Saturday, December 7, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 6

Many thanks to my readers for their patience for the past two months!

As a reminder after my long absence, our verses for this series of posts on the toils of sin are as follows:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

Today, we're focusing on the "false witness who breathes out lies." Earlier, the author lists "a lying tongue," but here, the lies are in a public setting. In the Ten Commandments, this is stated as "you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." What makes this sin any different from a lying tongue? False witness places a lie in the larger realm of community and results in larger injustice than a private lie. A false witness doesn't just lie; he convinces the community that he is telling the truth, and the members of the community become--often unwitting--perpetrators of the lie.

Community is poisoned by false witness.

My husband loves watching the Tour de France every year and I watched along with him (Well, parts of it. A wife's patience can only go so far.) I admired the racers for their skill and hard work and determination. I admired Lance Armstrong for his comeback from cancer and amazing repeat wins.

But with recent revelations about wide-spread doping, I admit to utter cynicism over the whole sport. When George tells me that someone won such-and-such race, I say, "Oh, he doped the best!" I have lost all faith in professional cycling in view of the conspiracy of silence and lies, and find that loss of faith leaking over into my appreciation of triathlon and other sports as well. George resented my snarky comments about the latest winners of the Ironman Championships.

He still has faith that his sport is clean. I do not.

So many people denied seeing the doping. So many people denied doping. So many people were doping. And millions of fans of international cycling were fooled. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

While the cycling scandal was an example of deliberate conspiracy to break the rules, how often might false witnesses believe what they say is true? How often might they merely spread rumors, taking gossip for fact and sharing it as such?

I think of all those urban-legend e-mails targeting Muslims after 9/11, political issues warped beyond recognition and perpetuated by false witness ("my cousin's best friend saw this happen!"), hate fostered by false witness in courts of law (the Duke lacrosse scandal, for example).

How often might false witnesses misinterpret what they see or hear, draw wrong conclusions, and speak those conclusions out loud? This is, I think, the most common form of false witness, the form of this sin that all of us--even the most honest and faithful--can fall into unwittingly. We trust our own judgment and we are wrong.

One way to fight this impulse to sin is to reserve judgment and habitually err on the side of compassion and love. This is a habit that can be cultivated through prayer, intentionality, and practice.

Trust in fairness and justice within community are destroyed by false witness. Have you ever seen this happen? Have you ever been in a family or church or business or group torn apart by false witness? Did you see it heal, or did the consequences of this sin lead to punishment through generations?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 5

After that public service announcement on issues of education and faith, let's return to our regularly scheduled programming still in progress....

Our verses for this series of posts on the toils of sin are as follows:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

This week's concern is "feet that make haste to run to evil." The previous line says that the Lord hates a heart that devises wicked plans...plotters and schemers. Plots and schemes can take time to unfold, and often require patience to wait for the evil fruit to ripen.

Feet that make haste are not patient at all. They run without thought to evil. Their first response is evil. In fact, feet that make haste to evil are feet that run to evil all the time, habitually.

Think about the woman who stole the $20 bill from the blind man at Dairy Queen. He dropped the bill, she picked it up and pocketed it, and she refused to give it back when confronted by the DQ manager.

I cannot fathom the moral vacuum in which this woman runs around.

Thou shalt not steal.

That's my moral habit.

Years ago, unbeknownst to me, my toddler dropped something into the stroller basket at a store. I didn't realize it until after we'd left the store and I had loaded the baby and toddler into their car seats and was folding the stroller to put in the car.

I had to put the stroller back up, get the baby out of the car and into the stroller, then get the toddler out, then hold his hand while pushing the stroller back into the store with my other hand, and then confess to the shop attendant and hand her the item.

She said it was no problem, the item wasn't worth much, and it didn't matter.

Yes, it mattered.

Not only did I need to return the item because it wasn't mine, but I needed to teach the toddler that we always do the right thing, no matter how inconvenient or trivial it might seem.

So I'm not a thief, and my feet don't run to that sin, and it's easy for me to feel holier than that $20 thief. But where do my feet run habitually that does lead to sin?

Does gossip count? Lately, I've noticed my tongue running that way. It needs to stop.

Does anger count?

Does impatience count?

Well, of course gossip and anger and impatience count. And of course my personal moral vacuum needs to be filled with a loving tongue, a peaceful heart, and lots and lots of patience. The damage I do with these sins may not go viral on the internet or be prosecuted under the law, but that damage is real to the victims nevertheless.

And there are victims, as surely as that blind man who dropped the $20 was a victim. Friends, strangers, my children, my husband...these are the victims of my sin.

Remembering that there's a victim when I gossip, a victim when I get angry, a victim when I lose patience is the first brake I can apply to the speed of my sin.

The Lord hates feet that make haste to run to evil.

How do your feet run to sin? How can you brake your forward speed, break that habit within yourself? How will you begin?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Kingdom Come?

The Bible is complicated.

First, it's a translation. Or even a translation of a translation. And if you read the footnotes carefully, you see that some of those Hebrew words in the Old Testament are wild guesses...and how you guess at some of those words can completely change the meaning of the passage. Anyone who's taken a foreign language knows how hard it is to say what you mean and has probably encountered times when you simply couldn't say what you mean. The words just aren't the same.

Second, culture doesn't translate well at all, and the Bible is quite confusingly full of culture. Take slavery, for instance. Slavery is a given in the Bible, and in no place does the Bible offer up a direct challenge to it. Paul indirectly does, as we'll see later. There's no commandment against slavery, and in fact, there are a number of laws regulating treatment of slaves.

That bird doesn't fly today. Modern Christians oppose slavery in all its forms, and the right to own another person is universally seen as contemptuous and barbaric. God has revealed to us through history and our own reason and compassion that slavery is wrong. No Christian in his or her right mind would want to go back to a world in which people's ears are nailed to doorposts by law, even if that law is scriptural.

Other cultural norms--big and small--change even in the course of the Bible. The polygamy and polytheism of the early Old Testament are replaced with their mono forms. Levirate marriage, in which a dead man's brother must marry the widow, changes significantly between Judah and Tamar's marriage and Ruth and Boaz's.

How, then, do we read the Bible as a guide to living in the world today? What cultural components should we keep, and which, like slavery and Levirate law, can we safely discard?

I recently read an article on an extremely conservative Catholic website that argued against sending women to college. It's a waste of money, might lead women to sin, might lead their parents to sin, might make them marry the wrong men, and simply isn't necessary for wives/mothers/nuns. Mothers just need enough education to home-school their children if they want, but no more. Young couples are encouraged to buy cheap life insurance so if the man, whose duty it is to earn money for the woman's support, dies, the woman will have money to live.

I confess, this article rendered me temporarily speechless with fury.

When my mind could form words again, those words ran something like this: But what if the man turns into a scum-bag and leaves his family? What if he becomes disabled and can't work? Long-term disability insurance isn't cheap at all. What if he starts beating his wife and kids, and what if she can't leave because she has no place to go and no way to support or protect her children? What if God calls her to ministry or to brain surgery or to government service? What if? What if?!!!

This particular stand on women's education is a call to return to the culture of Biblical times, when women were completely dependent on male relatives for financial support. Biblical culture is being held up as a guide for modern family structure. Hebrew and Jewish women weren't expected to be formally educated; therefore, Christian women don't need to be educated today.

