May 4 - What Possible Difference Can I Make?

WHAT POSSIBLE DIFFERENCE CAN I MAKE?
Ephesians 4:29 - 5:2
May 4th, 2014

We are in a short series on our vision statement and I’m dealing with the last section about making a difference.

Two Sunday’s ago, I spoke on us being compelled by God’s love, that is, that God’s love for us, if properly understood and accepted, is that which inevitably leads us to dealing with others in love. I also mentioned that “love” as used by Jesus and by Paul does not speak so much of a feeling, which can be fickle and unpredictable, but it speaks of a choice that results in an action.

The more we understand and appreciate God’s grace, love, mercy, compassion and kindness toward us, the more we will want to act with love, grace, compassion, mercy and kindness toward others.

In God’s case, the most important action is what he did in and through Jesus Christ, the sacrifice that bridges the gap between God and us. But he also demonstrates his kindness in the change that occurs within us – the fact that we do not want to stay the same, controlled by our old nature and choosing our old lifestyle. We no longer want to be like we were when we did not know God.

As important as it is for us to hear that we are loved, words that are not backed up by actions ring hollow after a while. It isn’t until we accept and experience God’s love for us, that it makes a significant impact.

And the same is true of us. It is easy for me to say that I love all people but not act upon it. Words can be cheap. It isn’t until my words are backed up by my actions in cases where I can in fact make a difference, that others will recognize this.

4:29 Do not allow an evil word to come out of your mouths but only a good word which builds up the one who needs it and benefits the one who hears it. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, who sealed you for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, rage, anger, screaming, slander as well as anything hateful.
32 Be kind to one another, let your hearts be tender toward others, and forgive others just as God in Christ also forgave you. 5:1 As God’s beloved children, imitate Him 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for you, a pleasing offering and a sacrifice to God.

In our passage, there are a number of related injunctions with regard to how we are to speak to and treat others. The most succinct is found in 5:1 – Live a life of love. This is a direct reflection of Jesus’ teaching about the summation of God’s will when it comes to how we treat others:

Love your neighbour as you do yourself.
Matthew 22:39

Our passage also reminds us that our actions toward others should be based on God’s actions toward us. We forgive others as God forgave us. This can be expanded to say what Jesus did:

Be merciful toward others just as your (heavenly) Father is merciful toward you. Luke 6:36

Jesus could just as easily have said, “be compassionate toward others just as your heavenly father is compassionate toward you,” or “be kind toward others just as your heavenly father is kind toward you.”

Our passage can be broken down into four main points:

1. Encouraging Words Prove My Love For Others 4:29

I could preach 100 sermons on the power of words. What we say to ourselves has a profound impact on the kind of person we are.

What we say to others has a profound impact on others. It can tear them down or build them up. It can make them feel good about themselves or doubt themselves. Our whole lives can be directed by what someone said to us.

Despicable Me - Gru’s mother voiced by Julie Andrews?

As a boy, Gru was desperately looking for his mom’s approval but not getting it. Some of us know what that is like. You wonder how his life would have been different if she had actually acknowledged and furthered her sons’ genius.

Paul seems to be saying that we shouldn’t even allow ONE word that tears someone down pass from our lips. Given our human nature, that’s a pretty high order to fill.

So when we speak, we should ask ourselves whether or not what we are saying is uplifting or not, whether it really is for the benefit of the other person, or simply to position ourselves, make us look better, boost our own ego or perhaps negative disposition.

2. A Gentle Disposition Proves My Love For Others 4:31

Paul gives us a list of emotions that center around a negative and aggressive and hurtful anger and lack of forgiveness. This result in:

negative coping mechanisms like flying into a rage and screaming
negative feelings like resentment and bitterness, and
hateful actions like slandering others, making them look bad in the eyes of others.

Even though this is a staged scene, the emotions we feel when looking at it are not good.

Paul doesn’t tell us in our verses the reasons why a person may have an unforgiving and angry disposition or particular steps that can be used to overcome such an attitude.

He does say that remaining an angry, spiteful and hurtful person grieves the Holy Spirit (v.30). In other words, he seems to take for granted that believers are able to receive the emotional healing and wholeness from the indwelling Spirit that will enable them to deal positively with the hurt received from others, and be able to choose to react differently.

And the kind of words that came to mind when I considered the opposite of reacting with rage or anger, is someone who is able to remain gentle, calm, at peace even when things do not go as anticipated or expected – the hot-water tank breaks, another person does not act according to our wishes, a job is lost, ….

3. A Kind Disposition Proves My Love For Others 4:32

The opposite of an angry disposition is one that reacts with kindness toward others. What I mean is others are not considered an annoyance, an imposition, an opportunity to demonstrate our superiority, those who need to be corrected and told off. Our whole mindset when it comes to others is completely different.

Paul mentions three interrelated points in v.32.

Being kind
(understanding; giving the other the benefit of the doubt)
Being compassionate
(soft hearted)
Being God-like
(forgiving) –

Perhaps the last point is where Alexander Pope got his saying that to err is human but to forgive is divine.

We are to be the ones who recognize how broken people can be … who recognizes that everyone messes up from time to time; who extend grace and forgiveness. Others don’t have to change our circumstances … instead our very attitude toward others changes the situations we find ourselves in. We don’t expect others to change. Instead, simply because of our attitudes we are the change – we are the agent that produces the change.

So we return full circle to where we started, love as caring actions.

4. Caring Actions Prove My Love For Others 5:1-2

All believers should living a life of love, Paul writes, in imitation of Jesus’ sacrificial love. A weekend lecture on love won’t have the same kind of impact than love demonstrated.

