The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:7-8)

16 12 2010

Proverbs 3:7-8

7Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8It will be a healing for your flesh
and a refreshment for your body.

Verse 7, in my opinion, offers up a unique definition of engaging in evil: being wise, rational, smart, justifying your life and actions. To be honest, this is kind of weird for me because I think that I’m a pretty rational person for the most part. I don’t try to be evil when making most of my decisions. I don’t try to harm others but do what is best and healthiest for me; if it holds the potential to harm others, then I’ll think it through carefully before coming to any rash decisions. Given this fact of careful consideration, I don’t think that my rationality is an evil thing. I think it’s a good thing and good quality about myself.

But then I think about the depths of decision-making that I don’t really want to deal with. I think about that fast-food purchase, that decision to save the dollar I could have given to that homeless person because I wanted some M&Ms or an iced tea. I think about the clothes I don’t wear but need to hoard in case I do need them. I think about the fact that I pay for internet when I can go to the library and use it for free. I think about times when I buy just because I want.

I think about things I “do for my sanity since I can’t save the world” like not pick up the phone because I’m pretty sure so and so will want something, the e-mails I delete that address the water problem in Africa, the food problem here in the United States and the prison problems here in the Triangle. I think about food I throw out every couple of weeks because I wanted it then but don’t want it now. I think about how my attitude was justified because I was mad at them. While I act friendly towards someone I think about how they did me wrong many times and how they don’t deserve my forgiveness; and they may never get it because I don’t want to give it.

And I begin to realize how I only survey my decision-making when I’m making “good decisions”. I tend to forget the hundreds of bad decisions I made during the week that were not so good, even, dare I say it, evil. My ten god decisions may affect others but my hundreds of bad decisions were about me; and ironically, they still affect others. Maybe this is what God’s wisdom is warning us against, the hundreds of little things we do wrong that we make nothing of, that we are so quick to forgive ourselves of, or that we justify we deserve to forget.

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but our wisdom, our rationale, falls short.

The solution rests outside of ourselves. They involve us, but we are not at the center. God is. But even God gives us back the space. We must understand the vastness of God, and once we do, there is no other human response but to fear God, not in human-fear, but divine-fear. We fear God because we realize how far away we are from God when we take up our own agendas. We realize how much trouble we are in once we leave the protective covering of God. That is how big God is. We fear how far away we are once we realize how big God is. We fear our location and how we managed to get there. This is the fear of the Lord.

Fearing the Lord and turning away from evil seem like a combo deal. Once we realize that if we’re not with God, we’re in trouble, it is easy to spot and avoid evil. We won’t be fooled, for God’s wisdom will be with, on and in us. Evil won’t have a chance to plant any seeds within us, we’ll be too smart for that.

All this comes if we decide not to follow our thoughts and rationale alone and if we decide to listen to and follow God first, not what we think God should be saying, but what God is saying. Even our interpretations fall short. Humans have specialized in messing up God’s instruction. We must remember that anything of God’s is better than anything of ours. Relying on God’s instruction is a balm. It heals. It re-joins. It rehabilitates. Reliance on God patches up the holes in our hearts, the emptiness in our relationships, and the hate in ourselves. Placing our trust in God rejuvenates us because we don’t have to do the work of fixing people. Depending on God’s ways takes the burdens we can’t bear off of us, and gives us a lighter burden. We must remember that we ultimately make the choice to apply God’s wisdom or not. We have the choice to take the better burden and build up our strength all the while recovering, recuperating from burdens we weren’t meant to carry. If you are carrying burdens you weren’t meant to carry, drop it immediately. Pick up the burden of grace, mercy, peace, and love and continue journeying onwards. You will heal. It will take time, but it will happen. But take Jesus’ burden and never put it down.

Prayer: Lord, impress grace, mercy, love, understanding, kind-heartedness, peace, and justness into our hearts and onto our backs. We will be strong with them on it, and impossible to destroy with them in us. Lord, govern that transition in Jesus’ name, Amen.





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:5-6)

15 12 2010

So I’m trying something new.

