Life is full of extraordinary challenges: wars, injustice, and politics just to name a few. When faced with these extraordinary challenges, we can look for a miracle that is just as extraordinary. But life also has its ordinary challenges: stressful emails or losing our keys in the morning. If extraordinary challenges require extraordinary miracles, these ordinary challenges require miracles that are just as ordinary. Thankfully, God meets us in our suffering great and small alike. Today we’ll discuss an ordinary miracle that could make an extraordinary impact.
Good morning, LifePoint family. How are we doing? Awesome. I love the unplugged set that we had. It’s like MTV Unplugged, for those of you who grew up in the nineties and you know what that is. I got one “woo.” That’s cool.
You guys have a good Christmas? Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! We’re in that twilight zone between Christmas and New Year’s. What day is it? It’s 60 degrees outside. Are we in San Diego? Where are we?
If Christmas was your first time here, welcome back! We’re glad that you’re here. For those of you I haven’t met, my name is Brad Lindner. I’m the Student Ministry Discipleship Director here at LifePoint Church.
Heading into 2020, it feels like a big year. I don’t know if you feel the same. There’s a kind of tension – is it going to be the same as 2019? Is it going to be worse? Is it going to be better? 2020 feels like a big year. Heading into the new year, I have been unusually preoccupied with the idea of changing the world. I want to change the world. I set my ambitions really low for 2020. Maybe it’s the millennial in me coming out. I’m an elder millennial. I snuck in there in the early ’80s, but I’m still a millennial. I want to change the world. I want to change the world.
Not because I’m bored, but because when I look around, there are some things that need changing. Am I right? For example, on more than one occasion I have driven into Chick-Fil-A only to find the parking lot empty and the lights are off. It takes me longer than it should to realize that duh, it’s Sunday and they’re closed. I’m sitting in my car and it takes five minutes for it to register. I love that they take a Sabbath. I love that they observe a Sabbath. It’s very Jesus-y of them. But if I ruled the world, I’d make sure that we would find a way to get our chicken 24/7. I’m a very magnanimous leader. Vote Brad for 2020! You guys are too kind!
Then I look around and I see some big things, some serious things that I want to change. Things like war, poverty, injustice, and suffering. In our country, there is this political tension that just seems to be growing and growing. There’s an ongoing racial tension that if anything, is growing as well. It’s 2020 and we still haven’t sorted out how to live together. And for whatever reason, wherever you go on the internet, everyone is angry about everything all the time. These things seem so big. I don’t even know where to start to change these things and I think, “God we are going to need a miracle if we’re ever going to sort it out.”
These extraordinary challenges- these extraordinary difficulties in life almost require an extraordinary miracle. Something that we couldn’t have seen coming. Something we couldn’t anticipate. Something that we couldn’t do on our own. When I read the headlines, I want to know that God’s reading the same thing. I want to know that he sees what’s going on here, that he’s not asleep at the wheel, that he cares about what’s going on. As I read through the library that is the Bible, I find just that – a God who loves us. A God who sees the suffering. Who isn’t indifferent and moves towards us in community and relationship. God desires to be with us and that he cares for us.
One of the books of the Bible that I turn to again and again, especially when the world seems out of sorts and I need to know – God are you seeing this? Are you seeing what’s happening? – is the book of Ecclesiastes. I’d love to start there this morning. If you have a Bible, turn to Ecclesiastes 4:1. If you don’t have a Bible, the text will be on the screens behind me. If you don’t have a Bible and would like one, we have some at the Welcome Desk. Just go out and say, “Hey, Brad told me to get a Bible.” They’d love to give you one. We love giving Bibles to our friends.
In Ecclesiastes 4:1 we see one of the extraordinary ways that life is difficult. The author writes,
“Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of the oppressors, there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. “
Now, I’ll admit this is kind of a bummer verse to start the morning off with and I’m sorry. It’s like, “I need three cups of coffee before I can hit Ecclesiastes, Brad. Come on.” But I think that what it points to is – this is in the Bible. God sees that there’s oppression. God sees that there’s a lack of comfort. God sees the power struggle, the class struggle. God sees those things and he’s not silent. He speaks out against them. The extraordinary challenges in life- God sees those things.