But consider that Levirate marriage between Judah and Tamar. Tamar's weak status in the culture of the time forced her to prostitute herself, become pregnant by her father-in-law, and risk being killed for sexual impurity...all to show Judah his obligation under the law. That she wins against the odds of her time and continues the line of David is an act of divine love correcting an injustice. God takes what is bad and uses it to His good.

That doesn't justify or excuse or legitimize the bad. Not at all. What it shows is that God's plan is about dignity and love. We humans, even good ones, screw that up for God all the time.

Is the culture that put Tamar in such a horrible position a culture of love and compassion? Is it a model for God's kingdom on earth? Or is it a product of sin, of the consequences of power misused and abused in ways that deny some people their dignity? Judah does right by Tamar, eventually, observing God's law for his time and demonstrating his righteousness. Also, the biblical laws relating to slavery served to give slaves as much protection and dignity as one can possibly have under the circumstances.

Under the circumstances.

Our circumstances today are different.

So what is God's law for our time? How do we live in righteousness here and now? How do we understand "God's kingdom come" and how do we play our part in making that happen in our time?What sort of philosophy should we use to interpret and translate the Bible today?

Seeing that we are Christians, I think we need to read the red parts of the Bible to answer these questions. Mark Lowry, a Christian comedian, observes that reading the red parts of the Bible will mess you up. He's right, because as complicated and hard as the whole Bible is to digest, Jesus' words are surprisingly straightforward and culture-neutral...yet terribly, terribly hard to follow through on.

Here's the gist of it. Forgive each other...repeatedly. Do not worry about what others are doing or not doing; just do what you can do to feed His sheep. Healthy people don't need doctors; serve the sick at heart and in body and soul. Lift others up; humble yourself. If your best isn't good enough, then shake the dust off your sandals and move on to serve where you can: you are not the world's Savior, but you can be a part of the living Savior's work. Talk to the people you're not supposed to talk to, the people who are different from you. Talk to them in love and compassion. Do not judge. Eat when you are hungry; feed others who are hungry.

Love God, love your neighbor, love each other.




It's a philosophy of love.

How does Jesus' philosophy of love apply to the issue of educating women today? Well, no one should be hungry.

That includes hunger for knowledge, hunger for strength, hunger to do good in the world. College education gives women and men the power to do enormous good in their homes and in the world. Limiting women to doing good in the home is a waste of the intelligence and the multiple talents God gives them.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a stay-at-home mom and feel incredibly blessed to be one. But one day my children will be grown and gone from the nest. What will I do then? Is my usefulness done? Not at all. I want to go back to teaching college English courses. I want to go on writing. These are my talents, and I will use them as I can, in God's service and in the world...because in the world is where God put me.

No one will convince me that these are sinful or unwomanly talents, that a desire to stand in front of a bunch of adults and preach the good news of proper grammar and epic similes is immodest. By God's gifts, I am good at it. I'm not hiding that light under a bushel. This current phase of my life is about caring for my children and I'm blessed to do that by staying home, but that phase is just a season in life, a part of who I am. It is not all of me, it is not the entirety of my life, it isn't the sum of all God has made me to be. What came before and what will come after are important as well.

I learned the value of education at my mother's knee. When my mother graduated from high school, she asked her father to send her to college to be an art teacher. He said it was a waste of money to educate women...she was just going to get married and have babies.

When I was in second grade and my sister in kindergarten, my father left our family with meager child support and no alimony. My mother had a high-school diploma and not enough job experience to support us.

Mom, my sister, and I moved in with my grandparents, who supported us until mom got her degree in dental hygiene and could support us herself. As a young girl, I was indelibly impressed by my mother's actions. Not once did my sister and I feel neglected by our single working mother, not once did we feel unloved or uncared for by her. Instead, she set an example of strength and courage and success for us that we both carried into our adult lives.

My sons take for granted my presence in their lives. When we were visiting my sister in the spring, my youngest asked my sister why she works outside the home. She's a physical therapist and answered that it makes her happy to help lots of people get well and feel better. She's healing the sick.

She's doing God's work in the world.

Yet there are Christians who think this is a sin simply because my sister has ovaries and has made babies? Who think that she should be a financial slave to her husband rather than a force for healing in the world?

I know the opponents to educating women are smaller in number now than when my grandfather told my mother that college was a waste of her time and his money. The vast majority of Americans no longer buy into that cultural paradigm. We're trying to find our way to equality, and the road is rough and uneven but getting better.

The fact is that men and women are biologically different. Most women are equipped for motherhood, and most men are capable of greater physical strength than most women.  It's also a fact that women are every bit as intelligent as men and can learn everything that men can learn. Clearly, today's culture is far less about procreation and physical strength than it is about cultivated, educated intelligence. 

As we realize God's kingdom on earth, as we move toward that level of love and compassion, we must move forward toward it, not backward away from it. This is hard. John Wesley provided a method of doing this in his four-fold way of discovering one's faith...through Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

Some people want to discount reason and experience in favor of Scripture and tradition, want to move culture and faith practice back to a time of slavery and oppression, want to discount all the lessons reason shows us for lifting up the weak and vulnerable and instead push women back into "divinely" dictated weakness and vulnerability.

Now might be a good time for Paul's comment on slavery. In Galatians 3:28, Paul writes,

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, in HIS kingdom, we are all one. Remember that in Eden, God made Eve from Adam's stand by his side, not under his foot.

To stand side by side, we all need equal opportunity to learn and work together, to feed our minds, to use our talents to serve God and each other in compassion and love.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 4

Our verses for this series of posts on the toils of sin are as follows:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

This week, we're reflecting on hearts that devise wicked plans. Plotters and schemers. People who plan harm to others for whatever reason. We can sort of understand crimes of the moment, where emotions suddenly take over and reason shuts down, but there's a special sort of wickedness when people actually think through and plan to do evil.

Cold, hard, calculated evil.

It's odd, but when I think of wicked plans, I rarely picture the perpetrators in my mind. I think of the victims. When reflecting on the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the London underground bombings in 2007, or the attacks in Mumbai in 2008, I think of the victims. How are the families of the dead coping? How are survivors dealing with the shock and trauma and stress?

Have you been a victim of a plot or scheme? George and I recently had our credit card number stolen and used to purchase airline tickets to the middle east. We were shocked to learn how many of our friends had experienced similar theft. In fact, several of my friends have had to cancel stolen cards and get new cards twice in the past year!

Schemes like stealing credit card numbers or social security numbers do not come from righteous hearts. And is there anyone out on the internet who hasn't had a computer infected with a virus? These viruses are created by hearts with wicked plans.

It's hard for me to imagine wicked schemers taking time to read this blog, but I believe that when we talk about sin in others, we need to look for it in ourselves. How do we devise wicked plans?

Honestly, I'm stumped. The closest I can get is the lies we tell to get out of doing things we don't want to do, which hardly rate as plans. I suppose I've seen wicked plans carried out during nasty divorces of people I know, where one party plots to get revenge or more than his/her fair share through legal or illegal means.

