The Nature of Love

Sermon delivered on the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 31, 2010, at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to hear the audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is the Human Condition?

Good morning, St. Andrew’s! In today’s Epistle lesson Paul pauses for a moment as he deals with the manifold problems in the church at Corinth to give them a context for all his advice about the nature of Christ’s Body, the church, and their use and misuse of spiritual gifts. In doing so, it is almost as if he is telling them the overarching reason he has taken the time to write them, even when he has had to say some hard things to them—because he loves them and he wants them to act likewise toward each other.

To read 1 Corinthians 13 out of its context is to strip it of its power to help us better understand how our Lord wants us to behave as members of his body here at St. Andrew’s. This morning I want to look at what is the biblical notion of love and how we might be faithful to that notion as we live life together as Christ’s Body. Just as we are expected to grow to Christ’s full stature as individuals (Ephesians 4:13), so we as his church are expected to do likewise (Ephesians 4:11-16). To grow to Christ’s full stature is to mature, to grow in our ability to love.

But loving God and each other is not easy because we are sinful and rebellious people. In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts living life in the flesh versus living life in the Spirit. The behaviors he lists for each are not comprehensive but instructive, and we quickly see the contrast between the two. When we live according to the desires of the flesh, i.e., our fallen nature, we show all of our darkness and ugliness. Living according to the flesh manifests itself in selfishness and hatred. Among other things it results in sexual immorality, jealousy, envy, strife, anger, dissensions, and factions. A word of caution is in order before we proceed. Anger and jealousy are not always bad. We can be jealous or have zeal for God, just as God was jealous for his people (see, e.g., Exodus 34:14). There is also a righteous anger that can be aroused in us as when we read of horrifying stories like the one yesterday where a dad set fire to a puppy in front of his children. The kind of anger produced by this story is not the kind of anger Paul was talking about. Instead, Paul was referring to the kind of anger that issues forth from selfish motives and hurt pride. In other words, anger that is not motivated by love.

On the other hand, when we live by the Spirit we enjoy the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Paul reminds us in Galatians and elsewhere that as Christians we are to put to death our sinful nature and live by the Spirit. This is a difficult and life-long process, which will only be fully achieved at our Lord’s Second Coming. But that does not mean we are exempted from working at it.

So before we look at the biblical concept of love, let us remember this critical point. Our ability to love is primarily a gift of God’s Holy Spirit working in us; it is not of our own doing. We see this poignantly echoed in today’s OT lesson in the call of Jeremiah. God calls the young Jeremiah to be his mouthpiece and Jeremiah balks. He knows the cost of being a prophet in a hostile and apostate land, and is justifiably afraid. He tells God that he is only a boy and is not a good speaker. What was God’s response? He tells Jeremiah to stop talking nonsense. It was nonsense because since God had called Jeremiah, God would equip him to do the work to which he was called. He reminds Jeremiah that he would be with him and protect him. That didn’t mean Jeremiah would be immune from danger. To the contrary, he eventually found himself persecuted, arrested, and thrown into a cistern, left to die. But God protected Jeremiah so that he could accomplish the work God called him to do.

Nor is this an isolated story. We see a similar dynamic in Genesis 17-18 in the story of Abraham and Sarah. God promised them a son, even when they were both near 100 years old, and both laughed at the notion. God’s response? He reminded them that nothing was impossible for God and he delivered. And because both Abraham and Sarah laughed in temporary disbelief at God’s ability to deliver, what did God tell them to name their son? Isaac (“he laughs”). Not only does God have a sense of humor, he also apparently had the last laugh (no pun intended).

I could cite several other examples, but the point is clear. When God calls us to the faith he equips us. We must keep this truth always in the forefront when we talk about our ability to exercise love. Love comes from God, not fallen human beings, and God always delivers on his promises, including the promise to equip his saints to love and do the work he calls us to do in his church and elsewhere.

Where is God’s Grace?

So what does the Bible mean when it talks about love? While the OT talks about many kinds of love, the kind of love that best parallels the NT use of the word is hesed. Hesed is not an emotional response to beauty, merit, or kindness, but a moral attitude dedicated to another’s good, whether that person is lovable, worthy, or responds positively to our love. Hesed has within it kindness, tenderness, and compassion, but its chief characteristic is an accepted moral obligation for another’s welfare, which no ill-will or lack of gratitude on the part of that person will extinguish. Hesed has the other person’s back, regardless if that person has ours. In the OT, it is usually translated as “steadfast love.”

