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John Chrysostom: The Season of Kindness

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42

“Stretch out thy hand, let it not be closed up. We have not been constituted examiners into men’s lives, since so we should have compassion on no one. When thou callest upon God why dost thou say, Remember not my sins? So then, if that person even be a great sinner, make this allowance in his case also, and do not remember his sins. It is the season of kindness, not of strict inquiry; of mercy, not of account.”

John Chrysostom (c. 349-407) in Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, On the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Constantine, presbyter of Antioch, excerpt from Homily 11 on Hebrews 6:13-16, 908.

Of the four doctors of the Eastern Church, we have already heard from Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen (two of the Cappadocian Fathers), now we hear from the third on the intersection of kindness and generosity.

Chrysostom keenly notes the days in which we live. We are not in the season of “account” or the time at which we will give an account to God. That comes later. We are in “the season of kindness” which comes first.

What a beautiful picture! “The season of kindness” is the brief time we are on this earth to live open-handed, generous lives. We must not judge others but have compassion and show mercy to all.

We default to “strict inquiry” which leads us to label people as undeserving of our aid, or sadly, when someone wrongs us we “remember his sins” rather than serve as agents of mercy and forgiveness.

As we draw near to Lent, the season leading up to Easter, I suggest we approach it as a “season of kindness” in order to practice disciplines to shape our living in preparation for someday giving an account.

What will you fast from, give to, and pray about in anticipation of Easter?

I say we fast from strict inquiry, give to those needing compassion, and pray for God to help us remember not the sins of others but recall what Christ did with our sins on the cross, so that we show mercy in the season of kindness.

Today Jenni and I served Baptist Financial Services to wrap up a great week in Sydney. Tomorrow we fly to Adelaide. Also, Wordpress just informed me that I have posted for 3,500 days in a row as of today. To God be the glory!

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Jerome of Stridon: Far Reaching Kindness

There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. Acts 9:36

“In what terms shall I speak of her distinguished, and noble, and formerly wealthy house; all the riches of which she spent upon the poor? How can I describe the great consideration she showed to all and her far reaching kindness even to those whom she had never seen? What poor man, as he lay dying, was not wrapped in blankets given by her? What bedridden person was not supported with money from her purse? She would seek out such with the greatest diligence throughout the city, and would think it a misfortune were any hungry or sick person to be supported by another’s food. So lavish was her charity that she robbed her children; and, when her relatives remonstrated with her for doing so, she declared that she was leaving to them a better inheritance in the mercy of Christ.”

Jerome of Stridon (347 – 420) in Letter CVIII.5. To Eustochium in The Principal Works of St. Jerome (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 344-345.

Jerome is the fourth of the four doctors of the Western Church that we will explore on the topic of kindness related generosity. He wrote this letter to console Eustochium on the death of her mother, Paula.

While Jerome said many things about Paula, three are noteworthy today as we think about the intersection of kindness and generosity.

Firstly, she exhibited “far reaching kindness.” She would diligently seek out the needy and minister to them. Do we seek out the poor and bedridden, the hungry and sick throughout the city?

Secondly, notice that “charity” is the word that describes her generosity. This means grace-motivated giving. Is our generosity motivated by grace? Often this will appear contradictory to cultural norms.

Thirdly, she was bold and obedient. Her giving appeared to rob “her children” and despite protests from relatives, she did it for a higher purpose. She wanted to leave them a better inheritance.

This final idea is maybe the most powerful.

We succumb, too often, to peer or family pressure and allow social expectations to guide our giving rather than obedience to Christ. The reward for which is “better inheritance in the mercy of Christ.” Do we scorn what other people think and calibrate our giving according to what God thinks?

If you were to die today and such a letter would be written, what would be said about you? Before we can leave a better inheritance we must live a legacy of kindness and generosity to all, rooted in obedience and faithfulness to Christ.

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Gregory the Great: Discipline and Kindness

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Luke 10:34-35

“The spiritual director must be careful that he show himself to the laity as a mother with respect to kindness and as a father with respect to discipline. And in every case, care should be provided in such a way that discipline is never rigid, nor kindness lax…

Spiritual directors should have compassion for the laity that is justly considerate and discipline that is affectionately severe. For this is what the Truth teaches through the Samaritan who took the half-dead man to the inn and the oil soothed him. Indeed, it is necessary that whoever directs the healing of wounds must administer with wine the bite of pain and with oil the caress of kindness, so that what is rotten may be purged by the wine and what is curable may be soothed by the oil.

