Tag Archives: care

Ministry of Presence

presence

The church is often (and rightfully so) portrayed as a body at work, doing things and laboring in love for the Lord in hands-on activities. But recently I was reminded that there is just as much value in what has come to be called the ministry of presence, the practice of just being there with someone in need, someone sick in the hospital, someone at home alone or someone recovering from loss. The greatest gift we can give someone sometimes is simply our physical presence. We don’t need to say a word, but we are there to talk if needed. We don’t need to busy ourselves with tasks, but we are available if a job happens to present itself.

I thought about something my uncle said about my aunt that her kids said in later years: “She was just always there.” It is a comfort to know that someone will be with you when you come home, when you encounter a difficulty and when you are seeking advice about something.

I also remember a couple from my parents’ church who sat in the waiting room with us while my dad was going through a complex surgery. We were not sure what the future held at that moment, but this couple remained there with us until we heard from the doctor that my dad was out of surgery and recovering. When I see this couple in church, I remember those hours they sat with us silently and also how they listened and responded to our fears and concerns. Their presence made an impact that will last in my memory as a ministry that got us through.

How can you take part in the ministry of presence in your life this week? Maybe it is asking someone, “How is it going?” and then really listening to the answer. Maybe it is watching TV with your mom while she watches her favorite show to share in that experience with her. Maybe it is sitting on the porch with your neighbor to listen to the birds and look at the trees and shoot the breeze. Perhaps there is a friend who hasn’t been out the house for awhile, so you can come to be with them where they are.

There’s no need to prepare for the time with someone. Just let it happen. Your presence alone points to the constant presence of our Immanuel, God with us, who said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He followed the ministry of presence perfectly.

Our Refuge

fortress

So much has been written about this COVID-19 crisis with stay-at-home orders and social distancing that I hesitate to even mention it. But then God put this verse in front of me: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). It seems as if this verse is made for these times.

We have taken refuge in our homes to stay safe and protected from the virus, just as we take refuge in our God to keep ourselves safe and protected from all manner of evil and danger is this world.

We have done all we can to keep ourselves strong health-wise during this pandemic, wearing masks, washing our hands, walking 6 feet from each other. But our greatest strength comes from our God, who cleanses us from all sin and keeps us strong in our faith that he will surround us with his power against all that would seek to weaken us.

God’s help is very present. It is not something old or forgotten. It is something that is real, that is modern, that is up-to-date. We do not need to worry that somehow God does not understand what today’s troubles are like. He is well-aware of all that we are going through and is able and willing to help. We are not helpless and flailing about in the wind. God has things under control and we are in his care.

Let this verse keep us grounded in God while everything else seems to want to make us off-kilter.

What Are We Praying For?

praying hands

In 2017 the Barna Group did a study that asked the question: What does the content of your prayers most often pertain to? (% prayed at least once in the past three months). Here were the top 5 responses:

Gratitude and thanksgiving 62%
The needs of my family and community 61%
Personal guidance in crisis 49%
My health and wellness 47%
Confession and forgiveness 43%

I am pleasantly surprised to see gratitude and a concern for others at the top of the list before petitions related to oneself. This arrangement of prayer topics is, in fact, a good model for us to use in our daily prayer life. Think first of what you are thankful for, then move to praying for others, followed by what is on your heart and mind regarding what help you need from God for yourself. Ending with a time of confession and forgiveness is a good idea, too, in order to move into the rest of our day with a clean slate, a new start and a renewed sense of purpose and direction. May God bless your prayer life this week.

Hesed

hesedThe Hebrew word hesed is translated lovingkindness in most Bibles, but it is so rich in meaning that the word cannot be adequately described in English. Other translations have used the words covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. It is a type of love that is quite literally beyond words.

In a new book from InterVarsity Press called Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, author Michael Card explores what the word means about God’s character and how the word relates to God’s people.

What it reveals to me about God’s character is that he loves us beyond measure, beyond what we can even comprehend. It is a love that can never be matched fully in human terms. It is a love that will stop at nothing to care for us and protect us.

That is the reason why hesed is most fully realized in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus is hesed in the flesh. And he went to the greatest lengths of all out of God’s great love for us to save us. He went to the cross to suffer and die and sacrifice his very life for us all. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” the Bible says (John 15:13). But God’s hesed went beyond even the grave when he rose Jesus from the dead on Easter morning.

Now that Christ is alive and alive in each of us, God’s hesed has transformed each of us to live a new life of deep and divinely inspired love, care and compassion for others. We love as we have been loved: with our whole selves, giving our all for one another in the name of the God of hesed. That is the beautiful plan for us from the heart of our God.

Positive Proximity

positive proximityThere’s a term in urban planning getting a lot of traction these days: positive proximity. The term refers to ways in which neighbors in a community work together in a positive manner to achieve a worthy goal. Revitalized main streets in small towns and parks in subdivisions have resulted from the positive proximity approach.

