Month: June 2016

Jesus…DOES

James 2:15-17

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you tells him, ‘Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,’
but does not provide for his physical needs,
what good is that? So too, faith by itself,
if it is not complemented by action, is dead.”

I have a brother in need. He’s not my brother because we share the same parents, or the same last name, or the same political ideology, or the same faith. He’s my brother because the same God who created and loves me created and loves him. Now his name could be Tim, or Bob, or Joe, and his need could be for a place to sleep, a job, a car, or a hot meal. But today, his name is Steve, and he happens to need a kidney transplant.

His story found me through social media, but one thing that stood out to me most was the outpouring of sentiment that his story elicited. In response to his need, his friends sent him good thoughts, positive energy, prayers, and cyber-hugs. But no offers to actually help him, or to tangibly meet his need. Now, to be fair, I don’t know these people. Perhaps they’ve been disqualified from donation. Maybe they are kidney recipients themselves, or are also waiting on transplants of their own. But these comments reflect a common occurrence in our society, namely, that many of us would rather send someone a heartfelt emoji than take action on another’s behalf.

This tendency is not limited to our day and age. Even back in the Bible times, people were keen to offer well wishes to those suffering, rather than to recognize their own ability to help and to accept that responsibility. Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). While a priest and a Levite passed by a man in need, a Samaritan (of no relation whatsoever) stopped to help—even going above and beyond that which common decency would have dictated. Jesus commended this third stranger, and instructed his listeners to do likewise. Also consider James 2:15-17, wherein we see that well wishes are likened to faith without action, and therefore dead.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Prayer is a crucial component in our relationship with God and in our relationships with others. But sometimes—I dare say often—God chooses to answer prayers through the ACTIONS of His people. We will, of course, not always be in a position to meet the needs we observe in the world. But maybe the next time we feel compelled to send someone good vibes, we could at least consider the possibility that God wants us to ACT on those intentions, and to be Jesus’s hands and feet to a world (or a friend or a neighbor or a stranger) in need. And in this particular case, it just so happens that I have a spare kidney—perhaps for just such a time as this.

IMG_0470 (3)

One of These

Mark 9:36-37

“He took a little child whom he placed among them.
Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,
‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me;
and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

At church this morning, Pastor Dave was talking about how God’s economy differs from ours, and how His view of success also departs from the benchmarks this world sets. His message focused on Mark 9:33-37, but I found myself drawn especially to his comments on verse 37. As I listened to him read the familiar verse, it gave me pause. Like so many verses and messages, I first tied it into my thoughts on adoption, and whether God could be calling our family in that direction.

But that wasn’t Dave’s focus, and it may not have been Christ’s, either. Specifically, Dave stated that Jesus had chosen a child for this illustration because in that time, children were not treated with much esteem or paid much attention. It was a kind of revolutionary teaching to suggest that children held so much value in the eyes of God. I suppose it’s always that way—that acknowledging the immense and inherent value of any marginalized individual or group of people would raise some eyebrows.

Dave was talking about what it means to be successful in God’s eyes, and he gave this advice: “Don’t be threatened by others’ success, and don’t be encouraged by others’ failures.” As I logged onto my Twitter account to share this “tweetable” statement, I was bombarded with messages relating to the mass shooting in Orlando that you’ve no doubt heard about by now. As I read the tweets and the headlines, the relevance of Mark 9:37 to this tragedy was not lost on me. I saw outpourings of love, sympathy, and prayers. But I also saw a couple of comments suggesting that this tragedy may have been ordained by God. I think not. At least not the God of the Bible.

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children”—one of these marginalized, one of these pushed aside, one of these mistreated, one of these ostracized, one of these disregarded—“welcomes me.” –Jesus

May we—like Jesus—welcome, invite, and value our fellow human beings, for whom He died, just as certainly as He died for you and me.

2016-06-05 16.40.21

Hemmed In

Psalm 139:5

“You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.”

If you have ever had back pain, you know how difficult it can be to get comfortable. I know this well. And the other night, I found myself alone in bed, but for several pillows, with my typical lower back discomfort. I decided I would try laying on my side, placing one pillow against my back and one in front of me—and of course, there was one pillow for my head. If you’ve ever seen one of those horseshoe-shaped body pillows, this was kind of like a makeshift version of one of those. The pain didn’t completely subside, but I did feel more comfortable and more secure. As I laid there, Psalm 139:5 kept going through my mind—You hem me in behind and before

In my mind, I thought I recalled hearing a sermon that referenced this as a phrase used by a shepherd. I pictured him carefully protecting and comforting his sheep. But I wanted to learn more, so I looked up the verse, along with a commentary by Albert Barnes (via Godvine.com)…

“Thou hast beset me behind and before – The word rendered “beset” – צור tsûr – means properly to press; to press upon; to compress. It has reference commonly to the siege of a city, or to the pressing on of troops in war; and then it comes to mean to besiege, hem in, closely surround, so that there is no way of escape. “

Hmm. So not about sheep at all. Instead this verse is all about battle, war, and conquest. This is not a phrase that most—in that time or ours—would find comforting. One would be anxious and afraid. And yet, even the Psalmist doesn’t seem to see it that way. We can tell because in verse 6, he states, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” You might be thinking, “#StockholmSyndrome”, but you’d be wrong. You see, God is not our enemy. He is not a captor who forces us against our will. He is a loving Father, a righteous judge, and a merciful savior. Thus, if we submit to Him, we can be assured that He will hold onto us, and will act in our best interest. So when you are surrounded by love, peace, and protection, I guess it’s not the same as being surrounded by an enemy. Indeed, that extra layer of protection against any encroaching enemies might bring the greatest peace of all. So God, please continue to hem us in, behind and before, and may we welcome you there.

DPP_2653