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Maximus the Confessor: Fight the good fight until you reach the end

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Luke 6:35

“You, who have become blessed and most genuine lovers of this divine and blessed way, fight the good fight until you reach the end, clinging fast to those qualities that will assure your passage to love’s goal. I mean: love of humankind, brotherly and sisterly love, hospitality, love of the poor, compassion, mercy, humility, meekness, gentleness, patience, freedom from anger, long-suffering, perseverance, kindness, forbearance, goodwill, peace towards all.”

Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662) Christian monk, theologian, and scholar in his letter “To John the Cubicularius.” A “Cubicularius” was a chamberlain of the imperial palace in the later Roman Empire and in the Byzantine Empire.

I chose this excerpt on the journey through church history looking at kindness and generosity because it is fitting for honoring my father, John (a.k.a. “Jack”) Hoag, today. It is his 80th birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Maximus wanted this influential man and his colleagues to finish well and wrote this letter to encourage him. Likewise, I pray this post encourages my father (and all readers) to finish well and fight the good fight until the end. It’s a good fight because sometimes we get to be kind to the ungrateful and wicked as today’s Scripture notes. Of course, I pray that my dad’s end does not come soon as I won’t get to observe this milestone with him for about a month, but I pray he presses on with all these qualities, including kindness.

Our ministry in Australia has been fruitful, teaching 8 days in 3 cities: Sydney, Adelaide, and Perth. Now, thanks for your prayers for a safe trip home. We have departed from Perth, will overnight in Sydney, then fly to San Francisco and, if the Lord wills, get home Sunday afternoon in Denver.

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John Climacus: Solitude and Kindness

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. Psalm 23:1-2

“The beginning of solitude is to throw off all noise as disturbing for the depth (of the soul). And the end of it is not to fear disturbances and to remain insusceptible to them. Though going out, yet without a word, he is kind and wholly a house of love. He is not easily moved to speech, nor is he moved to anger. The opposite of this is obvious. A solitary is he who strives to confine his incorporeal being within his bodily house, paradoxical as this is. The cat keeps hold of her mouse, and the thought of the solitary holds his spiritual mouse. Do not call this example rubbish; if you do, then you do not yet know what solitude means.”

John Climacus (579-649) in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 27.5-7 “On holy solitude of body and soul” trans. by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (Harper & Brothers, 1959) 111.

Only those who throw off all noise find refreshment in solitude to live, give, serve, and love with kindness. Disturbances will happen and they must be welcomed with kindness.

The word picture of the cat and the mouse is absolutely priceless! If we represent the cat, solitude can get away from us, like the mouse, if we don’t hold tightly to it. It can also nourish us if we feed on it spiritually.

To nurture a life of kindness and generosity, add solitude to your life. That means you have to throw off noise. Perhaps make that your aim regarding fasting this Lent? Pray and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

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John Cassian: Ordinary Kindness

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10

“How kindness should be shown even to the idle and careless: Nevertheless, like a far-sighted and careful physician, he is not only anxious to heal the wounds of the sick, but gives suitable directions as well to the whole, that their health may be preserved continually, and says: “But be not ye weary in well doing:” ye who following us, i.e., our ways, copy the example given to you by imitating us in work, and do not follow their sloth and laziness: “Do not be weary in well doing;” i.e., do you likewise show kindness towards them if by chance they have failed to observe what we said. As then he was severe with those who were weak, for fear lest being enervated by laziness they might yield to restlessness and inquisitiveness, so he admonishes those who are in good health neither to restrain that kindness which the Lord’s command bids us show to the good and evil, even if some bad men will not turn to sound doctrine; nor to desist from doing good and encouraging them both by words of consolation and by rebuke as well as by ordinary kindness and civility.”

John Cassian (c. 360-435) in Institutes (The Twelve Book on the Institutes of the Coenobia and the Remedies for the Eight Principal Faults), Book 10 – The Spirit of Accide, chapter 15 – “How kindness should be shown even to the idle and careless.”

John Cassian is the Christian monk credited for bringing the spiritual practices of the desert fathers to the Western church. In his instructions for the coenobia (or the colony of Christ-followers he served), he suggests that the idle and careless be served with ordinary kindness. Great advice!

To be idle and careless is to lack intentionality in the care of your soul (your being), the filling of your mind with good things (your knowing) and intentional service (your doing). When we attend to these aspects of soul care and it seems like few others join us, we could be tempted to grow weary and give up.

Cassian would say that our kindness intersects with generosity when we are in good health and when we extend it to those who are not taking care of themselves with ordinary kindness. Our words to them might sound like consolation and other times rebuke, but they always seek to build them up.

How is your soul? Are you in good health? How about the souls of those around you?  The lesson for us today is to look inward at our own health before we look outward. When we look outward, we must put on kindness so that our interactions with others lift them up following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Benedict of Nursia: Every Kindness

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. Matthew 25:35

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Matthew 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those “of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10) and to wayfarers.

