Don’t Settle for Cultural Kindness

This excerpt, written by Anne Kerhoulas, is reprinted from The Gospel Coalition.

Kindness seems to be everywhere these days. It’s posted on yard signs and granola bars, T-shirts, and posters for your home. Though kindness is not new, “Be kind!” has become an unofficial slogan, the currency on which a culture steeped in tolerance, affirmation, and acceptance runs.

But for all the talk about kindness, our world is growing increasingly unkind, divided, and contemptuous. If kindness is so popular, why is our culture so harsh? Perhaps this brand of kindness is lacking, pretending to do and be good while unable to produce any real changes. In a world that’s hungry for kindness but often finds only emptiness, we must look to Scripture and the author of kindness to teach us what kindness truly is.

Read the full article here.

From Great to Good

What’s so great about being great? 

A few decades ago, Jim Collins wrote the book From Good to Great, a pathway for businesses and leaders to move from average to great. While Collins wrote to business owners, the phrase embodies the sentiments of our culture; why settle for good when you can be great?

While the pursuit of greatness is no new thing—history books are literally filled with stories depicting it, not to mention the Bible (Tower of Babel, anyone?)—what does seem new is the going out of style of goodness.

Karen Swallow Prior, a professor and writer teaches the classical virtues. Something she notes is how certain virtues have become very unpopular—prudence, temperance, and chastity, once prized and valued, are a waste of time in our modern culture.

But Prior also argues that for any virtue to be truly virtuous, it must be held in balance like a counterweight with the other virtues. For example, you cannot be truly just without also being temperate (restrained, using moderation, and self-controlled). Without temperance, justice would turn into tyranny.

Jesus teaches us the counterweight to greatness in Mark 9 when the disciples ask him who among them is the greatest. In response, he says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).

In the economy of God, greatness is not wrong to pursue—Jesus doesn’t rebuke the disciples for being interested in greatness—but it is only achieved through goodness. Greatness grows from goodness. To be great, you must consider yourself the least important person in the room; spend your time serving others; humble yourself, not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less often, as CS Lewis says.

When you look at the church, it is all too easy to see disciples of Jesus missing this completely. Megachurches and celebrity pastors chase greatness, but when we see them disintegrate into spiritual abuse, affairs, and greed, it is clear they were not good. Not pursuing good, not making more of others than of themselves, not as interested in growing the Kingdom of God as their own kingdom.

Though Jesus tells the disciples to humble themselves and value goodness over greatness, we also see Jesus doing exactly that, offering a template of what true greatness looks like. This is why Pauls says, “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8-11).

The great one, God himself, chooses to serve, not lord his greatness over others, not consider himself more self-important than everyone else. No, the great one humbles himself unto the point of death, calls himself the Good Shepherd, and does good to those who persecuted him. This is greatness, and He calls us to the same greatness, achieved on the pathway of goodness.

To hunger for greatness is not wrong; we worship and are made in the image of a Great God. But the greatness we are made for is not the warped, greedy, broken greatness of our world, it is a greatness that comes by way of goodness, wielded with love, ever seeking to serve, and born of the Holy Spirit.

A king is not saved by his greatness (Ps 33:16), but we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10). May this be our greatest endeavor.

Unchanging God, Endlessly New Love

“These are the good old days” reads a banner in our home. In the midst of chasing toddlers and cooking dinners and cramming in work, the makings of a full life are passing by. Though these days are hectic and often exhausting, I find it unsettling to know that I might look back on these years as some of my favorite. The sobering reality is that time is passing by and nothing is permanent. 

I see it most clearly in my kids—I long for certain things to endure, the morning snuggling and the storytelling. I hunger for permanence and so want to cling to something that won’t be a day older tomorrow. And yet I am ever drawn to the new—new experiences, new stages, new opportunities. Each day I am rocked back and forth between my desires for the eternal and an appetite for newness, and often I find neither to be satisfied.

CS Lewis famously said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The tough reality is that our desires for permanence and newness will never be fully satisfied in our experience on earth. We live as those who are fading day by day, slowly wearing out until death in spite of the small encounters with newness along the way. But God didn’t just give us unmet desires to frustrate us, He made us for both permanence and newness so that he might make himself known to us through them. For the creator God is both eternal and permanent and also ever new, bringing new life and wonder day by day. 

An unchanging God

Permanence is foundational to our God’s character. One of his attributes is his immutability, which means that he is unchanging. As Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8). The Psalmist says, They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away. Like a worn-out garment, everything on earth will pass away, but God alone will remain, unfaded, unchanged, forever existing in eternal perfection. 

But God also made us to know and enjoy his eternal permanence. Before the fall, humanity was made to participate with God in perfect, eternal, unchanging relationship with the dawning of each new day. Our desire for permanence, therefore, reveals what our lives should have been like—ever resting in the perfect reliability of our God with no threat or fading of life while also experiencing the glory of God in new ways each day as we walked in his midst. My sorrow over things lost and years passed by and my hope for a taste of something new are not merely the evidence of a fickle heart, they are the phantom pains of what we have lost to sin and a reminder of the promise of eternal life.

Our unchanging experience of God 

As one who longs for permanence, delights in newness, and yet is daily disappointed by what grows worn and dies, so much of my experience is weariness. It is exhausting to so frequently say goodbye as something ends while holding onto the hope of something new bringing a fresh wave of joy. This place of in between—knowing what we were made for and not fully experiencing it—is wearisome. Fortunately, God’s love for us and our experience of His love does not ride the same emotional rollercoaster. CS Lewis put it concisely when he said, “Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

But while God’s love for us is does not change, our experience of His love does. God’s love is not some assembly line robot, presenting the ones He loves with the same experience of his love every time. God is a craftsman, and His love reflects this part of his nature. He gives attention to each piece of wood, takes it, forms it, loves it into wholeness each day. Sometimes the tradition I am a part of can underplay the deep importance of religious experience. It is not wrong for us to hunger for a new experience of God’s love in the same way that a wife desires for her husband to show her love again today, in a way that befits their needs and lives today. God’s love meets us afresh—in the pain and joy and messes we are living in—and changes us as we experience it. God is the same every day, his love for us is permanent, but it is also endlessly new.

The newness that satisfies

Behold, I am making all things new (Rev 21:5). This is not just a verse describing the new heavens and the new earth, it is also what God is doing today through His people, the Church. Today, we get to participate in the unfailing newness of the Triune God. He is making all things new today. And he begins with us. 

From the Father we have the promise, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22-23). There will never be a sunrise that isn’t colored by the Father’s unwavering love for us and his promise to extend new mercy to us as we go to work, raise children, fight with our spouse, sin, struggle, and fail. His mercy will always be new to us.

In Christ, we are raised to walk in “newness of life” with Him as he conquers the grave—our life in Christ is marked by new life (Rom ….). And the Spirit does an ongoing renewing work of our minds, our souls, our spirits, and our bodies. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16). In our all-encompassing triune God, we are met with the permanence and the newness that our hearts were made for. In our unchanging and never-ending God, we are given what we need to endure change with grace, hope towards the next provision of his love, and rest knowing that He is with us every step of the way.