If Kindness Came First

11 02 2017

pexels-photo-969612:00 AM. A deserted stretch of Texas highway. My five younger siblings and I stand amidst the tumbleweeds watching our widowed mother pray over our broken-down car.

Finally, we spot some headlights approaching. We desperately wave our fourteen hands. A red sports car slows, and pulls over behind us. Praise God, we’re saved!

Out of the car climb two of the biggest black men I have ever seen. Media stories about highway robberies bombard my mind. I’m the oldest male—what would I be willing to do to protect my mother, younger sisters and toddler brother?

“You guys need some help?” one of them asks.

After trying unsuccessfully to start our car, those two put their bulging muscles to good use, pushing our car a mile down the freeway to an exit ramp where we roll safely into a gas station adjacent to a motel. Then they walk the (extra) mile back to their car.

Twenty-five years later, that extraordinary act of kindness to strangers still causes me shivers of sheer wonder. It was one of those God-encounters that chipped away at prejudice in my heart, and led me down the peacemaking path I’m on today.

Thomas Cahill reminds us of a similar story where the hero turns out to be someone the audience would never have expected—the Good Samaritan:

“As we stand now at the entrance to the third millennium since Jesus, we can look back over the horrors of Christian history, never doubting for an instant that if Christians had put kindness ahead of devotion to good order, theological correctness, and our own justifications—if we had followed in the humble footsteps of the heretical Samaritan who was willing to wash someone else’s wounds, rather than in the self-regarding steps of the priest and the immaculate steps of the Levite—the world we inhabit would be a very different one.” (from Desire of the Everlasting Hills, New York: Doubleday, 1999. p.185)

In the midst of our theological debating, our crusading for justice, and our pursuit of the next great Christian conference, we’re in danger of provoking our culture to close their ears to our message, which sounds like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal,” because their eyes don’t see our acts of love (I Corinthians 13).

People will never see Jesus in us apart from kindness. Let us be humble enough to learn from Samaritans—from those of different ethnic or religious backgrounds than us. Some of the kindest people I’ve ever encountered have been Indonesian Muslims and Japanese Buddhists, both of whom revolutionized my concept of showing hospitality to strangers.

Or perhaps we could be humble enough to learn from those Americans we’re not likely to meet in our church, such as talk-show host and stand-up comic Ellen Degeneres, who says, “Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.”

Let’s have the humility to recognize that there are people who don’t believe the same theology we believe, but are following Jesus’ example of compassion, mercy and kindness better than we do! I think we should honor them (as Jesus did in his story), and get inspired. If Jesus can’t take us to a higher plane of self-less love than the world already demonstrates, what do we really have to offer?

How about we confront the world’s issues of prejudice, violence, racism, sexism, xenophobia and terrorism with a movement of 2 billion Christians showing extreme kindness to everyone? Wouldn’t that rock our world!

As one of the kindest people our generation has ever seen, Mother Teresa, once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 

By pushing a stalled car, helping a crime victim, or even telling a joke kindly, thousands of people are already out there making the world a better place. It’s time we joined them.





Words to Live By

29 01 2017

readingEvery writer is influenced not only by his life experiences, but also by who he reads.

In a recent fun and fascinating interview on Carrie Schmidt’s wonderful blog, I was asked if I could only read 5 books (besides the Bible) for the rest of my life, which would I choose? Which would you choose?

After wrestling with that tough predicament, I decided to make a Top Ten List of those authors that have influenced me the most. For some of them, one sentence or one paragraph or one story has touched my heart so deeply that I’ll never be the same. And from others I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the craft of writing.

As I share my Top Ten List with you, I’d love for you to comment below if any of these authors have also influenced you. Or go one step further and share YOUR Top Ten!

Here we go!

  • Mother Teresa
  • Khalil Gibran
  • Jalaluddin Rumi
  • Rabindranath Tagore
  • Ted Dekker
  • Henri Nouwen
  • Gregory Boyle
  • Dick Francis
  • David Baldacci
  • Richard Rohr

I imagine some of these may be new names for some of you. You may recognize the three novelists: Ted Dekker, David Baldacci, and the British mystery writer Dick Francis. But if you haven’t read any of the other Magnificent Seven, you’re missing out!

These seven amazing people have given the world what might be termed “Wisdom Literature,” for the depths of their understanding of God, life and the universe. For me, the truest test of wisdom is whether or not the words inspire me to love. I can safely say that all of these seven authors have lifted my love-life to a higher plane, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Yet as I reflected on this list of seven names, I was shocked to discover that none of them are from my stream of faith. I consider myself a Protestant, but have found the sweetest water to come from the wells of 4 Catholics, a Maronite Christian, a Muslim Sufi, and a Hindu mystic.

Some of my Protestant brothers act as though we have ALL TRUTH, the Catholics may have partial truth, but the other religions have none at all. How arrogant we are! As though God would answer every seeking heart by saying, “Join the right religious group first, then I’ll begin to reveal Myself to you.” As someone who is a true Seeker of God, it’s not hard for me to recognize that same Seeking in others, no matter what background they come from. And since God promised, “All who seek me will find me,” (Proverbs 8:17), I can also recognize the Finding when I see it.

Here’s what I’m talking about—which of these quotes comes from the Christian, the Muslim, and the Hindu?

