Worship is at the heart of the Church, flowing directly from its identity and purpose.  It is both a responsive event, as we respond to all that God has and is doing, and a formative event, as we are shaped and formed into the people who are and will continue to carry out the Missio Dei as the Church gathered and the church scattered.

In thinking through what a theology of worship ought to look like, I do so from with varied images in my mind. There is the image of the church in which I was raised, now comprised of an increasingly aging congregation struggling with changes in society and changes in the church.  There is also the image of my current stateside home church—a large, fairly wealthy congregation with creative “worship environments” that run with clocklike precision and professionalism.  Finally, there is “J”, a young chuch planter in Asia who meets weekly with one new Muslim-background-believer (MBB) and his friend, who is not yet a believer, to read Scripture, discuss it, pray together, and encourage one another. What is worship and what should it look like?

I often tell people when I am stateside that the rapidly changing U.S. context is increasingly similar to my rapidly changing Asian context.  In fact, the principles of ministry in each setting are virtually identical, even as the way they are carried out certainly vary a good deal. As we begin to think through what a healthy theology of worship ought to look like, it seems, there are some basic principles found in all three of the above images I have shared as well as around the globe (even as a snapshot of worship in each location will certainly reveal many variations). 

Debates over what worship is and what it ought to look like often reflect any number or theological (both practical and theoretical) misunderstandings and shortcomings because the way we approach “worship” in the local church setting flow directly from our understanding of the church—its purpose, place, and identity. Three important aspects of such a poor theology of worship center around three important ideas of what worship is not.

 Worship is NOT performance and music

Why is it…that the church’s worship and liturgical life is not more Refrigerator Door and less Rembrandt? Hillsong’s Darlene Zschech is a Picasso of praise music. Matt Redman is a Rembrandt of praise music. But why does every praise song have to be a Hillsong, Integrity, or Maranatha production? Why can’t we feature creativity that looks and feels more like a refrigerator door than a copycat “classic”? Why can’t we embrace more kitsch and schtick and less slick?

—Leonard Sweet (Kindle, 4299)

There is an important difference between pursuing excellence in worship and pursuing excellence in performance.  The aging congregation mentioned above sings with gusto and enthusiasm, although the song leader had a mediocre voice at best and most of the congregants are off tune.  It’s not a great musical performance but it’s excellent worship.  The large, wealthy congregation, by contrast, enjoys concert-level-quality musical performances on a weekly basis; so good, in fact, that many enjoy the music silently rather than join in.  When J meets with his MBB friends on Tuesday morning, they sometimes don’t sing at all!

It is important to note from the beginning that worship cannot be reduced to a level of performance excellence while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the dangers of being either too concerned or too unconcerned with the actual carrying-out of the worship experience.  To go a step further, is it easy to notice that often times in the local church, the definition of “worship” often centers around music. Music is one means by which we can worship, but music is not, itself, the definition of worship. 

 Worship is NOT marketing and evangelism

…being missional is not a matter of taking overseas short-term mission trips, of having a program of missions, or of changing the style of a worship service.

Schwanz and Coleson, Kindle 374

Being missional—embracing Missio Dei and living it out in our world—is one of three core values in the Church of the Nazarene, the church in which I was raised and still call home. For many local churches in the recent past, one of the key questions asked with regard to worship planning was “What can we do to get more people in the seats?” (Or something of that sort). Getting new people in the doors of the church and providing them a “worship experience” that would keep them coming became a priority and was thought to be part of the way in which the Great Commission was being fulfilled, according to Brent Peterson in Created to Worship.  Worship, however, “becomes less than it ought to be anytime our focus shifts from love and honor for the Almighty to an event designed to attract the masses” (Peterson, 20).

