When a first-time camper arrives at our camp, what’s the most important trait they should encounter from our staff? Kindness. And of course, the best way to doom a child’s time at camp (or school) is to encounter unkindness. Jesus, the founder of our faith, our Lord and Savior— was kind. My friends, there’s no denying it, and He had a lot more excuses and reasons for “repressed emotions” that could have been used to be cruel, spiteful, and unkind. But He was the epitome of what a man or woman should be regarding how to treat others. Yep, He was, at times, angry. He called some people “snakes” and turned over some tables in righteous rage. But there’s no place. He is recorded as yelling at anyone, slapping them, humiliating them, being impatient, or trying to make someone feel small.
Jesus taught in absolute terms we were expected to abide in Him and be kind—-especially to those that are not kind to us. Kindness is essential for a positive camp experience. Particularly with the first-time camper, camps need to overflow with kindness. I saw and enjoyed kindness when I was a child, but I also recall some of the meanest, seemingly heartless men in the world in pulpits…. and as deacons of the church I attended when I was a boy. I was more afraid of our pastor as a child than inspired. “Nice” was not a word to describe him or the other pastors I worked under in college and graduate school. As a camp director, the last thing I want to be known for would be unkindness! How totally unlike Christ that would be.
Paul said: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7... And later, he wrote: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12
Our heavenly Father is a kind Being—-aren’t we glad! Thank goodness He doesn’t treat you and me like we treat others! God once told the prophet, Isaiah, “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness, I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer.” Isaiah 54:8. Yes, God gets angry with us at times, but His kindness is everlasting—and that’s how we’re supposed to live towards others we occasionally get angry with. Perhaps we get angry for a moment at our children, spouse, or neighbor….perhaps; but we must have an eternal heart of compassion and kindness for them. Paul said, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”Galatians 6:10. That means we’re supposed to be nice to each other at every opportunity.
Men and women know what kindness is and what meanness is—-and we can all tell when
someone’s faking their kindness and when it is genuine. The people on the island where Paul and his companions were shipwrecked were not Christians, but they still grasped the value of kindness and exercised it. Luke tells us: “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” Acts 28:2. For crying out loud, if pagans can be kind, why can’t Christians?!
Jesus famously said: ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’”… and that is exactly what my hero of the middle ages did—-literally. His name was Francis of Assisi.
What’s always impressed me about Saint Francis is that he lived what others talked about living. Jesus spoke about these lofty ideas of selling all you had and following Him…..or blessing those that cursed you…..or seeking first God’s Kingdom and trusting Him with the rest….or not worrying about what you will eat or wear or where you will live. Saint Francis did it -he lived the beatitudes. He believed Jesus literally—-in a way no other Christians do.
With the mission of rebuilding churches around Italy reigning supreme in Francis’s mind, he exchanged cloth from his wealthy father’s shop for money for reconstruction purposes. This angered Francis’s father, who brought him to the local bishop. The bishop asked Francis to give his father the money back. In response, Francis stripped the clothes off of his body and gave his father the money back. He then proclaimed that the only father he now recognized was God.
Francis was constantly striving to attain spiritual perfection. It was common for him to preach in five different villages per day, providing ordinary people with a unique, personal, emotional perspective on Christianity. He gained thousands of followers along the way. These followers attended Francis’ poignant sermons and followed his way of life, eventually coming to be known as Franciscan friars.
Saint Francis passed away on October 3, 1226, due to complications regarding his rapidly declining health. I could tell you many stories I’ve read of Francis, but my point is simply that he believed it was possible to live the life Jesus taught us to live. It was not the eloquence of his little sermons that has resulted in millions coming to Christ over the past 1000 years because of him, but his humble devotion to Jesus and his unsurpassed kindness to people—-and even to animals.
The best means of us helping the new campers is by showing kindness. It was said that early in Saint Francis’ mission, the single event that brought him to his knees was seeing a beggar, covered with leprosy, begging for some kindness and help. Francis was moved, kissed the man’s feet, and emptied his pockets of all his money. And when he rose and turned around for a moment, the leper vanished, and Francis believed it was not a leper’s feet he had kissed but the feet of Jesus. Whether the story is accurate or not doesn't matter to me—-the truth does. Staff at our camp represent the face, hands, and hearts of Jesus to the campers from the day they arrive until they depart.
Are you living a life of kindness? Are you a walking testimony that the beatitudes can be lived out on this earth? By being kind, you’re not only a proper member of His church, but people will be
drawn to Jesus Christ because of you——just like they were, by the thousands, while Francis of Assisi lived.
Here’s the secret to learning to be kind: love people more than they deserve. Don’t give them what they deserve; Give them more—-and watch and see how God does the same for you.
Let me point out three things:
To be kind, you must first forgive those that have injured or angered you. Forgive them…from the heart.
To be kind, you must. Believe that it is possible to live as Jesus told us to live. He wasn’t setting us up for failure, frustration, and despair by teaching what He taught. He was setting the groundwork for an abundant, joy-filled life. Believe it.
To be kind, you must surrender to Him. When He speaks to you, as He did to Francis—-listen. Realize that you will never be as kind as you were created to be until you surrender your heart to Him and ask Him to teach you how to love, forgive, and show kindness. But once you surrender to Him and fall in love with Jesus Christ, as Francis did, you cannot stop the kindness from springing forth….