  1.  “In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” 
  2. “When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.” 
  3. “Give Me Strength–


This is my prayer to thee, my lord—strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart.

Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.

Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.

Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.

Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.

And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.”

What is your guess? (Answers at the end of this article.)

Those Seekers of God who have gone before light my path with their words. I hope that my life and my writing, in some small way, will do the same for others.

I want to join Henri Nouwen’s questthe ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

I welcome you to search with me! And to comment on YOUR favorite authors!

[Answers to quiz: 1) the Muslim Rumi; 2) the Christian Gibran; 3) the Hindu Tagore]





Imagination, Hope, Prayer and Societal Change

3 06 2014

Societal change does not come by accident; it occurs because someone first imagined it.Mother Teresa

This imagination can sneak into your life anytime, anywhere.  For Mother Teresa, it started the first time she walked by a dying person on the street and wondered why no one was doing anything about it.  For a young Martin Luther King Jr. it may have begun as he read about St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi.  For an older Nelson Mandela there was plenty of time in prison to imagine what he’d do when he got out.

But people everywhere are dreamers.  Only a few believe those dreams can come true and fix their lives to that hope.  They begin to orient their lives to the dream, believing that if they can live it, others will catch it; and if their community can live it, they can change a nation or even the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about his dream that “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  He began to live that dream, joining hands with people of other races and religions to promote racial equality.

Gandhi dreamed of India being free from British colonization. First he, then his community, began growing their own food and making their own clothes to show they could live independently of the British commercial system.  A nation watched, and began to believe.

Nelson Mandela could have spent his 27 years in prison focusing his imaginations on justice, or worse, revenge, but he chose to hope in a “rainbow nation” for South Africa where both white and black men cared about each other.  When elected president, he chose to keep many of the white staff from the outgoing president, knowing if he could change the culture in his office, he could change the culture in the nation.

But beyond imagination and hope, I believe there is one more vital key that many extraordinary peacemakers shared, and that is prayer.  When our dreams come into alignment with God’s dreams, an unstoppable force moves with us against that formerly “immovable object.”  Study the lives of the great peacemakers and you will inevitably find they were people of prayer.

One book about Mother Teresa is entitled, Everything Starts with Prayer.  She once said, “If we pray, we will believe; If we believe, we will love; If we love, we will serve.”

Gandhi spoke and wrote prolifically about prayer.  He said, “No act of mine is done without prayer,” and “As food is necessary for the body, prayer is necessary for the soul.  A man may be able to do without food for a number of days…but believing in God, man cannot, should not live a moment without prayer.”  Gandhi’s fasting and prayer literally stopped a civil war and saved the nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a transforming prayer experience after a midnight call from a racist who threatened to kill him and destroy his home.  Over a cup of coffee in his kitchen, he poured his heart out to God, and felt God’s assurance that if he would stand up for righteousness, God’s presence would always be with him.  King would take personal prayer retreats, and even when locked up in jail would pray and sing.  One of his biographers would write, “Dr. King taught us about the importance of prayer, not only as part of our own personal devotional life but…also prayer must be a part of any movement for social action.”

Interestingly, the great peacemakers were generally humble people who recognized that if we all are dreaming and hoping for a change, we should all be willing to pray together for that change.  Martin Luther King Jr. brought Christians, Muslims and Jews together to pray for America.  Mother Teresa enjoyed praying with Christians, Muslims and Hindus, stating, “No color, no religion, no nationality should come between us—we are all children of God.”  Badshah Khan, the outstanding peacemaker among the Muslim Pashtuns in northwest India, joined Gandhi’s interfaith prayer meetings and credited his Christian teacher Rev. E.F.E.Wigram as the one “who had created in me the spirit of service to God.”  Nelson Mandela, a Christian, was a dear friend to the Muslim community of South Africa and joined them in prayer.   Gandhi was well-known for uniting different groups to pray.  About one of his famous fasts in response to Hindu-Muslim violence in 1924, Gandhi said this: “The fast was an adventure in goodness.  The stake was one man’s life.  The prize was a nation’s freedom.  If Indians were united as brothers, no outsider could long to be their master.”  When the fast was complete, Gandhi called his “brothers” together for a time of religious unity, where an Imam recited the Al Fatihah, a Christian missionary led the singing of a Christian hymn, then Hindu holy readings and songs closed their time together.

The point here is not that we all need to start interfaith prayer meetings—the point is that sometimes our dreams are bigger than ourselves, and we need to open our hearts to God and to others to achieve them.  As Mother Teresa has said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

So go ahead and dream!  Ignite your imaginations for a better future.  When those dreams turn to hope, you’ll find yourself naturally following Gandhi’s advice, “Become the change you want to see.”  Pray your dreams; let God’s dreams refine yours, expand yours.  And pray them with others who share your dreams, recognizing that if they are truly God’s dreams, they are much bigger than you.

Martin Luther King Jr. was laboring through his speech on the Washington Mall when one of the singers on the platform, Mahalia Jackson, called out to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”  He abandoned his notes and began to pour out his heart to America about his dream.  As he declared images like the following:

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_Washington (1)     I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

     I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

     I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

…as he declared those images, King’s dream became a nation’s dream.  What might your dreams become?