Likewise, the Greek term that the NT uses primarily for love is agape. Like hesed, agape generally means we want for others and ourselves that which is morally good and right, that which is based on God’s truth, not our own concoctions. It is motivated by a sense of acting out of principle or duty, rather than attraction or charm we might find in others (you know, like you all find in me). Though agape has more to do with moral principle than with desire or liking, it never means the cold religious kindness shown from duty alone. Human beings are not objects nor should they ever be treated like ones. To desire the moral welfare of others means that we will have compassion for others and seek the best things for them, just the way our Lord did. Agape means to love the undeserving, despite disappointment and rejection. Like its OT counterpart, hesed, agape means that we have the other person’s back, even at the risk of our own, regardless if that person has ours.

Clearly, then, when the Bible talks about loving God and each other it is not referring to a moral indifference or some kind of schmaltzy sentimentality. Rather, love is manifested in action. The biblical notion of love is not equivalent to allowing others to do anything that is pleasing to them because not everything we do is good for us. But this is hard for us to do because we do not want to appear to be moralizers or legalists, nor do we want to offend others or hurt their feelings. Love, however, is willing to risk offending for the welfare of the other. We don’t have to look any farther than today’s Gospel lesson or Jesus’ seven woes against the Pharisees and teachers of the law to see this illustrated. In the latter, Jesus excoriated them because they were killing others and themselves by their false teaching and our Lord surely wanted them to repent, especially given what he said at the end of the passage. To love requires an inner strength that only God can provide. It requires that we be humble and keep everybody’s welfare in mind, not just our own, although we should not exclude our welfare from consideration.

Where is the Application?

Using these criteria, then, let us go back and review some examples from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians to put this chapter in its context and see whether the Apostle practices what he preaches. Let us first look at chapter 5. Here Paul takes the church to task for not only condoning an incestuous relationship among its ranks but for actually being proud of how open minded they were about it! Paul gives the man over to Satan so that his spirit might be saved and he tells the church to repent, to stop living according to the desires of the flesh and start living according to the desires of the Spirit (note the parallel with Galatians 5). Paul ends the chapter by telling them to excommunicate the man and have nothing to do with him.

Is this loving advice? At first blush, it sounds terribly harsh. But looking at our criteria for love and at what Paul wrote in today’s Epistle lesson, we must answer yes. First, Paul loved the man enough to recognize that his very soul was in danger of being lost. The man was engaged in sinful behavior and Paul reminded the Corinthians that love does not rejoice in unrighteous behavior. Note carefully that Paul defined unrighteous behavior based on God’s law (marriage), not Paul’s own sensibilities. Giving the man over to Satan sounds quite harsh to our modern ears but we must look at the goal Paul had in mind. By subjecting the man to Satan, Paul desired for him to repent and be restored, both to the Lord and to the broader community of faith.

In calling for the man’s excommunication, Paul also realized that if left unchecked, this kind of behavior would likely spread through the church at Corinth like a cancer and be destructive for Christ’s Body there on multiple levels. Factions would likely develop, some supporting the man, others supporting Paul’s position. Quarreling would surely ensue. There would be moral confusion about the very behavior itself. Was it acceptable or not? In saying what he did, Paul clearly had the moral good of everybody in mind, not just the man’s. Paul loved the man enough to want to see him repent and be restored, and he loved the church enough that he did not want to seen it torn apart or disintegrate further into moral laxity and chaos.

In chapter 10, Paul addresses the issue of eating meat sold in marketplaces, meat that might have once been offered in sacrifice (but not used) before it was sold. At its essence, the issue Paul was dealing with here was how some Corinthians viewed such food. Although he acknowledged there was no reason not to eat it, he also urged those who did to be careful in doing so because some of their brothers and sisters in Christ found the practice to be scandalous.

Was this loving advice? Yes, because here we see Paul telling the Corinthians to put others ahead of themselves in matters of moral indifference. Eating meat sold in the marketplace was an issue of moral indifference for Paul, i.e., the behavior was itself neither right or wrong, and here he counseled discretion in exercising Christian freedom. He warned the more mature Christians to be careful not to scandalize the less mature ones on this particular issue. Since eating meat sold in the marketplace was a morally indifferent issue, he told those who ate it to watch out for the welfare of those who were opposed to the practice or might misunderstand it and be led astray from the faith. Here we see the Apostle’s love and concern for everyone manifest itself. He warned the more mature Christians not to be puffed up in their knowledge about eating this kind of meat but to use that knowledge to help the less mature Christians grow in their faith. They could do this best by being circumspect and refraining from eating this kind of meat in front of those who might be scandalized by it. This is consistent with what he wrote in chapter 13 when he tells us that love is patient and kind, that it bears all things.

