Hebrew for a Jewish Girlfriend

•March 5, 2009 • 1 Comment

Listing the radio preachers he hears while driving his truck, one of the hospital’s delivery guys pressed me last night for more information about my master’s degree in theology. When he learned that I knew Hebrew and Greek, he made the straightforward request, “Give me a Hebrew word to impress my girlfriend. She’s Jewish.” Never one to miss an opportunity, I said, “hesed.”

Hesed. It rhymes with “blessed” if you say it in that old-school, King Jamesy way. And the “h” is guttural, like you’re clearing your throat. Hesed.

“It means faithful loyalty, a steadfast love,” I explained. “It’s the sort of relationship that God has with his people. And it’s very common in the Bible, so your girlfriend will probably recognize it. God has hesed for believers. Steadfast love.” It’s hard to tell how God will use that exchange. Apparently, Chuck Swindoll and Charles Stanley planted, and I watered. May the God of hesed bring the increase.


Still More Popular Than Jesus

•March 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“Christianity will go; it will vanish and shrink. We’re more popular than Jesus now – I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”

This statement, made by the Beatles’ John Lennon to Maureen Cleave of London’s Evening Standard on this day in 1966, led to widespread protest when reprinted in the United States a few months later. American Christians staged public burnings of Beatles recordings and memorabilia, radio stations refused to play their music, concerts were cancelled, and the Vatican even jumped into the fray. Beatlemania fizzled and the band broke up. But if Lennon was sincere at his press conference later that summer, although his initial prediction about Christianity was faulty, his estimation of Jesus’ popularity relative to that of pop culture icons like himself was and is painfully accurate.

Let me be clear. Christ’s preeminence is undisputed. A BBC poll ranked Lennon the eighth greatest Briton of all time. Eighth. In England. In 2002. More and more people will say, “Lennon who?” as time progresses, especially among non-Western populations. And Christianity isn’t going anywhere. Still, I think these words from his press conference are insightful:

“I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have gotten away with it, but I just happened to be talking to a friend and I used the words ‘Beatles’ as a remote thing…. I just said ‘they’ are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus.”

Lennon clarified that he meant in England, so he was quite possibly correct. Today, more than two thirds of Britain’s young adults claim no religious affiliation. And forecasts based on attendance demographics are awful.

“We meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact and it’s true more for England than here [in the U.S.]. I’m not saying that we’re better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God.”

Nobody wants to hear that the Western Church is in decline–not on March 4, 1966; not on March 4, 2009. But Lennon was right that the messages that are reaching kids are increasingly those of Britney, Lil Wayne, and Coldplay. Lennon was a talented, influential artist who made a largely absurd statement. But no amount of muscle flexing by the American church in 1966 or in 2009 can reverse the Western church’s current decline. The solution lies elsewhere.

GGPR: Charity

•March 1, 2009 • 9 Comments

GGPR, “God’s Great Passions Realized,” is the most succinct way I know to express the purpose of existence. From time to time, I’ll explore these great, mysterious passions and contemplate their transmission through new creations whose hearts, thanks to Christ’s initiation of the New Covenant, long to live them out.

Prepare for Impact

God loves the voluntary, sacrificial meeting of needs. The sense of conscience that leads some to care for orphans or the homeless or the disabled may find its source in him. His surrender of his Son for a needy world certainly does. And his Scriptural revelation of himself readily discloses a heart of charity:

“It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” Hosea 11:3-4

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:35-36

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:3-4

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

If you’re a believer, please deliberate here. Mull over a God who is passionate about charity.

Begin Transmission

A believer is a new creation whose heart of stone has been exchanged for a heart replete with God’s passions (Jer. 33:33) that insists on their expression (Ez. 36:26-27). Community is God’s safeguard to protect this transmission from the residual effects of the fall. Dream with me of God’s great passion for charity expressed in these four areas:

  • Your Private Life. Pray for opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life. Ask God to reveal where your selfishness is abusing gifts that were given to you for others. Thank God for his charity. Study his charity in the Bible.
  • Your Circles of Influence. Continue to exercise patience with the kids. Extend an olive branch to a spouse. Become more aware. Listen to discover hidden needs of co-workers, the cashier at the store, the guys at the gym. Strive to meet those needs.
  • Your Church Family. Find out whether your church has a benevolence fund or committee. Find out who has been requesting assistance and help them directly. Ask your pastor or priest of others who really need some help. Pay attention to who is currently unemployed and secretly assist them. Do everything you possibly can for single mothers. Help children and youth who can’t afford to participate in church activities. Look out for the needs of the senior saints.
  • A Needy World. Pay attention to world news. Read publications like Voice of the Martyrs that uncover needs of persecuted believers. Ask God where he would have you help relieve the suffering that so many endure. Send a check. Sacrifice a luxurious vacation to live out your charity passion in India or Haiti or some urban center here in America.