The worship time and space of the local church is not the primary (or ideal) space in which the people of God ought to engage the “unreached” or “unchurched” world around them. Sure, some people may be attracted to the authentic and meaningful worship in which the church engages, but this is not the primary purpose of worship. If we plan our worship for the purpose of meaningful and authentic worship of God these things may well happen. We might even pray that such things would happen.  But if we plan our worship with the “outsider” as our primary target, we will likely miss the mark of meaningful and authentic worship of God.

 Worship is NOT outcomes-based

Worship is not about our feelings. Jesus, in his ministry, often confronted religious leaders and those who held religious authority and power.  Of primary concern, according to Robert Fringer and Jeff Lane, in Theology of Luck, was that “Israel’s religious rituals have become actions meant to appease God so God will overlook their sin…they are not actually worshiping God, because their motivation is not love or relationship but selfish gain (Fringer and Lane, 655) In short, whenever worship turns from God to me—what I want or what I get out of it—then it ceases to be worship. If I only worship when I feel good, or as a means to help myself feel good, then I have strayed far from its true meaning and purpose.

Would I be able to show such uncommon forgiveness and unexpected love?  Would I be able to say the same kinds of things that came from his heart?

Originally posted October 7, 2019

Amber Guyger and Brandt Jean

Much has been made lately of the message of hope and forgiveness given to former police officer Amber Guyger by Brandt Jean, brother of the man she killed. It was an uncommon forgiveness shown in a most unexpected way at a most unexpected time. Displays of forgiveness such as the one described here are not normal, particularly in the litigation culture in which we live, where words are closely guarded and lawyers serve as gatekeepers of what should and should not be said. Most of the time, rather than forgiveness, we run in the direction of anger, revenge, litigation, and punishment. Rarely do we see the wronged and hurting move in the direction of love, forgiveness, and mercy.

And I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. And I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do.”

—Brandt Jean

One wonders what his family thought of this statement and the subsequent embrace that he offered to Amber in the front of the courtroom. Based on his comment, it seems likely the others in his family may have not been on the same page; in which case makes his words all the more powerful.

Reading this story and watching the video of the extended and heartfelt embrace, I couldn’t help but see healing already in process. I imagined what it might be like to be in Brandt’s shoes.  Would I be able to show such uncommon forgiveness and unexpected love?  Would I be able to say the same kinds of things that came from his heart? What if I were in Amber’s shoes? What would words like that mean to me?

Pope John Paul and Steve Taylor

Back in the 1980’s controversial Christian musician Steve Taylor released a song that, unlike much of his other music, did NOT ruffle the feather of the religious establishment. Its message was powerful:

I saw a man, he was holding the hand
That had fired a gun at his heart
Oh, will we live to forgive?

I saw the eyes and the look of surprise
As he left an indelible mark
Oh, will we live to forgive?

—First verse of “To Forgive” by Steve Taylor

Pope John Paul with the man who attempted to assassinate him.

The opening words of Taylor’s song refer back to 1981 when Pope John Paul II was shot, and nearly killed, by Mehmet Ali Aqca (see more of this story here). Aqca was sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court and then, in 1983, after having recovered from his life-threatening wounds, the Pope visited Aqca in prison. The photo of the two of them talking in the bare prison cell became an iconic reflection of Pope John Paul II life and work. In 2000, having remained in communication with Aqca’s family, the Pope requested, and was granted, a full pardon for the man who tried to murder him.

This is uncommon forgiveness.

Follow his lead
Let the madness recede
When we shatter the cycle of pain
Oh, we will live to forgive


—Second verse of “To Forgive” by Steve Taylor

Ronald Reagan

A similar story is told of Ronald Reagan, following his attempted assassination by John Hinkley. In a Seattle Times article from 2004, Ronald Reagan is said to have been inspired by the Pope’s actions and truly desired to do the same for Hinkley, but knowing that Hinkley had been found to be insane by the courts, said he “only wanted to do what was in Mr. Hinckley’s best interests.” In the end, Hinckley’s caretakers decided it would not be wise for the President to visit. This was not the only time that Reagan expressed compassion for Hinkley. The President, according to Hinkley’s own lawyer, was ”a man of grace, great grace.”

