Kind and Nice

I’m currently listening to instrumental Christmas music that my wife has playing in the background of our Sunday evening. Some say it’s too early. We don’t care. 

Growing up in a Christian home, and in a pastor’s family especially, one of the expectations is that people are “nice.” I kind of laugh when I think about this, not in a cynical way, but because there are so many problems with the notion. One of them is indeed that you can find just as many mean people in a church as outside of it, in many cases anyway. I personally find the difference to be that in a church, at least in one of any measure of health, you will also find confession, repentance, and forgiveness as well. This is what makes the church, the healthy one, different. Not the absence of conflict, but the presence of forgiveness at scale. Another reason I laugh is all the ways that niceness has been perpetrated to some of the most tragic and unkind ends. I once had a pastor who said “it’s not kind to be nice to an evil person.” The idea is if you welcome an abuser in to your life, or home, or the church, and in order to be nice to them you let them do whatever makes them comfortable, you are in fact being unkind to those they harm. You may in fact have to be something other than nice to them to truly be a kind individual. 

I find this to be resonate throughout the biblical narrative, something that perplexes the hyper-moral secularist, and even progressive Christians. They love to cut out the Old Testament, or say God didn’t really kill his son Jesus for our sin, or some other thing that cuts some of the blood and guts out of the persona of God that they don’t find to be very “nice.” I find in every context I’m in the norm for deciding when, how, how often, and to whom to be nice too will reveal the real worldview of the community. In business who gets the default, the leaders, the employees, or the clients? In a school, is it the administrators, the board, the parents, the teachers, or the students? If the debate is brought to a vote, because some issue has been raised, who is going to be treated the nicest? Who gets their way and why? 

One of the things about Jesus I honestly love is that he rips in to the Pharisees, and hard. Some of them come around and join his team. By the time we get to the Acts of the Apostles, there are Pharisees in the Christian church. That’s amazing. Hard words led to soft hearts. I think it’s because those who were humble could see he was right about their hypocrisy. But in chapters like Matthew 23, Jesus just straight lays into them. It’s brutal. And the more you study the history and language of the time, the darker it is. But you don’t need to dig too deep to know that saying things like like this are harsh, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (Mt. 23:15 NIV). I know there are times I need a hard word. I’ve had abusive people lay in to me needlessly, sure, I’m no glutton for that kind of punishment. But the idea that the God-become-flesh nicest man on earth laid out some sick burns against the prideful who were leading others away from him gives me peace. Because when you really go through you life, you see the need for this kind of leadership. Sometime you have to say hard things, and it doesn’t make you a mean person, it makes you kind to the right people, the innocent, the helpless, the weak. And in Jesus’ case, it makes you exceedingly honest and committed to the truth. Everywhere I have been there has been a need for that kind of leadership, and a craving for it. There hasn’t always been a knowledge or an initial acceptance of what it looks like, but when it is manifest over any amount of time to any effect, it is appreciated by the right people. 

I want to be a kind person, and have always tried to be. Most think I am. I was voted the friendliest guy in my senior class in high school. But to do so I have to be guided but what is just and righteous, and that involves hard things and harsh words sometimes. There is definitely a balance, and a need to default to being as kind as possible. Too often it is believed that as a personal of faith, it is only possible to be kind, and that is only true if you know when, how, how often, and to whom to be kind to. Jesus knew, and I’ll keep trying to follow his lead. 

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Ode to Imputation

Did You consider my condition

Before You sent me on Your mission?

 

Before You called me from the grave,

Where devils rule and have their way,

Where I was a slave,

 

Did You         see me?

 

Was not my sin—

Dark and reprobate,

My perfectly punishable state—

Was it not in view?

 

Was it my mouth—

Where there is both cursing and praise,

Double tongue setting the world ablaze,

Blaspheming, demeaning, demonstrably damned—

Was it my mouth You saw?

 

Was it my hands—

Cursed beyond repair,

Hailing the prince of the air,

A listless, lost, and wasteful pair—

Was it my hands You saw?

 

Was it my feet—

Unready and wavering,

Stubborn and sin savoring,

Running feral on the path of ruin—

Was it my feet You saw?

 

Was it my mind—

A library of lust,

Indolent and gathering dust,

Beacon of idolatry, adultery, and pride—

Was it my mind You saw?

 

Was it my heart—

Damnable at best,

Lifeless stone inside my chest,

A fountain of fetid desires—

Was it my heart You saw?

 

Did You         see me?

 

From where came this mouth of mine,

Filled with golden tongue,

Fountain of things divine?

 

From where came these hands at my side

Calloused in service

Perfect and purified?

 

From where came these feet ,

Ready with the Gospel of peace,

In holiness replete?

 

From where came this mind anew,

A library of Love

Only satisfied in You?

 

From where came this softened heart

On which a Law is written

From which it won’t depart?

 

To whom do I owe this nature

That is not my own,

Who is my Savior?

I must conclude thus:

In His sovereign Will

He has given me His righteousness.

 

His Name must be great!

His Ways must be mysterious!

His Love must radiate!

His Wrath must be furious!

 

What does it mean,

For me to be looked upon

And it be Christ who is seen?

I am dead,

And He lives in me.

 

This is my condition

As You send me on Your mission.

 

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

(2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)

Reflecting on two years of grace in Portland

Portland

I’ve enjoyed everywhere I’ve ever lived. I like Portland just because it is where I live right now, and not because it’s quirky, unique and interesting. I have actually found those qualities everywhere I’ve been, maybe just not as predominant. What makes the move I made here unique was that for the first time in my life I have been perpetually thrust into situations completely over my head and beyond my abilities. The circumstances and stories surrounding the events of my last two years are incredible to me, and while they are a joy as I reflect on them, they stand as a monument to my weaknesses and limitations. The grand summary I’m finding is that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. A common theme for many folks I believe.

Part of me just wants to document the stories. I think I’d have plenty to say about the drug dealer who tried to convince me the Magi brought Jesus weed as a kid, all while eating my curry with the munchies. Or about how working at Starbucks was actually really challenging, and all the strange situations I found myself in, and the friendships I made there. There’s no end to the stories from my internship at Mars Hill Church, my favorite one is still being written, her name is Ashley

Honestly, it’s all been very hard. Very good and very hard. Deeply unsettling and sanctifying. I’ve had a number of good plans in life, all of which I could have pursued in fulfillment of my faith and my hearts deepest desires. But God shook me up with lots of change. Jobs that were hard for me, relationships that were challenging, a great number of unsettling circumstances that provided me an opportunity to see what I was really standing on. This could have happened in any number of ways, but it happened in a move to Portland and the events that ensued.

I found that there’s this part of my heart that wants to be defined by what I’m doing, where I work, what others think of me and by my education. Sometimes it takes some unsettling to find that out. In God’s grace he provided that. It’s also a chance to find the supernaturally placed deep desires of the heart, where I know I’m a sinner saved by grace, that Jesus died for me, that God calls me his son, and that that grace is what defines me.

When I’m mobile God is teaching me to be stable in him. When I’m stable, God is teaching me to mobilize with him. I’m never off the hook of his grace or the call to his mission. It makes for a terrifyingly wonderful life.

So I find myself reflecting on grace, knowing that whether I’m in a stable position or on the move, by my choice or not, I’m God’s son and that grace defines me.