But in my life, there simply haven't been wicked plots and schemes that I am aware of or can remember. Sure, there are spur-of-the-moment bad decisions, but to think through a plan of action of harm to another human being...that, thank you Jesus, isn't something I or the people around me seem to do.

This lack of awareness of sin sort of scares me. How am I blind to my own sin in this area? Am I plotting and not aware of it? Have I convinced myself that whatever plot I'm brewing is righteous and motivated by good?

For some reason Westboro Baptist pops into mind. I suspect that the people who plan and carry out protests at military funerals believe their plans are righteous and approved by God with every fiber of their beings. No doubt they believe that they are doing God's work in the world, facing sin and calling it out, judging it, condemning it.

How am I sinning in this terrible way, hatching plans that serve to hurt others and inflate my own sense of (self-)righteousness? How do my plans glorify me by stepping on others? How do I uncover this sin and repent?

How do I see my plans as God sees them: in plain and naked truth?

Hard questions. Only two responses come to mind.

1. Prayer.

Take my thoughts and plans to God. Listen to His answers to those prayers. Wait. Be patient. He will light the path forward with love. Any other path is sin.

2. Plot love.

First, imagine how much good could happen in the world if these evil schemers and plotters put their talents and attention and hearts to helping the world instead of hurting it.

Now, imagine how much good could happen if you plotted and schemed for love. If a heart that devises wicked plans is an abomination to God, then let our hearts devise loving plans, plans to lift others up in God's love and compassion, plans to praise and glorify Him, plans to be like Jesus and help others with an open hand.

If we fill our hearts with loving plans, we leave no room for the wicked plans.

How can you fill yourself up with God's love and leave no room for wicked plans?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 3

Our verses for this series of posts on the toils of sin are as follows:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

The third abomination to God is "hands that shed innocent blood." This abomination is, for most of us, a pretty easy sin to avoid. When we think about those who murder or even just physically injure others, they are usually other. Not us.

We think of criminals who deserve to be in jail...people who abuse others, who use weapons to harm others, who are in gangs, who kill for gain or for fun. Lock them up and throw away the key, right?

We think of governments and armies that oppress the innocent, imprison and torture those who dissent, commit genocide.

We think of human traffickers who would rather kill a woman than have her escape her life of abuse.

We think of people whose profession requires involvement with violence, such as soldiers and police. These people have opportunity to abuse their authority, to harm the innocent bystanders in already ugly situations.

We think of those who crucified Jesus because he threatened their authority and their legalistic way of life.

For those of us living comfortably in civilization today, this sort of violence isn't common at all, and it's easy to see it as something separate from us, not a sin we participate in, easily avoidable.  


We commit some pretty ugly violence that's all too common. It may not result in physical wounds or bloodshed, but we do wound our children, our spouses, our parents, our siblings, our friends, total strangers with words or deeds that shed the blood of their hearts. We commit acts of spiritual and emotional violence any time we lash out at others with impatience, with loss of self-control, with anger or self-centeredness. We wound others when we turn away from their suffering and grief because it makes us uncomfortable.

Are we as innocent as we think we are when it comes to "hands that shed innocent blood"? What do you think?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 2

Our verses for this series of posts on the toils of sin are as follows:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

The second abomination to God is "a lying tongue." Lies break the social covenant between people. A lie breaks trust, the very trust that allows us to interact with confidence and security. When we no longer have confidence that what a person says is true, the social covenant breaks down.

We've all lied at some point. Sometimes, we lie in little ways, to spare someone's feelings, and call them good lies. "No, those pants don't make your butt look fat." "Oh, your veggie lasagna is delicious!" "Your dog is so cute."

Note how all these little lies are lies of opinion. Whether or not someone looks fat in particular pants is relative; one person might think so, another not. How people taste food is highly variable and subjective; what tastes like slop to you might be perfectly delicious to someone else. Dog cuteness is hugely subjective.

Lying about your opinion to spare someone's feelings feels...kind, like bending the truth rather than breaking it. The truth doesn't matter nearly as much as the unnecessary hurt it will inflict.

But they are still lies, and if you try, you can reword them so they aren't lies. It generally just takes tact and quick thinking. "Oh, you must love this widdle doggie face!"

Sometimes we lie in big ways, and these lies hurt others far worse than the truth ever would. We lie to hide stealing from employers, we lie to excuse using other people for our own purposes, we lie for personal gain, to protect our reputation, to bring others down, to get out of unpleasant social obligations.

The getting of treasure by a lying tongue
  is fleeting vapor and a snare of death. Proverbs 21:6

I know of a man who was recently sent to prison for fleecing a number of people out of their life savings. His lying tongue got him treasure, but he lost it all and is spending his 70s in federal prison.

Lies often cover our sins, such as lying to a spouse about being with friends rather than a lover. Sure, the truth is going to hurt hugely, but finding out your spouse was unfaithful and lied to you causes even greater pain than the truth ever could.

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
  but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28:13

For me, the subject of lying always brings to mind the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob was a liar who cheated Esau out of his inheritance, but his lies eventually forced him to flee his home. When he came back, years later, with a huge household and wealth, he met Esau on a field. Esau had an army of 400 at his back and embraced Jacob, welcoming him home joyfully. Jacob was grateful for the forgiveness and healing, but he knew that the covenant was still broken if Esau needed an army of 400 to welcome him. So he went and settled in another area.

Sometimes, trust is so destroyed by lies that the kindest mercy of all for everyone is distance.

The most amazing and wonderful thing about our God is His infinite capacity for mercy and forgiveness. Our earthly covenants with each other may break beyond repair and restoration, but we can never so destroy our covenant with God that it cannot be healed and restored by His amazing grace, through Jesus' death on the Cross.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavishes upon us. Ephesians 1:7-8

Reflection: Think of times you've lied and times you've been lied to. Think of how the social covenant was damaged or destroyed by those lies. Would truth from the start have saved it? If you need forgiveness for lies you have told, how might you start the healing process? If you need to forgive someone for lying to you, how might you start that healing process?

Whatever the situation is, cling always to the mercy and grace of God, for He lavishes them upon us all! All we need to do is ask for them. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 1

Today's proverbs give us a lot to think about, so we're going to cover them over a number of weeks rather than rush through.

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

This verse pops up after advice regarding "loose women." The loose women whose lips drip with honey are a metaphor for all those things that seduce us away from God.

But what, exactly, does it mean to be seduced away from God, to be ensnared by iniquity, caught in the toils of sin?

If you're anything like me, you'd just rather not think about this. Sin seems like such a big topic, huge and ugly and detailed. But in Chapter 6 of Proverbs, we get a list, a relatively simple list, of what sin is.

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

Let's break these verses down and look at each sin separately.

Pride, or haughty eyes, is listed first, the first and worst of the Seven Deadly Sins of the earliest Christian teaching. Throughout scripture, we are told to be humble before God, and we think of how humble Jesus was, washing His disciples' feet, going to the cross without uttering a word in His own defense. Even the pagans preached humility and the dangers of pride. Just think of Greek tragedy and mythology. A little Oedipus Rex or Achilles' heel, anyone? At the great, triumphant parades of the Roman emperors and generals, paid mockers shouted insults at the honoree to keep him from attracting the attention of gods for being too prideful. Pride goes before a fall...Proverbs 16:18.

