When Skepticism meets Kindness

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 19.3
“…the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Haven’t his envoys come to you only to explore and spy out the country and overthrow it?” 

Reflection: When Skepticism meets Kindness
By Erin Newton

Last week, I looked through the neighborhood Facebook page. Big mistake. Each post was an attack of one neighbor against another rooted mostly in suspicions. It makes you wonder, “Can we trust anyone to be good anymore?”

The account of David sending an envoy of peace and sympathy to the Ammonites as depicted in 1 Chronicles 19 is retold in the same manner as 2 Samuel 10. In both accounts, Hanun the Ammonite king scoffed at the gesture of sympathy and returned kindness with humiliation. David’s motives were scrutinized. Hanun repaid hate to the men who had come in the name of peace.

Sometimes we look at kindness and assume there is a scheme of self-promotion or self-preservation behind it all. We treat the servants of mercy as spies. We’ve created a world in which we are trained to “read the fine print” and always be on the lookout for some catch. We see something and immediately suspect nefarious activity behind it all.

Being on the receiving end of kindness can be awkward and uncomfortable. Honestly, there is little reason to be suspicious, but we are sorely out of practice. Five years ago, I had premature twins with severe medical conditions and had to quickly learn how to be served without the nagging feeling that I would have to repay that kindness. We learn all about serving others but being served is a lost art.

More than anything, we doubt the sincerity of God’s gift of mercy. The Man who came in peace was treated like a criminal, humiliated and mocked. Jesus came in peace but was received with skepticism. The seed of sin taunts his free gift, “Did he really say that?” Just as the first sin entered the world, we struggle against doubting the motive of mercy.

Out of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). We struggle to humbly receive God’s grace because we cannot fathom being so gracious to others. We return kindness with ingratitude because we assume we have been placed in someone’s debt. We try to do something in return because our pride wants to even the score.

We are entering into a season marked by giving. The King’s envoy of peace has come. Let us sit under the weight of God’s mercy, utterly helpless to repay anything, and be at peace.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Psalm 107)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 19-20 (Listen – 5:02)
1 Peter 1 (Listen – 3:53)

Thanksgiving Day Readings
1 Chronicles 21 (Listen – 5:03)
1 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:48)

Read more about Praying Priestly Blessings
As followers of God today, a part of our identity is as carriers of the blessings of God that are intended for the world.

Read more about Not So Random Acts of Kindness
Loving our former enemies should not be conditional. We must do whatever we can to love our neighbors.

Mind Your Manners

Scripture Focus: James 4:1-2a
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

Reflection: Mind Your Manners
By Jon Polk

Outraged by people who keep cutting in front of him to use the pay phone at a Chinese restaurant, TV’s Seinfeld character George Costanza loudly proclaims to no one in particular, “You know, we’re living in a society! We’re supposed to act in a civilized way.”

Even neurotic, self-absorbed, slacker George gets it.

James focuses his attention on the conflicts and quarrels that apparently plagued the early church in Jerusalem, where he was the leader. He pointedly announces the source of the discord: selfishness and greed.

James proclaims this is the root problem behind all of our disagreements, “You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”

We live in a culture driven by marketing and promotion. Children want the trendiest clothing. Teens desire the newest tech devices. Adults fight for the best job in order to drive the ultimate car and live in the biggest house.

We live in a culture driven by outrage and offense. A word misspoken can set us off. The tiniest misstep can result in a cavalcade of online abuse. We want our rights protected regardless of the impact it may have on others.

We want to be right and we want others to know we are right. We want to get what we desire and we want others to provide it for us. We want our world to work on our terms and provide for our needs.

We’re selfish creatures. James is right in stating that the conflicts that arise between us start from the sinful conflicts that exist deep within us.

One of the most famous presidential quotes in US history is from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Regardless of political preference, we understand the selfless sentiment that Kennedy expressed during an anxious time in US history.

Too often in life, business, politics, and society, selfishness and it’s cousin greed reign supreme rather than the Christ-like virtues of selflessness and generosity.

According to James, the antidote for our selfish desires is found in humility and submitting ourselves to God. (4:6-10) Living together in a civil society requires that we exorcise the demons of selfishness and greed that often motivate our behaviors. We cannot live as double-minded people, attempting to both serve God and satisfy our own cravings.

Instead… ask not what your God can do for you. Ask what you can do for your God.

From John:
I offer a deep, heartfelt thank you to Jon for this series on James. It was not only insightful but came at a time at which a significant break from writing was needed. Thanks for taking on the challenge! May we prepare our hearts to give thanks this next week of Thanksgiving in the US, and may we all look forward to the soon-coming first week of Advent. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.—Psalm 85:10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chr 17 (Listen -4:14)
James 4  (Listen -2:25)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chr 18 (Listen -2:36), James 5  (Listen -3:01)
1 Chr 19-20 (Listen -5:02), 1 Peter 1 (Listen -3:53)

Thank You!
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Read more about Greed and Envy
It is in Christ that we will find the compassion to overcome our cynicism and the generosity of spirit to overcome our jealousy and greed.

Read more about A Christian Response to Offense
Our culture is unable to bear offense and simultaneously unable to bear forgiveness.