Tag Archives: loss

women of valor

beach-child-clouds-325265

It’s coming up on that time of year again. For some it can be a very joyous time. For others, it can be one of the worst struggles of the year. Strangely enough I’m talking about Mother’s Day. I remember for seven years of infertility, this was one of the most difficult Sunday’s in the church calendar. I even remember one year, shortly after a miscarriage, that my wife was even called upon to help hand out Mother’s Day gifts to the moms who were there that Sunday. And I imagine this Sunday can be difficult like that for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you have lost your mother this year. Maybe you don’t get to be with your family. Perhaps you’ve never had the family you wished for. None of these things should make you feel less or even allow a church to overlook you in their festivities. If anything, Monther’s Day should be a celebration of women regardless of their stage in life or the identity by which they are known.

One of the most frustrating things to me as a male is the degree to which we as the church often reflect society in the means of which we ask our women to measure up. Sometimes, even on Mother’s Day, women in the church feel the need to evaluate themselves based on a rubric that I’m sure the Bible never intended. Why in the world a Hallmark Card holiday would bring about this type of self-evaluation, I don’t know…but the phenomenon exists all the same. One of the passages of scripture that often gets pulled out for this type of self-inventory is Proverbs 31:10-31. This passage of scripture is known traditionally among the Jewish people as Eshet Chayil or The Woman of Valor. And if we read it at face value it can be intimidating…can a woman really be expected to do all of these things? If this is the ruler that anyone is expected to measure themselves by then not only would our women fall short, but I’m pretty sure most of the men would as well.

Sometimes, though, it pays to seek out an understanding of a Jewish text from Jewish history. I know it sounds crazy. But when it comes to this passage, the Eshet Chayil, before every Sabbath, a husband would read/recite this poem to his wife to praise her for all that she is (not all that she has done). It wasn’t a score card…but an embellishment and adoration of all that she was and meant to her husband and family before they entered into the rest of Sabbath. It reads a lot different now. Hear these words as if in adulation from a husband to his wife,

“‘Many women act competently,
    but you surpass them all!’
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31:29-30

And women of the church…this is who you are. When you enter through the doors of the sanctuary on Sunday morning, you are a woman of valor. When you find yourself worshiping although you are broken by years of infertility, you are a woman of valor. When you join the congregation in prayer although you’ve lost your own mother or even a child, you are a woman of valor. When you celebrate in the means of grace even though it seems you may never be called ‘mom’, you are a woman of valor. When you participate in the body of Christ, even when you feel misunderstood or undervalued, you are a woman of valor; and your worth is far greater than jewels.

 

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daniel

It was a little over three weeks ago when he stumbled into our church. I say that because he really wasn’t in the best of shape and had trouble walking. But he came and I greeted him in the normal fashion and gave him a visitor’s packet and told him it was nice to have him in church. It was a different kind of Sunday as we had a special speaker and at the end when we had an altar call Daniel came forward. I went down to pray with him and he confessed that he hadn’t been in church in probably about twenty years. We then prayed together for his re-commitment to Christ and to following after Him. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new friendship for me.

I saw Daniel a couple of more times that week as he attended our Sunday evening Bible study and our Wednesday night gathering. I came to find out he was proficient in Biblical Hebrew although we was self taught…who teaches themselves Hebrew? He was very Biblically knowledgeable, but he had also had negative experiences with the church before, so he was a little gun shy about getting involved. Daniel also struggled with self worth because of his health issues and had several struggles because of that. But I reassured him that at our church that wasn’t something that we based your value on and we were excited to join with him on his journey of restoration and wholeness in Christ.

Another week went by and occasionally I would get calls from Daniel. Wanting to talk or see if he was doing ok with church (he honestly wanted to make sure he was doing it correctly). He was even worried about the sharing he did at our Sunday night Bible study when he floored us all by reminding us that we relate the love of Christ better to one another out of our brokenness instead of our piety (perhaps he should have been the one leading the group). One night he called around the time I was putting the kids to bed, and even though I was tired, I took his call anyway. He was having a pretty rough day and he referenced an illustration I had used in church about needing God, but needing someone with ‘skin on’. Without really thinking about it I got his address, drove over to his house and when he answered the door I gave him the biggest hug I could muster (it might have even gotten awkward). But then we spent almost an hour just talking about life, philosophy, music and more. I think he was surprised to learn that his pastor was familiar with punk bands from the 90s. We even talked about his upcoming baptism as he had requested to be baptized after coming back to Christ.

Unfortunately he missed our next Wednesday and Sunday because he had gotten sick and then Sunday afternoon he called to apologize for his absence. We talked a bit as I was preparing my Sunday evening study on the book of Daniel, his namesake. We even made plans for his baptism and he had made peace with the idea of pouring for his Baptism as our baptistery would not have been very accessible for him. We talked a little bit about his health and weight and I reminded him that his worth was not determined by those things, but by who God saw in him and the journey he was beginning anew with Christ. After a while I assured him that we would look towards doing a Baptism service in a couple of weeks and then we got off the phone.