This is uncommon forgiveness.

I saw a Man
With a hole in His hand
Who could offer the miracle cure
Oh, He said live, I forgive


—Verse three of “To Forgive” by Steve Taylor

Amish Community at Nickel Miles

Thirteen years ago on October 2, 2006 Charles Roberts IV walked into the one-room schoolhouse in Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, took the female students, aged 6-13 hostage and shot 8 of them, killing 5, before killing himself. Read more here. In the midst of grief, questions, and tragic loss, the Amish community did something uncommon. They didn’t point fingers, cast blame, hold press conferences with their attorneys, or demand justice. What they did do was reach out with compassion toward the killer’s family, visiting the Robert’s family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain.

This is uncommon forgiveness.

The Amish seek to closely follow the teachings of Jesus. Anyone who has spent much time in the Scriptures, and particularly with Jesus, will see clearly that forgiveness is a significant theme in his teachings, along with placing the needs of others on par with, if not above, ones own. Vengeance, revenge, and pay-backs are to be left to God. But as Jonah found out, even God is more than willing to offer mercy and forgiveness—a fact that God’s people today, same as Jonah, find that hard to accept and leave alone. It can seem much better—even right—to take things into our own hands.

Uncommon forgiveness is not easy…or natural.

 

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

The killers mother explained in the years following this tragedy that “love just emanated from them.” She recalled one of the Amish fathers saying to her that “none of us would have ever chosen this. But the relationships that we have built through it, you can’t put a price on that.” The Amish community, it seems, understands the power of the “miracle cure” of forgiveness. Some will surely question the wisdom, perhaps even the fairness and honor, of offering such forgiveness. But then we see Jesus, teaching his followers to pray, “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Mt 6:12).

Jesus taught, and modeled, uncommon love and uncommon forgiveness.

Unfortunately, the Church does not always reflect Christ’s love and forgiveness in it attitudes and actions towards others. Christian leaders to not always model the the humility, and courageous love that causes the victimized to show uncommon grace to the guilty. Followers of Christ, in their daily interactions at school, work, and social media, too often cling to their rights, resort to name-calling, labeling, and general rudeness in order to win the battle of words with those who oppose their own thoughts and ideas. There is a reason stories like Brandt Jean, Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Amish community of Nickel Mines make headlines. They are uncommon.

“The pillars of true peace are justice and that form of love which is forgiveness.”

—Pope John Paul II

The “Uncommonness” of Uncommon Forgiveness

“Forgiveness is above all a personal choice,” said Pope John Paul on January 1, 2002 celebration of the World Day of Peace, “a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.” This can only be done by the power of holy love; the love that God pours into the hearts of those who, in faith, have put their trust in him. Again, the perfect example if Jesus Christ on the cross, praying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Forgiveness is all about a potential long-term good even when the short-term prognosis seems anything but good, fair, or just. Violence and revenge are all about indulging short-term impulses at the expense of never finding the miracle cure, never breaking the cycle of pain, and never having the opportunity to leave an indelible mark of hope, grace and peace.

Uncommon forgiveness reflects uncommon hope.

The Pope continues, saying that “Forgiveness may seem like weakness, but it demands great spiritual strength and moral courage, both in granting it and in accepting it.” Some will say that forgiveness weakens us, causes us to lose our place of power, or makes us less than what we ought to be. Forgiveness, he says, “leads us to a fuller and richer humanity, more radiant with the splendour of the Creator.”

Uncommon forgiveness requires uncommon strength.

It was said of John Paul II, that he was “unafraid of the vulnerability created by living in forgiveness, of sitting in total love with the enemy. It was a stunning paradox, and one he didn’t just preach about from pulpits far removed from ‘real life,’ but one he lived right to the end.” Or, in the words of Scripture,

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

—Colossians 3:12-15 (ESV)

If I must err, let it be in the direction of love…let me learn to forgive.

