Saturday, August 31, 2019

Creating Space for Community - Rethinking the Proverbs 31 Woman

I've begun speaking on a monthly basis for a non-traditional church service through the United Methodist Church.  The service, called Discover Depth, has committed itself to finding God in every aspect of life, especially the matters that affect us everyday.  We know that many churches are not discussing the burdens that afflict us, modern culture/politics and controversy or even the mundane, but we believe that God's word has something to say whether it is directly stated or not. We might not have all the answers, but we are willing to ask the hard questions, search scripture together, ask experts in the field and rest in the mystery of God if the evidence is inconclusive. 

I thought I would start sharing some of my rough notes to help others with understanding scripture or sermon prep.  Here is my introduction from our April service where I interviewed the owner of a local coffee shop that is making huge waves in our community by creating a safe and welcoming place that loves its neighbors well...

We have begun the evening a bit different.  Instead of our call to worship being a reading and response I wanted to share with you a song called, Eshet Ḥayil, that is traditionally sung in almost every Jewish community before the Friday night Shabbat meal to the woman of the house. (Search YouTube to find some amazing renditions.)  One Jewish woman describes it as a sign of respect and thanks for blessing their families with “energy and creativity”.  Before this week I had never heard this particular format of this very famous Bible passage, most likely because I’m not fluent in traditional Hebrew and I’m not Jewish.  I’m guessing that some of you here this evening are very familiar with it as well.  In the Western Christian church it is known as the Proverbs 31 woman and the Hebrew translation of Eshet Hayil is Woman of Valor.  Let me read it for you:

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
She is more precious than rubies.
Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She finds wool and flax
and busily spins it.
She is like a merchant’s ship,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household
and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
She goes to inspect a field and buys it;
with her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She is energetic and strong,
a hard worker.
She makes sure her dealings are profitable;
her lamp burns late into the night.
Her hands are busy spinning thread,
her fingers twisting fiber.
She extends a helping hand to the poor
and opens her arms to the needy.
She has no fear of winter for her household,
for everyone has warm clothes.
She makes her own bedspreads.
She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.
Her husband is well known at the city gates,
where he sits with the other civic leaders.
She makes belted linen garments
and sashes to sell to the merchants.
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.
When she speaks, her words are wise,
and she gives instructions with kindness.
She carefully watches everything in her household
and suffers nothing from laziness.
Her children stand and bless her.
Her husband praises her:
“There are many virtuous and capable women in the world,
but you surpass them all!”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.
Reward her for all she has done.
Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.
In all honesty I do not know this evening’s guest very well.  We have met in person and have spoken a hand full of times and although just an acquaintance, she has such a hospitable personality that even after a brief encounter you leave feeling warm and as if you have a friend, someone to be on your side.  When I was thinking about how to introduce her, the thought of Proverbs 31 popped into my head because this woman is a Rockstar.  She seems to balance life well and if Proverbs 31 was a checklist, she seemingly would have every box checked.  Even though the passage was correct about her, I couldn’t figure out how to tie in this evening’s topic of Creating Space for Community or how to make it relevant to everyone else here tonight.  That was until I started looking into the meaning and context of Proverbs 31.  It then was no longer about a woman who was phenomenal and has her stuff together but was about the characteristic of valor. Valor is defined by as “boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle; heroic courage; bravery”.  Valor.  That we could all strive for—male or female.  The byproduct of living a brave life is community!  It seemed like a win-win so bear with me for a few while I give you some insight on how I came to this conclusion.