The arrogant are always and every time brought low.

Is it wrong for me to be proud of my college and graduate degrees, proud of my children and husband, proud of my country? I don't think so, unless that pride makes me puffed up over others or leads me to ignore the feelings of others. If I look on others with haughty eyes, that is the abomination to God, that is the sin. Haughty eyes hurt relationships, hurt people, hurt nations.

So how do we know when our pride hurts others? Well, context matters. What could be more natural than a woman bragging about her grandchildren? Every grandmother I've ever met does this at some point. In fact, I hope that all grandmothers are proud of their grandchildren. Yet I know a grandmother who shared with a relative that her grandson had been diagnosed with a major disability. The relative said how sorry she was, then immediately proceeded to tell the hurting woman how smart and talented her own grandchild was. One woman shared that her grandson might never live independently and the other dished up a serving of pride.

How hurtful in that moment the second grandmother's pride was!

I came across a saying recently that a person who is not nice to his or her server in a restaurant is not a nice person. I've never understood how people can be rude to servers; they handle your food, after all, and can do what they like to it in the kitchen! When I've witnessed such rudeness to servers, I've seen the haughty eyes, the I'm-better-than-you look. It's always so very ugly.

There's a controversy brewing in our small community, one that shows Americans at their most politically polarized and ugly. It's tearing our community apart and making us ridiculous at best and criminally stupid at worst in the national media.

I don't do conflict well and have purposefully stayed out of the mudslinging, but the nastiness on Facebook and in the media has bothered me. A lot.

I have opinions on the subject being debated...oh, yes, I have strong opinions. I think certain points of view in the situation are stupid beyond belief, am amazed that educated Americans can honestly think the way they do on both sides of the issue. I'm in the middle, as usual, seeing shades of gray and opportunities for grace and compromise that the black-and-white folks don't or won't or can't.

I hate the way this makes me feel, though. Am I looking on these people with haughty eyes? Do I think I'm better than they are? Not better, perhaps, but certainly smarter.

And there's the rub. The other day, I realized I was looking at it the wrong way, the prideful, haughty way that says I'm-right-you're-wrong-so-screw-you. I wondered what would happen if I focused instead on what I love about my community and the people in it. What would happen if I stopped looking down with haughty eyes and started looking up with grateful eyes? I wrote a long list of all that I love about my community and about this largely ugly situation.

You know what happened? The knot in my stomach loosened. The anger in my heart disappeared. The frustration and arrogance disappeared. I sat at my computer screen and cried tears of gratitude. I'm not angry about the situation any more, and I am not looking down on anyone. I'm sad, yes, for the damage being done to our community, and I still hold my opinions on the subject as strongly as before. But I also see that right now, the middle of the conflict, isn't the end.

The only thing that changed was my attitude, from pride to love. And it has made all the difference.

I also see what I can and cannot do about the situation. I'll vote my conscience in November, and I'll write a letter to the officials involved in the chaos, a letter of peace and balance, of calm reason instead of the angry rhetoric that was boiling around in my brain.

The toils of arrogance were tearing me up, but the fruit of love is peace. 

Where in your own life are you ensnared by pride and toiling in its arrogance? How can you walk humbly and lovingly with God instead of staring out with haughty eyes?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Plans and Guidance

In our praise and awe of God, some people surrender to a passive theology. God's in charge of all creation, after all, and we are puny little humans, not worthy to kiss the hem of His celestial robes.

Let God take care of it.

Whatever it is.

But God doesn't want us to sit on our hands and do nothing with the life He gave us. We are made in His image to create, think, He's not our puppet-master.

Today's proverb reminds us of this.

A man's mind plans his way,
  but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

These two lines sum up a lot of our problem in life. We make plans. Of course we do. We were created to make plans in the image of a Creator who makes plans.

But how do we let the Lord direct our steps?

Pray in all things and listen for God. You'll hear Him. He'll speak through daily life, your friends, your enemies, seeming coincidences, even dreams.

Be open to His Word. Read scriptures in an attitude of love and worship and gratitude. You will find guidance there.

Pray for forgiveness. We all make mistakes in our plans. We encounter unexpected consequences, our steps falter. God forgives us our mistakes, even uses them to further His plans. Trust that.

What plans are you making right now? How are you letting the Lord direct your steps? Have you dropped plans because they seemed too big for you? How would they turn out if you have God's help moving them forward?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Dinner of Herbs

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
  than a fatted ox and hatred with it. Proverbs 15:17

Food is elemental, and our relationship with it is complicated and powerful. Spend a few moments thinking about meals in your past where love was a guest. How did the food taste? How did it make you feel?

Now spend a few minutes thinking about meals where hate was the guest. What was the physical effect on you? Could you eat? How did the food taste? How did the food make you feel?

I love how this proverb acknowledges the deep connection between body and spirit. When the spirit is sick, the body can't be nourished properly. Whether we feel hatred or feel hated, the physical impact is enormous. We describe our stomach as being in knots. We feel sick. Our throat is so tight it's hard to swallow. We are weighed down by hate, tightened by it. Nothing else can get in.

When we feel love or feel loved, the physical sensations are light and liberating. We relax. We can enjoy the taste of food and feel nourished body and soul.

I remember reading a story by a single mother who was struggling financially. One night, all she had was some broth and mushrooms, and she made mushroom soup. She felt bad to have nothing else for her daughter, so she found an old candle, put a blanket on the floor, and she and her daughter had an indoor picnic.

Years later, the daughter told her mother that was her favorite meal ever. The daughter had no idea how hurt the mother was to have nothing better for her child...she only knew that her mother loved her, and that mushroom soup tasted amazing as a result.

Today's lives are so busy. How often do you sit down with loved ones and enjoy a meal? Think of ways you can invite love to your table and restore a positive spirit to the elemental act of eating. Perhaps it's through a prayer before or after the meal, or through a weekly "dressing up" of the table using the fine china and crystal. Maybe it's just eating in your formal dining area instead of the kitchen or eating outside on a comfortable night.

Whatever you do, invite love to the table. The food tastes so much better then!

Share your thoughts on love and food. How do you make even simple meals special?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Trolls and the Power of Words

Proverbs 12:6 describes a very modern situation that has bothered me for a long time.

The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
   but the mouth of the upright delivers men.

Internet anonymity protects the wicked who troll for opportunities to wound others with nasty words. These trolls stir up trouble for their own entertainment and take pleasure in the pain they cause. Perhaps they have been hurt and seek revenge on the world for their pain, or perhaps they are truly wicked and delight in hurting others.

I had to quit reading comments on YouTube videos and several news websites. Practically every thread is tainted with gratuitous venom.

But sometimes, these wicked words occur because people simply don't think about what they are doing. It seems fun at the time, innocent, harmless. I know a man--a father of boys, divorced, college educated, wealthy--who thought it was jolly fun to teach his girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter how to set up fake profiles on dating websites using photos stolen from Facebook. The girl's mother thought this was funny.

