Clothed In Kindness

By Julian Wells

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

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a children’s series that was broadcast on PBS stations for over 30 years. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, a documentary about that series and its star, Fred Rogers, is currently showing in theaters nationwide.

After watching it last week, this verse from Colossians has been much on my mind. Each episode of that show began with Mister Rogers taking off his jacket, donning a cardigan sweater, and replacing the dress shoes on his feet with a pair of sneakers. Some might say those articles of clothing were his trademark, but I would disagree.

What defined Fred Rogers, what touched the hearts of all those who knew him, and what brought tears to the eyes of so many in that audience last week (none more than mine) was the kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, compassion and concern for children that were the genuine trademarks of his character.

Although he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, he was no doubt constrained from presenting the Gospel on that program. But that did not prevent him from having an impact on millions of viewers, family members, fellow workers on the show, and even celebrities like Yo-Yo Ma.

His son described him as like a “second Christ” in his life. With that statement, I don’t believe he was suggesting that his Dad was like a god to him. The world certainly does not need a second Christ – the one and only Christ is sufficient. But what we could use are more Christians who make Christ visible to a world in desperate need of him. 2 Corinthians 3:18 calls us to “reflect the Lord’s glory”.

1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.” Implicit in that statement is an expectation that we live in such a way that our lives elicit those types of questions, creating powerful opportunities to witness. Never have those opportunities been as ripe as they are today.

Kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness, and patience are declining rapidly. The society around us is looking more and more like the days Paul described in 2 Timothy 3:2-4 where so many have become “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

May our lives as Christians stand in such stark contrast to those trends that it demands an explanation. May we always be ready to explain that the hope, kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness, and patience they see in us is rooted in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And may we always be prepared to lead them to the Savior who “loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2)

If “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is showing at a theater near you, do yourself a favor and go see it. You will not regret it. In fact, you may find yourself, like so many in the theater around me, not wanting to leave when it is over.

It is absolutely my favorite movie so far this year.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet: how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” – Fred Rogers

(Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV))

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The Apostle of Chocolate

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

Taking a break from the winter cold of the North Carolina mountains, my wife and I spent last week vacationing in Cozumel, Mexico. As I reminisced on our flight home about all that we saw and experienced there, I began to consider which of those memories I might draw upon for my next post.

Certainly, we were greatly inspired by the beauty of God’s creation that was displayed everywhere we went – from the crystal clear teal-blue waters of the Caribbean Sea between Cozumel and the Yucatan Peninsula to the unique flora and fauna on the island. And those incredible sunsets God painted for us to view from our villa captured my attention each night!

But the experience that kept coming to mind as I pondered this post – the experience that looms largest in relation to the Gospel I proclaim – was our tour of the Kaokao Chocolate Factory in Cozumel. Allow me to explain…

As the only male among our group of six, I was probably the least excited about this tour. But any disinterest I might have felt beforehand was quickly dispelled by the passion of our tour guide, Eduardo. Whatever his official job title might have been, in my mind he should be called the Apostle of Chocolate.

Eduardo (Photo by Sallye Martin)

Eduardo’s knowledge of all things chocolate is undeniable and his enthusiasm is contagious. He shared with us the history of chocolate, from the Olmec people to the Mayans to the Spanish. At his direction, we donned aprons and chef’s hats, ground the cacao seeds, mixed in various ingredients, and molded our own chocolate bars. We sampled more than twenty flavors of chocolate manufactured at the facility.

He engaged with us personally, responding to every question we posed, seemingly never rushing his answers to make way for the next group. By the end of the tour, Eduardo’s passion had become my passion. Rather than being glad the tour was over, I had a desire to know even more about chocolate.

As I reflected on all that, the verse from 1 Peter that heads this post came immediately to mind:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

Eduardo is always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks him anything about chocolate. And his passion for the subject has surely generated many inquiries through the years.

I can’t help but wonder what the impact would be if more Christians echoed the same kind of passion for the Gospel when they interact with those outside the faith. More importantly, what if I did? The thought that I have the opportunity to make an impact for Christ with the way I reflect him astounds me and convicts me at the same time.

To generate those questions about hope implied by Peter’s words, people must first see that hope in us. While I trust that passion comes through in my writing and in my interactions with fellow believers, the scarcity of such questions being posed to me suggests that it doesn’t always come through in my interactions with unbelievers.

May that change going forward. And when it does, I’ll think of Eduardo, Cozumel’s Apostle of Chocolate, and smile.

“What others most need is to see in you a reflection of what God is like and of the transforming power of the Gospel. Your life can create hunger and thirst for God in others’ lives and can be a powerful instrument in the hand of the Holy Spirit to draw their hearts to Christ.” – Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Holiness, The Heart God Purifies

 

Lessons From The Cotton Field

“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’” (Matt. 13: 3-8 NIV)

imageJesus often spoke to the multitudes in parables, which are simple stories designed to illustrate spiritual lessons. Many of his parables were related to agriculture, since most of his listeners were familiar with agrarian principles. Having grown up on a cotton farm in Georgia, they speak to my heart as well.

This particular parable, commonly known as the Parable of the Sower, has always been my favorite. As with so many of Jesus’ teachings, it seems that every time I read it and take the time to digest its full meaning, I see something new.

