Dishwasher Broke!

Our dishwasher broke a couple weeks ago and just got fixed this week, thanks to CenterPoint Energy’s Home Service Plus program. It wasn’t a huge inconvenience, except that it required us to wash our dishes by hand for a while. The nice part about washing by hand is the built-in opportunity to ponder (as I am wont to do when involved in menial tasks).

One day I was washing glasses that our grandsons had used after eating something sugary. The outsides were sticky, clear evidence of the sugar. As I started to wash the glasses, I realized something interesting was taking place. In the process of washing the inside, the outside naturally became clean. I wasn’t focused on washing the outside. I was focused on washing the inside. The cleansing of the outside was a natural outcome. I began to wonder if Jesus’ dishwasher might have broken once because he talked about the same thing. Sort of…

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:37-40)

In his Gospel, Matthew records a similar discourse between Jesus and some Pharisees in which Jesus concluded, “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:26). The context of Matthew’s narrative? Prior to 23:26, the editors of the NIV translation added the heading, Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. Seven times Jesus said “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Ouch! Jesus wasn’t mincing his words with the religious leaders. Seven times he called them out for their hypocrisy, for missing the mark. And they knew it. It would have been difficult for the hearers to respond, “I wonder what he meant?” They knew exactly what he meant. And they didn’t like it. It was around this time that they stepped up plots to kill Jesus.

What was the sin of the religious leaders? I would suggest moralism. The religious leaders had reduced God’s steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness (hesed and emet) to a recipe for moral improvement. In the 21st century, we can also succumb to the (some would say seductive) false gospel of moralism. Moralism in our context is the reduction of the Gospel – the outrageous, extravagant, radical, unconditional, love of Jesus – to moral improvement.

How might we know if we have culturally or personally succumbed to the false gospel of moralism? What might be some indicators? We might have been seduced by “christian” moralism:

  • If we find ourselves using the word “should” to describe the state of our faith journey (i.e., I should pray more or I should read the bible more, etc.). Brennan Manning always used to say, “Thou shalt not should on thyself.”
  • If we find ourselves reading scripture and seeing our own character flaws and missing the character of God.
  • When we read stories about bible heroes, wondering if we could ever have that kind of faith and miss that the stories are actually telling us about who God is.
  • When we miss the fact that the Gospel accounts were written to tell us who Jesus is and not just what he can do for us.
  • When we think living the Christian life looks like “Do good; try not to do bad.”
  • When we read a scripture passage and think of others who ought to be reading this. Ouch!
  • When we tell people (especially younger people) how Christians should act. (We want to keep in mind that the Greek word for hypocrite is actor. Jesus was calling out the religious leaders for being actors)

Read the tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and you can see the results of 50 or so years of the presence of the false gospel of moralism. Listen to sermons. Are they about who Jesus is – his character? – or do they lean toward moral improvement and how we should act? The Gospel of Jesus and the “gospel” of moralism are diametrically opposed to each other. Don’t be fooled into believing the false gospel of moralism. It’s more prevalent than one might suspect. Be aware. Be wise as serpents. I don’t know about you, but I would never want to hear Jesus say to me, “Woe unto you!”

Veritas

As you may know, I am a woodworker. I fell in love with woodworking at an early age when my parents gave me a Handy Andy tool chest of woodworking tools – saw, square, coping saw, block plane, hammer, ruler, etc. I remember finding scraps of 1×2 pine and cutting them into 2″ lengths to make play bales of hay. I think I may have maxed out at about 250 “bales,” enough to make a pretty good sized haystack. If my memory serves me right, that might be the era when my dad was continually frustrated when unable to locate a 1×2 when needed.