When you show kindness to a stranger, they will be surprised because that is not how people normally act. In human society, it is more common to look out for number one. So Jesus told us that those who seek God, who follow him are a light to the world, are flavourable salt.

In that context, Jesus said,

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good actions and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Anyone who is the salt and light that Jesus spoke about, will act with kindness and compassion toward others. And when others see these acts of kindness and compassion, AND they are aware that in part the motivation to do good comes from God’s love, then they will give God credit – or, as Jesus put it, they will glorify God.

There’s a secular movement in North America called Random Acts of Kindness. That’s wonderful, we can never have too much kindness. However an act of kindness could simply be done to make ourselves look good or feel good. In other words, people will give us the credit.

While we may not have to tell those we help that we are doing what we are as the result of God’s work within us, especially if it something we just started or is a one-off. However, those who see our acts of kindness on a regular basis will need to hear.

a. Love lived out will cost us something

When we give from ourselves to someone else it may or may not cost us money, emotional strength or effort, but it will always cost us time and energy.

By the way, we may not have the emotional fortitude or financial resources to help out from time to time … but that does not mean that there isn’t something we can do.

Edward Hale (American Author and Minister who died 105 years ago), wrote something that resonated with me.

I am only one, but still, I am one. I cannot do everything. But I can do something. And (just) because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

We may not be someone like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther, but that does not mean that we cannot make a difference.

For example, one young Egyptian man was haunted by the image of Khaled Said who, for no reason, was beaten to death by the police. He started a facebook page “we are all Khaled Said,” that eventually started the Egyptian revolution in which the President relinquished his powers.

Most people don’t have the time into making those kind of initiatives, but everyone can touch the lives around them with small, daily acts of kindness. They may seem insignificant compared to the darkness in the world, the problems faced by so many, but the impact on the person whose life is touched may be profound.

I don’t know if this is a true story, but I heard it told that some construction workers were building a high rise across the street from a hospital. As they were working on the 3rd floor they noticed a little girl standing in the 3rd floor window of the hospital watching them work.
One day they looked across & saw the little girl hold up a poster that said, "My name is Lisa. What are your names?"
So the following day the construction workers came back with some poster board & magic markers, & they all wrote down their names. "My name is Bob. My name is Bill. My name is John. How old are you?"
The next day the little girl held up a sign that said, "I am 7 years old. How old are you?"
Well, this went on for several days. But one day they noticed that Lisa wasn’t at her usual place in the window. So at break time one of the workers called the hospital & asked for a third floor nurse. He asked if she could tell him anything at all about Lisa.
The nurse said that Lisa had taken a turn for the worse & was now in Intensive Care. So the workers pooled their money & bought some flowers & a card & wrote a note on it, & sent it to Lisa in Intensive Care.
Several days passed by, & then another sign appeared at the window, "Lisa passed away. Thank you for caring!"

I think it was Mother Theresa who said that all of us may not be able to do great things, but all of us can do small things with great love.

Good intentions are not enough

THE SMALLEST ACT OF KINDNESS (is worth more than the grandest intentions)

Any person can make a difference even with small, daily acts of kindness. We can do the extraordinary simply in the little things we do for others as long as we do it in love.

Here are just a few suggestions that can make a real difference:

1. Get energized

We need to do things that fill up our emotional and physical and spiritual batteries. If we don’t, we do not have the wherewithal and strength to be much good to anyone.

2. Smile

Smile at people. I know most of us do not go around with a grin on our face, but whenever we interact with others, the most positive signal we can give them is a smile. A simple smile can be the best thing that happens to some people in their day.

3. Focus on the best in people

Rather than always focused on the worst. Be thankful for others despite the fact that they can be frustrating. Try a one month fast on criticism.

4. Treat others with respect

No matter how grumpy we are, no one, not even a person in our families, deserves to be treated with contempt.

5. Show up

We can support and help another person better when we are physically present rather than absent. When we show up, we can make a difference in the lives of others.

It can be something as trivial as going to our kid’s game, spending time with coworkers, visiting a friend, or going for a walk with a family member.

6. Be hospitable

Have people over at your home. If you have the resources, invite them out for lunch.

7. Really listen

Listening is not just waiting for the other person to stop talking so that we can grab the attention.
It isn’t half-paying attention (game and your wife speaks).

Really listening to another person is seeking to understand what is going on with that person. It is an act of love and one of the greatest compliments you can give people. You may make the difference of a lifetime.

8. Look for opportunities

We can easily be self-absorbed, consumed with ourselves and our problems and our pursuits, so that others and their struggles can become irrelevant to us.

In that case, we no longer notice when someone could receive some kindness or a helping hand. I believe that is why every believer should be looking every day for opportunities, whether that be at work, at school, in our neighbourhood, or across the world, to do something good, to help someone, to encourage someone to be kind to someone.

As such, we are committing intentional acts of kindness.

9. Get involved

Some people go through life as spectators. They are not really in the game outside of work commitments. This can be unofficially, in the context of our family and friends … or it can be an official commitment.

10. Volunteer

We can volunteer within the church or in some other organization outside the church. We can volunteer to help people in our community of faith or our community at large.

I think that our faith is in trouble whenever we say that we’ve done our bit and now no longer have to. Our faith is in trouble when we think we have arrived because we are financially secure. I think our faith is in trouble when we have become desensitized to injustice, poverty and suffering. I think our faith is in trouble when we think everyone receives what’s coming to them.

So, I think we all need to be on a mission.

WHAT IS YOUR MISSION

So what mission are you on?