“We bow before you today in humility, with thankful hearts”

Post 8 of 28

I remember as a child hearing the name “Mother Teresa” but knowing little about her story or her ministry with the Missionaries of Charity.  I remember seeing her on television, an occasional story about her ministry in India among the poorest of the poor, and obvious world-wide fascination—love, perhaps—for the dedicated woman of deep faith.  When she died at the age of 87 in September 1997 in Calcutta, I remember a global outpouring of mourning over the loss of this woman whose life had touched so many others; even those she never met; even those who never came closer to her than a television screen or a newspaper.

 In Colossians 3:12 Pauls tells the faithful of one of the first church plants in history to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”  We do this because, as “God’s chosen people,” they were “holy and dearly loved.”

 In the garden, after Adam and Eve have eaten of the forbidden tree and realized they were naked—a clear reference to shame that is quickly understood throughout Asia and most of the Eastern world—God is said to have been walking in the garden.  When this happens Adam and Even—apparently unlike previous occasions—hide from God out of their shame. 

 God immediately knows something is not right, but when God is told what has happened, God does not respond in anger.  No, instead God makes clothes for them, covering their nakedness and shame. God’s solution comes in the form of skins, meaning that a sacrifice of life was needed in order to provide the skins with which the clothes were made.

 Without going too far beyond the scope of the Genesis story, I think we can see that God’s solution for our sin and shame also required the sacrifice of life on the cross.  And in the same way that Adam and Eve put on clothes to cover their bodies, we too are asked to put on new clothes…to put on a new life…to become something new.  We are asked to put on the clothes of…

  • …compasssion
  • …kindness
  • …humility
  • …gentleness
  • …patience

 Mother Teresa is said to have offered a few ideas on how we can practice humility:

  • “To speak as little as possible of one’s self”
  • ”To mind one’s own business”
  • “To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully”
  • “To pass over the mistakes of others”
  • “To accept insults and injuries”
  • “To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked”
  • “To be kind and gentle even under provocation”
  • “Never to stand on one’s dignity”
  • “To choose always the hardest.”

As we approach the throne of God in humility and gratefulness, we might translate some of these into something more like this:

  • Take time to be still and listen
  • Focus our thoughts on the business of God—God’s plan, purpose, and mission
  • Allow the Holy Spirit access to our hearts and minds—to examine, search, and perform a deep-cleaning where necessary
  • Forgive others and seek reconciliation as quickly as possible
  • Love, pray for, and bless those who would not—and do not—do the same to me
  • Persevere in difficult times of trial, testing, disappointment, and failure
  • Always, and in all situations, reflect the grace, hope, peace, and love of Christ
  • Remember that on my own I am not good enough, smart enough, or strong enough.
  • Be willing to do that which is hard, unseen, unrewarded, and undone by others

 Finally, as we bow before God in humility, we do so in gratefulness to all who shown such humility, grace, forgiveness, peace, and love to us.

“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

 ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letters and Papers from Prison”

 

"Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." --Romans 12:15

Romans 12:15

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

 

One of our most powerful tools of witness is our presence rather than our presents; not the stuff we wrap up nicely with a bow and give to people out of our abundance…but rather the giving of ourselves, the gift of being with, whether it’s convenient or not.

Scripture

To get the most out of life you must pour yourself out

A comment on my recent post entitled Perfect Plans and Purposes ended with “…living our lives to the fullest for God to our very last breath, whenever that may be.” (Thanks, Beth!) . This got me to thinking.

My response to this comment ended with a short phrase that reflected one of those rare moments when words just fall out onto the floor perfectly arranged with no need for re-wording, re-ordering, or re-thinking:

Living to the fullest means emptying ourselves fully.