This is just a list. Listen to your heart. Perhaps you should write these four headings on your notepad or your computer screen and ask God to help you fill them in yourself. But always filter your heart’s leading through a community of God-fearing believers. Then act.

Below are some ideas how a partnership like Riverbend might facilitate the realization of these passions:

Continue reading ‘GGPR: Charity’

The Machine

•February 27, 2009 • 3 Comments

Working for a hospital, I know machinery. And I don’t mean the high-tech diagnostic stuff. I mean the machinery. Recruiters recruit. Doctors doctor. Nurses nurse. Suppliers supply. Cleaners clean. Security secures. Accountants account. You get the picture. And the product? Quality health care.

You probably know some other machine–education, government, business, whatever. And you probably know your product. But here’s the clincher: Your machine and my machine are merely components of a larger societal machine, but nobody knows what we’re producing. Really. Ask around. People spend their days, and consequently their lives, laboring–but with no clue what it is that we’re all trying to make.

How can this be? Why keep the machine functioning? Why keep your part functioning? For a better machine? For personal pleasure? To make your part of the machine more efficient or noteworthy? To nurture the next generation of machinery components? C’mon. All this machinery for that? Pfht!

Hire a Husband

•February 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Many large, healthy churches have abandoned the inner cities to fend for themselves. And in the absence of direction and support, their family structures have tragically fallen into disrepair. Here in the Lehigh Valley, a movement to rebuild is afoot, but the damage is severe.

Google phrases  like “fatherless statistics” or “domestic violence” or “divorce effects” and you’ll see the crumbling basements, rickety load-bearing walls, and rotted trusses that demand repair. A generation growing up in and around these ramshackle structures builds similarly. And no lightweight renovation or feel-good paint job can correct decades of neglect.

A sign of the times, a van proclaiming “Hire a Husband” rolled through my neighborhood this week. Some enterprising handiman has responded to a legitimate need. Good for him. But the rubble of the urban family won’t be rebuilt by paid craftsmen. Rural and suburban churches must respond. Perhaps they can address their own primary concern–capturing the hearts and minds of their dispassionate children–by demonstrating Christ-like sacrifice for the tottering urban family. Wish to God they would.

!Viva el Espanol!

•February 25, 2009 • 1 Comment

It seems that God cares about our unique gifts and abilities more than we do. I hadn’t recognized his concern when I was happily engaging my friend Heather in all of those Sharpie battles during Mrs. Felizzi’s Spanish class. (I even purchased the oversized “Magnum” for those vicious swordfights.) And although I went on to present the gospel door-to-door in Colombia and preach in Mexico, I really hadn’t appreciated his role in preserving my ability to speak Spanish until recently.

Sitting on the front porch of my urban apartment a few months ago, I met Fernando, a really nice young guy who also rents there. And noticing the Santa Biblia (Holy Bible) in his hand, I enjoyed telling him all about our church plant in his native tongue while God helped me with vocabulary recall. And I was thankful.

Until last weekend when I found my Spanish-speaking friend loading a truck to move to a place that “cost less shop,” meaning, “is less expensive.” Bummer.

So God brought back Jose!

After a month-long vacancy, my Hispanic roommate—whom you might remember from this post about a trip to the soup kitchen—is again residing with us on the third floor. I whipped out my Spanish last night to comfort him when our neighborhood lost electric power. And today I once again dropped eaves on his Hispanic television program as it penetrated my room. God is good. I guess he likes to preserve those parts of us that might benefit his kingdom. !Viva el Espanol!

It’s Fasnacht Day!

•February 24, 2009 • 3 Comments

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and although I didn’t grow up in a Lent-observing family, we religiously celebrated the day immediately preceding. It’s Fasnacht Day!

Ash Wednesday is observed by many Christian traditions as the first day of Lent, a forty-day season of fasting and prayer leading into Easter. To prepare for the fast and use up forbidden foodstuffs, Westerners traditionally party. They call the day Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (literally, Fat Tuesday), and many indulge in immoderate Carnival celebrations. The Pennsylvania Dutch, an Amish sect, are more reserved; they cook fasnachts.

Emptying their pantries of the forbidden lard, sugar, fat, and butter, they produce tiny slices of heaven. Much like doughnuts, fasnachts were served with our school lunches when I was a kid, and mom even made them herself some years.

Having missed my shot at Dutchy pork and sauerkraut this past New Year’s Day, it’s my duty as a southeastern Pennsylvanian to consume a few fasnachts today. This burden is mine to bear. Happy Fasnacht Day everyone!