But these are headline things and thankfully our life is not lived in the headlines. Even with our social media feeds, there’s a lot of life that’s lived behind the scenes. Our life isn’t really lived out in the headlines. Our life really doesn’t consist of what we put on our social media feeds, even if I’d like you to believe that’s all that my life is. Our life is lived behind the scenes and we have this normal trajectory in life. It’s not lived in the super-high highs or in the super-low lows. We go through seasons. For the most part, our life is this kind of normal trajectory. Along the way, there are these normal speedbumps, these ordinary difficulties that we deal with on a day-to-day basis.
If extraordinary circumstances elicit extraordinary questions, like “Life can be so hard, why is there even life at all? Better is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds under the sun.” If extraordinary challenges lead to extraordinary questions, I think the normal difficulties that we experience in life lead to more ordinary questions. Questions like, “Why did I even get out of bed this morning?” Have you ever had a day like that? Where you thought, “Why did I even get out of bed this morning?”
I had one of those days recently. I came into the office and I start my day the same way. I’m a creature of habit. I start the same way every day. I came in and I made coffee. It’s what I do first thing. I have a little scale and use the scale to measure the beans because I want the right amount of beans each time and then I measure the water because I want the right amount of water for the right amount of beans. Yes, I’m high maintenance and a little OCD. Or a lot OCD. I pour the water into the coffee maker and I grind the beans. And then I confidently pour the coffee grounds into the coffee maker and then I realize I did this: I put the coffee grounds in the water tank. If you don’t make coffee, that’s not where they go, they go in that white basket there. Why is it that you need coffee in order to make coffee?
It’s one of those ordinary difficulties in life. Have you ever had something like this happen? Maybe it’s at the beginning of your day or the middle of your day and it made you think, “Oh, so this is how my day is going to go.” It sets the tone for the rest of the day. Have you ever thought, “I’m going to need a miracle to get through my day?” Something like this may seem like a first-world problem because it is. It’s a first-world problem. But this stuff still is a problem. Stuff like this still makes life difficult to live. As we experience those things often several times a day, it’s those normal, ordinary things that can make life just as difficult, if not more difficult than those extraordinary things.
While God cares about the extraordinary challenges and extraordinary difficulties that we face throughout our life, he also cares about the day-to-day struggle. If we scroll down to Ecclesiastes 4:9, the author writes,
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:9
God takes the ordinary challenges of life seriously, and here we see an ordinary difficulty I think we all face – that sometimes we fall. Sometimes we fall, even several times throughout the day. Maybe your fall isn’t a literal fall. Maybe your fall is getting a stressful e-mail before heading into work. It just sets the tone for the rest of the day. Maybe it’s losing your keys when you’re already running behind. Maybe it’s rain on your wedding day or the free ride when you’ve already paid. Alanis Morrissette anybody? Children of the nineties, my people! Oh my goodness! Now, Alanis had no idea what irony meant, but she did know that life is difficult in these ordinary ways. It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a fork.
Whatever your fall looks like, I think we need to know that God takes the extraordinary challenges seriously, that he doesn’t miss that. We also need to know God takes those ordinary difficulties- not ordinary in the sense of insignificant- but ordinary in the sense of expected, routine, a normal part of our lives, that God takes those difficulties seriously as well. I think if extraordinary challenges require an extraordinary miracle- something that we couldn’t have seen coming, or something that we couldn’t have done on our own, then I think the ordinary difficulties in life require an ordinary miracle.
I think the author of Ecclesiastes while painting a picture of the ordinary difficulties- that sometimes we fall- he immediately follows it with the ordinary miracle. He writes, “for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.” If falling describes the normal ways in which life is difficult- the ruining of a coffee maker, losing our keys, the rain on our wedding day- I think picking each other up is the definition of kindness. Picking each other up is the warm greeting, it’s the listening ear, it’s the gift that someone didn’t expect. I believe that kindness is the ordinary miracle that we all need in our lives. When the ordinary difficulties have come, I believe we need an ordinary miracle. When we fall, we need someone who will pick us up. So it leads me to ask a question: what if you and I can be the miracle that someone is waiting for? What if you and I can be the miracle is waiting for? Because I believe that kindness is that ordinary miracle.