Not that I came up with this on my own. Scripture is full of this kind of language, beginning with the well-known image of Christ as the perfect image of God—the one human who could truly and rightly claim to fully display the image of God—emptying himself and humbling himself to take the form of a servant. 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

—Philippians 2:3-8 (ESV) — emphasis mine

Scripture
Photo by Aaron Burden on Upslash

Matthew and the other writers of the gospels reflect on what Christ did on the cross by also utilizing the image of being poured out. Modern practices of communion have focused on the communal consumption of the bread and juice. Unfortunately, pre-packaged wafers and communion cups do not carry with them the powerful image of the breaking of the bread and the pouring of wine—symbols of humility and sacrificial giving of himself—that are so important to remember and “see” regularly.  The wine (or juice) being poured out is a powerful reminder that we get the most of life when we pour ourselves out, just as Christ did.

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

—Matthew 26:27-28 (ESV) — emphasis mine

The only real value in life, according to Luke and others, is in pouring oneself out. We can try to keep milk in our fridge, hoarding it for later, but it ends up going back rather quickly. It’s better to drink it regularly while also continuing to refill continually. The same is true of our lives.  We get the most of life—our short time here on this earth—by being poured out and refilled, poured out and refilled, continually.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

—Luke 9:24-25 (ESV) — emphasis mine

John Wesley reminds us that God not only sees, but “communicates greatness” to, the very smallest of faithful acts of service (whether seen or not by human eyes). The truly happy, he writes, are those who give their lives to doing good and, finally, that oftentimes those who are seen the least (because they are constantly on their knees before the LORD) are among the chief causes of transformation that occurs.  We get the most out of life by doing good to others for the sake of our witness and testimony of Christ.

God is so great, that he communicates greatness to the least thing that is done for his service.

“Happy are they who are sick, yea, or lose their life, for having done a good work.

“God frequently conceals the part which his children have in the conversion of other souls. Yet one may boldly say, that person who long groans before him for the conversion of another, whenever that soul is converted to God, is one of the chief causes of it.

—John Wesley (A Plain Account of Christian Perfection) — emphasis mine

Therefore, we can understand what Paul is saying when he tells us to sacrifice ourselves not through death, but rather by offering our very lives to the service of God and others.  We get the most out of life by not thinking constantly about what life is giving us, but by giving ourselves fully to the lives of those around us.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

—Romans 12:1 (ESV) — emphasis mine

After all, our goal and purpose is to grow in holiness. The grow in holiness means to be increasingly Christlike. The grow increasingly Christlike means to grow in love for God and for neighbor.  We get the most out of life by living holy lives of love.

He who says he abides in Him [Christ] ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

1 John 2:6 (NKJV) — emphasis mine

 

Romans 12:14

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

 

Bless [show kindness, desire good, go beyond mere nonretaliation]…

…those who persecute you [those who treat you badly, insult your faith and values, make it difficult or dangerous to follow Christ…just to name a few]…

…bless and do not curse [in person, on social media, behind backs…you know, everywhere]

“God’s will is wider than we imagine…and even though we may fall short God’s call on our life, in God’s infinite knowledge of all that can be known God is able to weave a tapestry of God’s will around the decisions that we, as humans, freely make. Any person earnestly seeking to live for God cannot leave the will of God without a conscious rejection of God. Instead, in and through the interweaving of God’s sovereignty and human free-will, the choices we make—influenced as they are by the wooing work of the Holy Spirit—become the visible squares of a quilt sewn together by the nearly invisible threads of God.”

[I found this note in the margins of notes I took sixteen years ago in a seminary course on the history of Christian thought and practice. Don’t ask me why I was reading seminary notes from sixteen years ago!]

You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes”

Post 7 of 28

[Originally posted September 28, 2020]

Yesterday I woke up to the news that someone I knew—a loving and dedicated wife, mother, friend, and disciple of Christ—died very tragically and unexpectedly while on a mission trip in Africa. I thought about this all day long, pondering the reality that none of us is guaranteed a minimum number of days. My heart broke for her husband, her two sons, and the many, many whose lives were touched by her life of love.