In short, gentleness is to be mixed with severity — a combination that will prevent thee laity from becoming exasperated by excessive harshness or relaxed by undue kindness…

Let there be love that does not soften, vigor that does not exasperate, zeal that is not immoderate or uncontrolled, and kindness that spares but not more than is befitting. Therefore, as justice and clemency are forged together in the art of spiritual direction, the one who leads is able to sooth the hearts of his subordinates when he inspires fear; and yet by soothing them he will inspire awe.”

Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) in The Book of Pastoral Rule (Crestwood: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2007) 67-68.

Gregory the Great is the third of the Four Doctors of the Western Church that we will explore on the topic of kindness as it relates to generosity.

Gregory the Great wrote this classic work to instruct all those in generous service as pastors or spiritual directors to combine discipline with kindness. That’s a good word.

He uses the Good Samaritan as an example for us. Picture the scene. The Samaritan does not leave the person half-dead, but helps him with a combination of wine and oil. He becomes a model of love, generosity, discipline, and kindness for us.

Neither excessive harshness nor undue kindness helps those we serve over time. The former crushes them while the latter fails to shape them in the ways of Christ. What should we do? I am inspired to pray and act accordingly.

Father, help me find this balance in my life. By your Holy Spirit grow my generous service so that discipline is combined with kindness. Help me learn this so that my life reflects the love of Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.

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Ambrose of Milan: Language full of kindness

Everything you say should be kind and well thought out so that you know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

“Our language should be mild and quiet, and full of kindness and courtesy and free from insult. Let there be no obstinate disputes in our familiar conversations, for they are wont only to bring up useless subjects, rather than to supply anything useful. Let there be discussion without wrath, urbanity without bitterness, warning without sharpness, advice without giving offence. And as in every action of our life we ought to take heed to this, in order that no overpowering impulse of our mind may ever shut out reason (let us always keep a place for counsel), so, too, ought we to observe that rule in our language, so that neither wrath nor hatred may be aroused, and that we may not show any signs of greed or sloth.”

Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) in On the Duties of the Clergy, Book 1, Chapter XXII (CCEL).

Ambrose is the second of the Four Doctors of the Western Church that we will explore on the topic of kindness as it relates to generosity.

He instructs ministers to make sure that their language is full of kindness and does not show any signs of greed or sloth. The opposite of greed, of course, is generosity, and the opposite of sloth would be to speak with intentionality.

Does our language give people the impression that we are trying to get something from them or give something to them? The former tears down while the latter builds up. But how do we be sure to get this right?

The Apostle Paul tells us that everything we say should be kind and well thought out. So, to grow in generosity, may God help us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and when we do, let’s make it good.

I pray that the words that I said today as I serve the IJM Australia team today flow from listening well and speaking to build them up. I trained them through The Choice and The Sower.

If you did not receive a Daily Meditation in the past two days, it is because my website suffered a “brute force attack” that damaged my blog feed. It is being resolved. To read the ones you missed, visit my website.

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Augustine of Hippo: Alms and Deeds of Kindness

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I. Isaiah 58:6-9

“With the help of the mercy of the Lord our God, the temptations of this age, the crafty traps of the devil, the toils of this world, the allurements of the flesh, the swirl of turbulent times, and all bodily and spiritual adversity, are to be overcome by almsgiving and fasting and prayer.

Christians ought to be fervently engage in these things throughout their lives; much more so then at the approach of the great festival of Easter, which rouses our minds as it comes round again each year, renewing in them the salutary memory of what mercy our Lord, the only Son of God, has bestowed on us, of how he fasted and prayed for us.

“Alms,” of course, comes from a Greek word meaning “mercy.” What greater mercy, though, could there be toward the miserable, than that which pulled the Creator down from heaven and clothed the Founder of the earth in an earthly body; which made the One who abides equal in eternity to the Father, equal to us in mortality, imposing the form of a servant of the Lord to the world; so that bread itself would be hungry, fullness be thirsty, strength become weak, health would be wounded, life would die?

