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It couldn’t be! I had to be hearing him wrong. I readjusted myself in the chair to listen more intently, but then, he said it again… “yup, you’ve got a cavity.” My little heart sank. “Actually,” he continued, “I hate to say it, but you have two.” I was astounded. I denounced it in my head, but I guess there was a first time for everything. If this was a joke, my dentist was a cruel man, and if he was telling the truth, then it would certainly spell the end of my otherwise impeccable dental record. My mouth was agape with surprise, so he looked inside again and nodded. “Yeah, one on the top and one on the bottom, both in the back. Don’t worry, one quick shot of novocaine and you won’t feel a thing!” I don’t know if I was more concerned with the needle he would be sticking into my sensitive gums, or the fact that I had finally joined the “cavity club,” but either way, I never thought this day would come. I was young. What could I say? I liked candy. I liked it a whole lot! This man had been my dentist since I could first “open wide” and he read my teeth like a book. "You like the sour stuff, don’t you?” he exclaimed. That was me! I liked anything that made my cheeks hurt and my tongue tingle- colorful stuff that packed a punch. Now, I was paying the price as my teeth went sour too.

Consider, for a moment, the lemon. Yes, I'm being serious! Yellow, bright, beautiful, isn’t it? Appealing and attractive on the outside, but cut it open and what’s revealed? The true fruit! Sour, acidic, even off-putting to some. Sure, we like the lemon when it's mixed in or masked, but I don't know many folks who slice one up for their afternoon snack. Don't worry, we aren't discussing the culinary uses of sour citrus today. Instead, we'll be examining our faith. Friends, when it comes to this... DON’T BE A LEMON! Bear the sweet nectar of kindness or your faith will be pungent and sour.

It’s counter-intuitive for any Christ-follower to lack benevolence. It's almost nonsensical. Unfortunately, too many Christians still do. Kindness is an unmistakable trait of Jesus, interwoven (with love) into every thread of His ministry. It’s a building block in our foundation of faith and something of a precursor to broader spiritual growth. After all, most of us are taught to be kind before we’re even taught to tie our shoes. Why then are there so many “lemons” in the family of God? Yes, I said it! There are too many sour Christians! They may be colorful, even charismatic on the outside (when the time is right), but they seem to lack the sweetness of a consistently soft, joyful, outreaching heart within. What do the scriptures tell us?

“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4: 5-6

Kindness adorns our spiritual outfit. It makes us more beautiful! We're meant to "put it on" when we identity as children of God. It reveals itself (through wisdom) when we learn to make the most of every opportunity. It’s an essential ingredient (coupled with grace) to “season” our words. It flavors and preserves our ministry. Sadly, there are too many who lack this expression- men and women "of God" who seemingly struggle with kindness. It's heartbreaking. It sours the kingdom and leaves a bad taste. It can even rot the integrity of the body. Don’t be the reason someone else "puckers" at the Christian faith.

Friends, the validity of our testimony is at risk when we forego kindness as an “optional additive” to our walk. In some cases, the image of Christ will be revealed (or disappear)- the inspiration of our faith will begin (or end)- the quality of our ministry will succeed (or fail), with the presence (or absence) of kindness. Before we look down our noses or point fingers; before we pat ourselves on the back as "sweet" or "fragrant," let's lower our opinions of ourselves and consider the truth. Let the Holy Spirit inspect and prune your heart to stave off the blight of self-righteousness. You may be wondering, "is kindness really THIS important?" It seems so small a tool in the belt of spiritual disciplines. Don’t fall for the lie. Kindness means everything! It breathes life into the Christian ministry. So, take advantage of this moment we have to self-assess and seek growth. Maturity is a blessing and challenge of following Christ.

Paul Mabilog from Christian Today reminds us... “James 1:22 says, ‘But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.’ When we fail to live by the grace that we profess, we not only fool skeptics but also fool ourselves. If there's anything that's even more unconvincing, it's a preacher who does not practice their own message.”

It’s foolish to try and bear the mark of “Christ-follower” without following in His kindness. Don’t be offended. Just be challenged! Yes, Jesus may have big sandals to fill, but there isn't room to argue. Unlike spiritual gifts (given to God's servants in varied types and measures), kindness is a fruit of the spirit; something we’re equally called to pursue and sow into others- through the freedom received in Christ.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5: 13-14, 22-25

In order to “keep in step with the Spirit,” we have to walk in His direction- staying close and listening to His leading. We grow sour when we detach ourselves from this influence to try and stand alone. Fruit can't last apart from the vine, so we remain in Christ by remaining in His love and kindness. We honor Him by emulating Him. His heart is tender. Can we say the same? To "claim" Christ is easy; but do we wholeheartedly radiate His kindness or just dawn the mask when maintaining Godly “image” seems easier than a heart change? Ask yourself, bare before your maker… ”is kindness at my core or just covering the surface?”

