Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

Mercy and Truth

I recently heard the choral piece “Mercy and Truth,” written by composer Philip Lawson, commissioned for the Salisbury Cathedral in England. Based on Psalm 85:10, it overlays the words of the text in unique ways for moving effects.

The text is: “Mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Take a listen:

The song resonates because it reminds me that the mercy of God is always in line with ultimate truth. We can never hide the truth from God, but the truth does not take away the mercy of God. He always loves us and forgives us, even when he knows the truth of our sin and knows that we have failed him time and again. He is faithful and will always return to find us when we have strayed to bring us back to him.

The first couplet Psalm 85:10in this verse (mercy and truth) is tied with the second paring of righteousness and peace, which kiss each other. I find this connection interesting as well because it acknowledges that when we are found righteous in the sight of God through Jesus, we find peace. And this connection is not cold or indifferent. It elicits an outpouring of love and compassion. There is a bond of love that happens through a kiss, and knowing that righteousness and peace kiss each other means that those who find righteousness and peace together have a loving and holy bond. We and God are reconnected through his love found in Christ.

What I like most about this song is how the words are sung on top of each other by different sections of the choir. One part starts immediately when one is done with the couplets and some parts come in while others are halfway through. Isn’t that just like life and how things get jumbled up and mixed together and we are not sure when one thing begins and one thing ends? While it sometimes may seem confusing, the reality is that God is in control and his mercy and his truth, his righteousness and peace will always be a part of our lives as his followers.

Are We Suffering from Chronological Snobbery?

chronological snobberyIn discussing religious perspectives of his day, C. S. Lewis’ friend Owen Barfield referred to the peril of “chronological snobbery,” the assumption that the present age is to be held superior to the past merely because it came later—that history is a record of uninterrupted progress (“The Well-Read Christian,” Modern Reformation, 55).

This assumption might seem laughable at first glance, but upon further reflection I found myself susceptible to it myself. Without even realizing, we tend to assume that we know better than those of the past when it comes to many things, not just religious things. But that, of course, is not always the case.

That is why we often need to reorient and recalibrate ourselves to what is known to be true and right and solid theology. To combat chronological snobbery in ourselves theologically, author Rick Ritchie suggests, “Aside from a rereading of the new Testament, a reading of old Christian authors is probably the best way of challenging our own complacency with our understanding of the good Christian life” (“The Well-Read Christian,” Modern Reformation, 55). Ritchie recommends we turn to the writings of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and John Warwick Montgomery for trustworthy insights into our faith that have stood the test of time.

Above all, of course, it is the Word of God that must guide our faith no matter what age we find ourselves in and no matter what “in vogue” teaching may be popular. We must hold all current messages regarding religion up against what we know to be true from Scripture. For we know that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

So don’t become a “chronological snob,” and think that somehow we know better than God’s Word simply because we are living in “modern times.” As one of my favorite songs, “Ancient Words,” says:

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world,
They resound with God’s own heart.
Oh, let the ancient words impart.

So let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you remember that the biblical truth that Jesus took our place on the cross for our forgiveness and salvation will never change or fade away or be replaced throughout the passage of time.

 

Comfortable Words

come unto meThomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI, is well-known for coining the term “Comfortable Words,” which he outlined in the Book of Common Prayer as a preparation for Communion. Here is what he wrote:

Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ says to all that truly turn to him. “Come to me all that travail, and are heavy laden, and I shall refresh you.” God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son to the end that all that believe in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. Hear also what St. Paul says, “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Hear what St. John says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins”  (Book of Common Prayer, 111-20)

These words of comfort are a wonderful collection for us to remember as we come to the Table of the Lord in gratitude and praise for what he has done through his Body and his Blood.

These Comfortable Words from Matthew 11:28, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:15 and 1 John 2:1 are good for us to recite and remember at other times, too, of course: in the morning, at bedtime, when feeling sad or frustrated or when starting to doubt.

Everything in our lives comes back to the comfort that the Gospel provides. Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross for our sins is all we need to know to find true comfort in our lives and in any situation we may encounter.

Think of ways that you can incorporate these Comfortable Words into your daily or weekly routines. And be comforted by them again and again.

 

Lift Up Your Heads

lift up your headAt a conference I attended recently Pastor MItchell Gowen of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Aiea, Hawaii, talked about the experience on January 13, 2018, when for 38 minutes residents and tourists in Hawaii scrambled to react to a terrifying emergency alert on their phones that read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The alert turned out to be a false alarm, but there was no way of knowing that during that frightening period.

Those Gowen was with at his church at the time asked what they should do. Most decided to run to the basement. But Gowen decided he was going straight to the parking lot to “watch the show.” If this was indeed his last day, Gowen wanted to be there to see it.

I admire Gowen’s reaction born of faith. As Christians, our last day on earth is not something that we should be afraid of. Because it means we will be with our Savior in heaven. It means the end of tears and pain and sin and the beginning of a perfect eternal life won for us through the death and resurrection of Christ.

I think of this verse from Luke 21:27-28:

At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

When the end comes for each of us, it should not be time for us to look down or look away, but a time, by God’s grace and strength, to look up and see what God has accomplished to bring us salvation. At a time or an hour we do not yet know, Christ will come and no matter when that might be, we as his faithful people need to be ready, as Gowen says, to “see the show.” And what a sight it will be!

Be Well

wellWater for Life Haiti is a Christian nonprofit organization that is helping that country in the long recovery from Hurricane Matthew that hit on October 4, 2016. One way they are doing that is by building additional wells to provide clean water to areas affected by disease and cholera.

