Faith is NOT an Army Tank

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Helen’s faith has failed. Her husband, still young, once a successful physician, is now confined to a nursing home. He has Alzheimer’s Disease. Over the months since his diagnosis he has grown progressively out of touch. Today, he hardly knows Helen.

She has sold their home to help cover her deepening financial crisis and is looking into selling some of her jewelry. Her friends have distanced themselves—they feel helpless and unable to handle their own dismay about her husband. Helen herself, wounded in spirit, is pulling back from social contacts.

Her lament to me today, however, is not about her troubles, but about her lack of faith through all this. Sorrow, anger, and frustration batter her soul. Depression lurks at the door and threatens to take up total and permanent residence in her spirit.

God seems to be nowhere around, she sighs. Her prayers—mere cries—feel empty and directionless. Ordinarily a spirited, vivacious woman with an expressive faith, she appears wan and defeated. Helen is disappointed in herself that she is so crippled by, and heartsick over, what is happening. A person of faith should do better, she believes. A good Christian should, she says, find her faith giving her courage, hope, and even cheer in times like this.

No Army Tank.

I talk to Helen about her faith. I tell her that having faith is not like riding in an Army tank, protected on every side from the onslaughts of life, rolling smoothly over every pothole and obstacle in the path.

Faith is, rather, like walking with little protection into a war zone. You’re hit from all sides and wounded, but you continue on with a Companion at your side who is injured every time you are, but still holds you. Like many people, Helen seems to believe that faith is separate from the person. The individual may be bludgeoned, but faith should keep thriving, untouched.

Reality teaches something different. When life hammers its inevitably harsh and sometimes savage blows, we are knocked down—faith and all. Staggered and bloodied, we and our faith, struggle to get up again–to go on, to endure, to recover.

Helen can’t possibly expect her faith to be healthy and robust; she’s been ‘run over by a freight train.’ She is wounded, deeply wounded. Her world has collapsed. She has lost her security, her dreams, and her husband. He is like a stranger, and years of worsening distress lie ahead for them both. How could she go through this any differently than she is? How can she expect of herself resilient, normal, wonderful faithfulness in a time like this?

No Guarantee.

Helen is suffering. Suffering brings serious pressure on a person and her faith. That is what suffering is, a painful disruption of one’s whole life—physical, social, emotional, spiritual.

There is no easy solution to Helen’s pain. The healing capacity put within her by her Creator can eventually restore her. Nevertheless, she has no guarantee she will emerge from her struggle better instead of bitter, deeper instead of more shallow. The support of the community of faith around her is her greatest hope.

Perhaps we can inoculate future Helens against the same kind of spiritual despair over faith’s failure. We can do so by modifying the conventional image of faith we pass on to our children—by dismantling the Army-tank model. This model sets everyone up for disillusionment—or it prepares them to see faith as the denial that anything hurts.

Faith, we need to see—and to teach—is not the capacity to eliminate pain. It is not a spiritual strength that makes life’s heartaches hurt less. Faith is not a spiritual superiority that lifts one above the ordinary tears and grief of life. It is not immunity from disease, failure, or loss, and it is not armor against the perplexity, despair, and confusion these troubles usually bring with them.

Quite the opposite: faith is freedom to enter pain, to feel it for what it is. Faith is the capacity to experience life at full strength, to mourn personal and global threats and losses, to enter—as raw-nervedly as mere people can—into our own and others’ diseases and agonies. Faith, at its core, is essentially the ability to suffer.

Rather than a power model of faith that makes us think we can and should be super-persons, we need a weakness model. God has revealed himself to us as one who has the courage to hurt–not as a hero who shrugs blows off. God, in Jesus, entered our condition, our pain, our humanness. He did not stride valiantly above it all; he agonized.

Faith is an awareness that God is alongside us in all circumstances. God has been there, and God is there with us, all the way, come what may. “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there . . . even there your hand will guide me.” (Ps. 139:8-10).

We need to equip ourselves and our children with this more biblically realistic teaching. Otherwise we promote and practice Christian faith as another self-help technique that denies the actualities of life in this broken world.

Life is difficult. 

The storms will be there. We will be knocked about. Christian faith grants no immunities. We have only the knowledge of the presence with us of He who accepted no immunity.

We may not feel His presence when earthquakes shake, tornados destroy; or when we’re ripped with sorrow, anger, or fear. We will only be able to remember it. He hurts with us and weeps with us. He is taking every blow we get. He is with us, holding us.

God seems to stress far more his suffering with us, his entering into our circumstances, than he does his power over everything. “The weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength,” says Paul, stressing this point (2Cor. 1:25). And God says, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor. 12:9).

The Christian life of faith is thus an invitation to humanness, an invitation to walk accompanied by our suffering Lord, unprotected, feeling the pain that life brings. Then, and then only, do we gain the potential for abundant living. 

A Case for Kindness

by Craig Bourne

Doing acts of kindness is not kid-stuff


A great paradox about the Care and Kindness Campaign is that is both simple and misunderstood.

