Tag Archives: love

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.

Everyday Worship

everyday worshipChristianity Today’s 2018 book of the year is Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. The thesis of the book is to point out that all of life is liturgical, that is, filled with sacred everyday rhythms that point to Christ. The most ordinary activities in the author’s life (brushing her teeth, making her bed, fighting with her husband) take on divine meaning.

I have talked about this general idea in previous blogs, but the concept seems to be getting more traction as of late, perhaps because people are so desperate for something solid and definitive in their lives.

I recently was asked by my dad to put together a worship service for a family reunion. And what I ended up doing was using devotions from Hope-Full Living (Creative’s daily devotional for seniors) as parts of the liturgy. A devotion on forgiveness became the confession and absolution, a devotion on loosening your grip on material possessions became the children’s sermon. A blog I wrote about being attractors to others for Christ, just as certain bushes are attractors to certain butterflies became the sermon, and a devotion on blessing others became the benediction.

Real stories about real people became the liturgy for the day that day, and it can become the liturgy of our everyday. Every time we are forgiving, caring, and sharing, we are engaging in our spiritual act of worship. Worship does not always have to be anything formal. It can be the most simple gesture that points someone to the love and salvation of Christ. Even difficulties can point us to the strength of our God in hard times.

Look at your day as a worship service and see how that perhaps transforms your attitude and approach. Begin each day with an Invocation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Then close each day, as we often close worship, with the words, “Thanks be to God!”

 

The Image of God

image of GodIn the story of creation, we read: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Many have wondered what exactly “the image of God” means. There are several schools of thought. One group thinks that it refers to our ability to reason. Another philosophy is that it means that God is reflected in us in our bodies: our physical characteristics and the way we walk and talk. Still others say it is about our relational nature and the relationships we have with God and creation.

I tend to lean toward the last description. He gave human beings a special place in the world, and he desires a close, personal bond with us. His love for us is on a much deeper and different level than it is with plants and animals, for instance. And God selected humans to rule over every living creature (Genesis 1:28).

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Your Faith Walk

guitarChristian musician Peter Mayer has this advice for aspiring musicians: “If you’re a songwriter, guitarist or singer, do it every day. Let those voices seeking a home know that yours is available. Do the practice, playing of gigs, writing and rehearsing more than you talk or post about it. Fail at least as much as you succeed, and you’re on the discovery road” (“I’m a Lutheran,” Living Lutheran, February 2018, 13).

After reading words, I realized Mayer’s advice to musician here is a blueprint for Christian living as well in our walk of faith. Here’s what I mean:

As Christians, we need to live as Christians every day. There is no day off from serving, praising, praying, loving, confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. Do your Christian faith every day.

Be open and available to carrying out the mission and the calling that Christ has for you. Always be ready to say yes to opportunities that come your way that are in line with your God-given gifts.

Actions speak louder than words, we know. So be people of action. We can say we will do this or that very easily sometimes. But it is the follow-through that takes the most effort and has the most impact.

Never be afraid to fail. We all know stories of famous people who failed many times before they reached success. We as Christians are no different. We cannot live in fear of not doing well and then do nothing at all. Failure leads to learning and helps us to do better the next time we are called into action for Jesus. No one can do everything right all the time. Once you accept that fact, it frees you up to keep trying. And God will bless your efforts in the end.

The Christian life is about discovery. Become a lifelong learner. Keep growing in your knowledge and fear of the Lord and let him keep leading you on.

The path of every Christian will lead directly to a deep relationship with Christ. As Peter Mayer would  say, “Know and experience this mighty love of God in Christ” as you walk in his way.

 

Finding The Heartbeat of Your Church

heartbeatIn an interview in the March 2018 Christianity Today, author and pastor Dominique Dubois Gilliard says, “It’s crucial to find the heartbeat of your church. Your church might have a heart for education. Or caring for children orphaned by the incarceration of a mother or father“ (p. 67).

I have seen this play out in the churches in which I have been a member. One program that may work in one parish will not work in another precisely because that is not where the heartbeat of that church lies.

I know churches in my community who minister to the deaf and have a sign language interpreter in worship. Another church has a minister for families with children with special needs, and makes activities available that cater to those families. International students meet for a Bible study at another church in the area.

Each of these is an example of how a church found their heartbeat and did something to keep that beat going.

So much in the church is about “the things we have always done.” But it is important to always take a step back and think about “the things we should be doing.” It is never too late to start a new program to tap into an energy and excitement among your people for a certain ministry.

In the self-help industry these days, there is a push for people to “find their passion.” The same can be said for our churches. Finding your passion as a congregation is important because focusing on that passion can build community and grow faith. People who are passionate about something get to work and are happy to be there. Isn’t that the type of people we want within our parishes?