And before we are tempted to blow this off as an irrelevant example, how many of us are scandalized by the actions of others here in this church? The lesson here is this: if the issue is not one of moral imperative, i.e., something that is clearly right or wrong, then we must refrain from behaving in that manner if we are aware we are offending others. And how do we learn this? Those whom we are offending must love us enough to tell us, not in some haughty, self-righteous manner, but in humility. In doing so, they must also be willing to hear us tell them why we do what we do and both must ultimately seek to please the Lord by pleasing each other. This is hard work, folks, but this is how we are called to love each other. Are you willing to allow Christ to live in you and help you become like him when it comes to tolerating each other in matters of moral indifference?

Last, in the latter half of chapter 11 Paul addresses abuses that were occurring during the Lord’s Supper. Some Corinthians were apparently gorging themselves while the poorer members of the church went hungry. Paul first reminds them that the Lord’s Supper is no ordinary meal and that if they are hungry, they should eat at home before gathering together as Christ’s Body. Paul also takes the wealthier Corinthians to task for humiliating their poorer church brothers and sisters by rubbing their noses in their poverty by being gluttons and drunks in front of them.

Is this loving advice? It is harsh but it is loving. Here Paul was telling some of the Corinthians they were acting in an unbecoming manner and causing their brothers and sisters in Christ to be humiliated. Instead of watching out for each other and sharing food with one another, the wealthier Corinthians apparently were looking out for themselves. This was not love in action. This was acting according to the desires of the flesh and Paul wants better for them. He wants them to imitate their Lord.

We can also find other examples of biblical love in the OT. Read again the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22, about how Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son to obey God. Think of the faith and trust that required! Think of the temptation Abraham must have endured!

Read the story in 1 Samuel 24 and 26 of David sparing Saul’s life not once, but twice because Saul was God’s anointed king at that point. This despite the fact that Saul was actively seeking to kill David. Think how hard that would have been for David. No wonder God called him the man after his own heart, this despite the fact that David was an adulterer and murderer.

Read the story of Queen Esther risking her life to save the lives of her people, the Jews, living in exile under the Persians. Think what courage this would have required of her, knowing that if she offended the king, she would surely join her people in death. There is real life stuff in these stories and we should learn from them.

Then turn to the NT and read Acts and Paul’s letters. Read how he faced death and persecution to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout a hostile Roman Empire. Think of how hard that would have been and the love for the Christ who claimed him that must have burned in his very soul. In all these examples, we see love manifested. We see a desire to please God by doing his will. We see an abiding desire for the moral welfare and good of others based on God’s law and truth, even when it is costly to the person involved.

And of course we see the supreme example of love manifested in God himself. You see he loves us so much that he took on our flesh and suffered a terrible death for us so that we could live with him forever. We only have to listen to the cry of dereliction on the cross to get a glimpse of the terrible price God in Jesus endured for our sake. While we will never be able to fully comprehend the height, breadth, and depth our Lord has for us, we can certainly see in his death love made manifest for us. Are you practicing this kind of love as a member of St. Andrew’s? Are you loving others because God loved you first?


We Christians have been given a great gift in Jesus Christ and we are called to become like him. That means we are to love others as he loves us. Such a love cares for the welfare and good of the other, a welfare and good that is based on God’s truth, not our own. We are concerned for others and work on their behalf because we have the very Spirit of our Lord working in us and we remember that we are the beneficiaries of God’s great love for us in Jesus Christ. Loving others is not easy because we are profoundly broken. But we have confidence that we can grow in our ability to love because we know that when God calls us to be his, he equips us to do the work he calls us to do. This calls for faith and hope, prayer, Scripture reading, and fellowship to grow in the knowledge of God so that we can love better, because now we only see as in mirror darkly. However, when he comes again in great power and glory to finish his redemptive work, then we will see clearly because we will see him face to face. That, folks, is good news, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Despair and Christian Hope

Despair can kill the soul and sometimes it infects people. They begin to think of the terrible lives they have led and become convinced that forgiveness is impossible. They die in despair, saying to themselves, “There is no hope for me now. Clearly the dreadful things I have done cannot possibly be forgiven. So why try to change my lust-filled life?”