If you’re familiar with the story, you know that our Lord went on to explain the parable to his disciples, telling them that the seed represents the message of the gospel. It sometimes falls on hardened soil, never penetrating the listener’s heart. The seed falling on rocky soil represents those who receive the message with joy, but whose roots of faith are so shallow that trouble or persecution causes them to fall away. The seed falling among thorns are those who allow the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of riches” to choke the word, making it unfruitful. And last, of course, are those who hear the word, understand it and produce a bountiful crop.

As I reflect on my own faith journey, which I shared in my last post, The Eternal Question, I can see myself in all four stages of this parable at different times in my life. My heart was hardened for many years, not allowing those seeds of the gospel to take root at all. After coming to faith at the age of twenty-four, very little spiritual growth took place in the rocky soil of my heart for the next twenty years. Even after finally surrendering my heart fully, I still struggle with my sinful nature and the cares of this world to maintain a fruitful, Spirit-filled life. Invariably, when I come to this parable in the Scriptures, I stop to consider where I am on the faith spectrum illustrated by Christ’s words.

Others may view this parable from the perspective of the farmer, seeing their role as simply sowing the seed, sharing the gospel with whomever may cross their path, knowing that it will often fall on hardened, rocky, or thorn-infested hearts. A major flaw in that perspective is not realizing that the farmer sowing the seeds also has the responsibility of preparing the soil. Never lose sight of the fact that the determining factor of the impact of the gospel in this parable was the condition of the soil.

imageAs planting season approached, my father would spend countless hours preparing the soil of our fields before a single cotton seed was sown. We would often start by clearing the fields of rocks lying on the surface. Prominent in my memories are vivid images of him clad in his overalls, setting up the plows and harrows on his International Harvester Farmall tractor, and heading for the fields with a wide-brimmed hat cocked on his head and a dust cloud trailing behind. Soil samples were tested to determine the nutrients to add to the soil as we planted the seeds. As in so many aspects of life, preparation was vital.

And so it is with spreading the gospel. We can spout the truths of God’s Word on every street corner and to every person we meet. But if we have not prepared the soil by first establishing a relationship and living a life that reflects those truths, our testimony will often fall on deaf ears. If people do not sense the love of God in our hearts or experience from us the grace of God by which we claim to have been transformed, they will want little to do with the Christ we profess.

1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect…” (NIV) As you digest that verse, ask yourself, “Does my life reflect the hope that Peter is talking about – a hope so visible that it would prompt such a question?” That is the essence of lifestyle evangelism.

The world desperately needs the hope that only Jesus Christ provides. As a good friend often reminds me, “You never know who’s watching or whose life you are impacting by your actions.” It is often those daily, seemingly inconsequential interactions with others that  prepare the soil of someone’s heart to one day receive the life-changing good news of the gospel so that it takes root, flourishes, and yields a bountiful crop.

Prepare the soil of someone’s life this week by making God visible through yours.

“Most people draw conclusions about the Christian faith by observing the lives of ordinary believers, not by studying doctrine.” – Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace

Hope In The Face Of Adversity

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

After much speculation, Mark Richt was officially named today as the next head football coach of the Miami imageHurricanes. Even though he coached my team’s arch rival for the last 15 years, I have always had the utmost admiration and respect for Coach Richt, both as a football coach and as a life coach for his players, most of whom will not go on to play professional football, but will need other life skills, knowledge, and character to succeed in life after their playing days are over. Coach Richt understands that better than most coaches at the college level.

It amazes me that a coach of his caliber and abilities, the fifth winningest active coach in Division I football, whose team was 9-3 this season, averaged 9.6 wins/season over 15 years in arguably the toughest conference in college football, who won two SEC championships, led his team to 14 straight bowl appearances, was 9-5 in those bowls, was 13-2 against his team’s state rival, finished the season ranked in the top 10 seven times (most recently 9th last year), and came within five yards of a national title game just three years ago, was fired this past Sunday.

This action adds to my increasing disillusionment with what college football has become- big money and win championships at all costs, no matter the impact on those who are putting their health on the line to fill the stadium. Coach Richt never bought into that philosophy and I applaud him for it. Meeting with his team for the last time Thursday, he reportedly told them “Life is about people, not rings.” Amen, Coach Richt!

The greater lesson in all this is a spiritual one. Coach Richt’s response to his unwarranted dismissal last week has been both encouraging and inspiring. His calm professionalism, grace, and unshakeable faith in his Lord has been on display for the world to see. In interviews following his dismissal he made it clear that he answers to a higher authority than athletic directors when it comes to the direction of his life. I’m glad that direction will keep him coaching college football where he will continue to have a positive impact on young men’s lives and the Kingdom of God.

He is a living example of a truth I have emphasized for years as a teacher of God’s Word – that our responses to the inevitable adversities we encounter in life are our greatest opportunities to witness to others about the reason for the hope they see in us. (1 Peter 3:15)

One of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey says that “Faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” Coach Richt clearly has that kind of faith and I firmly believe when he looks back on this week in five years, he will see that things worked out much better for him than for the Georgia Bulldogs. And as a lifelong Georgia Tech fan, that would please me very much!

By the way, Coach Richt is from Boca Raton, Florida and played his college football for the University of Miami. That’s right- he is returning to his Alma Mater. And unlike the Georgia fan base, Miami fans appear to be extremely united in their approval of his return. This story just gets better and better. Congratulations, Coach Richt and Go Hurricanes! You have a new fan in me. (Unless, of course, you’re playing the Yellow Jackets or the Tarheels!)

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ..” (1 Peter 3:15)

Note: All Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)