If you’ve spent much time at all around the Church, you probably have a bone to pick. Or two. Or ten.
Yours might be a collection of smaller bones—the ill-timed word of a fellow congregant, a disagreement with the leadership over certain details, a misunderstanding that really doesn’t matter that much.
Or you might be carrying around a femur-sized wrong—the biggest bone in the body—a blatant display of brokenness, a searing sin committed by someone, a deep and festering wound.
On a broader scale, if you’ve been paying any attention to the religious news recently, you are probably bothered—even greatly grieved—at the repeated and relentless wrongs that are occurring and being reported from within the Church.
Of course, we all know that sin in the Church is as old as the Church itself. But in this Information Age—for better and for worse—our collective fallenness is on ever-increasing exhibition.
How do we even begin to respond and heal?
Last week I shared some of our story regarding Peter’s stroke, and I gave witness to one of the clear certainties that has continuously come shining through—the sovereignty of God—His “just on time” control over the concerns of our lives.
Today I want to testify to another truth—the kindness and care that His people can give—to one another and to the world—as a reflection of the love that He Himself gives and He alone is.
I do this—not to diminish or downplay the serious sins with which the Church must reckon—but to offer another also-true narrative and something to which we should aspire.
On Friday, October 5, 2018—eight days before Peter’s stroke—the women’s ministry at our church hosted a ladies’ night out. A pastor’s wife from a nearby congregation came to share the story of the most difficult season of her life. She gave witness to how God had carried her through—His providence and sovereignty and grace in the midst of horrific pain. But, she confessed, her church body at the time did not walk with her well. She felt abandoned, and even shunned, when she needed them most.
So she challenged our women to do better, to care for one another well—certainly in seasons of crisis, but also…all of the time.
The very next day—Saturday, October 6—I myself spoke at a women’s event—a one-day ladies’ retreat for another local church. My subject was the woman with the hemorrhage in Mark chapter 5 and the healing power of Christ. I spoke of her physical healing, of course, but I also underscored the social, mental, and spiritual healing that Jesus brought to her life—the same complete healing that He longs to give to each of us.
And I, too, talked about how we must come alongside one another in times of trial and be conduits for His grace.
At one point, I even made a wry joke: “Last night the women at my church talked about God’s sovereignty in pain and how we can support each other in the midst of it. Today I’m here, talking with you about the very same themes….I don’t know what God’s preparing me for….”
Ha, ha, ha…
One week later—Saturday, October 13—Peter had his stroke.
And we suddenly needed the Church like we have rarely needed them before.
Last week I also shared that I have been—providentially—spending time again in the book of Ruth.
While God’s sovereignty is one of the narrative’s main themes, an equally powerful truth woven throughout the story is hesed.
Hesed is a powerful and complex Hebrew concept that cannot be accurately conveyed with just one English word. “[It] connotes altogether the notions of covenantal loyalty, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, mercy, love, and compassion” (K. Lawson Younger). It is used throughout Scripture—and in Ruth, in particular—to describe both human-to-human and divine-to-human relationships.
Relationship is key to hesed. Hesed springs from and is based on relationship, usually a long-standing and binding and covenantal relationship. Hesed does have an emotive quality, but it is fundamentally something we do.
“[Hesed] is performed for a situationally weaker person by a situationally more powerful person…It is a voluntary act of extraordinary mercy or generosity, a ‘going beyond the call of duty’” (Younger).
Of the 246 times that hesed is seen in Scripture, it is Yahweh by far who models it most. He IS hesed; He cannot be otherwise. In fact, in Exodus 34 when God describes Himself to Moses—“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands…”—He uses hesed not once, but twice. God, by His own description, is hesed hesed.
Then—as the book of Ruth demonstrates over and over with its many examples of hesed—as we receive the hesed of God, we are then able to show His hesed to others.
I have had my own bones to pick with the Church over the years—some small and some large. I’ve been a part of her for all of my life, so there have been many opportunities for wrongs to be committed—by me and toward me.
But here’s what I want to give witness to today: The hesed of God’s people and how He used His Church in so many ways to show us His own hesed for us.
I could not even attempt to compose an exhaustive list of the ways that we have been loved. So here is simply a sampling:
Our pastor and his wife arrived at the hospital less than an hour after we did, bringing food and prayer and their presence.
That first week, while I was at the hospital with Peter, multiple friends welcomed my kids into their homes and loved them well.
One friend left a bag of freezer meals on my doorstep almost immediately after the stroke happened. And many, many friends since then have brought and sent us meals. Even some of our precious Bible college students made us food—multiple times.
People sent gift cards and monetary gifts and gift baskets with all sorts of goodies.
One friend said, “Can I come over and clean your house?”
Another friend mowed our lawn. Others raked our leaves and shoveled our walk.
An elder came and prayed with us. Our worship leader came and had communion with us at Peter’s bedside.
Our colleagues covered all of our classes, doing much of our work on top of their own.
The new school where our kids were suddenly enrolled bent over backwards to make the transition smooth for all of us.
And perhaps the most important of all were the cards and texts and emails and messages that His people were praying. We have—without a doubt—been sustained by those prayers. And we covet continued prayer as Peter starts back to his teaching responsibilities next week.
As we have received such hesed these past three months, we are simultaneously immensely grateful and humbled. We have experienced the great hesed of our God in new and powerful ways—in part, through the hesed of His people.
And we are also challenged—challenged to be better conduits for God’s hesed to the people He puts in our lives.
May I be so bold as to challenge you to the same?
Look for His hesed in your own life. Receive it. Relish it. Remember it. Give witness to it—relentlessly.
Then look for opportunities to pass it on. Look for ways to show hesed to other people—both in the Church and in your broader community. Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t wait until it’s easy. Don’t talk or excuse yourself out of it. If you sense the Spirit’s prompting, be bold—step up and step in—and just do it!
As a practical side note, may I also say this…
Many people have said to me these past three months: “Let me know how I can help.” Or they have asked, “Do you need anything?” And I absolutely know their offers are sincere and loving and well-intentioned. Certainly, I myself have uttered those same sentences many, many times.
But I have been reminded in this season that, when people are in crisis or pain, they will most likely NOT reach out and respond to such a suggestion. They probably won’t have the energy or the brain space or the emotional capacity to make a call. They might not even know what they need. It is highly unlikely that they will text you and ask you to make them dinner. But if you just show up at their home with a hot meal, you bet they will be grateful and blessed.
So, Church, let’s be better—better at recognizing and publicly proclaiming the hesed of God wherever we see it—and better at extending that hesed to one another and to the world.
May we be known for hesed because this is also the Church.