You are going to need to be familiar with the book of the Bible that this passage comes from.  It’s obviously from the book of Proverbs.  It is considered a wisdom book of the Bible.  It’s main author is King Solomon with two other authors mentioned. The passage we have read tonight is attributed to King Lemuel whom some scholars believe was a pen name used by Solomon.  The purpose of this particular book Solomon says is to gain wisdom and to behave in ways that are just, right and fair. He writes it to his sons. In Chapter 1 and throughout the first part of the book a woman is spoken about.  Wisdom.  Was this an actual woman? No.  Solomon personified wisdom as a woman, most likely because the Hebrew language has grammatical gender unlike English.  So we are introduced to this woman, Wisdom, and according to King Solomon we should want to be around and she wants to be around us too, she is actually calling for us.  But then this other woman is introduced, the Adulterous Woman and she is calling to us as well, we are to avoid her because she is going to ruin our life, make no doubt about it.  The father instructs his son to cling instead to his Wife. Is the Adulterous Woman a real woman? No, she is meant to represent the pursuit of idolatry and sin. So then what does the Wife represent?  I believe that is answered at the end of the book. Proverbs takes a turn from its poetic prose and gives us some great chapters of pithy wisdom before ending in Chapter 31.  This chapter is claimed to be written by King Lemuel and is inspired by his mother words.  He starts off with warning against the woman who will derail you from your job and will only destroy you.  His mama-inspired words instead give great advice about staying the course and living a life that is just, right and fair like we heard in the first chapter.  She tells him to find a Woman of Valor and here we are…. Proverbs 31:10-31.  Although it doesn’t read like poetry in our English translations Eshet Ḥayil was in fact written as a poem.  In its original Hebrew it is written in the form of an acrostic, the twenty-two verses composing it each start with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The passage also contains the poetic device of chiasm, meaning it uses parallel lines that have corresponding themes.  The website Glory Books explains it this way: “The parallels are not one after the other; instead, the top line and the bottom line are parallel, then the second line and the next to last line are parallel, and so on.  The very middle line is the emphasis — the main focus of the poem.”  If you were to diagram this out with indentations it would look something like an arrowhead with the tip being the main takeaway.

So what is the main takeaway? I will have you wait a minute for the reveal. For years I have sat in a pew and heard this passage preached as an ideal goal for womanhood. I heard it read like an ancient Tinder profile for Christian men to seek out.  It boiled down in my mind: women, be the infamous Proverbs 31 woman; and men, go get chu one.  What I discovered is that some commentators do not believe that this woman of Valor was and actual person rather the personification of Valor.  Given what we just learned about Proverbs this makes sense!  Now I see this passage as a Word for all of us, female and male, to be and get. The ancient Torah reader would have immediately drawn parallels between the woman of Valor that Proverbs 31 is about and the female personification of wisdom and immorality in the beginning of the book.  Valor although personified as a wife and mother, is neither, rather it is a character trait to be clung to and loved as if it were one of these dear relationships.  The real-life practical example of a Woman of Valor would appear in another part of the Old Testament in the book of Ruth.  Ruth was a Moabite woman who lost it all; her husband died, her brother-in-law died, her father-in-law died. So in ancient culture they were pretty much doomed. It was just Ruth and a severely depressed Jewish mother-in-law that weren’t sure how they were going to survive.  Thankfully they did given their wisdom and valor.  Ruth greatly lacked the prestige and wealth of the proverbs 31 woman’s luxurious life, yet she is the only real-life woman ascribed this title in scripture--woman of valor. She cements the central lesson of Proverbs 31 with her story and exemplary character.  Interestingly enough, her future man Boaz is described as a Man of Valor as well in the book of Ruth.  If you have never read their love story take a look at the Book of Ruth.

Still with me?  Here is where I get a little Bible nerdy on you, okay, maybe a lit bit more Bible nerdy. The word valor or Chayil  in Hebrew is formed by three individual characters the first means "under strong leadership"; the second "performing a mighty work"; the third "providing a place of protection".  We as women and men are to ascribe to the virtues personified in the book of Proverbs, both wisdom and valor.  Wise protectors doing mighty works under the authority of God.
So going back to the chiastic takeaway of Proverbs 31? To bring honor to her husband.  Before anyone gets upset over this main point, I want to remind you that this was written in and to a man dominated paternalistic culture.  I believe the Bible time and time again gives validity and approval to the work, gifts and contributions of women.  The Bible is a book that when read properly, demands a mutual respect of everyone to include and especially when it comes to marriage.  And as much as I love my husband Brian, and believe that together we are better, I do not believe that worth comes from marriage; after all Paul wrote that he wishes we all had the gift of celibacy.  So what to make of it? As a Christian with access to both Old and New Testaments and a knowledge of Jesus, when reading this my mind immediately goes to the symbolism Paul uses for the relationship between the church and Jesus which is marriage.  The ancient church was not a building, rather a strong interconnected community of individuals that believed in Christ and serving others.  Today, we here at Discover Depth, hold tightly to the belief that this building where we sit is just a facility and the church is each person individually and collectively serving and loving others from the overflow of God’s love for us.  So, If we use the symbolism of being married to Christ, then the main point of Proverbs 31, the tip of the Chiastic arrow for everyone, is to honor God.