“A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6: 7-10

Do you sow for the Spirit or reap for yourself? You can't do both. Perhaps we perceive kindness as a tiny pebble in an enormous lake, but it ripples with eternal ramifications. Are you rooted in kindness? Are you consistent? Persistent? Many Christians have a skewed understanding of how it's meant to take shape, which can lead to a halfhearted ministry. We limit our kindness to the occasional "nicety." We extend, but still look inward- we give, but hope to receive- we open our arms, but close our fists.

“A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.” Proverbs 11:17

Don’t overlook the depth of that verse. WE benefit when our kindness is shared. While most of us will never be considered "cruel," it doesn't naturally make us kind. Apart from a benevolent heart we will likely yield a sour crop. We conflict within ourselves; the desire to be like Christ (faith + love in action) and the desire to gain (or at least keep) what we have. We can't thrive with a divided heart or succeed apart from the Spirit. We can’t wear two faces. Self-indulgence is an enemy of kindness. We attempt to justify the traits we lack by declaring, “this is just who I am,” but it’s a weak excuse. Our Creator formed us with a plan and even in weakness, we're equipped and expected to mature.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8: 26-27

Do we diminish the activity of the Holy Spirit within us? Even in our moments of instability He's interceding on our behalf in guidance to our prayers. The only barrier remaining against change is our own spiritual stubbornness- a lack of desire- a disregard for the light as we hide it under a bowl. Too many hearts are more “kind-ish,” than unequivocally kind, but is that a true reflection of Jesus? Be fully transformed!

We may try to mask our gossip with sarcasm or smiles or hide our condescension with false excitement. We may try to hide our grumbling at the demands of others behind an image of a passionate servant or dawn a mask of humility while sanctimoniously reminding others of our spiritual superiority, but this is all "kind-ish." Perhaps none of this applies to you, and that's great, but some of this may not agree with the rest of you and that requires submission to the Father.

Bearing kindness isn’t always comfortable. It requires us to stretch and sacrifice. It goes against our worldly nature, but it's a step toward heaven's light. When being kind feels inconvenient, do we attempt to redefine or simplify avoid it? Friends, it can’t be condensed into cordial gestures and well-timed responses. It isn’t found in polite lips that pucker when backs are turned. It isn't held to good deeds or humanitarian efforts that add to our spiritual resumes. Kindness takes true form in outpouring love that resembles the Father’s heart in us. It’s “paying forward” the care and compassion shown to us by Christ.

I fear that we too often regard the person of Jesus as some solemn, melancholy man who walked the dusty roads of the ancient world sapped of energy by the burdens of the human race. We’d be sadly mistaken. He served with a love entrenched in joy. His kindness was a brand that showed concern, interest and involvement in every soul that crossed His path. Why? Because He was passionate about people and enamored with the will of His Father. He understood the power of true kindness and who it would ultimately lead others to. We’re designed to do the same! One of the true treasures in this life is the blessing of obedience to our Creator.

“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.” Romans 11:22

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Kindness reveals the work of the Spirit within us and pursuing it leads to redemption. Kindness lives in the mercy we’ve received from God and how we continue in it. It leads to grace- through faith, bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. Kindness (as small as it may seem) leads to freedom. It sees no color or creed. It compares no status or station. It's to be offered equality, to all, both often and intensely. Can you imagine if Christ discriminated with His kindness? Sound absurd? Then why do we? It's a virtue of faith and a pillar to love. Let us pray for growth!

Pray today for a lighter heart- for the Lord to make you a sweet presence in a sour world.

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16: 24

Pray today for a noble heart- for the Lord to use you, selflessly for all; without fear or favoritism.

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Luke 6:35

Pray today for a watchful heart- for the Lord to realign your efforts with His; to care about what matters to others with a willingness to make an investment in them.

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

1 Peter 4: 7-9

Your kindness has the power to change the world for the better. Let it embolden you to be the brilliance of the Father’s love. Walk in the kindness shown to you (with delight and wonder) as you sweeten the world with Christ. It will show gratitude to the truest giver, turning lemons into lemonade!

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