Churches can be a major player in the concept of positive proximity. Being a good neighbor as a church to the businesses around it can go a long way to build up feelings of goodwill and gestures of kindness down the road.

The church is never to be an island to itself on a street. It is meant to be a part of the action, a major contributor to the needs of those who dwell in the surrounding spaces.

How does this happen? Perhaps after a snowstorm, a church can arrange to have plow trucks clear the parking lots of neighboring businesses as well as their own. I think of a florist that sat next to my church in Cleveland, OH, whom we bought altar flowers from. The florist in turn allowed our church’s school to sell pumpkins for Halloween in their parking lot each October to raise money for ministry.

So many actions can seem so small, but they are really remembered. Just a simple wave to someone who is coming out of their home while you are coming out of church can bring a smile to that neighbor’s face. That neighbor then recalls that gesture when someone else asks about your church. “They’re nice!”

The driving force behind the positive proximity concept is that it can cause a chain reaction of random acts of kindness in a community. One wave can lead to a conversation about working together on a project to keep the sidewalks clean, which can lead to increased foot traffic to shops and storefronts.

It is important in positive proximity to be open and available. Think of the old model of rows of front porches in a neighborhood. Being out and about in front of your church can help neighbors to see that you care about the place you are in and you care about the community. Make a point to engage in conversations with those who walk by while you are putting a new message on your church sign, for instance.

I think of how Jesus was positive proximity in action. He did not stay inside all time during his life on earth. He was more often walking the streets, talking to people, finding out how things were with them and then helping and healing, as we read in Matthew 9:35:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

That is our role as the church, too, to be the hands and feet of Christ and and not just the dwelling place of God in brick and mortar. Be a positive impact on a next-door neighbor to your church today.

 

Pillows

pillowIn the middle of the growing contentious issue regarding refugees in America, I came across a moment of brightness in the conversation. I found it in the story of Pastor Paul Stumme-Diers, of Bethany Lutheran Church in Bainbridge Island, Washington, who had an idea:

“I recognized pillows as a symbol of hospitality. Who invites a guest without offering a pillow? And I found a great deal on pillows at a local retailer. What a fitting way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the ministry of Jesus, who associated with the outsiders, Samaritans and lepers, and who himself was a refugee as an infant” (Pritchett, Rachel, “Providing Comfort,” Living Lutheran magazine, November 2017, p. 39).

The church blessed 500 pillows in their sanctuary by tossing them into the air before delivering them to Lutheran Community Services (LCS) Northwest, which provides services to refugees.

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Cultivating Eulogy Virtues

virturesIn a recent article in Christianity Today on the increasing threat of automation in the workforce, authors Kevin Brown and Steven McMullen highlighted an expression from author and columnist David Brooks, who has talked about the difference between résumé virtues (marketplace skills) vs. eulogy virtues (human goodness and character) (“Hope in the Humanless Economy,” Christianity Today, July/August 2017, 36).

We as Christians are not to put all of our thoughts and energy regarding our lives and livelihood into the résumé virtues basket. Jobs change, skill sets become obsolete and our careers need not define who are at our very core. As followers of Christ, we, instead, need to focus on the eulogy virtues, those things that we have learned from our Savior about showing unconditional love to others, serving in humility those around us and being respectful and genuine toward one another.

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The Face of Christ

face of ChristIn the May 2017 issue of Living Lutheran, the cover included 16 images of the face of Christ from different artists. Editor Jennifer Younker noted, “When I look at the cover I’m amazed that, even though all the images are very different, I instantly recognize them as the face of Christ. Although each individual visual is influenced by its regional, ethnic and cultural lenses, the cover evokes the freedom and salvation we receive from Jesus Christ and shows that Christ’s love transcends all perceived physical differences” (Editor’s Note, Living Lutheran, May 2017, p. 4).

This cover and these comments got me to thinking about how I personally envision the face of Christ. For me, I picture a warm, loving, kind face smiling back at me with a look that says everything will be fine because he loves me.

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Encouragement

BarnabasJoseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. —Acts 4:36-37

Throughout the Book of Acts, we read about a disciple of Christ named Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” His name indicates the kind of impact he had on those in the early church and those he witnessed to on his many missionary trips with the apostle Paul.

Here are some examples of what Barnabas said and did in his travels:

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. —Acts 11:22 

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. —Acts 11:25-26

This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. —Acts 11:30 Continue reading →

The 7 Visible Marks

churchWhat is the church? It is a question that comes up more frequently these days amid technological and cultural shifts. Amazingly, Martin Luther actually wrestled with that same question 500 years ago. And thankfully for us, Martin Luther expressed what a church is by writing down what he called the seven visible marks of the church:

  1. The Word of God
  2. Baptism
  3. Holy Communion
  4. The Office of the Keys (Confession and Absolution)
  5. Called ministers
  6. Prayer, public praise and thanksgiving to God
  7. Bearing suffering patiently

Luther called these the seven principal parts of Christian sanctification or the seven holy possessions of the church.

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