—Augustine, Sermon 87.10

Augustine is right despair can kill the soul. Everyone, if they are honest with themselves, likely harbors what they consider to be an “unforgivable sin.” But that really is Satan whispering lies to us. Nothing we have done is unforgivable unless we refuse to ask for and accept forgiveness.

When we are tempted to be overcome by despair, let us remember the symbol of God’s justice—the Cross. God himself suffered the just punishment for our sins so that we can live with him forever. Why would he not be willing to forgive our broken and contrite hearts?

Augustine on Waxing Nostalgic

We complain that our days are gloomy. Our grandparents and their grandparents probably did the same thing. People are never completely pleased with the days they live through but they frequently think that the days of their ancestors were quite pleasant. Those ancestors were pleased with past days they had never experienced, which is why they thought them pleasant. It is only the present that the heart feels so acutely. Practically every year when we experience the changing weather we say “It’s never been so cold.” “It’s never been so hot.” Comparison with a “better” past is always on our minds.

—Augustine, Sermon 25.1

I can really relate to Augustine here because I certainly see my past with rose colored glasses. What he points us to is the result of the Fall. The human condition will remain constant until Christ returns to finish the redemptive work he started. Then we will no longer need to yearn for the good old days because our present will be glorious in the direct presence of God.

From the Daily Office

God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him. On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him.

—Genesis 17:15-23 (TNIV)

Twenty five years after God first promised Abraham his own offspring, God finally fulfilled his promise. Twenty five years! A quarter of a century! How many of us would be willing to wait that long for God to fulfill his promises to us? How many of us would fall away after that much time had passed? How many of us would be tempted to lose all hope, all faith? In my own life, I know I have been tempted to abandon hope and faith after weeks have passed and I do not have an answer to my prayers. It is truly a remarkable statement about the faith of Abraham. Despite his temporary lapses in faith, he remained faithful to God. He let God be his God as God had required in making his covenant with Abraham (see yesterday’s reflection).

Four things jump out in this passage: (1) God is sovereign and faithful. He will deliver on his promises to his fallen creatures, but (2) he will do so on his time, not ours. You see, being finite, we only can see a very tiny piece of the great canvas of God’s work, will, and creation. God, being infinite, entirely good, eternal, and all knowing, sees the entire canvas and acts accordingly.

Either we will believe him and trust him to do all that he says he will do, and be all who he says he is, or we will not. The choice is ours.

When we trust him, give our very being to him, and allow him to be our God (i.e., when we humble ourselves to use biblical language), we choose to walk in the light, we choose to enter a relationship with God that leads to life. When we do not, we choose to walk in the darkness, a biblical term denoting our continuing separation from God (see, e.g., John 3:19-21), a separation that can only lead to death since God is the sole Author and Source of all life; and (3) our trust in him will always manifest itself in our obedience to his will. Note how promptly Abraham obeyed God’s command for him to have everyone in his household circumcised; Abraham acted that very day.

The fourth thing that jumps out in this passage is Abraham’s continuing love for his son Ishmael. Despite the sin and human folly that led to Ishmael’s conception and birth, and despite Sarah’s continuing hostility toward Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham is anxious to have Ishmael included in God’s promises. That represents the heart of a father at its best. I can relate to that.

Oh, and did you also notice God’s continuing sense of humor in this story? In addition to Abraham’s dubious track record in believing God’s promise to provide him with his own offspring, here Abraham laughs in disbelief that he and Sarah can have a child at their age. In response, what does God tell Abraham to name the boy? Isaac, which means “he laughs.” Sweet.

Like Abraham, we will always be tempted to question God’s sovereign power and ability to deliver on his promises. Today’s passage reminds us that indeed God can. Take hope and heart from this. The God of Abraham is the same God who wants to be your God too.

The Nature of Scripture and How to Read It

For God’s word offers different facts according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits. Within it he has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out.

And so whenever you discover some part of the treasure [in Scripture], you should not think that you have exhausted God’s word. Instead you should feel that this is all that you were able to find of the wealth contained in it. Nor should you say that the word is weak and sterile or look down on it simply because this portion was all that you happened to find. But precisely because you could not capture it all you should give thanks for its riches.

Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because the word of God has overcome you. Let this spring [of truth contained in Scripture] quench your thirst, and not your thirst the spring. For if you can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can drink from it once more.

What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your heritage. For what you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere. So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on.