When, therefore, a guest is announced, let him be met by the superior and the brethren with every mark of charity. And let them first pray together, and then let them associate with one another in peace. This kiss of peace should not be given before a prayer hath first been said, on account of satanic deception. In the greeting let all humility be shown to the guests, whether coming or going; with the head bowed down or the whole body prostrate on the ground, let Christ be adored in them as He is also received.

When the guests have been received, let them be accompanied to prayer, and after that let the superior, or whom he shall bid, sit down with them. Let the divine law be read to the guest that he may be edified, after which let every kindness be shown him. Let the fast be broken by the superior in deference to the guest, unless, perchance, it be a day of solemn fast, which cannot be broken. Let the brethren, however, keep the customary fast.

Let the abbot pour the water on the guest’s hands, and let both the abbot and the whole brotherhood wash the feet of all the guests. When they have been washed, let them say this verse: “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.” (Psalm 48:9). Let the greatest care be taken, especially in the reception of the poor and travelers, because Christ is received more specially in them; whereas regard for the wealthy itself procureth them respect.”

Benedict of Nursia (480-547) Founder of Twelve Communities and Author of the Rule that governed them. This excerpt is from The Rule of St. Benedict 53.

When Jenni and I arrived in Perth yesterday, pictured above, Jeroen and Eva Bruins, board chair of PeaceWise welcomed us with “every kindness.” They drove us to King’s Park and the Botanic Gardens where we shot this header photo overlooking the CBD (Central Business District). They took us to dip our feet in the Indian Ocean, and they cooked us a delicious meal in their home.

It reminded me of the hospitality extended to the guests in the monastic communities, so I explored the Rule of St. Benedict this morning.

There’s a lot going on in the practices set forth in today’s post. In the Benedictine communities, they wanted everything they did to reflect charity. Also, they regularly practiced prayer and fasting. This helped them learn to set aside their own desires to serve God and others. They allowed those rhythms to be broken on ordinary days because that’s precisely the design of the practices, to teach them to extend hospitality.

What does all this have to do with us and the connection between kindness and generosity?

We cannot show every kindness and extend generosity without first realizing that all we have came to us because of God’s grace or charity. This positions us to be charitable. Thus, we are not only be openhanded with that which we possess, but we use our hands to serve others and even wash their feet. And, notice that serves flows from the top. It’s not the novices in the monastery washing the feet of guests. It’s the abbot.

Just like this kind board chair in Perth extended us every kindness upon our arrival, do the same for those who knock on your door. Need practice? We all do. That’s what the disciplines in the monastery were all about, and for us in modern times, that’s what Lent is all about. We train ourselves to fast from things, to give to thee needy, and to pray for others.

Start thinking about what your Lenten disciplines will be for this year as Lent begins on 6 March 2019.

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Severianus of Ancrya: Inexplicable Kindness

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Romans 16:3-4

“In Ancyra Galatia it so happened that I was able to speak with a certain nobleman called Severianus and his wife, although I did not have any great intimacy with them. They placed all their good hope in a future life, to the disappointment of their children. They had four sons and two daughters, but they disbursed all the revenues of their estates among the needy, making no settlement upon any of them except in marriage settlements.

“It will all be yours after we are dead,” they said to the other children. “For as long as we are alive we shall save our surplus earnings and distribute them to churches, monasteries, guestmasters and to anyone who is needy. Their prayers will bring the reward of eternal life to us and you and our family in exchange for the labors of this present time.”

They also displayed notable virtue during a time of great famine when everyone was feeling hungry, for they opened up their storehouses on many of their estates and gave to the poor, with the result that many who were then heretics came back to the true faith. It was their otherwise inexplicable kindness which persuaded heretics to come back into agreement with the true faith, giving thanks to God for their simplicity and immense generosity.

They had another admirable practice. What they wore was very old and unpretentious, they were sparing in what they ate to a degree almost impossible to describe. They were simply content with enough necessary to support life. A wonderful devotion towards God went along with this. They spent most of their time in the country, avoiding the city and its vices, lest the excitement and confusion of city life draw them away from a truly joyful life and they should fall away from the commandments of God. All the good deeds and upright life of these blessed people helped them to keep their eyes fixed on the eternal rewards prepared for them by the glory of God.”

Severianus of Ancrya in Lausiac History (Historia Lausiaca) by Palladius Part 15) Chapter CXIV “The life of the blessed Severianus and his wife.”

When I read ancient vignettes like this one, it inspires me to share it with my wife and resolve to follow their example. What does it spur within you?

Some feel like the four sons and two daughters in the narrative. They were disappointed that mom and dad “disbursed all the revenues of their estates among the needy, making no settlement upon any of them except in marriage settlements.”

Candidly, as our son and daughter grow deeper in relationships that appear to be leading to marriage, some might say they would feel this way. I think if you asked them, however, they would say that with joy they have embraced the lifestyle of simplicity and generosity.

Why recount their story today? When “inexplicable kindness” intersects with generosity, there is no greater witness to the gospel. It even persuades “heretics to come back into agreement with the true faith.”