But when we think of kindness, the word “ordinary” doesn’t generally come mind. What word do we associate with kindness? Random. Random acts of kindness. There’s even a random acts of kindness week in February. We’ve celebrated it. Well, it’s been celebrated. I just found out about it. But it’s been celebrated every year since 1995. A whole week that we schedule just for random acts of kindness. Isn’t it ironic? Like a scheduled week of kindness isn’t random! But I digress. Why is it that when we think of kindness, it’s random? Like kindness isn’t ordinary like kindness isn’t routine. I can’t often point to kindness. Kindness is rare. Kindness is random. Why is that? I think there’s a reason that kindness is so rare, that kindness is random. It’s because kindness costs. Kindness costs. When I lift somebody up, it takes the expense of effort and energy.
Before we get into the cost of kindness, I also want to define what kindness is. That gives us a start on what kindness costs. Kindness is an action that benefits another person but doesn’t necessarily benefit us. It doesn’t directly benefit us. Kindness is an action that benefits another person but doesn’t directly benefit us. As I pick somebody up, I’m expending effort and energy, but they can’t give that back to me. Kindness costs. To get kind of a clear idea of what it costs us, I want to turn to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 6. Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people and he tells the crowd this:
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:27-31
Jesus says to love, to do good, to give, to offer, to bless, to pray. These are all action words. Action words that benefit another person, but don’t directly benefit us. Then Jesus cranks it up to 11. He kicks it up a notch and says that we should do that for our enemies. I think the tendency is to get lost in the word enemies and miss the bigger picture of what’s going on. I think Jesus is setting a high bar by loving our enemies, but in verse 32 he says this:
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? Luke 6:32
I know from experience that the people I love don’t always love me back. The people that I’m kind to aren’t always kind in return. I know that it’s not only my enemies that I have difficulty loving and have difficulty being kind to, but it’s also the people all around me. When Jesus says, “and from the one who takes away your goods, do not demand them back,” well what about the guy at work who borrows your stapler and never returns it? And the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. But what about the spouse who was short with you on your way into the church, or your way out the door to work? What about when you get home from work and you’re tired and your kids want to play, or they have to go to soccer practice and all you want to do is feed them warm milk and Benadryl? I’m not saying you should, but if you thought about it, I wouldn’t blame you. What about that relative who posts their crazy political views on Facebook? Come on, we’ve all got one, right?
When I read Jesus’ words, I realize it’s not my enemies I have trouble being kind to. Honestly, I don’t ever really see my enemies. I find that it’s the people who get the most of my attention, my wife, my family, my co-workers, even my family here at LifePoint. Those are the people I’m the most unkind to. Those are the people who it’s hard to be kind to. It’s the people who get the most of my attention that is difficult to be kind to. Here’s the thing – if I can’t be kind to my friends if I can’t be kind to my family, how will I ever hit the mark that Jesus set- of being kind to my enemies. It’s the people who get the most of my attention that it’s difficult to be kind to. Because kindness costs. It costs us our time. It costs us our patience. It’s cost us our energy. It can even cost us our ego.
Before I worked here, I worked at the Dental School at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. And I fixed dental equipment and x-rays and computers. I worked with a guy who would always stand over me and say, “You’re doing that wrong. You should do it this way. Wouldn’t it be better if you did it like this?” and it bugged the life out of me. I hated it when he just stood over me and told me what to do. One day I had enough. I blew up at him. I lost it. I said, “I don’t need your help. I don’t want your help. Leave me alone. I can figure it out on my own. Stop bugging me!”
He had been there like 30 years. Almost 30 years longer than I had been there, and he had made the same mistakes he could see that I was making and he just wanted to help me out. But I wanted to do it my way. I wanted to figure it out my way. It’s funny that the things that keep me from being kind to people are the same things that keep me from receiving kindness. My lack of patience. My gigantic ego. Yeah, that may keep me from being kind, but it also keeps me from receiving the kindness that I need. Maybe one of the ways we can make kindness ordinary is just practicing receiving kindness and not pushing it away. Let’s make kindness ordinary.