—Ephrem of Edessa (4th Century), Commentary on the Diatessaron 1, 18-19

Augustine on Future Expectations in Life

When we are infants we look forward to childhood; in childhood we look forward to adolescence; in adolescence we look forward to being an adult in the prime of life; in middle age we await the coming of old age [I note he does not say we look forward to old age]. But when we are old we realize that there is to be no new age in this life.

—Augustine, Letter 213.1

Here Augustine reminds us that life is more than physical existence. Life is having a relationship with the living God, a relationship that transcends our physical existence and promises to redeem and restore it.

Remembering the Challenger

Today I am remembering the explosion of the space shuttle, Challenger, that happened 24 years ago. I am remembering and praying for the families of the astronauts who died in that terrible accident. I grieve their loss because I too know what it feels like to lose a loved one to death, a feeling that is surely exacerbated when death comes suddenly, unexpectedly, and prematurely.

I first learned the news as I walked into the cafeteria at the high school where I taught. The vivid images of the explosion and the loss of so many lives affected me deeply.

Take a moment today to remember and pray. Give thanks for the brave men and women who have risked, and sometimes given, their lives for the cause of scientific advancement. Give thanks that we have a God whose love is so comprehensive that not even death can separate us from him or his love for us.

From the Daily Office

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.

—Genesis 17:1-12 (TNIV)

In today’s lesson we see the essence of having a relationship with God. God makes a covenant with Abraham to be his God. What does this mean? In part, it means that God expects Abraham to look to him for his every need and to trust God to deliver. It means that Abraham is to subordinate his will to God’s, because God is, well, God and Abraham is not. This, of course, also implies that Abraham needs to spend some quality time knowing what God’s will is for him. Trust and obedience are required by all humans if we are to let God be our God.

Note too that as soon as God appeared to Abraham he fell facedown. Perhaps seeing God reminded him of his lapses of unfaithfulness that were caused by his own doubts and fears. Perhaps he remembered that he had tried to take matters into his own hands in producing offspring rather than trusting God to fulfill his promise to him. Whatever the reason for Abraham’s posture, it was surely a visible sign of humility before God, a necessary prerequisite if we are to let God be our God.

God, in turn, demanded that Abraham and his household be circumcised as an act of obedience. A covenant has to have two parties and this was what God demanded from Abraham as an outward sign of his willingness to trust and obey God, to let God be his God.

Sooner or later we will all be confronted with that decision. Do you trust God to be God or have you reduced him to a manageable size so that you can try to take his place? The general train wreck of human history is a testimony to what happens when we choose the latter course.

Let God be your God. It is the consistent testimony of Christians everywhere, the minority report of humanity if you will, that those who let God be their God are never disappointed and remarkable things happen to and through them.

A Healing Prayer for Bedtime

Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, go back into my memory as I sleep. Every hurt that has ever been done to me—heal that hurt. Every hurt that I have ever caused to another person—heal that hurt. All the relationships that have been damaged in my whole life that I’m not aware of—heal those relationships.

But Lord, if there is anything that I need to do—if I need to go to a person because he is still suffering from my hand, bring to my awareness that person.

I choose to forgive, and I ask to be forgiven. Remove whatever bitterness may be in my heart, Lord, and fill the empty spaces with your love. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

—Phyllis Devereux

A Prayer from John Baillie

Grant, O most gracious God, that I may carry with me through this day’s life the remembrance of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ my Lord.

For Thy fatherly love shown forth in Jesus Christ Thy well beloved Son:
For His readiness to suffer for our sakes:
For the redemptive passion that filled His heart:
I praise and bless Thy holy name.

For the power of His Cross in the history of the world since He came:
For all who have taken up their own crosses and have followed Him:
For the noble army of martyrs and for all who are willing to die that others may live:
For all suffering freely chosen for noble ends, for pain bravely endured, for temporal sorrows that have been used for the building up of eternal joys:
I praise and bless Thy holy name.

O Lord my God, who dwellest in pure and blessed serenity beyond the reach of mortal pain, yet lookest down in unspeakable love and tenderness upon the sorrows of earth, give me grace, I beseech Thee, to understand the meaning of such afflictions and disappointments as I myself am called upon to endure. Deliver me from all fretfulness. Let me be wise to draw from every dispensation of Tby providence the lesson Thou art minded to teach me. Give me a stout heart to bear my own burdens. Give me a willing heart to bear the burdens of others. Give me a believing heart to cast all burdens upon Thee.