My love for woodworking intensified in 8th grade when I took wood-shop, taught by one of my all-time favorite teachers, Mr. Briggs. It further intensified when I married my wife, Barb. Her dad was a a really good woodworker so I learned from him. I ended up inheriting many of his power tools 15 years ago when he ‘retired’ from the hobby. Over the past 10-15 years (thanks to my son, Nate) I have complemented my power tool collection with a plethora of hand tools – some old (i.e. 100+ years), some new. Veritas Tools is one of my go-to manufacturers of quality hand tools. I have contributed a fair amount to Veritas’ bottom line as I’ve expanded my hand tool collection. Here are a couple examples…

I learned a new word recently – verity. Verity, I discovered, is derived from veritas, the Latin word for truth. In the last posting (Hesed and Emet) we looked at hesed, the powerful, rich, and robust Hebrew word describing God’s steadfast love and mercy toward his people. We looked at an example from the Psalms: “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10, ESV). The word faithfulness in this passage is emet, another rich and robust Hebrew word describing God’s character

The Theological Workbook of the Old Testament suggests that emet can be translated into English as faithfulness or verity (truth). Emet carries an underlying sense of certainty and dependability. As with the example above, emet is often coupled with hesed, creating a synergism of two of God’s strongest attributes. (Keep in mind the definition of synergy – the combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual attributes.)

I get the chills when I ponder this. Hesed, combined with emet, provides a powerful glimpse of who God is – love and faithfulness, mercy and truth. We can be certain of and depend on his steadfast love.

Then we remember that Jesus is the visible expression of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the God of hesed and emet. Maybe John had hesed and emet in mind when he said that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Ponder this for a while. Maybe you’ll get the chills, too.

Hesed and Emet

Circa summer 1984. I participated in the most influential course of my life to date – Old Testament Survey. It was my first graduate-level course as I began the long journey toward a masters degree. The course was offered by Fuller Seminary, in partnership with Young Life’s Institute in Youth Ministry. IYM attendees, professors, and their respective families all lived in community at Hope College in Holland, MI, with classes held at Western Theological Seminary. We attended classes in the morning, all had lunch together, then hit the library to study for about 8 hours.

The course was taught by Dr. Terry McGonigal. He started our journey together by reminding us that everything we would discuss in the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. Theoretically I knew the truth of this statement, but never had anyone who could explain it to me.

Dr. McGonigal, another professor, and I went for long runs every evening around 9:00 pm. Terry could run the 6+ miles at a sub-7:00 minute/mile pace, a little faster than my norm. The solution? I would ask Terry questions that surfaced from class or my readings to which he was more than willing to expound, slowing him down and providing me with amazing tutorials. I learned more from that course than a typical three credit class. During the coursework, I was introduced to a couple Hebrew words that have impacted my reading and life the past 35 years – hesed and emet. Let’s look at hesed

The Hebrew word hesed (sometimes transliterated as chesed) is translated into English as either steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, love, or unfailing love, depending on the translation of the Bible. Looking at Psalm 85:10, we see the treatment of hesed by various translations:

  • Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (NIV)
  • Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (ESV)
  • Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (NASB)
  • Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed. (NKJV)

Hesed is such a rich and robust term that no single English word (or two words, in the case of “steadfast love”) captures its essence. Hesed is not just mercy, but covenant loyalty and relational fidelity. It is freely given, often unexpectedly, without requiring anything in return. Even though hesed stems from covenant (contract) loyalty, there is a sense that the loyalty surpasses the letter of the law. In Hosea, God said that he desires mercy (hesed), not sacrifice (law), which Jesus reiterated (Matthew 9:13). Jesus further reinforced this thought when addressing the Roman law forcing locals to carry soldiers’ packs for a mile; Jesus suggested going an extra mile (Matthew 5:41).

Hesed, you can see, describes the rich and robust depth of God’s character.

Though hesed is usually directional in its Old Testament usage – from God to his people – there is a sense that it was to be practiced ethically in the the way people treated each other, be it relatives, friends, or foreigners. Boaz recognized hesed (kindness) in Ruth’s character (Ruth 3:10). One also thinks of God’s desire that his people not seek vengeance, but show love toward their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) which Jesus reinforced, as part of “Great Commandments” (Mark 12:30-31). The author of Mark used the term agape (love), the Greek equivalent of hesed. Again, think “go the extra mile.”

Hesed is used 248 times in the Old Testament, 50% of its usage is in the Psalms, so it isn’t difficult to spot. As you read, be looking for it. Pay attention to the context in which it is used. I find myself translating the English back to Hebrew, knowing the richness and robustness of the word. I recently read Psalm 85 (above) and wrote in my journal, “Hesed and emet meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” As in Psalm 85, hesed and emet are often found together, increasing the richness and robustness of the description of God’s character. May you experience the hesed of God as you spend time with Him in Scripture.

Next time, we’ll look at emet.