Since about a month ago, I took to writing a reflection on a short piece of scripture everyday and a prayer at the end to culminate the heart of my reflection. It has been a liberating exercise. When I “officially” stopped about two weeks ago, something felt empty, so I returned to it.

Before, I had only been posting the prayers since the reflections were “positively painful” and necessary for me. I discovered a new realm of confession, a realm of cyber-confession if you will. It did my heart good and is still is.

Two days ago I broke my routine of reflecting on Proverbs; I interjected Luke 1 for a special Advent reflection and it was great. I posted that reflection on this blog and I think it’s time to post some, if not most, if not all of these Proverbs reflections too for whoever wants to share in reflection with me. Please enjoy reflecting with me on the wisdom of proverbs.

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Proverbs 3:5-6

5Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

I love this charge; I love the challenge to trust the Lord with all our heart. It leaves no room to be haphazard with God. Our trust can’t be hit-and-miss. This command-like statement begs us to give all of our faith to God, not to ration our faith out to luck, our abilities, the networks we have, our race, our gender, or church affiliations, our pastors, our fraternities and sororities, etc. Sure, God can use those things and show us favor or grace whether we think of them as good or bad things, but God wants all our trust. It is when we give God everything we hope for that God will divvy out where God’s favor and grace will surprise and bless us.  

I trust in a lot of things and tack on “please Lord” at the end of spending my trust in people or chance or luck. But I think I want to reverse that; but reversal requires a reversal of thinking which is more difficult than I want it to be. This means I can’t trust the experience, grades, contacts and references on my resume. This means I can’t trust the powerful people I know who can make things happen. This means I can’t trust my favorite people and friends. I can’t trust my family. I can trust that God uses my resume, contacts, friends and family, but it means I trust in God only. For my own insight and reasoning doesn’t see that my resume doesn’t have what the company is looking for, doesn’t realize that that prestigious school I hope will admit me doesn’t know the people I know, my friends can’t relate to everything I go through and my family will not support me 100% of the time. It’s a fact; our insight only sees things one-dimensionally. God looks at the whole picture, just as God looks at the whole heart. And God desires our whole heart. The Creator of the Universe wants us to believe that the best is in store for us when we put all of our trust in God.

But God not only wants our trust, our belief not in our rationale, but God also wants our lives to be a testimony towards and of God. God wants not only our inward contemplation and wrestling, but God wants our outward action too. God wants our entire lives. God wants the inward and the outward. God wants our fears, doubts, low self-esteem, depression, hate, hurt, intention to harm, love, joy—everything the heart is and believes in at one point or another—and God wants us to trust not in those emotions and feelings whether they are justified or not, but God wants us to trust in God’s self. This can mean forgiveness where it is not deserved, leaving something or someone who did nothing wrong to you simply because it’s time to move on, joining someone or something because God said so, asking for that extension on a paper even when the stern professor forewarned it wouldn’t be granted, asking for vacation or a raise even when you have already received it—it involves a lot of non-sensical actions because our belief in the goodness and omniscience of God powers us to do so. Trusting in God means trusting in what the world calls foolish and making the world look foolish when we are blessed bountifully or receive unmerited favor (everyone else may say that we are “very lucky”). God doesn’t only want us to believe in and obey God’s command to do something, say something, be something that seems impossible and see God’s goodness in its manifestation, but God wants our decisive actions.

God wants our ways. God wants when we act this way or that way. God wants our silliness, our friendliness, our toughness, the way we avoid trouble or difficult or uncomfortable circumstances, our street-smartness, our innocence, our ignorance, our knowledge, the way we get when we’re mad, our passive aggressiveness, our straight-forwardness, our silence, our stillness, our go-get-it attitude, our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality, the way we get when we’re scared, the way we act when we’re happy, hurt, speechless, the way we grin, the way we laugh, the way we admire and love—God wants all of our ways to point back to God, even our imperfect, human ways of approaching and dealing with life because they have the potential to, even in their imperfection, meet God’s grace and give God glory.