What I found interesting about the program is that Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, a pastor working with Water for Life Haiti, said, “We are locating the wells on or near our church properties. The wells bring people to the church, and the church speaks to the community about the living water of Christ” (Lutherans Engage, Spring 2018, p. 16).

Tying physical and spiritual needs together is an important way for the church to reach out to people most often outside the church and build relationships around faith. I think of the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well, who realized after talking to Jesus that she needed more than well water. She came to faith that day.

The same thing can happen in our churches when we tie physical and spiritual needs together. I think of the food pantries in many churches that provide for physical needs, but can help start conversations with those who visit about the Bread of Life who can feed their souls.

Parish nurses are vital in this tying together of physical and spiritual needs as well. So often when people come to discuss physical ailments with a parish nurse, the conversation can move to the Healer of all, who cares for us body and soul.

Consider ways in which your church can meet the physical needs of those around you as a springboard into meeting the vastly more important spiritual needs. Enjoy the process and look to Christ for guidance as you help others be well in the Lord.

 

Farminaries

farminariesBelieve it or not, there are such things as farminaries, agricultural acreages where those in seminary serve to promote the role of food in the life of the Church.

In many ways, these projects are fulfilling Scripture. In Genesis 2 God called humanity to work and take care of the land. And in John 21 Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

In addition, Fred Bahnson, director of Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity’s Food, Health and Ecology, explains that when seminaries provide a space for growing and eating food, seminarians are better prepared to grasp the biblical story in the context of the agrarian society in which it emerged (Christianity Today, January/February 2018, 81).

Indeed, a large number of Jesus’ parables and activities in ministry revolved around food (the parables of the mustard seed, the sower, the fig tree, etc, and the important ministry moments of the miraculous catch of fish, the feeding of the 5000 and the Eucharist, for instance).

When we study food through the biblical narrative, our relationship to all of creation becomes covered in humility and gratitude, those involved in farminaries have found. When seminarians see and are involved in the work that goes into growing food on a farm, they recognize more fully that food is a gift from God and something that should not be taken for granted.

In addition, ministers equipped to talk about food are ministers prepared to address concerns related to food: hunger, obesity, eating disorders, etc.

Food banks, food drives and CROP walks are just some of the ways in which churches are involved in feeding the hungry. And support groups like Overeaters Anonymous often meet within the walls of churches. So it is only natural that farminaries are becoming more prevalent.

The church is not just for potlucks anymore! And that’s a good thing.

 

Damascus or Emmaus Road?

Emmaus RoadIn the Testimony column in the March 2018 Christianity Today, Iranian refugee Annahita Parsan says, “For some, the journey to seeing Jesus as Savior is sudden and dramatic like ti was on the road to Damascus. For others, the journey to faith looks more like the road to Emmaus: a gradual realization that Jesus is closer than the air we breathe” (p. 88).

Insightful words that got me to thinking about how coming to faith and growing in faith is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Sometimes we do indeed need to be knocked off our (high) horse, as St. Paul was on the way to Damascus. And oftentimes we need a quieter, gentler approach, as the Emmaus disciples experienced when Jesus inconspicuously walked alongside them.

My personal journey of faith has been more along the Emmaus Road lines. The words of Christ were revealed to me over time and I grew to know Jesus along the way. But there have been indeed times when I literally was caught off guard by a message from God.

It came recently at a conference in Phoenix during a breakout session in which the speaker was talking how hard it was for him as a father to watch his daughter who has Crohn’s disease suffer.

This verse flashed on the screen:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things? Romans 8:32

And I almost fell over.

Tears burst from my eyes and I recognized that I was being struck head-on with the good news that there is no length to which God will not go  in order to care for me and love me. I do not need to worry or be afraid.

God watched his only child suffer and die so that we might be saved. That is how much he loves us.

I came out of that session with a new vision of and a new confidence in what God in Christ has done and is doing for me.

Think over your life about your journey of faith and recall what has been your Dasmascus Road moment and what has been your Emmaus Road experience. Our lives are filled with each and we need to be aware as much as we can of how God is speaking to us both dramatically and subtly. This is how we will grow more and more into who he wants us to be in Christ.

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.

 

A Bible for Everyone

BibleOne of the books highlighted in World Magazine’ s Best Children’s Books of the Year issue was a Bible for toddlers called Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. In it are 52 stories equally divided between Old and New Testaments, conveying the most important parts of the Bible in language that age group can understand, accompanied by kid-friendly artwork.

One of the biggest trends in Christian publishing today is specially designed Bibles for almost every type of person or demographic you can think of. A quick internet search brought up the following:

The Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible (for artists)

The Action Bible (for tweens)

Guys Life Application Bible (for teen boys)

She Reads Truth Bible (for women)

Leadership Bible (for church leaders)

These Bible include such things as artwork, questions to ponder, reflections and discussion starters aimed at a very specific audience. These types of niche market Bibles are important to help people see the Bible not as some stuffy book that is only meant for pastors, but a book that is meant for them.

What I find interesting in The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible is that the word Gospel is front and center in the title. That’s a good thing, and something to remember when we start to cater the Bible to meet the needs of so many different groups.

In all the flashy pictures, cute covers and innovative font treatments, we as Christian publishers should never lose sight of the Gospel, the good news that God sent Jesus to this lost and broken world to save us through his death and resurrection. No marketing strategy can ever replace that.

I encourage you to be on the lookout for a unique type of Bible that appeals to you, but in the process it is my hope that the Gospel message comes through loud and clear within its creatively designed pages.