These two adults think teaching a child to lie, steal, and hurt others is harmless, and they brushed off the idea that their actions were wrong when another adult sought to correct them.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
   but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15

The ease and convenience of generating words on the Internet have led people to lose appreciation for the power of words. We've all heard of the suicides sparked by Facebook bullying. Just because we can't see the face of victims of our online cruelty or carelessness doesn't make the pain we can inflict any less real. Words can wound, even when they just are typed onto a website. It's like shooting people with're not physically there, but the damage gets done anyway, with no risk to you and minimal inconvenience.

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
   but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

How can you bring healing with your words online? What do you do to encourage kindness, compassion, and mercy on the World Wide Web?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Look Forward

Let your eyes look directly forward,
  and your gaze be straight before you.
Take heed to the path of your feet,
  then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
  turn your foot away from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)

In a world of constant distraction (oh, wait! text message to check!), this week's proverb speaks volumes. How often do we find ourselves at the end of the day wondering what good we have done and what, really, have we accomplished? The house is a mess (but we cleaned for hours!), the to-do list still looks a mile long (but we didn't sit down all day!), we feel like all we've done is put out consecutive fires right in front of us instead of planning with purpose (oh, the drama!).

What happened to the path? Where did it go?

As advice for faith and for achieving goals, Proverbs 4:25-27 is excellent, but like a lot of the wisdom in Proverbs, the advice here is situational, not universal. If the Good Samaritan only looked ahead, he would not have seen the Jew lying bloody and beaten on the side of the road. God calls us to swerve right or left in His cause of love and compassion in the world, but He never, ever calls us to swerve to evil. His way is straight, even if it twists and turns us in directions we may not want to go!

Take heed to the path at your feet. Discerning the path of love and compassion--the path God wants you to walk--is where wisdom lies.

How do we follow that path? How do we find it and stay on it?  I'm reminded of Paul's words in Philippians 3:14: "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Keeping our eyes on Jesus is challenging in our world of distraction and busyness.

A few things scripture tells us to do when things get crazy and the path gets lost...

1. Pray. In all things, pray. Too often, our prayers become laundry lists of things we want God to do, but what about praying for God to show us what He wants us to do? Prayer isn't just our words to God, it's His words to us. It's a conversation. We need to be quiet and listen. 

2. Be in Christian Community. God uses us to influence others, and He uses others to influence us. Pride makes us think we can or should handle our problems ourselves, but pride is a sin...a deadly one at that. Take your concerns to your Christian community, especially when the secular world is intruding on your life and distracting you. Talk to a good friend, ask for advice, listen carefully. Pray together. Wherever two or more are gathered in His name, there He is. Above all, do not suffer alone!

3. Read Scripture. Occasionally, opening your Bible at random yields something useful, but as with prayer, reading scripture is an ongoing conversation with God. The world promises quick fixes, but God's time is His to control. As we learn to read scripture over time and grow in faith, we learn to see God working in the world and in our lives. Dedicated study over time yields the best benefits toward that upward call.

What other advice do you have for keeping to God's path? When have you strayed from the path and been called back? How did you find the path forward again?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Rights of the Poor and Needy

Open your mouth for the dumb,
for the rights of all who are left desolate.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
maintain the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

When Israel and Judah were powerful, rich, and prosperous, the prophets were called by God to warn them of their downfall. Two main sins bothered God and the Prophets the most: worshiping idols and social injustice. Notice how these two sins violate directly the most important commandment God ever issued: Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Worshiping idols means not loving God, and letting the poor and weak suffer and grow poorer and weaker means not loving your neighbor.

It was Israel and Judah's failure to love God and love their neighbors (the poor and helpless) that led to the destruction of the temple and the defeat of their kings. If we don't take care of each other, God cannot take care of us. He wants to, but he can't. We make our bed, and we have to lie in it. That's what free will is all about. And that's why the Temple burned.

King Lemuel, whose words are recorded in Proverbs 31, tells us to speak up for those who cannot speak and to protect and guard the rights of those who are desolate, poor, and needy. He's speaking directly about obeying the social justice laws so well known to his audience. The Law given to Moses by God laid out a structure for taking care of the needy, but a lot of that law code doesn't really make sense today. The Law, for example, dealt with just treatment of slaves...something we find morally reprehensible today.

So how do we who are in the world today follow the wisdom of Lemuel? How do we open our mouths for those who can't? What can we do to help those who need help? How do we follow the spirit if not the letter of the old Law?

I think a lot of people feel overwhelmed by others' suffering and the whole issue of social justice. "There's just so much of suffering and injustice in the world! What can I do? I can't fix the problem, after all. Poverty and hunger have always been around, right? What good will my efforts be really? Not much, so why bother? I pay my taxes. Let the government handle the problem. Yeah, the authorities are paid to deal with it, so I won't worry about it."

The Enemy loves this kind of thinking. Where's the love? Nowhere. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, has something to say about how we should proceed:


That sounds like a pretty tall order, doesn't it? But what Wesley is saying is to keep your eyes open always to opportunities to do good. If your eyes are open and looking--actively looking--you'll find all sorts of mute suffering you can speak for, you'll find all sorts of injustice you can act upon, you will find the ways you specifically are called to serve those in need.

None of us can do it all, but we are called to do what we can.

My mother taught adult literacy so grown men and women could learn to read and write. My mother-in-law quilted for missions so the cold have warm blankets. My in-laws together take meals to the hungry through Meals on Wheels. My cousin and her husband spent their vacation helping several families clear mud and trash from their homes after Hurricane Katrina.

These people didn't solve big problems...there are still plenty of people in America who can't read or write, plenty of cold people all around the world, plenty of shut-ins who go hungry, plenty of new natural disasters every year since Katrina.

But they do what they can with what they have...and make a huge difference in people's lives. They show love to the mute and needy. Because they can.

Perhaps you already have your own crusade for social justice. Perhaps you already go to a church that provides you with lots of opportunities to serve the poor and suffering regularly with your gifts and your money. Perhaps you have found your call and are acting on it already. Perhaps you already keep your eyes open for opportunities wherever you are. If so, please share in the comments. It's not bragging; your suggestions may encourage others to find similar ways to help in their communities!

If you feel like you're not doing enough for social justice, look around. What needs do you see where you are right now? What can you do to follow the wisdom of Lemuel and open your mouth for those who quietly suffer and maintain the rights of the poor and needy? Don't be afraid to start small, and don't be afraid to start big, either! Just start.

Once you start, you'll be amazed at the difference you can make in others' lives...and your own.

Praise God!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Walking in Wisdom

For this week's proverb, we're starting with Proverbs 28:26,

He who trusts in his own mind is a fool;
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.

What, exactly, is walking in wisdom? And why would its opposite be trusting in one's own mind?

Another passage in Proverbs might help us here.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)

Scripture tells us repeatedly to trust in the Lord. God's got it covered. (Remember last week's proverb?) When we trust our own minds, we're not exactly trusting God, are we? Our minds are prone to error; our knowledge is imperfect and limited, yet we draw conclusions and make judgments and act as if we know it all.

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Trusting our own mind means we're arrogant, not fearfully humble before God, and leads to evil. This evil can lead to horrible suffering: think of PTL and the fleecing of the poor, think of Westboro Baptist's actions at military funerals, think of the Boston marathon bombers.

Our arrogance in thinking we are right leads us to act in ways that are very, very wrong.

