Archive | November 2019

An invitation to messy & excessive compassion

I confess: I have an extreme tendency to be orderly.  I am driven by Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.  Some would say that I am Anal Retentive.  Some would say that I have a stick up my…. 

For this reason, I tend to have a negative reaction—a gut repulsion—to Psalm 133: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!  It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes….” 

I am creeped out by the idea of oil being poured onto a person’s head, running down that person’s head, onto his beard, through his beard, and drenching the robe he is wearing. 

But Psalm 133 holds this out as good, and likens it to the good that happens when people live together in a mutually caring community of faith.

What this psalm helps me to face is that Christian care is both good and messy.  Any way I look at it, oil that runs down one’s head to one’s beard to one’s clothes is messy!  And any way I look at it, genuine care between two or more real people is always going to get a bit messy.  Any effort to keep us away from messiness will also keep us away from genuine care for others.  British pop star Cliff Richard discovered this truth while visiting a Bihari refugee camp in Bangladesh many years ago.  He shares, “That first morning I must have washed my hands a dozen times.  I didn’t want to touch anything, least of all the people.  Everyone in those camps was covered with sores and scabs.  I was bending down to one little mite, mainly for the photographer’s benefit, and trying hard not to have too close a contact.  Just then, someone accidentally stood on the child’s fingers.  He screamed and, as a reflex, I grabbed him, forgetting his dirt and his sores.  I remember that warm little body clinging to me and the crying instantly stopping.  In that moment I knew I had much to learn about practical Christian loving, but that at least I’d started.”

This psalm also helps me to face the fact that genuine Christian care is both good and extravagant.  It was not just a little bit of oil that was dabbed on Aaron’s head; it was so much oil that it ran down his head to his beard, and down his beard to his robe.  And it was not just spare oil that happened to be lying around.  It was, according to Exodus 30:22-33, a special blend of the finest spices: of olive oil, myrrh, cinnamon, cassia and cane.  Nothing was held back out of stinginess.  And that’s how Christian love should be as well. 

Many years ago, Grace Richardson Long shared a story in Reader’s Digest.  She wrote, “As a single parent, I worried about coping with chores when we moved from the city into the country.  However, a grandfatherly neighbor helped me with repair work.  Then he died and his wife was alone for the first time in her life.  Knocks on Mary Lou’s door went unanswered, but she always went to the post office at 2 p.m.  I just happened to show up there with fresh baked bread.  She thanked me and left.  Two days later I was back with a casserole.  Soon other townspeople began appearing with food.  One day Mary Lou wasn’t there, and the smiling postmistress handed me this note: ‘Dear Friends, You have helped me through a most difficult time.  Since I can’t possibly eat all the food you’ve been bringing me, and the freezer’s full, you’re invited to supper tomorrow night at six.’”

How many wonderful miracles like that do I miss out on when I am driven more by my compulsion to be neat and orderly than by a love that is willing to get messy?  Or when I am constrained by stinginess rather than by a love that is willing to be excessive?

What you might get out of worship

After several decades of participating in worship and leading worship, I have come to the conclusion that we get out of worship what we put into worship. 

If we put into worship merely token devotion to God, we will get out of worship a token—a souvenir worship program or a souvenir memory of having attended church this week.  If we give to God superficial, surface-level, distracted attention, we will receive from worship surface-level joy, superficial spiritual nourishment, and distracted serenity. 

If on the other hand, we pour our heart into worship, we will receive, in turn, the very heart of God poured out to us.  If we sacrifice to God our time and offering and attention and energy, we will receive in abundance the gifts of the One who sacrificed His very life for us.

The good news is that no matter how much of ourselves we give to God in worship, God gives more of Himself to us in return, for God has so much more of Himself to give away than we do!

Any gift we make to God is miniscule compared to God’s incredible gifts to us.  We are like a boy thinking that giving his mom a handmade lanyard compares to the multitude of gifts she has given to him.  Billy Collins, Former Poet Laureate of the United States, depicts this in a poem which concludes with these stanzas:

She gave me life and milk from her breasts, and I gave her a lanyard.

She nursed me in many a sick room,

lifted spoons of medicine to my lips, laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,

and then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim,

and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

Here are thousands of meals, she said, and here is clothing and a good education.

And here is your lanyard, I replied, which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, strong legs, bones and teeth,

and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,

and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

And here, I wish to say to her now, is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,

but the rueful admission that when she took the two-tone lanyard from my hand,

I was sure as a boy could be that this useless, worthless thing I wove

out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Psalm 132 reflects the same dynamic.  It opens by recalling how King David wanted to build a house for God.  From David’s perspective, a temple would be a wonderful gift for God.  But the best constructed building for God is really nothing more than a lanyard for a mother.  Walls of gold cannot impress God, for even the backroads of heaven are paved in gold.  Carved doors, ornate walls, bronze pillars, and even golden cherubim are but a preschooler’s art project compared to God’s awesome masterpieces of the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Mt. Everest, leopards, angel fish, and butterflies.  Nothing we give to God can compare to what God gives to us.

The psalm begins with the recollection of David’s desire to give a good gift to God, but it goes on to detail God’s commitment to pour greater blessings on us.  Verse 13 states, “For the Lord has chosen Zion,” and in verses 14-16 God announces, “This is My resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it.  I will abundantly bless its provisions; I will satisfy its poor with bread.  Its priests I will clothe with salvation, and its faithful will shout for joy!” 

All of this serves to confirm that we will get out of worship what we put into worship.  If we give our hearts to God in worship, God will pour out to us in abundance the riches of His heart.