Kindness costs. Kindness costs, but for as much as it costs – our energies, our egos, our patience, our time- I think it costs us way more not to be kind. I think it costs us way more to be static, to not get involved, to not offer a listening ear. I think it costs us way more not to be kind. To see how it costs us more, I want to look at what Paul wrote to the church in Rome about God’s kindness and what God’s kindness does, what we might miss out on if we’re not kind.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:10
This is the kindness of God. It’s the thing that we couldn’t do or see coming. God’s kindness sent his son Jesus Christ so that we would be reconciled to him. That word reconciled means to restore friendly relations, but in the original Greek that Paul wrote in, that word means so much more. It means to decisively change. In sending his son Jesus Christ, God decisively changes the relationship. He turns enemies into friends- something we couldn’t do on our own, and something we couldn’t lose because God decisively changed the relationship. That is the kindness of God. God’s kindness turns enemies into friends, friends into family, family into community. God is in the business of building community and by being kind, we don’t get into his family. Only belief in Jesus gets us into his family. But being kind? That gets us into the family business. It gets us into the family business of turning enemies into friends, friends into family and family into community.
I think kindness is the currency of community. Kindness is the thing that we exchange with one another to make our community grow and to make it stronger. Kindness is the thing that we exchange with one another to lift each other up. And friends- LifePoint Church should be the stock exchange of kindness. We have to give it away. When we give kindness away, even though it costs us to give kindness away, we’re not even playing with our own money. Paul continues to write to the Galatians,
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” Galatians 5:22-23
As believers in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, dwelling inside of us. And we may often treat the Holy Spirit like the fourth Jonas brother. We don’t really know a lot about him, but he’s there. The Holy Spirit lives inside us and as we abide in him, as we grow in the spirit we have access to his power, access to his strength, and even though we’re spending kindness, the Holy Spirit is constantly refilling our tank, refilling that power and strength. We can never run out of kindness because the Holy Spirit isn’t kind, he doesn’t do kind things. The Holy Spirit IS kindness. That’s his default operating position. Kindness isn’t random for God. God’s kindness is ordinary. It is normal for God to be kind.
I think that making kindness ordinary can change the world. I think that making kindness expected, so that we know where to go for kindness, can change the world. And not only the ordinary difficulties, but I think it can cure some of the extraordinary difficulties. Imagine an election season where the other side says, “You know what, I’m not so sure about your position, but this other thing’s a pretty good idea.”
What about a year where people knew, “You know what? I fell a lot this week, but I know if I come to LifePoint, my family is going to pick me up.” I think that ordinary kindness can solve even the extraordinary difficulties. There’s a cliché that I grew up within church where we say, “God I want you to show up, and I want you to do something” and God says, “I know, I have. That’s why I sent you.” I think God sent us to be the miracle that someone needs.
How do we do that? How do we make kindness ordinary? How do we turn it into the ordinary miracle that we all need and we’re all waiting for? I think there’s a lot of ways, but there are three ways that I want to pick out. They are more things to think about than practices, but here are three things to think about as we make kindness ordinary:
The first is time. I think one of the things that makes kindness random- one of the things that we have to schedule a whole week for is we think we need a whole bunch of time if we’re going to make any impact. We need a big amount of time if we’re ever going to make an impact. But here’s the thing: kindness doesn’t take any time at all. Do you know how much time an ordinary miracle takes? It takes a hello in the lobby. It takes a “Hey, how was your Christmas?” It takes a “Hey, how are you doing?” It takes an amount of time as a gift that somebody didn’t see coming.
One of the interesting things about God for me is he is in the habit of taking seemingly small insignificant things and making a big change. God takes the least of a group of brothers and makes him king. Jesus says if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain. I think kindness the size of a hello can change the world.
The next thing is opportunity. I think that wherever we spend our time, we have an opportunity to be kind. Wherever we spend our time we have an opportunity to be kind. Sometimes those opportunities are sporadic like somebody falls down and you pick them up, you didn’t see that coming. But there are also opportunities that we know we’re going to head into. Like when I go home after a long day, I know I’m going to see my wife. I know I’m going to see my family. I know that that is an opportunity that I need to prepare myself to be kind. Because I am tired, and I don’t have a lot of patience. Maybe that’s the opportunity I need to pray, “Holy Spirit, fill me with your kindness so that I can be kind so that I can lift up my family.” Or when we come to church and we know there’s an hour here we’re going to spend together, an hour and a half, or more. How can we plan to use that opportunity? Wherever we have the time, wherever we spend our time, I think there’s an opportunity.