And when we use God as an excuse for that wrong, our sin multiplies.

We are, however, born into the world and live in the world. We cannot avoid drawing conclusions, making judgments, and acting decisively in big and small matters every single day. We have to trust at least some of our judgments...or we become paralyzed with indecision and fear.

I have a friend who became paralyzed while trying to decide which car to buy. It's a big decision, and she was struck with doubt that she deserved the safe, reliable, used car she could easily afford. She thought it was too nice for her. She prayed but didn't feel that God was giving her a solid answer.

Let's face it. God doesn't speak to us each morning out of our blow dryers (a modern burning bush!), telling us which car to buy or where to eat lunch or whether to buy organic apples.

How, then, do we balance the necessity of living in the world with the call to walk in wisdom with God?

At least part of the answer, I think, lies in humility and love. God created the universe and all matter in it. What a miracle! How small we are, how limited! We see darkly, for a brief time. He sees clearly for all time.

Yet He loves us, each and every one of us, and wants us to love Him and each other and ourselves. He has given us free will, a will to choose our path, a will to choose evil or good.

God trusts us to think about what the right thing might be, to come to Him prayerfully with our problems, to listen to Him, to study His Word for guidance, to live in Christian community with others to help guide us, and to act always in love and humility.

This, for me, is walking in wisdom, and I fall short of it every single day.

This Week's Reflections
How do you walk in wisdom? Did I leave something out of my list? Have you ever felt that you trusted too much in your own understanding and hurt someone as a result? Has your own error ever made your path crooked? If it's still not straight, what could you do to walk in wisdom again and trust Him to straighten that path for you?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Love Covers All Offenses

I might as well come clean with you now and tell you what I think the entire Bible really means, what it boils down to for me, what my guiding philosophy is for reading it, for living it.

The Bible boils down to one word, best summed up in Latin: caritas.

Charity. Love. Lovingkindness.

Love God, and love your neighbor. If it's not love, it's not biblical. If it's not love, it's not God. If it's not love, it's not Christian.

The Bible is about relationship love. God's not alone. He created us in His image so He could love us and we could love Him. Perfectly.

We are not, however, perfect, are we? We can't see as clearly as He sees. Our limits make us insecure, uneasy, suspicious, worried, hateful, less like God all the time. Our human nature makes us willful and selfish. We lose faith, lose trust, lose our ability to love perfectly.

This week's proverb is in chapter 10, verse 12:

Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses. (Proverbs 10:12)

Hatred creates conflict between people, and between us and God. Hatred separates and hurts. Sometimes we hate ourselves, sometimes we hate difference, sometimes we hate the world, sometimes we hate God. Sometimes we hate them all at once, eaten up with hate.

Love covers all offenses. Love covers them from sight, ignores them, or forgives them. Love is big enough for all one is too offensive for God's love, and no one is outside God's forgiveness.

We have a hard time loving like God, though. We want to judge and punish, we want to exact revenge, we want to hold tight to grudges and grumbles and old hurts and new wounds.

On the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive his executioners, for they know not what they do.

You are a beloved child of God, and He will cover you.

Free will, however, means that we can't control what others feel or do. When others stir up strife with hate, making relationship impossible, we are not called to be doormats. Jesus chose his servanthood, and we aren't called to servitude or slavery. We are called to love justice (if laws have been broken, pursue right justice) and to pray for and forgive those who harm us, however hard it is, and however long it takes.

But if we love the God of Love, we know that He has plans for us to prosper. Sometimes, to love we have to remove ourselves from harm, take the opportunities God provides for good in our lives, for love.



God's got it covered.

Where in your life are you holding onto those old hurts or new wounds, where could you cover offenses with love to renew and restore relationship love? Have you ever had a relationship broken beyond repair in a broken world? How can God's love cover your wounds without the broken human relationship being restored?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Beginning of Wisdom

The Book of Proverbs is part of the wisdom literature in the Bible. Back in Biblical times, no one confused Wisdom with its ugly step-child Standardized Book Learning. (Can you tell my children have gone through their third round of standardized testing this school year? Can you tell I'm not happy about that? Good. I'm not hiding that light under a bushel.)

Back to wisdom. In the olden times, before standardized tests and institutional text books and curriculum poorly designed by committees of politicians, wisdom came from experience, study of scripture, and word of mouth passed down from previous generations. Proverbs has lots of advice for children to listen to their elders.

According to Proverbs, wisdom begins with fear of God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
   and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10)

If you grew up in a "sinners in the hands of an angry God" church (you know who you are), then the word "fear" in this proverb may not strike you as odd. But for many of us modern-day, mainstream protestants, fear of the Lord is a hard concept.

We grew up with sweet Lord Jesus being our buddy, pal, and friend, a sort of avuncular chum, our model for behavior. Jesus loves us and is kind. He only gets angry at the money lenders in the temple. Sure, He gets impatient with the disciples and their stupidity from time to time, but He's not really a figure to incite fear in people.

God speaking out of a burning bush?  Traveling ahead of the Israelites in a thunder cloud? It's easier to fear the God of the Old Testament, isn't it?

But what, exactly, is the fear of the Lord that the proverb expresses? That's our contemplation for this week. When do you fear the Lord? What is the nature of that fear? Is it like your phobia of snakes or spiders or heights or being forced to watch Jersey Shore? How might fear make you wise? How might fear of things other than the Lord be good or bad for wisdom?

For me, fear of the Lord means being humble and awed in the face of His awesomeness. It means accepting His hugeness, His mystery, His infinite goodness and knowing in my bones that I'm just a tiny little bit of His vast and glorious creation. The beginning of wisdom is accepting that our human wisdom will never be His wisdom, accepting that we see only a piece of creation through a glass darkly, accepting that we are limited in every single way...physically, mentally, historically, spiritually, mortally.

When fear paralyzes us, I don't believe it's not fear of the Lord. God loves us and wants us to love Him and each other, and love is a verb. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." That love is active and compassionate.

A modern definition of intelligence is the facility of the mind's movement from big idea to little detail and back again. A smart person can move between the big perspective and the small details, the macro to the micro, and back again, allowing the details to influence the larger perspective and using the larger perspective to see the importance of the details. In other words, intellect is dynamic, a movement of thought, not static.

I believe God has perfection of that dynamic wisdom. He sees all, knows all, creates all...yet the fall of a sparrow matters to Him. We can never see all, and our contemplation of details is ever so limited. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to achieve wisdom as our abilities allow. We were, after all, created in His image.

But the more I know, the more I know that I know nothing. We should always be humble in our pursuit of wisdom. When wisdom begins in us, it begins with the awareness that the knowledge we seek so ardently and enthusiastically will never, ever be full and complete because we will never be God. And if our knowledge can't be complete, it will always be flawed, in a state of error, in a state of sin.

Wisdom begins with humility in the face of God's greatness. None of us is adequate in the face of God. All of us sin. Yet God is infinitely merciful, infinitely loving, infinitely forgiving.

Wisdom begins with healthy fear, not the paralyzing fear of phobia but the healthy fear of our own sin and God's own perfection.

That healthy fear grows our wisdom with a watering of mercy, love, and compassion for others and ourselves. That fear sets our feet on the path to His Kingdom.