This morning I woke early, preparing for a trip later today, and decided to spend a few moments on this blog entry — You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes. Hmmmm….

Many people, in responding to our friend’s unexpected death made comments such as:

  • “I don’t understand God’s plan…”
  • “There doesn’t seem to be any purpose in this…”
  • “God needed her in heaven…”

These are the kinds of things people say, particularly when life ends unexpectedly or when tragedy comes without warning. Did God plan this car accident in Malawi? Was it by God’s purpose that this loving wife and mother was in the car? Or is God weeping alongside her husband and sons at the loss of such a meaningful soul who was touching the lives of so many? Did God not hear the prayers of many for safety and traveling mercies of this ministry team? Or did God ignore the prayers? Does God really need her in heaven more than she was being used in Malawi…and Oregon…and in her home?

These are the kinds of questions we ask at times like this.

These are the kinds of questions that we have so much difficulty trying to answer.

In the context of the Old Testament and its surrounding Ancient Near East culture, everything that happened on earth was attributed to the hand of God—God (or gods) planned it, God (or gods) purposed it, and God (or gods) carried it out. Today, we tend to look to other sources for much of what happens in our world —

  • weather patterns and cycles
  • natural laws of physics
  • cultural assumptions and expectations
  • human sin and disobedience

On a day-to-day level, at least, most of us do not probably attribute every moment as being planned, purposed, and carried out specifically by the hands of God. But when big things happen—those things that have significant and far-reaching consequences, either positive or negative—we still have a tendency to look to the heavens for answers. In such times there are a few common reactionss that tend to emerge. Each has some Biblical and theological foundation; none represent the one and only view expressed in Scripture or throughout Church History.

God caused this to happen —

  • God causes all things from the beginning until now.
  • Everything that has, is, and will happen in human history is by God plan, purpose, and power — this would include human actions, natural events, etc.
  • The “Problem of Evil” — how can we reconcile a God whose name is “Love” with the unspeakable evil, unfairness, and injustice that has been, is being, and will be perpetuated by human beings?
  • There may be comfort in knowing that God is in complete control — “God’s got this” — even when we cannot understand.

God allowed this to happen —

  • God knows everything that will happen throughout the course of human history, but knowing what will happen is not the same as causing them to happen.
  • God does not actively cause things to happen, but God does allow them to happen. This means what happens is still by God plan, purpose, and power because even though God could intervene, God does not.
  • God does sometimes intervene and change circumstances so that certain events do not occur. At other times, though, God seems to do nothing.
  • The “Problem of Evil” is muted, perhaps, but still not eliminated as a God who allows evil to occur is not much different than a God who causes evil to occur.
  • We cannot fully understand why God allows certain things to happen, so we must find peace knowing that we cannot understand.

God knew this could happen —

  • God lives in time with humanity which means, while God knows everything that could possibly happen, God neither causes nor knows the actions human beings, living in time, will make before they make them.
  • God’s nature is love. As such, God always works for the good of those who love God, though that “good” may come about in many forms, including unexpected loss and events that we might not immediately see as “good.”
  • God always works for what is good and best, but God cannot force human beings to do anything; God cannot override their free-will because that is not love. God can, and does, woo, encourage, and lead people to do things that will lead to good and loving results, cannot for such actions.
  • Some reject any concept of a God that is not absolutely and overwhelmingly Sovereign (in control and powerful to do anything). Others find comfort in the this view of God as absolutely and overwhelming Loving, working for good in all things.

Whichever view you lean on, one thing is certain:

“Perfect love casts out fear. It is risky, reckless, selfless, hard, deep, abiding.”