All this to feed our hunger, water our drought, comfort our infirmity, extinguish our iniquity, kindle our charity. What greater mercy than for the Creator to be created, the Master to serve the Redeemer to be sold, the One who exalts to be humbled, the One who raises up to be slain?

We, in the matter of giving alms, are instructed to give bread to the hungry; He, in order to give Himself to us in our hunger, first surrendered himself for us to His enemies’ anger. We are instructed to welcome the stranger; He, for our sakes, came to His own place, and His own people did not welcome Him…

And so let us perform our alms and deeds of kindness all the more lavishly, all the more frequently, the nearer the day approaches on which is celebrated the alms, the kindness that has been done to us. Because fasting without kindness and mercy is worth nothing to the one who’s fasting.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in Sermon 207.1 “On the Beginning of Lent” in Essential Sermons, translated by Edmund Hill, edited by Daniel Doyle (New York: New City Press, 2007) 259.

Augustine of Hippo is first of the Four Doctors of the Western Church that we will explore on the topic of kindness.

Whenever it gets into February my family starts talking about what we will give to, fast from, and pray about during Lent, which begins late this year on 6 March 2019. When we do these practices, we shift our focus off ourselves and toward God and making His grace and mercy known our through almsgiving and fasting and prayer.

I don’t know what we will give to, fast from, and pray about this year, but Augustine with passion and eloquence reminds us to make sure we add kindness to our practice of the Lenten disciplines. In this way, they will surely reflect the love of our generous God to the world.

Jenni and I arrived safely in Sydney and served Christian Super today (pictured above). We shared “31 Tips for Thriving” with the entire team and also spent time with key staff. God showed kindness to us in giving us unexpected stamina. What a rich time together! We love Christian Super!

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Clement of Rome: Establish Ourselves

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

“Let us therefore, brethren, be of humble mind, laying aside all haughtiness, and pride, and foolishness, and angry feelings; and let us act according to that which is written (for the Holy Spirit says, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, neither let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories glory in the Lord, in diligently seeking Him, and doing justice and righteousness”), being especially mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus which He spoke, teaching us meekness and long-suffering. For thus He spoke: “Be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as you do, so shall it be done to you; as you judge, so shall you be judged; as you are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure you measure, with the same it shall be measured to you.” By this precept and by these rules let us establish ourselves, that we walk with all humility in obedience to His holy words. For the holy word says, “On whom shall I look, but on him that is meek and peaceable, and who trembles at My words?”

Clement, Bishop of Rome (c. 96) in 1 Clement 13 (translated by Roberts and Donaldson).

Clement wrote this letter to the church in Corinth just prior to his martyrdom. The bishop was tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea (c. 101). Despite terrible persecution under the Roman Emperor Trajan, the early church continued to grow.

He wanted them to “establish themselves.”  We do this when we walk in obedience to Jesus with humility and kindness. This is a strong statement to the Corinthian church during difficult times. It provides wonderful insight for us today.

When the world around us seems increasingly against Christianity, what is our best course of action? Should we fight to convince them we are right and they are wrong? No! That would be to glory in our wisdom. Should we talk boldly and carry a big stick? No! That would be to bully them and glory in our might. Should we stockpile riches to try to preserve our comfort and protect ourselves from the opposition? No! That would be to glory in our riches. We should live mindful of the words of Jesus and obey with humility and kindness.

Clement urged the Corinthians (and us) to follow the teachings of Jesus echoed in today’s Scripture by the Apostle Paul to “establish ourselves.” That’s the most generous gift we can give those around us in crazy times. When we establish ourselves in Him through obedience with humility and kindness, we show others how to establish themselves. We do this by diligently seeking Him and doing justice and righteousness in a world filled with injustice and brokenness.

When this posts, my wife, Jenni, and I should be somewhere over the Pacific Ocean en route to Sydney, Australia. God help us get there safely and get some rest on the way.

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Ignatius of Antioch: Insensible to God’s kindness

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6-7

“Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be ye salted in Him, lest any one among you should be corrupted, since by your savor ye shall be convicted.”

Ignatius of Antioch (c. AD 35-108) in To The Magnesians, Chapter X (Roberts-Donaldson Translation).