What are your thoughts on fear of the Lord and wisdom? Do you let fear of things other than the Lord get in the way of wisdom? When do you, like Adam and Eve, want to claim the Knowledge of Good and Evil--God's own knowledge--for yourself? How are you inevitably humbled?

Please feel free to share your reflections in the comments.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: A Slack Hand

Many of the Proverbs deal with wealth, money, work, and poverty. Let's start with a very straightforward one:

A slack hand causes poverty,
   but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Proverbs 10:4

On the literal level, this proverb seems fairly accurate to life, don't you think? If you're lazy, unwilling to work, you will certainly have a hard time paying your bills, and if you willingly work hard, you are much more likely to have what you need and probably a lot of what you want.

We can, of course, think of exceptions to this rule...especially in today's economy. Think about the children of the very rich. Their hands may be as slack as dead fish, but they will never want for wealth. Think about the hard worker who suffers a disabling accident. She may be as diligent as she can be, but her disability will likely drag down her economic situation.

Still, as a general rule, Proverbs 10:4 works pretty well.

What happens, however, if we stretch beyond the literal with this verse? Doesn't its advice not to be lazy apply to all sorts of endeavors in life? Think of the divorce rate. How many divorces come from "slack hands" in a marriage? Certainly not all divorces--plenty result from truly bad behavior or legitimate differences. But I've watched several marriages fall apart over far, far less than infidelity or differences of opinion about having children.

Some couples just get lazy, take each other for granted, let love slip into mere tolerance or even open contempt, and then toss in the towel.

A slack hand causes poverty of love and partnership.

Those of us who've been married a while know how much hard work it is to overcome irritation at petty things, to compromise and to pay attention, to forgive and to encourage, to work through troubles and to keep moving forward. Two diligent hands--or hearts--working at maintaining love cause marriage to be richer and more stable.

Other areas of life follow this same advice quite neatly, especially our spiritual life. Get slack with prayer and your prayer life suffers. Work diligently at serving others, and you will certainly be rewarded.

Over the next week, think about the many areas in our lives that suffer poverty when we get lazy about them. Think about those areas that stay rich when we give them due diligence. Where do you need to be more diligent in your life?

An Invitation to Share: If you feel moved to do so, please share your reflections in the comments. You never know when your thoughts will spark someone else to deeper understanding or discovery!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Computer Crash

Just finished reading Ecclesiastes, and find that I'm living the Teacher's belief that all is vanity. Well, perhaps not all, but counting on your computer not to die certainly is silly.

I hope to be up and running again soon. My functioning mini-laptop is sssslllloooowwww and awkward for longer typing sessions. But I WILL BE BACK ASAP!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs, Introduction

How It Began

I am currently taking a Disciple 4 Bible study with our pastor, and last week we read the second half of Proverbs. When the discussion started, I said, "I think Proverbs would best be read one proverb per day to give you time to digest each one. Reading a lot at once is overwhelming. It would be a good iPhone app to have."

Pastor replied, "Well, you do have a blog."


So here I am, starting a series of posts on the book of Proverbs. The wisdom books, I think, particularly benefit from contemplation and balanced reasoning. Is that not, after all, part of their intent?

What We'll Do

I've always appreciated pithy aphorisms, and as I read Proverbs, I found myself nodding or shaking my head, seeing holes in the reasoning and seeing how some were more universally true than others. Some are specific to the times in which they were written; others are as true today as then. Some are useful and wise in certain situations, but it is easy to see other situations in which they wouldn't apply well at all.

Let's explore them together!

The plan is to move around the book as the spirit moves me, focusing on a single proverb or a cluster of related proverbs in each post. I will quote a proverb from the Revised Standard Version translation, and then reflect on what it might mean to us today.

An Invitation to Share

I strongly encourage you to share your own feelings on each proverb in the comments of this blog.* Being heavily steeped in the Methodist tradition, I'm a big believer in the importance of using one's Christian community to gain deeper understanding of Scripture. I hope you learn from what I have to say, but I'm no expert or Bible scholar. We can learn so much from each other, no matter what denomination we belong to or how long or short a time we've been Christians.  Everyone brings a valuable--and different--perspective to the conversation! 

Even if you are a complete newcomer to Bible study, you have much of value to share. You never know when your basic question or observation might spark someone with years of study to deepen in insight. And by reading the comments of those who have studied in depth, you will learn as well.

I hope you will join us on a proverbial adventure.

May God richly bless those who study His Word!

*A word of peace: I will delete any comments that do not follow a spirit of mutual respect and lovingkindness. Hateful speech, insults, partisan politics, or rudeness will not be tolerated. Differences of opinion, when respectfully expressed, are very much appreciated, as are expressions of denominational differences.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hangar Time

Rest. Recuperation. Rejuvenation.

Sabbath rest was meant to be a blessing to God's people (although the sentence of death for its violation always struck me as a tad harsh). Modern medicine shows how important rest is, reinforcing that which God knew from the beginning. If children don't get enough rest, they don't grow well, their brains don't develop properly, they don't do well in school.

In today's stressful, busy world, we don't get enough rest, and our brains are forced to put too much on auto-pilot. As we fly through life, we miss so much happening right under us, even in our own brains. Habits develop without our conscious brain knowing...until something blows up in our face and then we realize how careless we've become. Our flight becomes uneven, bumpy, hazardous.

We crash and need repair.

Gratitude steps in with a hydraulic lift and blow-torch to fix our self-inflicted mess.

Cultivating gratitude means we protect and respect our blessings so they can be shared with others. To love your neighbor as yourself you have to love yourself. Punishment, recrimination, self-loathing...these are not usually helpful.

Hangar time is critical when you have crashed. It allows you to love yourself, nurture and recuperate, regain your strength to take flight again.

But to keep from crashing in the first place, schedule your hangar time regularly.

When you take regular hangar time for routine maintenance and self-care, you'll be much less likely to crash in the first place.

Contemplating, savoring blessings so you can move forward with sharing them...that's what hangar time is all about.

Do you need hangar time? Perhaps you just need five minutes of it, sipping coffee or tea on your back porch while birds sing in the trees. Perhaps most of your life is flying smooth and level, but one area of it is falling apart on auto-pilot. You might only need hangar time for work, or home, or a single relationship that's become more about resentment and irritation than loving kindness.

Take the hangar time you need regularly. You'll fly better for it.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Happy Easter!

"Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o'er his foes!"

Thank you for following First United Methodist Church's Exodus for Lent study. I hope you have enjoyed the journey out of Egypt to the glorious salvation offered by kneeling at the foot of the Cross. God has offered His mercy and grace to His people for thousands of years of recorded history, and as we study that complex and often difficult history, we gain insight that helps us move forward in faith and faith practice.

I encourage you to seek out other studies, especially those in brick-and-mortar churches. While private study of the Word is important, it's equally important to stay close in Christian community. I am so grateful to have studied with Pastor Suzanne Allen and a wonderful group of friends for five years running. What you do as a habit changes you, and habitual study of God's word is a habit worth cultivating!