Glory be to Thee, O Father, and to Tbee, O Christ, and to Thee, O Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

From the Daily Office

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my servant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian servant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

—Genesis 16:1-5 (TNIV)

Here we read a remarkable story. Abraham, the man of faith whom the writers of the NT hold up to us as an example of faith for all Christians, gets impatient with God for not fulfilling his promise. He appears to be doubting the efficacy of God’s promises and takes the matter into his own hands, so to speak. Ten years had passed since God promised Abraham his own offspring and who can blame him for being impatient? After all he wasn’t getting any younger and ten years is a long time. There have been instances in my own life when a day seems like a terribly long time, let alone ten years. And sadly, like so many other instances when we fail to trust God and take matters into our own hands, this story does not turn out well.

Yet it to the glory of God that despite Abraham’s faithlessness in this instance, God remained faithful. God fulfilled his promise to Abraham and Isaac was eventually born. The lesson here is twofold: (1) having faith doesn’t mean we never make mistakes or have our doubts and fears. When we consider our own faith, we must look at it holistically. That we sometimes fail to have faith in God and trust his good purposes for our lives, as well as his timing in working out his will for us, does not mean we are without faith; rather, it speaks to the sad state of the human condition—we are indeed broken people; and (2) despite our faithlessness, God remains faithful. God loves us despite our fears and doubts. God continues to call us into a relationship with him because he loves us and wants us to have real life with him. We are never truly lost unless we intentionally separate ourselves from God.

The next time you fail in your faith, remember this story of Abraham. The man whom God reckoned as righteous because he had faith in God’s promise to him missed the mark. But despite his failings, God picked him up and loved him. God’s promises were fulfilled in him and God never let him go. Take hope and take heart in that, especially during these cold, gray days of winter.

The Great Blizzard of 1978

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the great blizzard of 78. I was 24 years old at the time, single, teaching high school in a Toledo suburb, and living with one of my old friends. The blizzard struck on a Wednesday and I remember staying up quite late, drinking beer, and playing backgammon with another one of my friends, The Wench. I started getting nervous about 1:00 am because it was raining quite heavily and everybody knows school is not canceled because of rain (well, it was one time but that is a different story). The Wench told me later that after she went home she stayed up and watched the rain turn into snow later that morning.

I awoke the next morning and have never seen it snow and blow as hard as it did that day (I guess that is why they call them “blizzards”). When it was all over, we had over two feet of snow with drifts much, much higher. I have never seen as much snow as I did that day. We lost power for a short time in the afternoon but fortunately it was restored quickly. Others were not so fortunate and were without power for days; I doubt those folks have very good memories of the blizzard. We were literally snowbound for days and I recall that we were out of school for about a week and a half.

Several days after the blizzard, Mikey, my old roommate who was later killed in an automobile accident along with the rest of his family, put on his cross country skies and skied up to the grocery store that was about 2 miles down that road. We had run out of the staple of life, beer, and so off he went to procure that precious commodity along with some cigars because we were planning to play cards and needed these essentials to help us do so. Ah, the wisdom of 24 year olds… Mikey eventually made several skiing trips to the grocery and so we not only enjoyed an extended vacation but also had heat, shelter, food, and drink. There by the grace of God, even stupidly.

There were a bunch of us living in the same apartment complex—fondly dubbed “The Projects”—who hung out regularly and so we took turns going to each other’s apartments. The women cooked a lot (the men were generally useless, but what’s new?) and we played a lot of bridge and backgammon. It was really quite an experience. Being 24, I guess I really didn’t comprehend the potential danger we were in except for one time. We had a big old tons of fun guy living in our complex and the first day of the storm we all went out to see how much snow had fallen. This guy actually fell over into a snowdrift and he was so heavy that Mikey and I were barely able to help him up, there was that much snow. It took us several tries to lift him up and at that point I started to get scared because if we weren’t able to get him out of that drift, he would have frozen to death. Help was not on the way; not even emergency vehicles were on the road. In fact, there was so much snow that year that there were still big piles of plowed snow left standing in parking lots and on the side of streets in May!

So my memories of the blizzard of 78 were generally positive. We made do and enjoyed each others company. I’m not sure I would have such fond memories if we had another blizzard of 78 today. Being 56 gives you a wee bit different perspective on things, although I am sure my wife and I would make do and enjoy each others company, even without someone to ski to the grocery store to fetch staples.

What about you? If you were old enough to remember the blizzard of 78, share your stories with us.