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, visited Christians in Magnesia, about 12 miles up river from Ephesus during the reign of Trajan (98-117) when he was en route to Rome for his martyrdom. Shortly thereafter, while on house arrest visiting Polycarp in Smyrna, he wrote this letter To The Magnesians, and this excerpt is from Chapter X.

Understanding this background adds weight to this message. Imagine you are on your way to your martyrdom. What would you say if you wrote such a letter?

He urges the Magnesians not be insensible to God’s kindness. What does it mean to be insensible? It means “unconscious” or “indifferent” to His kindness. The opposite of this is to stay alert and attuned to the reality of God’s kindness to us in Christ. So, what does this have to do with generosity?

When we live indifferent to the incomparable riches that we have in Christ, we will not be hilariously generous. How do we avoid such indifference? It takes conscious effort. That’s the best part of his “last words” to them. “Let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity.”

How are you doing in living out the principles of Christianity? Regarding generosity, what you keep you lose, and what you give you gain. Our generosity will be reflected in our sensibility or insensibility. Or as Ignatius put it, since “by your savor ye shall be convicted” be sure to “be ye salted in Him.”

Today, I am tying flies with my son, Sammy, representing Sammy’s Fly Shop, at the West Denver Trout Unlimited Fly Tying Clinic from 10am to 1:30pm. Then Jenni and I fly to Sydney, Australia, via San Francisco where we will be speaking in various settings for the next two weeks. Pray for safe travel and sleep on the long journey.

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Barnabas of Cyprus: Kindness in action

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:36-37

“It is well, therefore, that he who has learned the judgments of the Lord, as many as have been written, should walk in them. For he who keepeth these shall be glorified in the kingdom of God; but he who chooseth other things shall be destroyed with his works. On this account there will be a resurrection, on this account a retribution.

I beseech you who are superiors, if you will receive any counsel of my goodwill, have among yourselves those to whom you may show kindness; do not forsake them. For the day is at hand on which all things shall perish with the evil. The Lord is near and His reward. Again, and yet again, I beseech you: be good lawgivers to one another, continue faithful counsellors of one another, take away from among you all hypocrisy.

And may God who ruleth over all the world, give to you wisdom, intelligence, understanding, knowledge of His judgments with patience. And be ye taught of God, inquiring diligently what the Lord asks from you; and do it that ye may be safe in the day of judgment. And if you have any remembrance of what is good, be mindful of me, meditating on these things, in order that both my desire and watchfulness may result in some good,

I beseech you, entreating this as a favor. While yet you are in this fair vessel, do not fail any one of these things, but unceasingly seek after them, and fulfill every commandment; for these are worthy. Wherefore I have been the more earnest to write to you as my ability served, that I might cheer you. Farewell, ye children of love and peace. The Lord of glory and of all grace be with your spirit. Amen.”

Barnabas of Cyprus in Epistle of Barnabas, 21, in Writings of the Apostolic Fathers: Mathetes, Polycarp, Barnabas, and Papias, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Veritatis Spendor Publications, 2014) 133-134

The Epistle of Barnabas is ascribed to the Barnabas of Cyprus who is mentioned in today’s biblical text. He is the co-worker of the Apostle Paul who ministered to the Gentiles. The Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas were influential apostolic fathers and included in the Codex Sinaiticus, which is the oldest existing copy of the New Testament (c. fourth century). These ancient documents provide clues to early church thinking on living out the Christian life, though they were not excluded from the biblical canon by the early church councils.

Kindness for Barnabas, the son of encouragement, is what we get to extend to those we serve. It’s beautiful behavior that promises reward. How do we learn it? Barnabas would say to inquire “diligently what the Lord asks from you.” What do you think God desires for you today? What impact could it have? Ancient sources like Hippolytus of Rome tell us about Barnabas is that he numbered among the seventy in Luke 10:1-12. Then, numerous texts in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles records his kindness in action as central to early church mission. What about yours?

Your kindness may not change the entire world, but it just might change the world for those you serve today. With Barnabas, the encourager, I want to cheer you on!

