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“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rustdestroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV)

 

kindness

Chad Karger

If the gospel doesn’t break my heart and open my eyes to see the kindness of God, then I haven’t heard the good news. To be sure, the problem is me, not the message or the messenger. When it finally hits home, I bow my head and bend my knees. I give thanks. This grateful response may, or may not be accompanied by ecstatic or charismatic experiences. But gratitude will come and so to will change.

Gratitude is what the Holy Spirit cultivates in our hearts. From this springs the transformation of instinct, passion, thought, and action — everything. Without gratitude, there is only presumption and entitlement; resentment and rage; meager survival. 

Gratitude is worship. 

“Or do you presume on the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV). 

The church has often worked to provoke guilt and shame in an effort to get people’s attention. I certainly felt that growing up in the church. Those feelings and those responses only made me want to run and hide, mostly in my own efforts. Without grace and truth, I get hard on myself and on others. Sermons, summer camps, and books all had the cumulative effect of motivating me to do more, try harder — to no avail. I had missed the forest of God’s grace in my life for the trees of lackluster achievements.

The gospel breaks in and breaks open my heart. One of the ways in which God softened my heart was through my wife’s love. Her kind response to my harshness was used by God to open me in new ways to the real power of the gospel. She didn’t run and hide. She wasn’t as much a victim of my hard heart as she was an agent of God’s love. She loved me, by God’s grace. She persisted, by God’s grace. And, that kindness thawed my heart. It isthawing my heart. 

In my counseling work, I think nearly every single day how God used her. I think about it when I see someone who is not being kind; or, even more so, when I see someone in critical need. I’m moved to tears when someone experiences the kindness of another amidst hurt and trauma. The seeds of hope are planted when people get grace and truth instead of revenge and retaliation. Similarly, the one offering grace and truth is freed from anger and resentment. True freedom.

God’s kindness comes alive in Jesus. This kindness isn’t codependency or manipulative. God’s kindness is merciful and strong; it is empathetic and emphatic. Sometimes it brought Jesus to tears and at other times he was turning over the crooks’ tables. There were moments when he let the children distract him and when he looked with love at the rich man’s distracted heart. 

That’s allkindness. Sometimes it turns and walks out the door; sometimes it looks you in the eye with tears and speaks truth to your lying heart — with or without words.

When I say that my wife was kind to me when I least deserved it, I don’t mean she rolled over and just “took it.” You haven’t met my wife if you think that! Thankfully, in her beautiful strength she has (for nearly 30 years), shown kindness with truth and grace. According to John 1:14, that’s a lot like Jesus. 

Giving and receiving kindness facilitates the work off the Holy Spirit to bring about gratitude. That, in turn, is a blessing to others and glorifies God.

A good question goes a long way...

Chad Karger

“You are very talented and have so much potential to do great things in this world.”

Is this the message we need from the people who love and support us? Is this the message we need to speak over others? 

I have offered this, or something similar, to the people I love and for whom I care. I’ve also received these encouraging words. There are times when we may need to be reassured about the gifts and talents we have; all of us need a little motivation along the way to help us stay focused and positive, especially when are discouraged. However, the sentiment expressed in this sort of encouragement can have unintended consequences. One, the sentiment can miss the mark of encouragement and create more pressure for the person. Two, it begs the question of our purpose in life and how we live into that purpose  (another post).

How does it create more pressure and less reassurance?

Many of us living in the western, industrialized world live with the worry that we will fail or underperform in life. We fear not realizing our fullest potential. Social media oftentimes fuels the fear of missing out (a.k.a FOMO)! If we are honest, we struggle not to be continually disappointed with our own efforts. We may even be more terrified that we are disappointing the people we love. Our minds loop through worst-case-scenarios and we end up with a lot of negative self-talk. We either become workaholics, crippled with fear, chronically angry at the world, feeling victimized, or some mixture of all of these. When someone we respect intends to encourage us with “You are a very special person with amazing potential” encouragement, it can end up intensifying the anxiety roiling us. More pressure can make better decision making and clear vision nearly impossible. 

Most of us will either give people the benefit-of-the-doubt choosing to believe in their good intentions. Or, we will try to reframe our thoughts around these positive words. But, in all honesty, most of us find these empty slogans too generic and imprecise when it comes to helping us sort out how we are feeling. 

The next time we are tempted to reassure someone with a boost to their self-confidence, maybe a thoughtful question might be more helpful. A timely question can increase self-awareness which is usually more of what we need in difficult moments. Trying to promote self-confidence without encouraging self-awareness isn’t helpful. Questions like these can help with both: 

What do you enjoy in your life right now?
How do you want to use your talents? How has that changed over the years?
What are you afraid of?
What worries you?
Are you disappointed with someone or something in your life?
What do you do when you are afraid or feeling overwhelmed with anxiety?

Again, self-awareness is very helpful in difficult moments. Questions spur such reflection and deeper thought. Questions signal to the person that we are not just coming with platitudes but are willing to think deeply and listen intently. A thoughtful question communicates safety, strength, and fearlessness. At the same time, when someone dives deep with a good question, I may initially feel a little unnerved, but will be thankful for the connection. It gives me time and space to think and reflect.

In the end, be intentional about promoting self-awareness which, in the end, can better lead to confidence and clarity. With that, then, we are better able to define our purpose and see a path before us.

 

failure

Chad Karger

Failure is inevitable

No matter your work, craft, hobby, goals, endeavors, resolutions, level of expertise, failure will be part of the journey. I’ve heard pastors, artists, engineers, teachers, students, moms, and dads all talk about failures and disappointments. In other words, success is not a given whoever you are or whatever you do. There will be roadblocks, dead ends, disasters, misfires, miscalculations, and fiascos. There is simply no avoiding this fact. Failures will happen and the ensuring disappointment (or anger, sadness, regret or any number of other emotions) is part of the journey. 

By way of definition: Failure is the absence of success. 

The reasons for failure include, among other reasons, ignorance, inexperience, corruption, oversight, arrogance, or unforeseen circumstances. Depending upon reason for failure, the consequences vary and can produce an array of emotions: disappointment, anger, betrayal, or sadness (or all of these!). 

Some failures are personal while others are very public. 

Failure can be a source of wisdom and insight for the future. Learning from failure helps us to navigate the consequences, whether they be personal or societal. Stubbornness, shame, and arrogance undermines the potential for learning and growing after failure.

Failures threaten to humiliate us. To be sure, humility isn’t the same thing as humiliation. Humility makes room for growth. Being humbled by our failures isn’t the same as being ashamed. In fact, humility can make our failures the source of wisdom and strength in the future. 

I had a man who was a leader in his community ask me once, “Have you ever experienced failure?” He was assessing my fitness to be a counselor and advisor to him. I was as startled as I was delighted at this question!

“Yes!” I said back, with a sense of real gratitude. His candor made me feel like failure was less like an incurable or chronic disease. I felt a connection with him. I felt strong, not weak.

Have you failed? Is your failure a source of shame? Have you been opened by your failure to receive grace and mercy from God and from others? Are you growing strong from that broken place? Are you growing more hopeful from that disappointment?

This is Holy Week.

If we are willing to journey with Jesus this week, we will confront the depth of our failures and disappointments on Good Friday only to celebrate His resurrection from the ultimate failure, death, on Sunday.