Our guest tonight is an amazing Woman of Valor.  She has created a space for community within our town that I believe is a needed and mighty work.  Those that sit in the coziness of the café created by her family feel at home and protected.  Her kindness and concern for others radiates Jesus.  And her wisdom and discernment have helped her to create the number one coffee shop in all of Cecil County.  Please help me welcome wife, mama, entrepreneur and Rise n’ Grind owner Angelina Vanderhoef.

Angie and Erica

Want to read more on Biblical womanhood?  Read this by the late Rachel Held Evan's: A Year of Biblical Womanhood
(The above is an affiliate link for Amazon, meaning I will receive a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through that link.  Rather just order it without an affiliate link? That's cool, click here.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

I'm With the Band

I am watching my children lip sync with pretend instruments to songs on Pandora.  They are sweating and dancing, Keely's style is interpretive with intermittent somersaulting across the living room. Meanwhile Rhys is laying on the floor in the middle of it all looking at a Curious George coloring book eating his boogers.  Vance, a part of the band, takes a stoic role, standing there moving only his lips while wearing a 4-inch wooden fish  around his neck. Ryleigh plays any instrument necessary for the current song and effortlessly imagines nearby items fit the bill.  Sadie plays pillow drums while sitting on a red plastic motorcycle while dressed like Frozen's Elsa.
It's raining outside, foggy and gray.
In here it's a weird concert with stage props and an artistic plot line that is obviously over my head.   It's warm though. And comfortable. And even if I don't get what they are putting out, it's enjoyable to see them play, because I like the music and I know the band.
Lately, I've been in the Word more than usual. I've been rushing through my morning routine so I can sit down at the table with my breakfast drink and crack open my duct-taped book. I like it there.  Much like the concert living room rock concert it confuses the heck out of me.  So many parts I don't know what they mean or why God would do what he does, but I keep going back; determined to figure something out. I've begun exploring parts I've glossed over for years or avoided altogether. I've returned to the familiar underlinings, the tiny hearts, arrows convicting me of my need to love others more. I keep opening the Bible, again and again, because even if I don't always understand what the seemingly artistic plot is, I know the band and in this cold gray rainy world he sings of Love.

(This was originally written a couple of years ago, but for whatever reason I never published it. With my seven day posting promise, I am counting this as good.) 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Decades of Dealing

Because I am trying to post everyday I have taken to reading from my journals for inspiration.  You know what?  I have been writing about and asking God for the same things for a long time.  He answers the prayers, but then I fall into the same patterns again.  If you didn't read the dates on my entries you would think it was from the same time period, most likely from this week, but nah, it spans the last 3 decades.  This could have something to do with the fact that I have been having babies for 20 years and I am stuck in some crazy remake of the movie "Groundhog's Day" Toddler Edition or that the same frustrations, the same tendencies rear their heads in my life again and again.  I believe that there has been improvement and that I don't stay as long in the issues that plague me before I ask for help or move forward, but there is no mistake they are there and still the same.  The same struggles, the same sin, the same unbelief, the same victories, the same repentance, the same celebrations.  Maybe this says something about my immaturity and that my walk with God is not what it should be or maybe it's just the trajectory of a normal life.  Maybe it doesn't shoot straight up or even have a steady consistent curved ascent.  Maybe it's that we take 3 steps up the staircase of life and one step back down as we fight the battle, the boredom, the unbelief, and then we take another 3 steps up.  Maybe life is more like a sine wave where we praise God from the spiritual mountain tops and ask where he is in the valley and beg to catch a glimpse of him. Where we get dinner on the table and the laundry washed, folded and realize we haven't showered in over 3 days.  Where we think we have it all together because our kid is wearing matching socks and then we see the mom on Instagram who is dressing her toddler in freaking white clothes.  (Really, white?  Are you even a human?) Anyway, my point is that I am working for progress not perfection.  And maybe this sudden realization that I keep dealing with the same crap despite the decade can lend me some insight in how to deal even more quickly and get back on top of the waves or a bit further up the staircase.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Random Post