The next day of the week is one I always look forward to as it is my day off. While the rest of the world hates Mondays, I love them. I am never able to sleep in so I usually have my morning coffee by 6 AM at the latest. As I was finishing up my coffee the phone rang and I saw it was Daniel’s number. But when I answered…it wasn’t Daniel. It was his mother and I sat there numbly listening as she explained that Daniel had had a heart attack the night before and had passed away early that morning. I tried to summon up the correct pastoral response for her, but I was just floored and immediately sick at my stomach…I’m sure I said something like, “I’m so sorry…let us know if we can do anything…” But I know it wasn’t enough.

I found myself going to the shower and just weeping. Why? Why so soon? God he was making changes. He was going to be better. He was going to do better. He was going to be my friend.

And honestly I don’t have any answers. I know he wasn’t in good health and I understand how human biology works and what had taken place. And in my spiritual frame of reference I know Daniel is now made whole before his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that one day I will see him again as God has always seen him. But I miss him. And I wish I had more time. I still do.

So hug your friends. Kiss your spouse and kids. And know that this life is short and we never know what tomorrow may bring.


in his humanity

As a pastor you experience things sometimes differently than others. I’m not saying we have super powers or anything like that…although admittedly as a comic book fan that would be cool. But the church sees the best in human endeavors and sometimes the worst in human experiences. And as a pastor you see this a lot. Lately it seems like those in and around our church have experienced a tremendous amount of tragedy. And sometimes I admit that I am even at a loss on how to deal with this. Death is awful. It’s horrible. It’s not the way things are intended to go. And yet, we as the church are called to minister in these dark places and dark times with people. Now some may try to tell you that we as Christians are supposed to have the right theology and the right words to help people navigate this sadness, this loss…but I’m not sure this is the case.

We who bear the name Christian claim our ultimate example in the person of Jesus Christ. And there is this story in the gospels where we see Jesus’ reaction to death and loss. Jesus had surrounded himself during his time on earth with friends. Some of these we know as the disciples and there were others as well. In Bethany Jesus called Mary, Martha and Lazarus friends. After the death of Lazarus, Jesus comes to be with Martha and Mary in their time of grief. True, he does speak words of comfort out of the Divine self and Lazarus is raised. But it’s what he does in the human self that has the greatest impact for us. When he is shown the tomb and he sees the loss and the brokenness around him we read the smallest and possibly most powerful verse in all of the gospels, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). You see, we affirm that Jesus was fully God and fully man. The amazing things he did in his Divine self set him apart from the rest of humanity. But what he did out of his humanity sets an example for us all.

I believe one of the things that made Jesus such a powerful figure in all of his teachings, miracles and the like was His ability to be fully present in every moment with us. After all, His name was to be called Immanuel, God with us. And sometimes God with us is simply that. In our pain, in our loss and in our mourning, Jesus is with us – he sheds tears with us. And in so doing He sets the example for all of us as well. We aren’t called to move mountains on behalf of those who hurt, but we are called to be with them. We can be a shoulder to cry on, a hug that has been missed or just someone to listen while they share with us their pain. So my challenge to all of us and to myself? Be present, be a friend, don’t worry about saying the right things but be willing to shed tears and share burdens out of the example Jesus set for us in his humanity.


everything to lose

For those of you who don’t necessarily know me all that well I am accustomed to losing. I have belonged to many losing teams throughout my storied athletic career. I even received the following compliment from the most recent email from our fantasy football league, “Coach Arp is the worst game-day coach in the league so far this season.” Truth be told, most of the things I lose at I don’t care that much about and so my ego isn’t bruised too much. But losing is never fun. Most of us understand that we engage in competition in order to win and so it is rarely the desired output. But what if I told you life is so much simpler if we realize that we are called to hold onto everything with the understanding that it can be lost in an instant.

There is this story in the gospels where a blind man calls out to Jesus to be healed. Jesus doesn’t heal him and so he cries out all the more. Eventually someone tells the blind man that Jesus was calling for him, he goes to Jesus and he is healed. It’s a great story at face value, but if we look even deeper it becomes more complex. In Mark’s retelling of the events we see this simple verse in chapter ten, “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.” Granted, still not that much, unless you think about what it stood for. You see, the blind man was a beggar. And all he had was his cloak. It would provide shade from the sun and rain or warmth from the cold. It was all he had. And it was good. Yet, when Jesus called, he threw it aside because he knew there was something better in store for him.

I wonder how many of us are like this…not blind beggars on the side of the highway, but ‘cloak-holders’? We have our things. We have our health insurance, car insurance, house insurance, 401k, IRA, savings accounts, pay checks, dividends, etc. etc. etc. And these things aren’t bad. In fact in some cases they can be good. But are we willing to lose them? Are we willing to cast them aside for the greater things God has in store for us? In his letter to the Philippians the apostle Paul put it this way, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

Are we willing to consider these things garbage? Are we willing to lose everything for the sake of Christ? Or are we still afraid to let go of our cloaks…because they’re keeping us safe.


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