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Gregory of Nazianzus: Meanness and Avarice or Liberality and Kindness

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:17-19

“If you were full of leprosy, that shapeless evil, yet you scraped off the evil matter, and received again the Image whole. Show your cleansing to me, your Priest, that I may recognize how much more precious it is than the legal one. Do not range yourself with the nine unthankful men, but imitate the tenth. For although he was a Samaritan, yet he was of better mind than the others. Make certain that you will not break out again with evil ulcers, and find the indisposition of your body hard to heal. Yesterday meanness and avarice were withering your hand; today let liberality and kindness stretch it out. It is a noble cure for a weak hand to disperse abroad, to give to the poor, to pour out the things which we possess abundantly, till we reach the very bottom.”

Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389) in “The Oration on Holy Baptism” Oration XL.XXXIV, preached in Constantinople on 6 January 381, translated by Charles Gordon Brown and James Edward Swallow.

Here, Gregory of Nazianzus, the patriarch of Constantinople and the third of three Cappadocian Fathers, connects liberality (or generosity) with kindness. He rightly notes that the opposite of such living appears as meanness and avarice. These sinful vices contribute to our own weakness and disease.

Notice what Jesus says to the foreigner who returns to thank Him for healing his hand. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Think about it. One minute his hand is weak, and the next minute it is strong. Jesus attributes the healing to His faith. Jesus could have said, “Rise and go, my power made you well.” But He doesn’t.

Why does this matter? To overcome meanness and avarice, Gregory shows us the way of healing. We must live by faith and chose the only “noble cure” which is to “disperse abroad” and hold nothing back. Only when we do this by faith, does Jesus transform our mean and avaricious hands (and hearts) into liberal and kind ones.

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Gregory of Nyssa: Acquire loving kindness

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7

“Consider the case of the person who has stocked away his financial resources in enormous safes protected by steel, bolts and locks, who thinks the growth of his personal worth preferable to putting into practice the commands of the Lord. Consider the future times when he is dragged down to the fire of darkness accompanied by the reproach of those who experienced his harshness in this life, who call out to him. “Remember that in your lifetime you got the good things” (Luke 16:25).

You locked away compassion with your riches. You neglected compassion for the sake of land. You did not acquire the loving kindness needed for life here. You do not have what you did not acquire; you do not find what you did not safeguard. You do not gather what you did not spread about; you do not reap where you did not plant. Your harvest matches up to your planting. You have planted bitterness, so reap its clusters of fruit.

You valued mercilessness, so enjoy what you loved. You viewed others without kindness, so now you will not be looked on with compassion. You ignored the suffering of others; you will likewise be ignored, You snubbed compassion; compassion will snub you. You avoided the poor — He who became poor for you will also avoid you.

Considering all these things, where will be the gold? Where will be your impressive stuff? Where will be the security systems that were added to protect your belongings against theft? Where will be the list of your various bank accounts? What is the benefit of all this in light of weeping and gnashing of teeth? Who will lighten the darkness, douse the flame and keep at bay the undying worm?

Brothers and sisters, in the light of what has been said, let us pay attention to the voice of the Lord, who teaches us, in this brief passage, so many things about what’s really important. Let us become compassionate so that through compassion we may be blessed in Christ Jesus our Lord, tow home be the glory and power forever and ever. Amen.”

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395) in an excerpt of Sermon 5 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” in Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons on the Beatitudes, a paraphrase by Michael Glerup (Classics in Spiritual Formation) 82-83.

Gregory of Nyssa was the younger brother of Basil of Caesarea. He is the second of three Cappadocian Fathers. He was not as gifted as his brother administratively. His strengths were in the study of biblical theology and the proclamation of truth. Today we have a powerful sample from him paraphrased in modern terms.

His sermon expounds on today’s Scripture, which is short but contains a very big truth. The blessing of mercy only comes those who show mercy.

On a walk in the park with my wife this past week, I was reasoning that it seems to me that American Christians seem to value preserving comfort over obeying Christ. They will align themselves with Jesus only after they have secured their future with money and showered themselves with things. I can see this because it was our way of thinking for years.

Gregory reveals the danger of such thinking. When we don’t live this way, we don’t acquire loving kindness. He also explains what happens as a result. We might accumulate lots of things, but we miss out on the one thing we need, compassion, from the one person who offers it, Jesus, who became poor for us. What about you?

Are you a slave to comfort or Christ? In this short life, lest you join the rich man in eternal regret, pay attention to the voice of the Lord. Do precisely what He says.

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