Tag Archives: together

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.

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.

 

Gospel Goodbyes

gospel goodbyesI must admit that I am not very good at goodbyes. After spending time with my family or friends at a holiday event or summer vacation far from home, it is hard for me to bid farewell to these people I love so much.

Pastor Matt Chandler of The Village Church in Texas talks about the difficulty of leaving colleagues at a church he ministered at to begin work at another parish. What has helped him get through it, he says, is remembering the what he calls the “gospel goodbyes” that happened in the Book of Acts {“Multiplied + Divided,” Christianity Today, December 2017, 49).

The way that Paul framed his goodbyes to the church members he loved so much was to connect them to the good news of the gospel, that we will be together in the end in heaven with our Lord, who died and was raised that we might have eternal life with him. So it is never “We will never see you again,” but “See you next time, either here on earth or in heaven.”

Consider this “gospel goodbye”:

Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers (in Antioch). After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.  —Acts 15:32-33

This gospel goodbye was characterized by a blessing of peace. The people of Antioch knew that Barsabbas and Silas had to move on from them to spread the word about Jesus. Barsabbas and Silas’ goodbye was made with encouraging words to those in Antioch to continue the faith there.

What a great example for us to follow to incorporate blessing, peace and encouragement in our goodbyes in the name of the Lord.

Now take a look at this “gospel goodbye”:

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. —Acts 18;27

Those Apollos was saying goodbye to helped him to get settled in his new place and made sure he would be welcome there. They did not stop him from carrying out his calling by asking him to stay with them. They made sure to support him in his new venture.

I think it is good for us in our own gospel goodbyes to realize that God’s plan for our loved ones is often beyond us and that our loved ones are doing their best work in the Lord in places that are not near us, but that that does not diminish our bond with them.

One of the most compelling goodbyes is this one between Paul and the elders of Ephesus as he leaves for his mission to Jerusalem:

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. —Acts 20:36-38

You can feel the pain, but you can sense the overarching love among them. I like that the goodbye is accompanied with prayer. It is prayer that will continue to bind them together. And though they will not see Paul’s face again on this earth. They have the faith that they will see him again in the courts above, singing praises to the Lamb, who will wipe every tear of parting sorrow from their eyes.

I am reminded that even the word “goodbye” is a shortened version of “God be with you.” So each parting we experience in the end is a reminder that God is with us wherever we may be and he always will. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Family Gatherings

game nightHave you heard of the popular online trend of monthly box subscription services? Amanda Monroe, a director of children’s and family ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Loves Park, IL, applied the concept to develop faith formation at home. Her online store is faithfixbox.com. Faith Fix Boxes can be purchased by families or congregations to use.

The idea is to provide devotional materials and faith-based activities for families to use and work on together to strengthen their individual commitment to Christ and build relationships of faith with one another.

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The Church in Action

church in actionAnd they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. —Acts 2:42-47

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6 Guidelines for Loving Each Other

loving each otherWe are well aware that Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34), but that sometimes does not come as easily as it could or should even (and often especially) in the church. Because of this reality, Pastor and author John Piper gives us six guidelines for loving each other, which I find extremely helpful:

  1. Let’s avoid gossiping.
  2. Let’s identify evidence of grace in each other and speak them to each other and about each other.
  3. Let’s speak criticism directly to each other if we feel the need to speak to others about it.
  4. Let’s look for, and assume, the best motive in the other’s viewpoint, especially when we disagree.
  5. Let’s think often of the magnificent things we hold in common.
  6. Let’s be more amazed that we are forgiven than that we are right. And in that way, let’s shape our relationships by the gospel. (from the Desiring God website: www.desiringgod.org, August 4, 2009)

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Plans

calendarI am a planner, I will admit. I like to schedule my day and my week and know when I will be where. This is a natural tendency among humans, we can all acknowledge, I think.

But during my recent illness, all my plans went out the window and I realized that I am not as in control of my time and my life as I like to think I am.

When I was talking about this with a friend of mine, she reminded me of this verse from Scripture:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

So I have taken up the practice of prefacing my plans with the disclaimer, “If the Lord wills … ” And I do not find that confining or pessimistic in any way. I am just relaying to others that my plans are not up to me ultimately; they are up to God.

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Beware the Camel!

camelsWorking together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain, —1 Corinthians 6:1

I just recently heard the saying, “A camel is  just a horse designed by a committee.” It made me laugh because we have all been there. When you are on a committee, often what started out as a simple idea gets muddled in the abundance of desires and the incorporation of conflicting ideas.

It makes me think about what often happens at church meetings, unfortunately. The ultimate goal sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of details and multiple opinions. Often things don’t get done in the process or good concepts are abandoned, sadly.

I know that so many times the issues are so complex that they cannot be easily solved, but one caveat that came to mind as I contemplated this “camel” conundrum is that when it comes to working together as a team within a church body, we need to do all we can to keep it simple.

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