I still remember a dream I had when I was five, except for a long time I didn't know it was a dream; I believed that it really happened.

My mom and I were out back in the yard playing on a summer day.  She said it was time to take a nap and we went into her room to lay down.  I remember the white walls of her bedroom that needed a fresh coat of paint and the white thin blanket on the bed.  I remember her falling asleep and me sneaking from the bed to continue playing outside.  When I slid the screen door open and stepped onto the small wooden porch I looked to my left and down the four steps leading to the well worn path to our driveway.  There at the bottom of the steps was a folding chair with a little boy sitting on it. The chair was one we used at holidays and when anyone came for dinner so we could all fit around our table.  It was black metal with a gray hardly-padded cardboard seat cover with a splash of red paint on it right near the edge by his knee.  He wore sneakers without socks, cutoff denim shorts and a shirt although I don't remember what it looked like. His arms were straight by his side grasping either side of the chair and on his head was a brown paper bag, like the kind we got our groceries in.  He didn't say anything.  He didn't move. I was afraid though.  Panic welled up in me and to this day I can still remember the fear as I screamed trying to turn and run into the house while struggling with the screen door.  I wasn't afraid because of surprise. I was afraid because I knew he was the Devil. I believed for whatever reason that the this kid on a chair in my yard was Satan.  I felt the fear and the evilness and ran.  My mom grabbed a crying me and pulled me into bed and held me until I fell asleep.  When I woke up the chair was still there but the boy was gone.  For years I didn't recognize it as a dream but as reality and refused to sit in that chair.  Thirty Six years later I still feel that dream and if given the opportunity will sit in a different chair.  (Yes, my parents still own it.)

Evangelism 101

*Love others well and the world will know you follow Jesus.
*Be patient and kind and the world will know you follow Jesus.
*Don't demand others see your point of view, just live out your convictions and the world will know you follow Jesus.
*Don't act rudely, be jealous, or brag about your accomplishments and belongings and the world will know you follow Jesus.
*Don't hold grudges or be easily irritated and the world will know you follow Jesus.
*Rejoice when truth wins, not when injustice reigns and the world will know you follow Jesus.
*Don't give up, don't lose faith, and bear every hardship in life with the hope of better things to come and the world will know you follow Jesus.

Put away the tracts, love is always relevant. Love always wins.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Still Wrestling with the Purpose of the Church

Too often I get hung up on thinking that this space has to be pretty, lengthy, and somewhat cohesive.  I'm not sure why because these boundaries are stifling and then I don't write anything. So I am going to brain dump every day for the the next seven days as an experiment of sorts.  To push past the imaginary fence posts I have erected and I'm not going to paint the barn, ie. not polish my words.  Let's see where this takes us.  Maybe nowhere.  Maybe I'll just have seven days of random posts and then I won't post again for another year. Either way it isn't going to matter because this doesn't have to be pretty, lengthy, or cohesive.

