and I will be married 38 years next month) and we’ll all tell you the same thing. You want to know the secret of a happy marriage?

“Be kind one to another.” It is, after all, in the Bible.

Theology of Abundance

According to the experts, regardless of what areas of concern, we are slowly but surely running out of everything. Our sun will burn out in a few million years, and we’ll be left on a cold, dark planet drifting in space. Our fossil fuels are approaching exhaustion. We’ll have to find new sources of power. There’s only so much time, so much food, so many places to live, and so many cars to drive.

In other words, you’d better get while the getting is good because soon there won’t be anything left to get.

Or so the world tells us.

And because the world tells us that we’re running out of everything, we develop a theology of scarcity. This theology of scarcity causes us to start grasping for things in our lives. We have to grab our stuff and hold onto it with our lives. Not only do we have to get our stuff, we have to keep others from getting their stuff. If someone else gets something, that means we can’t have it because there’s only so much to go around.

This of course leads to lives of pettiness, jealousy, shallowness, and frustration.

Yet, Jesus promised us life and life more abundant. A life characterized not by shortages, but by overflowing goodness and joy. How can this be true?

First, God loves you. Now, you’ll read that as “God loves everybody.” While that’s true, that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Do you understand that God loves you? You. All by yourself you. He likes the way you’re put together. You were, after all, His idea. He likes the way you think, the way you laugh, and the friends you hang around.

He loves you—in particular you.

Because of that, every blessing He desires to give you is designed only for you. Your blessings won’t fit me. My blessings won’t fit you. He created us uniquely. He loves us uniquely. He blesses us uniquely.

Second, God never runs out of blessings. He’s eternal. That means He never changes. He’ll be as rich and generous tomorrow as He is today. You’ll never be empty handed in His presence. His goodness will always fill your life.

Now, just a quick warning. Being blessed doesn’t mean you get everything you want. Why? Because some of the things we want aren’t good for us. Why would God give you something that wasn’t good for you? We can trust God not only to be good and generous in our lives, but to also know us well enough so He won’t give us something that would hurt us.

Don’t compare yourself to other people. They’re not you. How God blesses them doesn’t have anything to do with how He blesses you. God created you uniquely, and He loves you the same way.

What Would Jesus and You Talk About?

Sometimes, when we’re confronted by unexpected trouble or a deep evil in the world, we’ll say out loud, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask Jesus about that.” For some reason, most of us seem to think that we have to die to have a conversation with Jesus.

But the unique teaching of Christianity is our founder is alive. Yes, Jesus was crucified, but He was raised from the dead, and through His Spirit, He is present with His people.

He is present to lead.
He is present to comfort.
He is present to forgive.
He is present to listen.

And He is present to speak. He teaches. He corrects. He confronts. He explains. He’s there.

The radical teaching of Christianity is our Rabbi is alive, and He has promised that if we’ll stop long enough to give Him time in our lives, He’ll meet us and teach us to be His disciples.

So, what do you want to talk to Jesus about? Your dreams? Your hurts and disappointments? Your purpose and calling? Questions about evil? The mysteries of being? What would you talk about?

You don’t have to wait until you die to talk to Jesus. You can do it today. Right where you are. The next move is yours.

Uncle Mike’s Never Fail Bible Reading Plan

For over eleven years, I was the teaching pastor of Kairos, a Tuesday night worship service for young adults at Brentwood Baptist Church. A lot of the young adults who came to Kairos were coming to their first experience of church and worship. Some of my favorite stories of my ministry come from these Tuesday nights.

And some of those stories include helping these young adults get over their fear of reading the Bible. Most of them didn’t have a Bible. Their parents had given them one when they were children, but that Bible was either back at home or long since lost. The first challenge was getting them a Bible.

So, here’s the first step in my NEVER FAIL READING plan: GET A BIBLE. Get a real Bible. You know, a real Bible with real paper pages that’s held together by leather or cloth binding. I know, you can get any number of Bible software packages and Bible apps, and these are fine; however, they can be overwhelming and distracting to beginners.

Just get a Bible—any Bible you’re comfortable with. I know scholars and theologians will argue over the best and most accurate translations, but for most of us, any of the usual translations will be fine. If it starts with Genesis and ends with Revelation, you can’t go wrong. Find one you are comfortable with and let it be your Bible.

Now, find a place and a time that will work for you most every day. No one time is going to perfect for all seven days of the week, but find a time and place—the same time and same place—where you can show up, and your body knows you’re about to start studying the Bible. We are creatures of habit, and by establishing that this is the place and time you study the Bible, your mind will prepare for studying when you begin to walk to your favorite chair. (For me, it’s my favorite chair. Your favorite place may be someplace else.)

Just find whatever place and time works for you and start showing up. That’s all. Now, here’s the good news: you’ve done better than most people by simply showing up. Most people INTEND to study their Bibles, but they never get to the place of even starting. You have shown yourself to be exceptional simply by showing up.

Now, for the hard part. Read the Bible. I want to remind you that we’re not going to read the whole Bible today. In fact, we probably won’t read the whole Bible this week. We’re going to be reading the Bible in one way or another for the rest of our lives. We’ll eventually get through it, but we’re in no rush. Some things, like a fine meal, need to be savored. Reading the Bible isn’t so much an effort to push through the text as it is a meal to be savored and experienced.

So, where do you start? Start with gospel of Mark. Mark was the first gospel written, and it’s a good way to understand the ministry and teachings of Jesus. Almost half of Mark (chapters 11-16) is about the last week of His earthly ministry. When you finish reading Mark, read it again. We only comprehend about 20% of the text the first time we read it. Read Mark until you almost know it from memory.

Read slowly. Remember we’re learning a life-long practice, not sprinting to the end of the book. When you come across a story or a verse that makes you stop and think, then stop reading and write in your journal. I’m old school on journaling, so use a paper journal and a good pen to write out your thoughts. There is something about writing longhand that engages your brain in a different way than typing things out on your computer. And if you’re worried about not having anything to say, don’t worry. Something happens when your pen hits the paper. You’ll find yourself writing things you hadn’t thought about in years. There’s a reason keeping a journal has been a highly regarded spiritual discipline for generations. The soul has a way of revealing itself in writing.

Write until you’re done. That may be 30 minutes or it may be five minutes. I’m really not interested in how long you stay in your Bible reading time. I’m more concerned with a) building a daily habit of Bible study and b) getting the Word off the pages of the Bible and into your head.

Here’s the thing about studying the Bible. Once you read the passage or story a couple of times, it stays with you. You’ll find yourself thinking about the passage while you wait on an elevator or while you’re stuck in traffic. You’ll find yourself retelling the passage to your friends during a casual conversation. In short, the Bible will become part of your life.

And that’s the whole point.

When you finish with Mark, read Matthew and Luke. Read them the same way—slowly. Then, read John. The reason you read John last is because he’s the poet of the group. He is concerned with showing what everything means. He doesn’t really care about history, so to fit his purpose or to show some important insight, he’ll purposely tell things out of order. For instance, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus cleansed the Temple on the first day of Holy Week. In John, it’s one of the first things Jesus does.

Why? Because, for John, the whole point of Jesus coming was to break down the barriers that keep us from God. John seems to be telling us that if we want to know anything about Jesus, then we need to view the entire ministry of Jesus through the lens of the Temple cleansing.

Don’t get hung up on how much you read or how fast you read. Focus on reading deeply. Christ has promised when we open His word, He’ll meet us in the pages of Scripture. How awesome to know when we open the Bible, we open the Bible in the presence of its Author. The conversations that follow promise to be life changing.