Even our crooked attitudes, mentality, thinking, tones, facial expressions, heart-conversations can be stretched in the right directions towards perfect alignment to the throne of God. They can be broken and re-patched with the bonding agent of the Holy Spirit. The bonding agent of slavery to Christ (this would be a great discussion to have one day) will straighten out the way we live with people. The permanent bond God chose when choosing Israel so that all may be chosen for salvation will smooth out our painfully arched perspectives to life and love. Jesus’ binding to a cross binding our sin to oblivion will patch up our wounds and help us heal correctly, into a lifestyle that avoids unnecessary turns and twists and painful dead-ends, but leads us towards a destiny straight to the throne of God. Our lives are a branch of worship towards the Lord. We fall from our feet to God’s feet in precious ritual and worship. Our destination is the foot of the cross, at the feet of our brethren, at the foot of God’s throne. And it is at God’s feet that we can joyfully realize that we are in God’s kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, keep us low. Keep us at ground-level. We need to be at Your feet to realize that at the feet of others is where the Kingdom is in-breaking. Lord, may we meet You on the ground and not in the sky. Help us look for You where we don’t always want to look but know where You will be. It’s in Jesus’ name, our God who humbly washed the feet of His disciples’ name I pray, Amen.





Proverbs Prayers (Proverbs 3:1-4)

14 12 2010

Proverbs 3:1-4

Prayer: Lord, we’re listening. Teach us until we get it, because we need it to live life like we want to and You desire us to. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.





The Glorious Gospels (The Advent Addition)

13 12 2010

Luke 1:26-45

I’m a member of a small predominantly white Presbyterian church in North Durham where people of African-descent make up approximately one-third of the congregation. I’ll be forthcoming with you, I am in this church, a church unlike any church I have ever been in, because I am interested in seeing something major happen: I want to see racial reconciliation wrestled with and I want it to overpower us leaving us limping but re-named, disabled to do what we used to do, but able to move gingerly and with more care. With younger graduate and college students becoming more and more regular the percentage of African-Americans may very well decrease sharply which can be disheartening, but this potential is not as disheartening as another statistic within my church.

As an American African young woman, I’ve already been limping throughout this difficult ecclesial shifting process. I’ve lost a number of things, all for the sake of walking with the Lord more faithfully. And it hurts severely every single step of the way; and some sort of ecclesial hip-replacement is not an option. I journey on though, because I do not believe I am called to join a young, vibrant African-American church where worship music and preaching style are what I am most accustomed to, or go to a Nigerian church where I could appreciate a few cultural nuances, but I feel called to a church opposite myself. And I believe with my whole heart that right now I am supposed to be a part of it. But many times I literally feel that I can’t be this church, not because if my race, my ethnicity or my gender, but because of my age.

Cultural differences aside as they are an entirely separate conversation, age-difference is unfortunately and currently too big to overcome. The age of Ageism is alive and well in my church and in the church in general today. I see it all over the place– young all black and all white non-denominational churches are springing up as old white and black mainline churches are dying or barely surviving. Young adults go elsewhere to worship; they create the space for worship that consults their age and time because there is no room for their being amongst the heavy older traditions in many mainline churches. Even young mainline churches are a falsity—they seem to be more like a non-denominational body dressed up in mainline clothing, exercising the appearance of tradition but operating differently.

There is an apparent divide that both young and old church see, but neither know how to nor want to suture back together, because frankly, both groups, young and old, don’t need each other. They have their space for and way of worship and the other group has theirs. Everyone is happy, fine, thriving in their own way; there is no need to continue naming a “problem” that many see as the other’s fault anyway. If the other would just do it their way then all would be well. There is no need for correction or inclusion; division rules the day!

And I do not understand why. I see a problem, a huge problem– the body of Christ, the church, has missed something vastly commented on throughout scripture; we have completely missed how scripture guides and addresses age-discrepancy. We have mastered ignoring the potential for solution. It is problematic not only that both groups do not care for the other enough to sit down and realize church together, but also that they must create pseudo-churches to live church guilt-free “having it their way” projecting their desires onto how the church is supposed to function.

Something is amiss, and a joyous moment of connect between two Jewish women carrying children shows us this in a gentle way.  