We are to be agents of God's plan to give himself to a hurting world--a world that desperately yearns for a wholeness and rightness that can only come from him.  When we serve as his representatives to alleviate the struggle and pains of those in need we create this dynamic that automatically draws others in.  There are those who benefit from the service that find help and healing through having a need met and there are those who want to join in helping others.  In both of these instances relationships are initiated and fostered.  As we live authentic lives alongside others we are given opportunities to share our beliefs and hopes.  Those that agree with our belief system will desire to know more and want to fulfill the calling God has put on their lives.  This recognition of purpose then creates a space to corporately wrestle through the ambitious and challenging writings of scriptures and to apply them to our lives, as difficult as that can be. When those that don't share in our belief system continue to engage with us in service and relationship a symbiotic connection occurs. They enrich our lives because of who they are while holistically challenging our walk with God, in turn, hopefully they benefit from the kindness of God, a healthy equally challenging friendship, all while achieving His purpose through acts of service. It's a win-win. Seismic waves that ripple from our lives, resonate with others and waves of God's love concentrically reach those surrounding them and so on it goes.  When the church's purpose is service, disciples of Christ  are made, lives are transformed and his kingdom is brought closer to the here and now.

"Historically, religion has more often been a belonging system or a belief system, than an actual system of transformation.  When belonging and believing is your primary concern, you do not really need healing or growth, or even basic spiritual curiosity.  All your homework is done for you and handed to you.  If you let the group substitute for your own inner life or your own prayer journey, all you need to do is attend." - Richard Rohr

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Grace Before Social Services

“Grace before Social Services” has become somewhat of a motto in my house or at least in my own mind.  It probably lends more insight into the parenting of my seven, soon-to-be eight, children than I care to admit, but it’s a principle I want to exercise because I so much want others to reciprocate it.  It’s an up-to-date version of “walk a mile in another person’s shoes.”  We don’t do this enough in today’s society.  We barely walk, let alone slip on and lace up another’s kicks on our own pedicured feet.  The tendency of
late, is to automatically assume the worst of others and situations.  In general, we lack grace—and dare I say it—especially those of us who self-identify as Christians!  Ever read the comments section on a news story or on Facebook?  Then you know that what I am talking about is true—crushing.  People demanding justice, monolouging online the error of everyone’s way, and the irony of this; this behavior is the exact opposite of what we want so badly. We want people to think and desire the best for us, to conversate with us, and listen to us.  We want cheerleaders, encouragers, mentors, and realistic grace-filled friends. Grace-filled strangers would be even better.  Amen?  However, it seems that the exact opposite is happening.  Empathy has seemingly left the building and armchair activism has taken its place.

One of my friends works at a child development center.  She adores her job and all the little ones she gets to love on.  It suits her mama bear personality well.  As she was recounting various stories to me about the darndest things kids say and the crazy things they do, she told me about a little guy that shirked away from her when she reached for his arm to get him out of harm’s way.  She inquired as to what was wrong with his arm and he told her he had a really awesome tattoo and his mom removed it.  My friend asked if she could see his boo-boo and as he lifted his sleeve, she could see that his bicep was red and swollen and even looked a bit blistered.  Probing deeper, she asked how his mom removed it. He replied, “with an eraser.”

Gasp!  I am sure that as you read this you are probably grabbing your chest in horror as you imagine an angry mumbling mom with a Papermate Pink Pearl Premium eraser rubbing aggressively on a preschooler’s arm.  At least that’s where my thoughts went. I was hoping that my friend dialed the phone right then and there to Social Services.  This woman was obviously dangerous.   Concerned, she continued her Sherlock Holmes style investigation and found out the eraser was the white Magic kind, which left the little guy with a chemical burn in place of his temporary tat.
Magic Eraser!? The brakes of my pessimistic imagination came to a screeching halt and I told the lynch mob in my mind to lower the pitch forks for a hot second while I figured some stuff out, because maybe this mom was—even bigger gasp—like me. Say what you will, but this tattoo removal process suddenly made complete sense to me.  The seemingly harmless rectangle that removes crayon from my wall would probably do an amazing job getting off those supposedly temporary symbols that taunt me with their longevity; lingering on my kid’s skin for weeks like bad perfume in a cheap motel. I am not promoting using household cleaning supplies for eradication, because chemical burns are a real thing, but if I’m being honest, I would have totally done this!  I was most likely three or four kids into life before I learned about the danger of chemical burns.  Did this make me a bad mom? No it made me a naïve one and there is a difference.

The realization that this could totally be my story, pushed me to stop and ask if they had ever suspected abuse before?  “No. Nothing.” My friend answered, “In fact, she’s really great with him and always sweet to the staff.”