The last thing to think about is our attention. The people who get the most of my attention generally are the people that are hardest for me to be kind to. But it’s not just about who we see when we go from place to place. I think it’s how we see them that need our attention. To illustrate that, one of my favorite shows is “The West Wing.” Anybody else loves The West Wing? Yeah, okay, awesome a couple of people. One of my favorite shows is The West Wing. It’s about the White House and the staff that staffs the White House. In one of the episodes, the chief of staff is telling a story to one of his staffers.
He tells a story about a guy who fell down a hole, and the walls of the hole are so steep that the guy can’t climb out. As the guy is down in the hole, a doctor walks by and he shouts out, “Hey doc! I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” And the doctor writes a prescription and he throws it down the hole and he moves on. Then a priest walks by and the guy yells out, “Hey, Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” and the priest writes out a prayer and he throws it down the hole and he moves on. Then a friend walks by and the guy calls out, “Hey Joe! I fell down this hole, can you help me out?” And all the sudden, the friend jumps down in the hole, and the guys scream out, “What are you stupid? Now we’re both stuck down in this hole!” And the friend turns to him and says, “Yeah, I know. But I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
Friends, when we see our family, when we see our co-workers, when we see each other, even when we see our enemies, who’re down in that hole? Our lives are lived behind the scenes and we don’t know where people are at. We don’t know if they’re down in the hole. We don’t know if they’ve taken a lot of falls this week. Maybe the people who are making our lives difficult, well their lives are just as difficult, if not more. What if they make our lives difficult because they’re in a hole right now and they need someone to show them the way out? I think from experience, those times when we’ve encountered kindness. We know that’s the way out.
I work in our student ministry, and every week with our middle school students, we meet at 9:00 on Sundays and we take a portion of our time together and we just try to celebrate cool stuff that happened throughout the week and our small group leaders take time to pray for our students. We want that to be the most encouraging place. We want our students to encounter kindness so we go around and say “Who had something really great this week that we can celebrate?” and the hands shoot up and we call on one student and we call another student and then we have storytime with Patrick.
I’m going around a couple of weeks ago and I’m asking, “Hey, who had something really great that happened?” and a student raises her hand and I go over and ask “What really great thing happened this week?” And she says nothing and she just hands me a bag and inside that bag is this hat. She knows that I love hats and I wear hats a lot and it’s not just because I’m balding. It’s cool. Whatever. But I wear hats a lot and she knew that and she knit me this hat. She knits all the time. It’s ordinary for her to knit. But for me, it was a miracle. I’d had a pretty rough month and at that moment, all of that went away and when I look at that hat or put it on, all of that goes away. All I think about is that ordinary act that was a miracle for me. I think that’s the power of ordinary miracles. I think that’s the power of kindness. I think ordinary miracles like kindness can change the world.
Will you guys pray with me?
Dear God, we just thank you that you meet us in our extraordinary circumstances and the extraordinary difficulties of life, that you’re not indifferent, that you see those things and that you love us and that you make movement toward us in relationship. And God you also sweat the small stuff. You sweat the stuff that is ordinary. The ordinary difficulties in our life. We face the most extraordinary challenge in a broken relationship with you and you sent your son – something we couldn’t have done on our own or couldn’t have seen coming. But I thank you that for everything else, for the ordinary difficulties we face in our lives, you sent us to each other. Holy Spirit, would you fill us with your kindness? Would you give us your strength and your power to be kind? Especially when it is difficult. Jesus, we love you. Would you move in this place to make this a community of kindness? It’s in the power of your name that we pray. Amen.
Has there ever been a time when a small act of kindness made a big difference in your life? What did that person do for you?
Why do you think it’s difficult for others to be kind?
What makes it difficult for you to be kind?
Read Ephesians 2:7-10. God’s kindness is a gift. Nothing we’ve done can earn it, nothing we can do will ever lose it. What does God’s kindness towards us teach us about how to be kind?
Who are the people you come into contact with the most? How could the ordinary miracle of kindness lift them up today, this week, or this month?
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