Catherine L. Morgan

The perfect love of God — the same kind of love that God pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—is not a safe, soft, temporary, or tame kind of love. It does not call us into safe places away from messiness and mud of this world in which we live. It does not call us to a manicured life of comfort and ease, free of hangnails and callouses. No, the perfect love of God—the same kind of love that Christ poured out during his time on earth—calls us to be uncomfortable and muddy, to get blisters on our feet and scrapes on our knees, to go where others dare not tread, to see what others will not see, hear what others refuse to hear, and touch the lives of those that other dare not touch.

That kind of life is risky and reckless…and sometimes “time and chance” (Ecc 9:11) catch up to those who live that way. And when it does we weep…we mourn…and I believe God weeps and mourns with us.

That kind of life is selfless and hard. In a world that clamors for heroes, worships celebrities, and is fixated on big & shiny personalities…the anonymous life of a servant is an intentional choice…a hard choice. But it’s a choice that brings us close enough to look into the eyes, hold the hands, and wash the feet of those that no one else sees.

That kind of life is deep and abiding. In a world where the grass withers and the flowers quickly fall (1 Pet 1:24), where nothing is permanent and nothing we gain can be taken with us…the slow, personal, meaningful connections between one human being and another become the tools of transformation that last beyond ourselves, beyond our time, and beyond our small corner of the world.

This is God’s perfect plan and purpose—that we would live our lives being perfected in love and reflecting to the world around us the perfect love of Christ that is within us.

My friend who ended her time on this earth in a place far away from her home on the Oregon Coast, lived a life of this kind of love. But this love was not limited only to Africa. Reading through the posts of those who have felt the pain of her loss I saw the pain of…

  • a husband losing a wife,
  • children losing a mother,
  • a church family loving a valued and loved sister,
  • colleagues and friends recalling her dedication as a teacher,
  • former students remembering how, as a teacher, she had made them feel,
  • an atheist who called her “my dearest friend”,
  • African brothers and sisters in Christ,
  • many, many more…

Each of them, in their own way, expressed what C.S. Lewis wrote about the death of his wife in A Grief Observed:

“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”

 

“Your name is holy and worthy to be praised above all others.”

Post 6 of 28

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

—Leviticus 19:1-2

Old Testament “holy” — קָדוֹשׂ (qādôš) — sacred, divine, separate

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

—1 Peter 1:13-22

Coffee and hello
Hello, my name is holy.

New Testament “holy” — ἅγιος (hagios) — sacred, belonging to God

“Your name is holy” points us back to who God is—God is sacred, divine, and separate from everything else. The very word itself—holy—finds its meaning in God. That which is holy is that which is sacred and divine, like God. In the Old Testament, with its laws and emphasis on sacrifices and offerings, the emphasis of holiness leans heavily on separation, purification, and clearly outlining the difference between the secular and the sacred.

In the New Testament, the sacrificial system as it had been long practiced begins to fade. Holiness becomes more about the Church—the body of Christ in this world—becoming holy. Apparently, our name is also to be holy, too. No longer is holiness defined by specific times and places; rather, “holy” is determined by what we (the Church, these words were not written primarily for individuals) in the places where we exist and with the time that we are given.

In other words, the way we “live” (our words, actions, attitudes, etc) are not determined by the place where we stand (i.e. holy ground or sacred ground), but rather the holiness of the place where we stand is largely determined by the way in which we live as the body of Christ wherever we may be. The same goes for time—a particular time is not “holy” simply because it falls between 12 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. in any given time zone on a day labeled as “Sunday” on the calendar.

I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies…

—Psalms 18:3

Old Testament “worthy” — הָלַל hâlal — Psalm 18:3 could more literally be translated “I call on Jehovah, who is halal. Most of us have at least heard the world halal in connection with Muslim eating habits. Halal food is food with is worthy, appropriate, or not forbidden to be eaten. Just as my Muslim friends are forbidden to eat non-halal food, so we ought not to praise any one any thing above the LORD, who is halal — most worthy, most appropriate, and in no circumstance is ever forbidden to be praised.

Why?

Because God is holy.

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See the prayer from which this post was taken here.