8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Comedian Steve Martin had a bit where he appeared on stage with an arrow seeming to go through his head. He would announce, “Boy, do I have a headache. Later in the show or in his act he would come out without the arrow and say, “I think I know why I had a headache. There was an arrow stuck in my head.” And while the audience roared at his understatement, he would continue, “You know, it’s amazing how a small thing can make you feel a lot better.” This morning, we are going to talk about one of those small things that can make a HUGE difference.
Think about such things.
It isn’t surprising. With all of the complexity of life, we do lose our focus easily. And with all of the challenges of life, and the infrequency of times to stop and reflect, it isn’t surprising that we often jump to the negatives in situations.
St. Paul’s words, written almost 2,000 years ago, speak to us today. (Read verses 8-9) Think on these things. Put the focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.
Along the Connecticut River that divides New Hampshire from Vermont, it is hard to see the White Mountains, even through they are not far away. There are ridges, left by departing glaciers, along the banks of the river. Called moraines, these ridges are caused by silt, rocks and other debris left behind when the glaciers moved down the valley. They are a collection of junk, debris, Ice Age, which means really old, trash. And this pile of junk can keep river travelers from seeing the spectacular beauty of the White Mountains off in the distance. [i]
Think on these things. Amy Grant has a song…
What would they find if they uncovered all of my tracks? Of roads that slowed down into darkness and never turned back Will they find what they're looking for Secrets, and so much more
What would they find if they searched for a heart of gold? They'd find, sacrifices of time and of money never told Yeah, they'd find what they're looking for Kindness, and so much more
Cause there's so much good in the worst of us So much bad in the best of us It never makes sense, for any of us To critisize the rest of us We'll just find what we're looking for We'll find it in so much more
And what would I find if I turned back the time on your face? Could I piece together the memories that have made you this way? I might find what I'm looking for Understanding, and so much more
Cause there's so much good in the worst of us So much bad in the best of us It never makes sense, for any of us To critisize the rest of us We'll just find what we're looking for We'll find what we're looking for
Haven't we all learned the best life lessons Of fallin' and fallin' down hard If we're lookin' for somebody's failures Won't have to look very far
Cause there's so much good in the worst of us So much bad in the best of us It never makes sense, for any of us To critisize the rest of us We'll just find what we're looking for We'll find what we're looking for Yeah, we'll find what we're looking for We'll find what we're looking for
And what would they find if they uncovered all of my tracks?[ii]
Science. If you need something else – the impact of positivity is documented by science. The more we think on these things, the stronger our immune systems become and the happier we are. God’s instructions are actually what is best for us. It’s how God works!
It just depends on what we are looking for. What is our focus? Saint Paul suggests, “Think on these things”– whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. Focus on what is admirable.
There is an important reason behind St. Paul’s advice. If you think for a minute, you would probably figure it out. St. Paul was passionately concerned with reaching new people, more people, with the love of Christ. He gave his life for that. He endured imprisonment, torture and was finally killed for that. And he knew what we often forget in the midst of the wild ride of life – we are our best selves, our best examples of life in the faith, when we are kind and affirming rather than judgmental or critical.
The very last words Christ utters in the Gospel of Matthew, his departing speech, is to go and make disciples of all the nations. That should clue us in that this is important, right? He essentially says to the gathered believers, “I will change the world as YOU are available to express my life in the world by doing small things in my name!”[iii]
And yes, we tend to ignore that directive both as individual believers and as churches. We aren’t comfortable with the idea of being witnesses for Christ – we know our own imperfections. But here’s the raw truth: Being KIND is being a witness of the love of Christ. Much of the world is so far from kind that when we ARE KIND we stand out – kind of like a witness. Of Jesus the Christ, no less. What Teresa of Calcutta said, “Do small things with great kindness.”
Ask a group of children what being kind means and they’ll tell you: Share your cookies. Let someone go ahead of you if they really need to go to the bathroom. And – “Don’t be mean.” Say nice things.
EX: Author Steve Sjogren gave an example on how we miss the point. A new couple was visiting his church and we greeted them after the service. The woman put our her hand and said, “Hi, my name is Jill. This is my husband, Erik. He isn’t a believer.” She went on to describe her mystical Christian life. In her attempt to impress the pastor, she missed the point that people matter most to God – not one’s spiritual disciplines. How we treat PEOPLE matters.[iv]
When we offer kindness there is a TILT – in us and in others.
For us: It draws us into deeper relationship with God. We are connected by the love we share with others. Perhaps because what we do for others, we do for God.
For others, the kindness can shift how they think about God and the world. We can be exhibit A that the world is a better place than sometimes it appears to be. And perhaps even a pointer to God. Most nonbelievers think that Christians do two primary things: 1. Tell others how to live and 2. Fundraising. When we are kind, when we serve others without judgment or scolding or begging for money we have the opportunity to touch their hearts. [v]
EX. Like Thom. On a hot July day, Thom decided to use his couple of hours of free time to give away soft drinks at a local park. He took several ice chests, cases of water and soda, and cards that explained his drink giveaway. The CBS affiliate in Cincinatti was doing a story on people’s responses to the sweltering summer heat and saw Thom dragging his cooler around the lake. “Why are you doing this?” they asked. “I have a feeling that if Jesus were here today he’d be passing out cool drinks. I like to give God’s love away in practical ways. Besides, it’s a lot of fun!”[vi]
If we can be kind with our words and with actions, we can show the love of God both inside and outside the church. We actually have the perfect tools to follow Jesus’ instructions and be witnesses for the world. When we share kindness, we change ourselves – and change the world.
[i] John S Moore and David G Johnson. Development of the White Mountain Moraine System in New Hampshire and Its Proposed Extension into Vermont, USA https://www.sedhyd.org/2019/openconf/modules/request.php?module=oc_program&action=view.php&id=92&file=1/92.pdf
[iii] Steve Sjogren, “Changing the World Through Kindness.” 37.
[iv] Steve Sjogren, 39
[v] Steve Sjogren, 40.