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Serapion of Alexandria: Do me this kindness

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to Him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) John 4:7-9

“One day Abba Serapion passed through an Egyptian village and there he saw a courtesan who stayed in her own cell. The old man said to her, ‘Expect me this evening, for I should like to come and spend the night with you.’ She replied, ‘Very well, Abba.’ She got ready and made the bed. When evening came, the old man came to see her and entered her cell and said to her, ‘Have you got the bed ready?’ She said, ‘Yes, Abba.’ Then he closed the door and said to her, ‘Wait a bit, for we have a rule of prayer and I must fulfil that first.’ So the old man began his prayers. He took the Psalter and at each psalm he said a prayer for the courtesan, begging God that she might be converted and saved, and God heard him. The woman stood trembling and praying beside the old man. When he had completed the whole Psalter the woman fell to the ground. Then the old man, beginning the Epistle, read a great deal from the apostle and completed his prayers. The woman was filled with compunction and understood that he had not come to see her to commit sin but to save her soul and she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Abba, do me this kindness and take we where I can please God.’ So the old man took her to a monastery…”

Abba Serapion or Serapion of Alexandria (c. 300) in Selections from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Kalamazoo: Cisterian, 1975) 50.

What seems to us at first an unusual way to show kindness, mirrors remarkably the interchange between Jesus and the woman at the well. In both instances, the man approaches the woman not wanting something from her but something for her. And, in both cases the woman is delivered from the shackles of sin.

Notice the reply of the woman in today’s short story: “Do me this kindness and take we where I can please God.” Our generosity may start with leading people to faith in Jesus Christ, but if the person finds themself alone in the dumps of life, we must add kindness to our generosity.

In such instances, doing someone a kindness, is taking them from being alone to a place of community and support. In this case, it was a monastery; whereas, today, we would likely invite them to find refuge and relationships in our church.

Know any courtesans (or people whom others have condemned as sinners)? Don’t take advantage of them like everyone else does. Do them this kindness. Introduce them to Jesus and invite them to find community and support in your local church. Take them where they can please God with you.

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Eusebius Pamphilius: Brotherly or Sisterly Kindness

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. Ezekiel 34:16

“The most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly, and ministered to them continually, serving them in Christ. And they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains. And many who cared for the sick and gave strength to others died themselves having transferred to themselves their death. And the popular saying which always seems a mere expression of courtesy, they then made real in action, taking their departure as the others’ ‘offscouring.’

Eusebius Pamphilius (263-339) in Ecclesiastical History, Book VII, Chapter 22.

In today’s Scripture text, the Lord declares how He will function serving as Israel’s shepherd. In the larger text, woes are declared on those who only care for themselves.

What posture should we take instead? In two words, it is brotherly kindness. Or, ladies, think in terms of sisterly kindness. This appears as attending to the needs of others with unselfish awareness.

Practically, we see this as getting a thirsty person a drink before getting one for yourself. It moves to thinking of this physical or financial needs before our own. At first it appears as care and it deepens to sacrifice.

But in today’s record from the history of the early church, we see those affected with disease are cared for with “exceeding love and brotherly kindness” and in so doing nursed to health, while the caregivers perished.

Are you willing to give your life in service to others? If not, perhaps chose another LORD rather than Christ. He desires no fair weather followers. If so, give yourself to brotherly or sisterly kindness.

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Athanasius of Alexandria: Receive God’s kindness

He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:11-13

“This is God’s kindness to man, that of whom He is Maker, of them according to grace He afterwards becomes Father also; becomes, that is, when men, His creatures, receive into their hearts, as the Apostle says, ‘the Spirit of His Son, crying, Abba, Father.’ And these are they who, having received the Word, gained power from Him to become sons of God; for they could not become sons, being by nature creatures, otherwise then by receiving the Spirit of the natural and true Son.”

Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296-373) in Discourse II, Chapter XXI, 59, in Athanasius: Selected Works and Letters (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 691.

Athanasius is the last of the four doctors of the Eastern Church we will explore on the intersection of kindness and generosity.

Athanasius started his ministry career under fire from Roman Emperors and lived during days when the deity of Christ was under attack by Arius.

He was known for getting the title, Athanasius Contra Mundum, which translated from the Latin means “Athanasius against the world.”

What does this have to do with generosity and kindness? Think about it. When we are embattled, we can tend to forget what true kindness is. Not so for Athanasius!

God’s kindness has been revealed in Jesus. God made us and invites us to become children of God. To do so, people must receive God’s kindness.

Generosity starts with receiving God’s kindness. The greatest gift we can receive and share is Jesus. Have you received Jesus? Do you share Him with others?

Today, Jenni and I flew from Sydney to Adelaide. We speak at Rostrevor Baptist Church tomorrow giving a message in their “Everyone Has Influence” series.

I will preach on “The Secret to Having Greater Influence” from Luke 19:11-27. Anyone who wants to have greater influence must steward faithfully all God supplies.

What are you doing with the gifts, goods, and gospel entrusted to you? It starts with receiving God’s kindness but must not stop there!

As part of the message, Jenni will share our family story of learning to obey, let go, and trust God. Stay tuned for the link to the message after it is online.

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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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