Tag Archives: love

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.

 

Protection

protectionOn Dec. 24 last year, on the way to Iowa for Christmas in the snow, the car in front of me started spinning out, causing me to start spinning out. I ended up facing the opposite direction of traffic on Interstate 270 in St. Louis.

But I did not hit a single car and I was able to turn the car around and pull off to the side of the road unhurt.

After pulling myself together, my only thought was that God was protecting me.

There are moments in our lives when we wonder if God is watching over us, but in that moment I knew for certain that he was. There is really no other explanation for how I (and my car) escaped that situation unscathed.

The words of Psalm 20:1 were fulfilled in my life that day:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

Now I find myself much more grateful for safe travels and much more aware of the small blessings God grants to us every day out of his sheer mercy and love for us. He is always looking out for us and I found that out firsthand. Thank God today for all the ways that he protects you!

The Magna Carta of Christianity

RomansMy pastor recently called the book of Romans the Magna Carta of Christianity, because it states what makes our faith unique and includes the details of our faith that are non-negotiable.

A perusal of Romans reveals the following non-negotiables:

The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17)

No one can be declared righteous in God’s sight by works of the law (Romans 3:20)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22)

Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)

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Dunbar’s Number

150 membersHave you ever heard of “Dunbar’s Number”? Discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is the human norm that the number of genuinely personal relationships a person can actively maintain is 150, give or take. Dunbar and his colleagues note that “150 people is both the approximate size of a typical small-scale human village and about the number of people who can live or work together without needing power structures to enforce cooperation. The group is small enough that social pressures can keep people in line” (“Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?” Christianity Today, October 2017, p. 62).

I find this interesting because at a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker said that currently a majority of congregations in America have an average weekly attendance of guess what? 150 members.

It occurs to me that this is not simply a coincidence. 150 appears to be the sweet spot for most churches for the very reasons that research for Dumbar’s Number indicates:

It keeps the group manageable. People do not become just a number. People know them by name. Functions can happen without an overflow of people and not in an oversize room.

It keeps the group personal. Everybody knows each other and can keep relationships functioning. People care about one another because they know them well and see them often.

It keeps the group accountable. People notice when others are missing and can follow up with them. People can see when fellow members are straying and can bring them back into the fold. There is a sense that people are expected to be present at certain times and be there for one another in times of need.

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Soul On Fire

fireplaceOne of my favorite songs on Christian radio these days is “Soul on Fire” by Third Day. Take a listen:

What I like most about this song is the strong beat and the positive uplifting tone. There is excitement and movement in being a Christian in the world that is sometimes lost in our often ordered and mannered worship.

The reality is that there is the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within our souls. And that Spirit’s fire needs to get out and spread to the people and circumstances around us.

And what helps us to release that Spirit’s fire from within us? As the song says, it is our desire through the Holy Spirit to be “running for (God’s) heart” and “longing for (God’s) ways.”

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Even If

fiery furnaceA new song by MercyMe is getting a lot of air play on Christian radio lately. The song is “Even If” and it is based on this passage from Scripture from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” —Daniel 3:16-18

The faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was so strong that they knew that even if God did not save them from the fiery furnace, God was still their God and loved them.

So often we think of God as some sort of genie who dispenses wishes. It is like we are saying to God sometimes, “Our wish is your command.” But that, of course, is not how prayer works and how God works. God knows what is best for us and he knows what we need more than we do and he knows what will impact the world in the most profound way. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is yes. Sometimes it is no. Sometimes it is not now, but later. And sometimes it is yes, but in a way you will not expect.

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Elephants

elephantWe all know the saying “An elephant never forget.” Christ Lutheran Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, used this saying to their advantage to start a program of sending elephant stuffed animals to sick children in the hospital. Each elephant can be colored and written on by friends and family of the hospitalized child. Each elephant also comes with a book with the message that “an elephant never forgets, and God never forgets you.” In the cold and sterile and often chaotic environment of the hospital, the elephant stuffed animal provides  comfort and  encouragement and a feeling of home. Approximately 800 children have received Forget-Me-Not Elephants through the program (“Forget Me Not,” Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly, Summer 2017, p. 28).

This story touched my heart because one of my sister’s favorite stuffed animals was a hand-made elephant named Ellie that she received as a baby from my mom’s best friend from high school. As the years went by, Ellie’s ears frayed at the edges, her nose was torn and stuffing pooched out from the sides. She even went through the wash a few times (sometimes by accident), which cleaned her up a bit. But nothing would stop my sister from keeping Ellie by her side when she went to bed at night—even into high school. Now Ellie has a special place in my sister’s daughter’s room.

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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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