She continued to tell me that she called in coworkers to examine his arm, they took pictures and prepared to call the Child Welfare Department, but first someone suggested they phone the director of the center who was on vacation.  At this point in the story I am hanging on every word and cringing, because what if the mom really did have a lapse in judgement? Was the government going to take away her boy for an unintentional mistake? The crisis was adverted when the center director after reviewing the photos and hearing the details, told them to record the information in his file and to talk with the mom to see if the stories matched.  At the end of the day, they erred on the side of grace, before making a possible life-altering phone call. When asked that evening, the mama embarrassingly shared her mistake and thankfully she left the center with her little guy to enjoy dinner together and their normal bedtime rituals.

I am not trying to downplay the possible seriousness of the matter, the potential for abuse is a reality, and there is definitely a time to phone our friends at Social Services. What I am suggesting is that before we call assuming the worst of someone, before we write an outline for our standards on how to be better humans, could we speak in love with individuals, entertaining the thought that there might be more to the story?  Could we slip our foot into the shoe of another for a moment and consider the process that led up to the now?

Eugene Petersen’s The Message phrases the words of Paul in the beginning of Galatians 6 perfectly and points to a life embracing the “Grace before Social Services” principle: 
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

  • Live creatively, because empathy requires imagination.  To be able to identify with others and their possible motives for their actions we need to imagine what they could be feeling or thinking.  It’s grown-up imaginary play or as I prefer to call it, mind LARPing (Live Action Role Play, minus the costumes).  Whether we realize it or not we do it all the time.  For example, my son, Jace, is late getting home from work and didn’t reply to my text, it’s raining outside and I am certain he is dead in a ditch on the side of a windy back road.  In my mind, I see the police car turning in my drive, a knock on the door by a uniformed officer has me collapsing to the ground on the entry carpet between a pile of coats and boots wondering if he suffered for very long before meeting Jesus.  Here’s another one; my friend hasn’t responded to my texts and she always replies quickly.  I glue the phone to my hip waiting for the magical “you’ve got a text” chime, but meanwhile I begin a laundry list of possible offenses I could have committed, because surely that is the only reason she wouldn’t reply.   We don’t know the reality of the situation but we build off of what we know, our past experiences, or worst yet, our fears to answer the unknown. Our creativity is wasted on the negative, but what if instead we ran the situations through a positive filter.  Our thought life would dramatically change and go something like this; Jace is a responsible kid and a defensive driver I’m glad he doesn’t answer my texts when he is driving. Maybe with it raining like it is, he is helping salamanders cross the roads before they get hit by cars. Such a good kid.  My friend must have taken the homeschool lessons to the outdoors on this beautiful day or maybe she ran to the post office with that pile of packages in her office, I know she’s been putting it off.  I’ll check back in a couple hours after I get dinner ready. This way of thinking allows our creativeness to assume the best of others and ourselves.  The reality of the situation is still unknown but our imagination crafts a story framed in grace by utilizing what we know, past experiences and our hopes, not our fears and paranoia.

  • Restore others. If you believe in Christ and have been walking with him for a while you know there is nothing beyond his restorative power.  We need to speak that power over people, because restoration is encouraging.  Believe it or not most people are aware of their faults and mistakes, we don’t need to set up pie charts and board meetings to make everyone else aware.  What most don’t know is that beyond the faults and screw-ups there is a hope and a great love.  Another translation says to “gently and humbly help the person back on the right track.”  Judgment is far from humble or graceful and it’s not our job, most of us want it to be, so many of us think we are chief judge (ahem, comment trolls), but the truth is, it belongs to God alone. Ironic that most tattoo parlors get that word out about this better than churches, “Only God can judge me.”  Don’t go collecting the unemployment check yet, we still have a job; love God; love people—want for them the same stuff you want for you. Simply put; Praise God!  Encourage folks! If you don’t have anything nice to say, figure out something nice to say!