If you don't have a church, think of the benefits you'll experience through belonging:

  • the love and support of friends who are your family in Christ
  • the ability to bless others through your friendship and love and support
  • access to missions where you can make a difference at home and in the world for those who are suffering in disaster, poverty, famine, war, and starvation of spirit
  • the privilege of regular worship of your God...a privilege denied to so many people
  • the lifting up of your spirit in times of trouble
  • an enviroment saturated with opportunities to grow and learn in faith

Often, we forget that blessings are a two-way road. The world teaches us that we deserve to have it all, that we should worry more about what we have than what we give. But God's kingdom promises something different. We are blessed to be a blessing. As we come to know the unending love and grace poured out by God on each and every one of us, we naturally must pass it on in a world starved for love and grace. And guess what? That is exactly what God wants us to do because His message boils down to one word: love.

Consider this passage from Luke 10:25-28:

Just then, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

Love God, love your neighbor. Jesus' answer to the lawyer's question comes straight from Mosaic law, the law that God gave to Moses so very long ago. So simple, and, as history and our own personal experience show, so hard for us flawed and selfish sinners. It takes work, and it's so easy to push loving God and neighbor to the bottom of our lengthy to-do lists.
Seize the opportunity to grow in love, to bless God by sharing His blessings with others, to learn about God and His Kingdom in a community of faith. Carry the salvation message of Easter forward with you and grow it in the world.

God's grace and peace be yours always,

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter!


What an amazing person, God self-limited to human form.

He knew he would die and went to Jerusalem anyway and died.

For us.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing."

We don't deserve that.

And isn't that the point? We don't deserve it. But grace and mercy and forgiveness are free.


All we have to do is accept them, be grateful, share them with others.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Holy Week, Friday

Read: Luke 24:36-53

Reflect: Jesus conquered death. The law of Moses and the words of the prophets and psalms have been fulfilled in Jesus. Repentance and forgiveness of sins shall be proclaimed in Jesus’ name to all nations. And note what the disciples did upon learning this: “they worshiped him…and were continually in the temple blessing God.” They blessed God! How will you joyfully celebrate God’s amazing gift of salvation this Easter through worship? How can you bless God, in church and outside church, for His blessing you with the New Covenant?

Write: Here or privately.

Recite: And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20

Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving your covenant people so much that you sent your Son to die for us. Seal in me a desire to worship you joyfully and share the triumphant message of salvation with the world. Amen.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Holy Week, Thursday

Read: Exodus 34:29-35, Exodus 40:16-38, Luke 23:44-48

Reflect: God’s presence is awesome. Moses literally glowed from his closeness to God and covered his face with a veil. The Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple, was hidden by a veil, and only high priests were allowed inside. When Jesus died, the veil in the Temple tore, removing the barrier between the people and God. We can all walk right up to the foot of the Cross! How does the lack of a veil between you and God shape your faith and worship? Where and when do you feel God’s awesome presence most in your life? What can you do to cultivate your awareness of His presence?

Write: Here or privately.

Recite: And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20

Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving your covenant people so much that you sent your Son to die for us. Seal in me a desire to worship you joyfully and share the triumphant message of salvation with the world. Amen.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Holy Week, Wednesday

Read: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 9:11-15

Reflect: : Jeremiah foresaw the need for a New Covenant that put the law in the hearts of the people so they all know God, and the author of Hebrews says the blood of Christ, which sealed that New Covenant, replaces blood sacrifice in the Tabernacle and purifies our conscience to worship the living God. What worship practice helps you understand the law in your heart and feel closer to God? Can you think of ways you could grow in that understanding and closeness?

Write: Here or privately.

Recite: And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20

Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving your covenant people so much that you sent your Son to die for us. Seal in me a desire to worship you joyfully and share the triumphant message of salvation with the world. Amen.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Holy Week, Tuesday

Read: Exodus 35:20-35, Exodus 36:1

Reflect. Many chapters of Exodus give God’s detailed instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle and its furnishings, and the priests’ vestments. God wants to set His people’s worship apart from other nations and instruct them in proper worship. Note how willingly the people, who have been forgiven yet again, give of their goods and skills “in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.” How willingly do you give of your goods and skills to serve in worshipping God today?  Do you feel God calling you to do more?

Write: Here or privately.

Recite: And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20

Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving your covenant people so much that you sent your Son to die for us. Seal in me a desire to worship you joyfully and share the triumphant message of salvation with the world. Amen.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Holy Week, Monday

Holy Week (Week 6):  Covenant People. At the start of Exodus, God remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to make of them a great nation. After the golden calf incident, God renews the covenant and again instructs Moses on the building of the Tabernacle so He may dwell among them. Roughly 1,500 years later, He dwells among His people in the form of Jesus and makes a New Covenant, sealed by Jesus’ blood, with all people. This Holy Week, let us celebrate and give thanks for both the old and new covenants, for being freed from slavery to sin by our great and loving God!
Read: Exodus 34:1-10, Luke 22:14-22
Reflect: In both passages, notice how God is loving, forgiving, and also just. Moses asks God to forgive the stiff-necked people, and God does, renewing the covenant (again!). When Jesus pours the wine of the New Covenant, He calls out the traitor at the table, and in doing so acknowledges the need for His blood to seal that New Covenant with a sinful people. How have you felt the need of His sacrifice, given for you, for your own sin? How have you been stiff-necked? Make a list of your sins, and think how much you need forgiveness this Holy Week.
Write: Here or privately.

Recite: And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20

Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving your covenant people so much that you sent your Son to die for us. Seal in me a desire to worship you joyfully and share the triumphant message of salvation with the world. Amen.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Week 5, In Christian Community

Just a reminder that even though the week's reading is finished, your study isn't! Remember that getting together in Christian community to discuss what you've read helps make the whole experience of the Word so much richer.

So find a friend--doesn't matter if they read the study or not!--and discuss the importance of obeying God, avoiding idolatry and other sins, promoting fairness, and offering mercy. Talk about ways the Christian community can intercede with grace and mercy in a sinful world.

Blessings to all of you as you study His Word and worship our God on this Palm Sunday!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Week 5, Friday

Read: Exodus 32; Luke 23:34
Reflect: How quickly the Israelites lose patience! They violate God’s commandment against idolatry. Moses intercedes on their behalf, and over a millennium later, Jesus intercedes for his killers and asks God to forgive them. Have you ever interceded for someone who has sinned? Has someone interceded for you when you have sinned? How does mercy work with justice to bring about God’s purpose in Exodus and in your life?
Write: Here or privately.
Recite: …for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of the parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:5-6
Pray: Almighty God, help me to obey you in all things. Thank you for your mercy and love. Amen. 



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Exodus for Lent: Week 5, Thursday

Read: Exodus 22:21-23:9; Luke 23: 13-25
Reflect: God’s law is compassionate, uncorrupted, and fair. Yet Jesus’ condemnation comes from justice perverted by the priests, the leaders, and the people. If the Jews had obeyed their own law, Jesus would never have died. But God knows we are all sinners, we will all disobey, and we all need grace. We all need Jesus. Where have you recently failed in compassion or been corrupt in your ways, violating the spirit or letter of God’s law? Will you ask God’s mercy through Jesus right now? Will you accept it?
Write: Here or privately.
Recite: …for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of the parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:5-6
Pray: Almighty God, help me to obey you in all things. Thank you for your mercy and love. Amen.