Elizabeth and Mary, relatives old and young are both pregnant, Elizabeth two-thirds of the way further along than Mary is too old to have a child. Mary, a young teenager engaged to be married is too unmarried to have a child. Both women are excited because they have the honor of visits from Gabriel to relay a message that the children they carry will do great things: one will point to the other who is making a way for the world to be saved.

But they are both different ages and both bearers for future and important ministries. And they don’t ignore the other to brag that their child will be better than the other’s. No, they both rejoice that the other has a minister within them and they gloat not only over their own pregnancies but the life inside the other woman. They are giggly and excited because the other is also bringing something into this world that the world needs to be saved.

Mary doesn’t gloat that as the young mother-to-be she bears the “best baby” and that the older Elizabeth’s contribution isn’t important; Elizabeth doesn’t gloat that since she will be a mother first that her experience cancels out the voice of the younger Mary. Both babies are prophetic witnesses to the loving and saving power of God. One isn’t God but baptizes God. Both live sacrificial lives that ultimately lead to their grotesque demises. But both mothers, old and young rejoice with each other.

Luke 1:39-45 says it all.

The ministry of the eldest leaps with joy when the younger comes bearing a ministry too. What is most awesome is that the older gets the Holy Spirit in the presence of the younger mother. Her baby gives the greeting, paves the way for the ministry of the younger and she catches the Holy Spirit. She is overcome by a Spirit of joy and wisdom and power. The eldest does not receive the Spirit because of the younger per se, but because she is happy to be with the younger, to see the younger, to welcome the younger into her home and into her spirit, she feels within in her joy for the younger’s ministry. Their ministries connect in that moment bound by the wondrous power of the Holy Spirit; and it overtook Elizabeth (Mary has her own moment later, see Luke 1:46-55). The Holy Spirit repeats Gabrielle’s words through Elizabeth. The older blesses the younger, she doesn’t discourage. The younger is blessed because she accepted God’s will for the ministry that would be birthed through her.  The older encouraged the younger. The older was humbled by the presence of the younger because she had something special in her.
 
And Mary sings directly after this overwhelmed by her joy and the joy of her older relative Elizabeth. This moment doesn’t become a moment of comparing ministerial efficacy but a moment to praise God. John praises. Elizabeth praises. Mary praises. The Son of God, God in the flesh, is coming.

 

The ministry of the old doesn’t scold or judge the young, the ministry of the young doesn’t ignore or gloat in the face of the older claiming to carry something better. But both praise God. Both honor one another. Mary first greets Elizabeth, then Elizabeth overwhelmed with joy and God’s Spirit, blesses Mary. Ironically in giving this blessing, Elizabeth wears the prophetic cloak that her son will soon enough wear. Her role is just as important as her son’s role.
 
The women, the ministries complement one another. They don’t compete. They don’t call each other irrelevant or to blame the other for the state of the church, but they come together, love the other’s presence, and worship God together, still in their own voices, but together. At the end of the day, all the glory went to God, not the bodies who carried the ministries, but to the Creator of the bodies, the Creator of the church, to Jesus the Savior of the world. The Holy Spirit dwelled within them and they allowed Her to move them towards words of praise and song. Old and young disintegrated into praise and worship. And reconciliation reached its peak.
 
Prayer: Holy Spirit bring blessings to our lips for the other and a song to our heart for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.




Proverbs Prayers (Proverbs 2:20-22)

12 12 2010

Proverbs 2:20-22

Prayer: Lord, if I can be honest, no human on earth deserves for people to follow them, imitate them or act like them on our own accord. Lord, we only know goodness because of You, justice and innocence because of Your Son, uprightness because of the presence of Your Holy Spirit. Lord, I pray that these qualities take root in us as we apply our hands and give our service to the land. Lord, maybe the land is riches and wealth, comfort and financial stability, but maybe it is a community of believers that love each other well because we learned love from Jesus and through Your Holy Spirit. Lord, help us reject wicked and treacherous behavior and qualities and work towards being pleasing to You and fulfilling within our own lives. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.








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