  •  Examine yourself. Maybe, just maybe it is possible that you could wind up in the same situation.  “Well, Erica,” you might be thinking, “your example of the mom was an accident, she didn’t know any better, what about people who choose to do sinful things?  I know better, that wouldn’t be me.”  To that I reply, “Oh, do you now?”  Funny how we know things are wrong, but yet we do them anyway.  My boy Paul says in Romans 7, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate.”  Every morning I wake up with the best intentions of being a great person and living for God and then I walk out my bedroom door.  Life comes at me and the battle with my sinful nature begins. I know it’s not right to speed, but I’m late for an appointment and I push the gas pedal a bit further than allowed.  I know I shouldn’t yell at my kids, but for the fifth time this week an entire roll of toilet paper has mysteriously found its way into the commode and one of my precious offspring has decided to repeatedly flush in an effort to help.  Maybe for some it’s bigger than plumbing induced screams, maybe it’s I know I shouldn’t take a hit of this joint or my nightly glass of wine is turning into a nightly bottle of wine, but I just need to make it through the crazy that is my life.  Or, I know that this relationship is not healthy but this guy at work seems interested in getting to know me for me and it makes me feel young and important again.  Failure and mistakes are not very far from any of us, in fact they are like mythological sirens singing to us waiting for us to follow their songs, disguising the dangerous as harmless or necessity.

  •  Stoop down, reach out, share burdens.   You might be thinking, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  You’re right, we don’t have time for it.  You’ve got to make time for it.  Reaching out and sharing burdens means relationship.  It’s tedious and time consuming and most times really hard work, but all good things are.  Wanting the best for someone, like really truly wanting the best for another human, means giving the best of ourselves and get this, giving the worst too.  We are not saviors, Jesus has that job. Remember ours?  Lovers.  We are called to love God and love people.  So instead of pretending we have our crap all together we need to be honest.  Share our struggles, our weaknesses, our failures because this is what makes us human.  This is what makes us relatable.  This is what makes real relationship.  When we humble ourselves and begin to let people see behind the velvet curtain of our lives, our God suddenly become more attainable and their lives might not seem so sucky after all.  People don’t need handouts they need hands out to help lift them up and then, at least for me, I want that hand to hold mine and journey with me at least for a little while.  

  •  Don’t think yourself better than.  In Deuternonomy 17 Moses relays the message from God that if when they enter the Promised land and are tempted to get a king then they need to make sure that he copies for himself “this body of instruction” which were the laws of the time.  The newly selected King would need to do his copy work in the presence of the Levitical priests for accountability.  After he wrote it all down, which certainly had to be a task, that scroll had to always be with him and he was to read it daily because as Moses wrote, “this regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens.”  (Deut. 17:20) I profess to know pretty much nothing about monarchial societies, but I would assume that the king of a kingdom would definitely carry some leverage and would be held in higher esteem by the people than an everyday worker.  However, in God’s plan he says the king and the peasant are equal.  In Proverbs 22:2 It says, “the rich and the poor have this in common; the lord made them both.”  Children’s author Taro Gomi puts it this way, “Everybody poops.”  God wanted to make sure that the king should not think or feel he is above everybody else, there was an equality regardless of class, assignment, or position.  People, we’re equal.

Grace before Social Service. This motto, isn’t for chumps and it can’t be done alone.  We need others to encourage us when life gets tough, to help us up when the world beats us down, and share stories so that we know we are not alone.  Most of all we need God to help us live creatively and love well, because this is hard stuff and it stretches us outside the safe boundaries of our comfort zone.  It also knocks us off the pedestal we have unintentionally, or maybe even intentionally, found ourselves upon.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:1- 2 that if we don’t judge others, we won’t be judged.  However, if we choose to not heed the warning and start dispensing our arbitrary opinions, well then we need to be prepared, because the standard we use in judging others is the same standard which we will be judged by.  Together we can do this.  We can extend one another grace before assuming the worst of each other and in doing so can avoid causing additional harm.  We’ve got to love, it’s that simple.  

Here’s some additional encouragement:

Galatians 6:2-3 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

1 Corinthians 10:24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.
Galatians 5:14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude