Sermon: the Helper

Lectionary Genesis 2:18-24

A HELPER WHO IS “JUST RIGHT”

You’ve all heard the 10 reasons why God created, Eve, right?

  1. God worried that Adam would always be lost in the garden because He knew men would never ask for directions.
  2. God knew that Adam would one day need someone to hand him the TV remote because men don’t want to see what is on TV; they want to see WHAT ELSE is on TV.
  3. God knew that Adam would never2. buy a new fig leaf when the seat wore out and therefore would need Eve to get one for him.
  4. God knew that Adam would never make a doctor’s appointment for himself.
  5. God knew that Adam would never remember which night was garbage night.
  6. God knew that if the world was to be populated there would have to someone to bear children because men would never be able to handle the pain of childbirth.
  7. As Keeper of the Garden Adam would never remember where he put his tools.
  8. The Scripture account of creation indicates that Adam needed someone to blame his troubles on when God caught him hiding in the garden.
  9. As the Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone”, he only ends up getting himself in trouble.
    And the NUMBER ONE reason…
  10. When God finished the creation of Adam he stepped back, scratched his head and said, “I can do better than that.”

Seriously, there is so much debate now about the correct interpretation that we should give of the Creation story, and especially of the role and relationship between man and woman.  The Church is supposed to be shaped and guided by the Word of God, and yet it is clearly evident that our cultural norms and expectations have guided our interpretation of the Bible, and even come into play with respect to the translation of the Bible.

There is no question that gender issues have been shaped by our culture. In a patriarchal culture, the Church accepted and used passages of the Bible to justify male superiority and female servitude.As cultural views shifted, we have looked back at the translations and words used, and searched for a new understanding of the Bible – but we should ask ourselves, are we simply looking to once again “be right”, as opposed to being guided by the Word of God?  Are we simply now looking to justify a feminist or egalitarian perspective of the creation story that is acceptable in today’s society?  Or are we looking for the Bible to present to us an actual Biblical response to the question of “what is a Godly relationship between a man and woman?”

This morning, I would like to explore the verses of Genesis 2: 18 to 24, and  provide some insight regarding translation and meaning.  But this is merely one of many possible understandings and meanings that can be found, and I would venture to say only scratches the surface of a possibility of interpretations.  But there are lessons here for us!  While God created man & woman equally in His image, there is  no doubt that we are different – the same way that the males and females of all species are equal but different.

In Genesis 1 we find a chronological view of Creation – from day 1 in which God creates time, through to day 7 in which God rests.  On day 6, God is particularly busy, creating all creatures that habitat on land.  Great and small, he creates them, and when God is done, he declares that “it is good”. After this God – Elohim – the multiple nature of God, decides to create man in his image. God says:

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”

And so, man is created, both male and female. In order to avoid confusion, I’m going to use the term “mankind” to refer to humans, and man to refer to the male gender.  To emphasize the godlike nature of mankind, God gives mankind dominion over the earth, and asks Adam to name all of the animals.

The creation story in Genesis 1 is repeated in Genesis 2, but told from a different perspective, demonstrating different facets of God’s character.  And so, in Genesis 2, we rewind a little, and are given more details regarding the creation of mankind, and in particular the differentiation of men and women.

Most versions of the Bible have simply translated verse 18 “It is no good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” or “a helper that is just right for him”. And because it was culturally acceptable and appropriate to define “helper” as an assistant or as subordinate to the man, the woman was interpreted as having a role of serving: somehow intended to be responsible for catering to the needs and demands of her husband.  Because if woman is the helper, man is the boss, right?   Even Paul says that the man is the head…

But much has been written about the translation of this section, especially regarding the original term “ezer” having been user rather than “azar”.  “Ezer”, with an e does not mean the same as “azar”. Azar does mean helper or servant, but ezer has a different meaning completely.

The word EZER is used in the Old Testament some 21 times, 2 in the context of Eve (women made in creation), 3 times in relation to man’s help and 16 in relation to God.  And the 3 times it’s used in relation to man’s help, it is referencing that help did not arrive such as that help which only God can provide.

So let’s see what other words and terms ARE used throughout the Old Testament that might have been used to describe women as servants or assistants, that would have clearly established woman’s role as being subservient to that of man:

  • The best word for helper or assistant in Hebrew is Azar – and it is used 82 times in the Old Testament, in contexts of helping, assisting or giving aid.  So, if God had wanted to say helper, he could simply have used this word, azar, instead of ezer, right?
  • And if we wanted to specify that woman was a servant-helper, a better word would have been ebed.  In fact, the word ebed is used over a thousand times in the Old Testament.  But that’s not what it says in Genesis 2.
  • Or then there’s the word sharath, which means high-ranking assistant, like Elisha was to Elijah, or like Joshua was to Moses.  But Genesis 2 doesn’t use sharath.

So, what does ezer mean, then?  Ezer is help from God: not only from a superior, but a miraculous help.  Divine intervention.

Before you go off thinking that women are witches and we really fly on broom sticks, let’s get into the translation issues a bit more closely.  Ezer means that God is the help.  Ezer conveys that it is never a servant, helper or assistant.

So, how does this help us?  Well, possibly because if we realise that this was Divine assistance, we will realise that maybe we’ve always been misunderstanding this verse.  It never was intended to say that the woman was the helper! In fact, it should not be ascribed to any human at all.  So, if she isn’t the helper, what did God make?  What does Genesis 2:18 refer to?

Let’s look quickly at the other word that rises in this verse – “suitable” or “right” or “companion”.  The word in Hebrew is kenegdo. Kenegdo arises from 2 words:  Neged refers to a mirror image or reflection, and ke refers to “himself” or “likeness”.  So, God has said he will make a likeness of his mirror image or reflection.  So, woman was supposed to be a mirror-image of man.

Going back in the verses in chapter 2 of Genesis we see what the story of the creation of Eve starts out with the only time God says about creation – “this ins’t good”.  And what isn’t good?  It’t not good that man is alone.  Man is incomplete – because unlike all of the creatures that he has just named, male and female, Adam is alone.

And so God says, I will help man by making his mirror likeness, a reflection of himself.  The solution for man’s loneliness is woman, made to reflect him. God did not create woman to be man’s servant, or assistant or subservient to him. He didn’t make Adam “the boss”.  But rather, God makes them one – flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.  Equal and together. In harmony and communion.

But, as with the fall in Eden, the moment we allow our self-interest to get in the way, we start to run into  relationship and control issues.  The moment we start to allow our egos to rule, we look at our differences, and then separation and domination begin to take hold, rather than unity and oneness.  Separation and domination was never part of God’s divine plan for men and women.

Lessons we can take away from Genesis 2 today:

  1. Companionship – It is not good that the man should be alone.  Human’s are social creatures – we need to connect with other people.  One of the most shattering emotions of which human beings are capable is that of loneliness – it consumes people: whether they be teenagers, struggling with acceptance, stay at home mothers or fathers who are thirsting for interactions, or the elderly who are feeling forgotten.  We need each other.  What are you actively doing to be part of the lives of those around you?  If you are a spouse, are you making sure that your other half doesn’t feel alone?
  2. Are you sharing the load and the burden?  Whether it be with your spouse, or a team member at work, or another volunteer in an organisation you have joined: is someone feeling that they have to do everything themselves and that they are not getting the support that they need?  What can you do to support that person?  What needs to change so that you become a team player?
  3. Are you taking care of your responsibilities?  In every team, each person has different functions and tasks: and your first priority should always be to have fulfilled your responsibilities first.  It’s  no good to be worried about what others aren’t getting done to the detriment of your own responsibilities.  You will always hear – finish  your own responsibilities before helping another – just like in an airplane you put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. AND FINALLY
  4. Acknowledge and rejoice in our individuality and differences.  They are not meant to separate us from each other – they are intended to complement each other.  Yes – women and men are different – women may be more emotional, or protective of our little ones – but that doesn’t mean the weaker sex! And some of us are black, white, yellow, pink or any other colour under the sun.  We come from different cultures and customs.  But these differences are to be enjoyed and celebrated, creating a diversity in our team work and fulfilling all of the needs.

Today I would invite all of you to explore how you were created to be “just right”, a Divine gift to help and connect with those around you.

Sermon: We all stumble

If you asked me to name my favourite book of the Bible, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Proverbs and James.  This could be because James seems to be so knowledgeable about Proverbs.  The book of James is quite short:  it has only five chapters and is known for its practical wisdom and common sense. At about 12 years of age, after having memorised the book of Philippians, I set out to memorise the book of James.  Practical wisdom for a teen – controlling your words!

Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who gossiped about each other and tore one another apart with their tongues. Throughout the letter, James is helping his readers learn to view their trials from God’s perspective and to resist temptation as they bridle their anger. They were in a church where their tongues were used to destroy each other, as they participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another.  Complaining and grumbling are mentioned in the Bible more than 100 times (compared to the 6 times that the sin of homosexuality is actually mentioned).  Guess which one has done greater damage to the Church, to groups and to growth?  We all stumble in many ways, most of us tripping over our tongue!

Our reading from James this morning is simply fascinating, with its similes and his presentation of the tongue as a restless evil, a spark (that can cause a forest fire), poisonous venom, or a spring of water.  A human tongue weighs about 3 ounces… if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s about 0.1% of your body weight.

This morning I want to present two opposing ideas: tearing things (or people) down versus creating or building the reality and relationships that you dream of having.  As well as presenting you with the Biblical angle, I’m going to steal some ideas from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming).  NLP explores the relationships between the way we think (N), communicate (L) and behave (P). Let me explain it to you this way:

Our words become thoughts, our thoughts become feelings, and our feelings become actions. If I see a negative world I will use negative words, creating negative thoughts, generating negative feelings, which will make me act me in a negative way, then I will see an even worse world, and have even worse thoughts, …  (Ruben Marcelos Lagos)

Who saw the rain storms this week as a blessing – filling up the Canal basin and feeding our water supplies?  Who saw the rain storms this week as floods and chaos?  Were the 2 families that lost everything an opportunity for this Church to participate in the community? Or a burden?

There are those who firmly believe that words are not just elements of speech or writing, because they can be used to affect how energy travels through space. When spoken out loud, words transform into vibrations, and as we know, vibrations can direct energy and how energy flows around us.

There is a whole science based on “Words that Change Minds”, how you can use positive words to impact your own life and also to influence others around you – to build them up.  What kind of words do you speak to yourself? Are they words of encouragement and self-esteem? Do your words reflect the fact that God created you in His image and that He loves you? If not, they should.

It will be your tongue that will shape your character. Do you know that Christian person that is always negative, complaining and grumbling?  They have nothing positive to say: their demeanor, or the way they carry themselves, reflects this. Please get this in your spirit, a person will eventually get what his or her mouth says.  Is it any wonder that the person that is always complaining and bitter about how life has treated them always seems to get the short end of the stick?  They never seem to get a lucky break?  Their words are creating their reality, as if they were speaking it into existence.

If you think I’m speaking about magic or something airy-fairy, let’s have a look at some verses from the Bible:SpeakLife

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Psalms 141:3

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

Proverbs 21:23

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.

Matthew 15:11

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.

 

Do you remember as a child, when you visited the doctor and he asked you to “stick out your tongue?”.  He seemed to be able to tell a great deal about our health by looking into our mouths. Spiritually, it’s about the same – what comes out of our mouths is usually an accurate index of the health of our hearts.  James explains this in chapter 3:  how is it that you are worshiping and praising God, and then using that very same mouth to cut someone else down?

In fact James again addresses this issue for those who consider themselves “religious”. In James 1:26, he says,

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”

Jesus called out the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-37:

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

In the Bible we find 4 principal areas of talking that God condemns: complaining (or grumbling), slander, gossip & lies.

Phillipians 2: 14

Do all things without grumbling or complaining

Proverbs 26, versus 20 to 28 focus entirely on our words and the power of the tongue, covering all  four of these areas: complaining, slander, gossip & lies.

Proverbs 10:19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

 

But there is more to it than just that, there is also thinking before you speak and speaking a kind word, even when you have been attacked.

Proverbs 17.27

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding

Proverbs 15:1

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

We have opportunities, constantly, to choose how we will respond.  Will we be the spark that starts a fire? The venom that poisons the relationship?  Or will our words be a healing balm?

General Robt. E. Lee was once asked what he thought of a fellow officer in the Confederate Army–an officer who had made some mean-spirited remarks about him. Lee thought for a moment, then rated him as being very satisfactory.

The person who asked the question seemed troubled. “But general, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.”

“Oh yes,” answered Lee. “I know. But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”

Each one of us has the power to stop gossip:

  1. We can stop listening to it, rather than participating.  Without an audience, it’s hard to gossip.
  2. We can stop the cycle, by dealing with the problem.  This is where tough love and the hard truth are sometimes the most difficult road to choose.  It’s so much easier to say “it’s not my problem”, rather than get involved and have the compassion and love to see it through.  People had being confronted.
  3. Start confronting those who spread gossip – calling it by its name.

For yourself, when you are speaking to someone, think before you speak, using this short Acronym:  THINK

  • T–Is it true?
  • H–Is it helpful?
  • I–Is it inspiring?
  • N–Is it necessary?
  • K–Is it kind?

Then, we should look at healing.  We have all, at one time or another, been hurt by malicious words.  But we don’t have to stay hurt, we have the power to heal.

Step 1 – Let it go: The longer you hold on to the cruel things that people say about you, it will begin to develop bitterness and resentment in your life. The best thing to do is let it go.

Step 2. Be gracious to those who say things you don’t like – Be gracious to those who speak bad about you. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

perception-reaction Maybe what the person said wasn’t meant the way you took it. Maybe the person was having an off day. Maybe there is turmoil in that person’s life that you do not know about. Remember this simple fact: Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by people. 9 out of 10 malicious gossips are people who are hurting so bad and so deeply that they have to hurt other to make themselves feel better. Let’s face it, Jesus has put up with an awful lot of things from us, we can be gracious to others.

Step 3. Be silent – If something that is being said about you and you do not need to respond, don’t. Sometimes remaining silent is the best thing that we can do.

Step 4. Keep your words sweet you may have to eat them – If you have to respond to a person who is either upsetting you or speaking bad about you, be kind and keep your words gentle. The words that you use carelessly may come back to haunt you.

Abraham Lincoln counselled us:

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Words have incredible power in our lives. For one, they provide us with a vehicle for expressing and sharing our experiences with others. Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience. You have the power to take control of your habitual vocabulary to change the quality of your life. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary—the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life—you can instantly change how you think, feel and how you live.

This week I would challenge all of you to be mindful of the words you speak – choose to speak only positive and hopeful things about your job, your children, your spouse, your health, your future, anything and everything that effects your life. It may be difficult at first, but see what type of results you get.  As I said before, your tongue will reflect your true character. Your words will reveal the real you. (Do you like what you’re hearing? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then you need to change the discourse). If you are into journalling, I would encourage you to start writing down what you heard yourself say – and how you will say it differently from now on.

Sermon: Armour of God

Lectionary:
  • Ephesians 6:10-20

The Bible depicts countless battles. From Genesis to Revelation,  from the time Cain killed his brother Abel, right down to the present day and even into the predicted future and the Apocalypse.

In fact, it is estimated that more than 14,500 wars have been fought from 3600 B.C. to present day. Think of it this way:  5,305 years of war … compared to 292 years of peace.

Breaking it down for you, just for the 12-month period (August to August) of 2014 to 2015:

10,000 or more deaths in the last year:

  • Syria
  • Afghanistan (since it started in 1978, about 2M dead, which is more than half of the population of Panama)
  • Iraq
  • Boko Haram Insurgency in Africa

Conflicts causing at least 1,000 deaths in one calendar year are considered “wars” even if they are only “conflicts” or internal power struggles – so let me give you the details on those conflicts causing between 1,000 to 9,999 deaths in the last year:

  • Israeli-Palestine conflict
  • Somali civil war (at least 500,000 so far)
  • Communal conflicts in Nigeria
  • War in Darfur (Sudan)
  • War in North-West Pakistan
  • Mexican Drug War
  • Libyan civil war
  • Yemini crisis
  • Sinai Insurgency in Egypt
  • Central African Republic Conflict
  • South Sudanese Civil War
  • War in Donbass (Ukraine)

The Iraq war may be over, but in this world, we are still at war!

Plato said:

I exhort you also to take part in the great combat, which is the combat of life, and greater than every other earthly conflict.

Life truly is a battle. It is warfare on a grand scale – a war against falling back into sin and bad habits, a struggle to keep the faith, to stay humble, to love each and every person that crosses your path. Admit it, some people are just plain hard to love.  But, we are still called to be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

And so, I want to give us a brief outline of the armor of God that we have been exhorted in Ephesians to put on.

Let me read the passage for you:

fullarmorofGod4
Put on the full armor of God

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.

Note – it says very clearly and more than once – put on the “WHOLE” armor of God.  Don’t leave a piece or two off.  Maybe you think one of the pieces is too heavy or unnecessary – “that’s just not for me”!  But I can only imagine that Paul had soldiers around him day and night while he was in jail and writing to the Ephesians, and hence the simile was very apt for his purpose.

So, where does the armor start?

PREPARATION

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

It starts, as you might have guessed, with God, rather than with ourselves.  Our armor is not physical, but supernatural.  It’s the reminder from Philippians:

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Psalms 28: 7 reminds us:

The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me…

PUT ON THE ARMOR:

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.

The Greek word translated “put on”(enduo) carries the idea of permanence. The full armor of God is not something to be put on and taken off occasionally but is something to be put on permanently.  You don’t simply take it on and off at your leisure.


Rather than doing the latest fad diet, it’s adopting a new lifestyle.  And it’s accepting that this is a permanent change, not just something you’re “going to try” and “see if it works”.


But Paul says more than just this – he also reminds the Ephesians that they need to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  When used in a military sense, the Greek word translated “stand firm” (histemi) refers to holding a critical position while under attack.

1 Corinthians 16:13 reminds us also:

13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY

Ephesians 6: 12 says

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Are you uncomfortable with this thought, that there are things happening in realms we cannot see?  In this day and age, many of our wars are not flesh and blood, but really are about corporations and corporate profits, powers and world forces that perhaps we don’t know who the true controlling hand and force is – the interest in keeping wars going is to sell more weapons or change the stage of a market.  We don’t really see or know what the true motivation behind any war or conflict may be.

The same way we can appreciate this on a physical level, we can also apply this on the spiritual one.

Most of us are acutely aware of our own struggles and we are preoccupied with our own problems. We sympathize with ourselves because we see our own difficulties so clearly. But Ian MacLaren noted wisely, “Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”

BELT OF TRUTH

truthThe Roman soldier wore a tunic, an outer garment that served as his primary clothing. It was usually made of a large, square piece of material with holes cut out for the head and arms. It draped loosely over most of the soldier’s body. Since the majority of ancient combat was hand-to-hand, a loose tunic was a potential hindrance and even a danger. Before a battle it was therefore carefully cinched up between the soldier’s legs and tucked into the heavy leather belt.

The Greek word translated “truth” (aletheia) basically refers to the content of that which is true. But alethia can also refer to the attitude of truthfulness. It represents not only the accu­racy of specific truths, but also the quality of truthfulness. That seems to be the primary mean­ing Paul has in mind here. To be girded with truth reveals an attitude of readiness and of genuine commitment. Every encumbrance that might hinder his work for the Lord is gathered and tucked into his belt of truthfulness so that it will be out of the way. You can’t get tripped up in it or it can’t be used to pull you in another direction.

Do you know what your truth is?  Speaking from a place of criticism, comparison, false appeasement, and fear leads to living inauthentically, which translates into low satisfaction and high frustration levels. When we limit our responsiveness to our Truth, we compromise our ability to achieve our potential.

BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

No Roman soldier would go into battle without his breastplate–a tough sleeveless piece of armor that covered everything apart from his head and limbs. It was often made of leather or heavy linen, onto which were sewn overlapping pieces of metal molded or hammered to conform to the body. The purpose of that piece of armor is obvious–to protect one’s heart, lungs, intestines, and other vital organs. Also keep in mind that the high priest wore a golden breastplate over his linen robe that was set with 12 precious stones, each inscribed with one of the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. This place represented nearness to the heart.

Another interesting aspect of the breastplate was that it offered no protection to the person’s back. It was assumed that soldiers would not turn their backs toward the enemy to retreat.

SHOES OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE

In the Bible, the foot is a symbol for the direction or “the walk” of a person’s life.

Since the average ancient soldier marched on rough, hot roads, climbed over jagged rocks, trampled over thorns, and waded through streambeds of jagged stones, his feet needed much protection. A soldier whose feet were blistered, cut, or swollen could not fight well and often was not able to stand up–a perilous situation in battle. The shoes of Roman soldiers were usually impregnated with bits of metal or nails to give him greater traction as he climbed a slippery hill, and greater stability as he fought.

The Greek word translated “preparation” (hetoimasia) generally refers to readiness. A good pair of boots allowed the soldier to march, climb, fight, or do whatever else was necessary at a moment’s notice.

SHIELD OF FAITH

In New Testament times the tips of arrows would often be wrapped in pieces of cloth that had been soaked in pitch. Just before the arrow was shot, the tip would be lighted and the flaming missile would be shot at the enemy troops. The pitch burned fiercely, and on impact it would splatter flaming bits, igniting anything flammable in its path. In addition to piercing a person’s body, such arrows inflicted serious burns on enemy soldiers and destroyed their clothing and gear. The most reliable protection against these flaming missiles was the thureos; this shield was the first line of defense. Its covering of metal or treated leather would either deflect or extinguish them, and it was designed to protect the entire body of the soldier.

The purpose for our shield of faith is to deflect the fiery darts of the enemy and prevent them from ever making contact.

HELMET OF SALVATION

Your body has seven sacred openings from the neck up: two nostrils, two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. (and you ask why we only got one!) In order to protect their heads and these vulnerable parts, the soldiers wore helmets. The purpose of the helmet was to protect the head from injury, particularly from the dangerous broadsword commonly used in the warfare of that day.  Some of the helmets were made of thick leather covered with metal plates, and others were of heavy molded or beaten metal. They usu­ally had cheek pieces to protect the face.

The purpose for this helmet of salvation is not only to keep out the rocks, but also to keep in the brains! Your mind should not be open to anything and everything.  What are you feeding your mind and soul?  How are you protecting your thoughts?

SWORD OF THE SPIRIT – WORD OF GOD

The sword was the most common weapon in battle. Indeed, the word “sword” appears 449 times in Scripture. The other armaments in God’s arsenal are defensive in nature, but the sword is primarily an offensive weapon. The machaira was any­where from six to eighteen inches. It was the common sword carried by Roman foot soldiers and was the principal weapon in hand-to-hand combat. Carried in a sheath or scabbard attached to their belts, it was always at hand and ready for use.  Ancient soldiers also used their swords for cooking, splitting kindling, and for cutting the ropes that bound their captives to set them free.

Paul explicitly states that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. As such it is first of all a defensive weapon, capable of deflecting the blows of an opponent; and yet it is also a practical tool for every area of life.

Hebrews 4: 12 reminds us:

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”

Are you open to letting the Word of God work in your life, thoughts and heart?

PRAYER

Paul closes reminding the Ephesians of the importance of a life of prayer, of constantly having their relationship with God present in their lives. It wasn’t about them spending hours upon hours on their knees in prayer, but rather about them acknowledging, as when we started this reading, that God is the source of all of our strength. And it’s so appropriate that this prayer is not only for ourselves, but also for others.

Sermon: We all make mistakes sometime

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11: 1-15

The story of David is not about a saint. He had many faults, numerous sins throughout his life. As John Walton writes,

“God has not given us the Bible with the intention that we put the heroes of the faith up on pedestals of awe and reverence. In contrast, we find that the characters portrayed in the text are shown to share many of the human weaknesses with which all of us struggle. … We cannot view them as superhuman. … Instead, their stories are in the Bible because God worked through their successes as well as their failures. … They are part of God’s story.”

God had plans for David, who was “at times an instrument and at times an obstacle”.  I like the fact that the Bible tells it like it is.  We read about these heroes, but not just the great things they have done.  We read about their failings, their wrongdoings, their dark sides.  And there are lessons for us to learn.

Today I want to talk about one of David’s better known mistakes – his affair with Bathsheba and then his attempt to cover it up, by having Uriah murdered.  Yes, of course there’s murder in the Bible – we find it with Cain killing Abel, with Moses killing an Egyptian before running off into the desert, and now we find David plotting a murder to hide that he got another man’s wife pregnant.

Here was a man God had anointed as a youth – the hero that had defeated the mighty Goliath.  General over Saul’s army, and of whom it was said “He is a man after God’s own heart.”  But yet not perfect.

Our Reading this morning starts with setting the context:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

Why, if kings of old went out to battle, was David at home?  Well, this battle was close enough to Jerusalem that David decided to stay home and have Joab report to him daily on the battle (it was only some 40 km away).  Maybe David was starting to feel his age, or nursing an injury or an illness.  Maybe he was over-confident because he felt that his trusted men had everything under control.  Or maybe he had become complacent, after so many victories.  For whatever reason, David left himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The first problem that David has is that he is idle – after waking up from his afternoon nap (which he probably needed), instead of getting back to work or focusing on affairs of the state, he wanders aimlessly around on the roof of the palace.  How do we stay out of trouble? One way is by keeping ourselves busy and occupied.  I spend a lot less time spending money, if I don’t walk idly through the mall!  “I’ll just go window shopping” she says.  Except then something catches our eye, and before long window shopping has turned into real shopping.

There is an old German proverb that says “Idleness is the beginning of all sin”, just like the  Russian proverb that states “Idleness is the mother of vice.”  The Irish say “Poverty waits at the gates of idleness.”, and I remember hearing as a kid “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  Most cultures agree that idleness is not a good thing – it can get you into all sorts of problems.

We should be clear about what idleness is and what it isn’t.  Resting is not being idle!  Our bodies need rest – it’s vital for our health.  Resting for rejuvenation is not idleness!  Resting when we are sick and need to recover is just what the doctor ordered!  Idleness is that state of being where we are not occupied in meaningful things.  It’s slacking off or being lax, and when we have nothing better to do, we wind up in mischief.

Having a nap was not a bad thing… but there was no need for David to wander around aimlessly.  There was business to conduct, the country was at war.  Both rest and work are necessary, as well as having time for family, hobbies and other pursuits.  But there is a problem with idleness – which is why many of the youth programs today focus on getting our at risk youth into sport or other activities, so that they will not get engaged or caught up in gangs and crime.

And because of David’s idleness, he runs into temptation.  We all run into temptation, on a regular basis.  We walk past Gelarti or La Italiana in the mall, and the ice-cream calls out to us!  We can either choose to keep walking, or we can let our desire take over.   David’s on his rooftop and sees a beautiful woman bathing on the rooftop below.

An aside here. If you wonder about bathing up there in front of God and everybody with a higher vantage point, remember that the rooftops of houses in ancient Israel were flat and served as additional living and working space. The ancient Israelites also had water gathering and storage systems on their rooftops designed to trap dew and rainwater and carry it into cisterns through pipes. I doubt that any of us remember life before indoor plumbing, but these rooftop systems were the next best thing.  The water would also have been left out in the sun during the day, so that by evening it was warmed.

And so, David’s desire gets him in trouble: being tempted is not wrong.  But how David handles this temptation definitely gets him into a huge bind, where one lie leads to another!  Instead of letting it be, David inquires to find out who she is – and the response should have been enough to warn him to stay away.   She is a daughter of a powerful man (Eliam) and the wife of one of David’s mighty men (Uriah the Hittite).  She is also the granddaughter of one of David’s closest advisors.

But that didn’t stop him either.  He ignores all the warning signs.  And sends for her… ending up in bed together – committing adultery (which was punishable by stoning for both of them!).   David sins prior to even sleeping with Bathsheba, because Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said “You shall not commit adultery”.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Instead of shutting down the temptation, David lets it run wild, until it takes over him.

And one thing leads to another… before you know it, we’ve moved from lust to adultery, to lies and manipulation, and when plan A doesn’t work (i.e. getting Uriah to come home from battle and sleep with his wife so he will think the child is his), then plan B fails (even getting him drunk on liquor doesn’t work), then David moves to plan C (having him killed in the line of duty).

David had been on solid ground – chosen by God.  But he got careless and he didn’t even know it.  Just like a sheep that sees a tempting mouthful of grass over there.  Then another one a little farther, and then another… and another.  Before you know it, he’s lost or in the sights of a predator looking for an easy meal.  With each successive lie, David takes another step closer to the edge… until he’s over the edge with murder. The snowball effect, it started so small.  But now, he’s tumbling down the rocks.  He’s crashed and burned.  And the last thing he hears is the devil singing in his ear “another one bites the dust”.

It’s hard to find someone else in the Bible who could break so many of the 10 Commandments at one sitting!  As far as I can see, David managed to at least break 4 in one go:

  • You shall not murder
  • You shall not commit adultery
  • You shall not steal
  • You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife

So, I want to quickly share with you some thoughts on how we can use this example from David’s life in our own:

#1: You’re dying in the present if you’re living in the past!   David had already defeated armies and nations: the Philistines, the Moabites, the Edomites and others.  And so, instead of taking his place against the Ammonites, he leans on the victories of the past, and doesn’t have a vision of the future.

#2: When we are out of the way of our duty, we put ourselves in the path of temptation.  David should have been out on the front lines, but instead makes the mistake of staying in Jerusalem where he takes on a moral defeat.  What are you supposed to be doing?  Have you got a clear path cut out ahead of you?  Or are you just drifting along waiting for live to happen for you?

#3:  We will also fall in that one are of our life where our passion is the strongest and our principles are the weakest.  There are certain temptations that one person will struggle with, while another person won’t.  I gave up smoking cold turkey, without thinking twice about it – because I had only smoked because of the social aspects of it.  It was no big deal to quit.  But I know of many others for whom drugs, alcohol or smoking are their Aquiles heel.  On the other hand, I had to continually safeguard myself against impulse spending.  I don’t need more things!

#4: What we don’t resist in the mind, will soon become manifested in our thoughts and actions.   One part of psychology looks at Neuro-Linguistic Programming, (NLP for short) a name that encompasses the three most influential components involved in producing human experience: neurology, language and programming. The neurological system regulates how our bodies function, language determines how we interface and communicate with other people and our programming determines the kinds of models of the world we create. Neuro-Linguistic Programming describes the fundamental dynamics between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behavior (programming).  What we think about is what we will say and do. 

#5: The power of your example should always exceed the position of your authority.  No matter what position you have, you should always strive to set an example of excellence.  Set the standard of leadership, holding more authority from your example than from the power of the position.

I hope that this story of David helps you focus on what is truly important in your life and the example you are setting for those people that are watching you.

Sermon: Boasting in my Weakness

“Boasting in my Weakness” – Really?

LECTIONARY:

  • 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

A teacher said to her students in class one day,

“Boys and girls, there is a wonderful example in the life of the ant. Every day the ant goes to work and works all day, a busy life. And in the end, what happens?

Little Johnny replies, “SOMEONE STEPS ON HIM.”

We live in an era in which life is a constant struggle. Everyone  wants to be healthy and strong; nobody likes to be sick, weak, depressed or worried. And yet, we face problems and tragedies; we struggle to live up to expectations – whether our own or those imposed by others.  We’re not quite who we think we should be. Just like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

Take a moment and put this in context: this letter to Corinthians was not written in a vacuum. When Paul wrote this letter (which by the way is his 4th letter, not the second), he didn’t pen in the chapter and verse designations. Those were added much later in history. So chapter 11 and chapter 12 are one continuous thought.  In chapter 11, Paul writes about the suffering he has endured because of the name of Jesus. He tells the Corinthians that he has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel; he has been whipped on several occasions; he had been beaten with rods. He tells them that on one occasion the Jews stoned him; and left him for dead. But he survived (probably with deep lacerations and broken bones.) Paul was shipwrecked three times, spending one night in the open seas. He experienced intense times of suffering and yet found strength.

It is apparent as you read this part of 2nd Corinthians, that some in the church in Corinth were questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle. “Not good enough.”  So in Chapter 11, Paul tells about all the things he could boast about, both good and bad, that make him an apostle. But in Chapter 12 the tone changes, because he is not living in the past.  Our past history and our past glories are all fine and well, but the real question is “who are you today?”.  Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians when he is no longer in sparkling health and strength.  Who keeps singing “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen?

The church in Corinth has these “super apostles” or “big shots” that were criticising Paul. Paul responds, admitting that he was not a trained speaker, (2 Cor. 10:10), implying that the so-called super-apostles were trained speakers. One of their favorite criticisms of Paul seems to have been that he was not very impressive in presence or speech.  Paul warned the Corinthians against the pretense that knowledge can create. Toe to toe with these orators, Paul would fail. In many respects, his writing also lacked sophistication and talent.

And yet Paul says, he will boast about his weaknesses.  We feel unhappy and worried about our weaknesses, but somehow he has accepted his weakness in a positive way and so he is able to boast about it.  And he even accepts that he needs it long-term. In order to remain focused on God, rather than himself and his exploits, Paul has this “thorn in his side”. He prayed repeatedly and yet the thorn remained in his life. I don’t think that ‘three times’ means Paul said three prayers but that he spend three seasons in prayer pleading with God to remove this from his life.  And yet he has an unanswered prayer.

  • How many times could we cite that we are thankful for our unanswered prayers?
  • How often do our prayers tend to focus on making life easier and softer and rarely are for the kind of difficulties that would challenge us and make us grow spiritually.

None of us wants to really be moved outside of our comfort zone, and so we react to life’s situation by rejecting the difficulty.  Paul, for all his abilities and mighty use by God, could not escape the fact that he was human, and thus inevitably susceptible to weakness.

Paul doesn’t like it.
He can’t change it.
And God won’t remove it.

Had Paul focused on the injustice of this torment in his life, he could have become a very bitter man, consumed by how unfair this harsh and excessive situation had become for him.  But Paul not only accepted his negative circumstances but he also expresses his joy and happiness over them.

  • What is your hurt story?
  • What behavior keeps you from where you need to be?

I hate looking weak or insufficient. I particularly loathe being wrong, especially when the mistake I’ve made has public ramifications. What will people think?  God forbid that someone realise how far behind I am at work, or that I get upset and short-tempered with my daughter when I’m tired, or that I can’t seem to get things right in my marriage, or that I don’t think quickly on my feet and always come up with the perfect rebuttal three days later!  I get frustrated by these deficiencies and perceived weaknesses – I’m inadequate and useless.  And so, since I don’t like to feel this way, I adopt a fake persona that I hope others will see (or that they will at least pretend to see, because I pretend to see the fake persona they put forward).

We live in a world where all the photos of models in magazines are Photo-shopped to perfection, where there’s a special model for hands, and another for backs and another for legs.  Where there are body doubles for actresses in Hollywood for those close-up shots or for the action or dance scenes – each one showing a perfection that perhaps the actress doesn’t actually have.

Boasting in weakness goes so against the way the world operates today. We don’t boast to our peers about our weaknesses or in a job interview. Typically, when we’re asked to focus on our weaknesses in an interview, we are trained to say – “Well, I would say that I’m stubborn, and I just don’t give up until I’ve finished the project that I’m working on to successful completion.”  or “I care too much about my work, and don’t have a good work-life balance.” – or whatever we think the perfect answer to the question is.

In our conversations with our friends, we don’t say, “Hey! Turns out I’m really bad at empathy and I’m totally self-centered. Isn’t that great?”

So, let’s each take a moment to reflect – what is your greatest weakness? What are you truly ashamed of?

  • I’m self-centered, frigid, insensitive and withdrawn;
  • I speak too loudly and sometimes have inappropriate social awareness;
  • I hate confrontation and so don’t deal with issues in a timely manner;
  • I don’t take criticism well;
  • I shut down and reject others;
  • I ride rough-shod over other people’s feelings in order to get what I want;
  • I can’t handle change and am stuck in a rut;
  • I take things personally;
  • I can’t say no and am always overloaded;
  • I’m condescending and treat others badly;
  • I have poor leadership skills;
  • I manipulate others;
  • I hold on to hurt feelings and dwell on them;
  • I overreact  …

Each one of us has something that we try to hide and pretend isn’t there. And if it’s a habit that we’re trying to break or a type of reaction that we know is wrong, whatever you do, don’t label it as “SIN”, so passé!  No one “sins” anymore… No one is a “sinner”.

Let me put it this way – the Bible says if you know what is right and you don’t do it, it’s sin – so, when you’re on that diet for your diabetes and you know you shouldn’t eat that chocolate bar and ice cream, that’s sin – not necessarily for someone else, but for you.  Because you know that it’s bad for you!  And yet you insist…

For how many of you, has ignoring and trying to hide this weakness, bad habit or character flaw actually worked?  As much as we may hate it, ignoring our weakness doesn’t make them go away. How many of you notice a character flaw in another person and say nothing, because you’re polite?  You see someone faking it and you go along with the charade, because you want them to go along with your charade?  They say there’s “nothing wrong” and you say “okay”, because it’s the easy way out.

If I took the time to actually ask, and they answered me honestly, I might have to do something about it!  I might then have to care for this person later, and ask how they are doing again… and then hear the truthful answer!  And it’s so much easier to just accept the “nothing wrong” and “okay” and carry on as if nothing had happened.

But that’s not who we are supposed to be!  We’re not supposed to be shallow and callous people, living on a surface, pretending that the weaknesses don’t exist.

When I don’t have enough love in my life, God reminds me that God is LOVE – it’s unlimited! I may be frigid and uncaring, but when I’m filled with God’s love there’s more than enough to go around!  I can be filled to overflowing – because God created me to be His vessel.  It doesn’t matter how much love I have, the question is “how much love does God have?”And so, it is when I can truly say “this is my weakness” that I allow God to shine through!  When I finally accept – “this is how I am”, I’m wonderfully and perfectly made, and God just wants to shine through all the cracks in my character, then I can truly boast in my weakness.

When I don’t have enough patience, God reminds me that He is PATIENCE – unlimited…

When I am filled with anger, God reminds me that He is goodness and kindness… unlimited…

I would invite all of you, during our coffee time after the service, to take a moment and share with someone your weakness, (yes, that one that you are SO ashamed of) and how God can shine through you, in spite of yourself!

Just Do It!

Lectionary Readings:  February 2, 2014

  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
  • Matthew 5:1-12

As many of you may be aware, since November I have been participating in coaching seminars (once a month).  These seminars focus on increasing effectiveness, especially with relation to your goals and relationships.  One of the purposes of participating was to “stop procrastinating”.

I’m one of those people that when I read on someone’s CV “works well under pressure”, my automatic assumption is “this person is just like me – they procrastinate”, otherwise that wouldn’t be in their CV.
Of course, as I was finishing preparing this sermon last night (yes, you heard right… last night, after I put Isabella to bed), it struck me “so how have these seminars helped me? It’s the night before, and here I are, finishing up again at the last minute”…

But I did notice a big difference – on Thursday, when I was busy doing other things, I thought to myself – you should be preparing your sermon – and then I decided that I needed to do that instead.  Conscious decision.

Friday I was busy with the house and paediatricians appointment – once again, I realised I could be preparing my sermon, but chose not to.

Saturday morning – I chose to participate in the Patio Sale here at church, knowing that it would without a doubt mean that on Saturday night I would be at the laptop, finishing off my review of my sermon and putting my thoughts together.

So, what is different?  What have I learned after almost 120 hours of seminars and coaching?
The value of my decisions and choices – that I own them.  The results are completely mine.  Over the next 15 weeks I have given myself what I consider to be some extraordinary goals – not because they require me to do something extraordinary today, but rather because they require me to be consistent every day.  There’s not a single day that I can just tune out and say – “not today.  Today I’m not responsible…”

I remember as a kid, we always used to joke “the Devil made me do it”… like I had no say in the matter… It is about as effective as “if I was really filled with the Spirit, I wouldn’t sin anymore”.

Really? Why am I still waiting for that “magical” moment when suddenly I will be a new person and magically stop doing what I know to be wrong?  Why am I waiting for the Holy Spirit to do the job for me, when I already know what I’m supposed to do?

How many times have I given myself the excuse – I’m going to love my neighbour when the Holy Spirit fills me with Christ’s love?  That unknown moment in the future – that lets me off the hook today.
How many times will I continue to excuse my behaviour, because I have that perfect excuse?

This morning we read the beatitudes – which like Paul mentions in Corinthians, differ completely from the wisdom of man.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit – those who are truly humble before God. This means to be free of arrogance, self-righteousness and self-sufficiency.  To be poor in spirit gives me the freedom to be completely available for God.  It’s when I acknowledge that bring nothing of my own: power, possessions or merit – that’s when I gain the kingdom of heaven.  Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean that to get in I am humble and then as soon as I have entered I become self-sufficient:  it means that I live in a state of humility.  It’s a way of being – consistently humble before God and others.  Constantly being available to others.
  • Blessed are those who mourn – we often look at this as being those who have lost a loved one: but I think it’s more than this.  How many of us see another person with problems and think “that’s their problem”?  I have enough issues of my own – I don’t need to take on anything else.  But when we read this passage of Matthew, it’s as if there is a mourning for the loss of another.  What if I opened myself up to feeling another person’s suffering?  What if I was open to making myself available and feeling empathy with their pain?  How much more could I achieve in “loving my neighbour” if I took it upon myself to feel his or her pain and not simply write it off as “their problem”?
  • Blessed are the meek – the meek in the Bible are those who have a spirit or gentleness and self-control.  This means to be free from malice and a condescending spirit.  The meek don’t exploit and oppress others – they are not violent, and they don’t seize power for their own ends.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness – not just their own righteousness (of doing what is right in God’s sight), but the righteousness in terms of justice throughout the nation.  These are people who are concerned about social justice and ensuring that the law is followed and due process is given to all.  They are crusaders in their community for what is right – not silent bystanders watching as injustice happens around them.
  • Blessed are the merciful – showing mercy to others means both compassion to the sinner, as well as compassion for the hungry and needy.  It means that I will show kindness and heal wounds.  It is only if I shun that place where I think I deserve the grace that I have received and avoid becoming intolerant of others or judgement, that I can show mercy to others.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart – this describes not only inner purity but singleness of mind.  This is where my will and choice come into play.  To be pure in heart means that my desires, thoughts and intentions are aimed at pleasing God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers – When my effort is to strive to establish a peace that embraces God’s provision of peace, where everyone around me is in harmony, because we are all at peace with God.  This is a spiritual state of peace, not a political one.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness – if we start to promote peace or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness, we will find opposition.  And that may get nasty.
  • Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Jesus.  What if I would really stand up for what Jesus taught us and refused to live in the grey area?

Have you noticed that all of these refer to states of being – I am poor in spirit, I am meek, I am a peacemaker, I am pure in heart.  None of these refer to how I feel.  None of these refer to being a Christian “when the circumstances and my emotions are in the right place and it’s easy”.

Jesus was a radical – the same way that Paul said that the wisdom of God doesn’t make sense for the wisdom of man.

What do you mean the poor in Spirit are blessed?  Then, as now, most of us would have said “Blessed are the rich and powerful, for they have it all”… But that’s not what Jesus said….  Jesus bucked the establishment and focused on what really mattered spiritually.   And as a follower of Christ, I’m expected to also.

Next weekend I’m going to be back in the seminar that I mentioned, but this time as a volunteer helper in the first weekend.  The principal reason for doing this is that I want to give back to a new group of people a little of what I received.  But I will admit that there is this curiosity in me that I want to satisfy.  I want to see if Jorge, the leader, really is a sweet and loving on the first day as what he is now!

What changed? How he treated me? Or my perception and expectations of how someone that truly loves others treats me?

I have to say, I have never met anyone like Jorge and Nicholas… These two men work in black and white.  No grey areas.  I would go as far as saying for the first time I have met someone that helps me understand the Apostle Paul – I have always seen him as harsh and judgmental, not loving – but maybe the reason his letters were so well accepted among those he wrote to was that they had experienced first-hand how loving he was. Perhaps they knew that he was telling them exactly what they needed to hear – not what they wanted to hear.

Jorge and Nicholas call me out – they don’t just let me slide.  If I have said that the most important relationships in my life are my marriage and Isabella, then they expect my actions to reflect this.  That rather than giving Alessandro and Isabella the “left-overs” of my time – they are getting my prime time.  Rather than taking Alessandro for granted (because he loves me), that I am giving to Alessandro my full attention when we are together, because that is how you treat the most important person in your life.

Now, I have some great excuses about why that doesn’t happen:
1-    I had a really hard day at work;
2-    I was up at 3.00 a.m. checking on Isabella and I’m really tired;
3-    I got pounded by work today and then I had to meet with so-and-so and then I took the dogs out;
4-    You have NO IDEA how much I had to do today…

The list can go on and on… I even believe my excuses!  But Jorge and Nicholas don’t. They don’t buy into them… they question them.  They question my priorities.

And for most of us, it’s socially unacceptable for someone to call you out on these things.  When someone gives us a good excuse for why they aren’t a loving and attentive Christian, we let them off the hook – because we want them to let us off the hook when we aren’t.

But I haven’t found anywhere in the Bible where Jesus says “Love your neighbour when you’re having a good day and feel like it”.  I haven’t found “It’s acceptable to complain when you need a little self-pity”.

What we find are verses like:

•    Philippians 2: 14 – Do everything without grumbling and complaining.
•    1 Peter 4:9 – Show hospitality to one another without complaining.
•    1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances…
•    James 1: 2-3 – Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

There’s no getting off easy in the Bible for having a bad attitude, responding to someone with harsh words, feeling self-pity.  But would I call someone out on this?  I’m expected when someone complains about how hard their day has been to listen to them and give them that hug they need.  But is what they need really that hug and my pity?

What if I really listened to them, and rather than just accepting what they told me out of their mouth, I read their body language and listened further – and actually got to the bottom of what was really bothering them?  What if instead of buying into their words and giving them a pat on the back and “there, there, it will be okay”, I challenged them to be better than the circumstances they were facing?  Wouldn’t that be true love like Jesus showed?

I claim to love others as Christ loved us – but I only do it until it’s comfortable.  When it starts to get uncomfortable, that’s when I back off and step back into my comfort zone.

And the Bible tells us, in unequivocal form – JUST DO IT.