It is so simple that everyone can do it! This has been Jim Kok’s message: that acts of kindness bless other people immeasurably, and they are so easy to do that every person, no matter their circumstances, can offer them. And yet, because these actions, at first blush, seem to be so obvious, they are quickly dismissed, or overlooked by many people. One woman memorably said to me years ago, “Why should I go to a Care Conference? I don’t need that. I’m the kindest person I know.”

And therein lies the paradox. Because the suggestions Jim Kok gives are so obvious and so simple, why do people not do them more often? Perhaps one answer lies in the subtitle above — these things are perceived as ‘kid-stuff.’

Another answer might be that they are assumed to be things that a person does more or less automatically and naturally; therefore, why do we need to give so much focus to them?

Then there is the fact that ‘random acts of kindness’ is a phrase that was initiated quite some time ago, so an attitude of ‘been there, done that’ gets attached to what Jim is saying.

An important difference

A big distinction of the Care and Kindness Campaign is that it promotes intentional acts of kindness.

I recently read some remarks by Steve Sjogren, a pastor who teaches evangelism training, that “the spiritual fruit of kindness is not about doing or practicing ‘random acts of kindness’ as bumper stickers and other signs and billboards have been challenging us to do for some years now! Such random acts of kindness should really be called ‘random acts of niceness’, not kindness. There is nothing random or accidental about kindness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit."

He defines kindness as “practical acts of mercy done by followers of Jesus who are inspired by the Holy Spirit to see others through the eyes of God.” What a great perspective!—seeing others the way God must see them. When we see people from that viewpoint, it is so EASY to be kind to them.

One must have conscious thoughts and intentions to live this way. It is not natural: it is not automatic to offer practical acts of mercy. It doesn’t ‘just happen.’ And perhaps Sjogren’s expression of ‘random acts of niceness’ touches on why people dismiss these ideas—most people are indeed nice. Most people do not intend to be mean, cruel, rude — they want to be seen as nice persons. But being ‘nice’ and intentionally doing something that uplifts, feeds, encourages other people are not the same thing.

The Bible seems to distinguish between the divine quality of kindness and the human quality of niceness. Galatians 5: 22-23 lists ‘kindness’ as the fifth fruit of the spirit. Kindness, then, is definitely not kid-stuff. When we exhibit kindness, it is our bearing fruit of God being in us.

Being intentional means going out of your way

Dr. Philip Kenneson states, “This fruit by its very character, therefore, is one of the most outwardly visible fruits of the Christian life . . . we regard people as kind because they go out of their way, often quietly and without fanfare, to engage in kind actions. Nitty-gritty, concrete, everyday kinds of actions.”

In a similar vein, Kenneson also critiques the idea of simply doing random acts of ‘kindness’ (or niceness). The main limitation of such acts, according to him, is that genuine other-directedness is lacking—we feel good about doing these random acts of ‘kindness’, regardless of what the recipients may really need. One has to ask: is the good feeling we have for having done a random act stronger than the awareness of what the other person deeply needs?

Readers of Jim Kok’s writings know well that he teaches listening as being supremely important. One must listen to another person, listen to what they are saying, listen to what they are not saying, listen for their feelings. When we truly hear the other person, then we can respond with kindness and mercy and encouragement.

Echoing these same thoughts, Kenneson suggests that one of the major ways in which true kindness can be cultivated in our lives is ‘listening to one another’. In order to nurture with one another in the Spirit in the depths of our soul, we need to listen to one another carefully and attentively. This kind of listening will help us to discern and know each other’s deepest needs and to respond lovingly and appropriately to such need with Spirit-filled acts of kindness that are truly other-directed. In fact, listening itself is a kindness we can give to others in a self-obsessed world where very few people are heard deeply enough to feel understood.”

Steve Sjogren puts these ideas into a formula. He says that “servant evangelism consists of deeds of love plus words of love plus adequate time. It is kindness concretely manifested to meet specific needs of others.”

So, in summary, understanding the impact that intentional acts of kindness has on people is no small thing. Sprinkling these gifts around as you go about your daily routine takes a mature attitude — it is definitely not kid-stuff!

Blessings to each one of you who are acting as ambassadors in the Care and Kindness Campaign. Blessings to you for understanding these concepts. We know you feel blessed as you give of yourselves and your time to offer intentional acts of kindness.

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Joey’s Answers

A Sunday school teacher asked, “Johnny, do you think Noah did a lot of fishing when he was on the Ark ?’”

“No,” replied Johnny. “How could he, with just two worms.”

 

A Sunday school teacher said to her children, “We have been learning how powerful kings and queens were in Bible times. But, there is a Higher Power. Can anybody tell me what it is?’

Joey blurted out, “Aces!”

 

Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday School. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt . When he got to the Red Sea , he had his army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved.”

“Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?” his Mother asked.

“Well, no, Mom. But, if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!”