Think about opportunities within your parish that you are sensing that people have heart and a passion for. Then keep that heartbeat going by offering more opportunities to serve in that area. The heart of God will be revealed in the process.

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.

Gluttony

gluttonyWe live in a world in which pleasure and happiness are paramount. But constantly feeding our physical and emotional appetites for pleasure leads to one of the great seven deadly sins: gluttony.

Gluttony is greedy or excessive indulgence. The pitfalls of gluttony for us as Christians are that it focuses on self and can lead to diminishing returns. The more we have of some earthly pleasure, the less enjoyable it becomes.

I like what pastor and theology professor Wayne E. Croft Sr. said about gluttony: “Gluttony deceives us into believing we can feed our souls through our flesh. The problem is when I would rather watch reruns of my favorite TV program than pray. The problem is when I would rather check my texts, emails or social media sites than pause to meditate. The problem is when I long for Pillsbury biscuits but not the bread of life” (“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” Living Lutheran, February 2018, 45).

Our desire should always be to please God first and foremost, beyond our own personal pleasures. Our joy, our satisfaction, our ultimate pleasure should come from being with God and getting to know him more. Our motivation in life should always be to be more like Christ, serving others more often than we serve ourselves.

Unlike the pleasures of the world, our joy in the Lord leads to ever increasing returns. As Psalm 23:6 reminds us:

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The joy we have in God’s love for us in Jesus will continue all the way into eternal life, where we will be singing his praises evermore. That’s the lasting pleasure we seek.

 

 

House of Mercy

house of mercyAn article in winter 2018 Lutherans Engage magazine highlighted the work of Rev. Eddie Hosch in Lima, Peru. Part of this ministry there includes a Casa de Misericordia (House of Mercy), a safe place where children can come after school or at other times to be with other children and learn more about Jesus.

Hosch says, “I love the kids. The opportunities here are huge to share the Gospel in a simple way: a lunch, a hug, friendship. All allowing us to teach the children the Word of God.”

This house of mercy works with the prayer that the Word of God will produce faith in these children and their parents and will help them to see Christ’s mercy at work in their lives.

This Casa de Misericordia is a wonderful model for us to follow in our own lives. How can each of our homes be houses of mercy to show others the mercy of Christ? How can we establish our churches as being houses of mercy for those who are in need in our community/

Many programs already exist along these lines with food pantries and clothing drives in many parishes. But what I think is important to foster is the sense that our homes and our churches are safe and loving places to come for help. God in his mercy did not turn people away from his love in Jesus, and we should convey our willingness to be of service to those around us who are truly in need.

I like Hosch’s idea of sharing mercy in simple ways. Maybe it is a wave at your neighbor or an invitation to chat on your front porch. Maybe it is just putting your arm around someone you know is struggling at church. Perhaps it is just saying “You are safe here” to someone who is living in fear.

Several years ago Pope Francis declared a year of mercy, and my recommendation to you this week is to declare this a week of mercy in your own home and see what happens.

Use this as your theme verse:

God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. —Ephesians 2:4-5

Be alive with Christ’s mercy this week!

 

The Gift Economy

gift economyThe concept of the gift economy recently came up in a meeting with fellow editors. Apparently the idea of the gift economy is gaining traction and interest again in our society, particularly among Christians, with speakers discussing it at various religious conferences.

What is the gift economy exactly? It is the practice of giving items to people without any expectation of anything in return. This is in contrast, of course, to our market-based economy and even the barter system in which goods and services are exchanged for money or other items in return.

Anthropologist Marcel Mauss studied these various types of economies within a range of cultures and introduced the terms reciprocity (the expectation of something equal in return), inalienable possessions (things that can only belong to an individual person) and prestation (a cultural offering of a gift or service). The type of an economy that a culture uses tends to say a lot about them as people.

So why is the concept of the gift economy trending in our world today? My hunch is that we, especially as Christians, are recognizing more and more that our culture today is driven largely by money, the stock market, sales and profits. And we in our Christian culture recognize that our life should be less about the bottom line and more about sharing love.

While traditional financial exchanges are important and necessary in a culture, of course, ultimately life should not be about a running tally of who gave what to whom and did those items match up monetarily. Life, in the Christian model, should be at its most essential about giving to others with no conditions. It should be about caring for others as people and not as customers.

The Bible even says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving should be about our hearts and our love for others, not about tracking numbers or keeping score somehow.

Our lives should first and foremost be modeled after Christ, who gave his life as a free gift for us that we can never repay. He gave his life on the cross out of love for us that we might show that same love to others unconditionally and live with him together in heaven one day.

Each day is a gift because of Christ, so we are called to give as freely to others without exception.