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I understand; I get it. Sharing is a sacrifice but I don’t like it. I think about the times I told my kids to share and I remember the look of incredulity. After all, sharing meant giving away what the one had in his hand.

Hebrews 13:16
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Oh sure, there are times that sharing might mean cutting something in half (or less), but more often than not, it’s giving it over, supposedly for a season, a short time, a shared time. But it never seems to work out that way from a kid’s perspective. And honestly, probably not from an adult perspective either when it comes to my lifestyle, my bank account, my comfort.

I’m afraid of it. OK. It also makes me mad sometimes.

I grew up with a strong work ethic and quite honestly, I can get somewhat scornful of people who don’t meet their obligations or hold up their end of the stick or break agreements or walk away from responsibilities. I can throw attitude with the best of them at deadbeat dads, plagiarizing students, and philandering husbands. I can get quite puffed up and think, “how dare they?”

After all, if I do my work, why shouldn’t they? If I hang in there, why shouldn’t she? If I earned the money, why must I share it with you? I suffered, so should you. I gave up what I wanted to do to make this life, so should you. After all, I walked to school twenty miles, in the snow, up hill: why shouldn’t my kids? They don’t appreciate hard work. They’re just spoiled.

On and on and on the mind drones. And why? Because God has asked me to share what I have with those who don’t. God even calls it a sacrifice (an offering, the surrender of something valuable for a higher cause). And there’s the point: the sacrifice is not about the worthiness of the other person — capable or not, low born or high, lazy or energetic — it’s about God.

“But, but, but . . . ,” my little self says inside, “they’ll take advantage of me!!!!”

God smiles (in that enigmatic spirit way) and seems to say, “That may be, that may very well be. But the laws of paradox and generosity, selflessness and love, pay back in ways untold. Trust me.”

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All executions were performed outside the city walls. Anything that was unclean or tainted was destroyed or thrown away there. Jesus broke up a lot of traditions, but the greatest one was starting something holy in an unholy place.

Hebrews 13:12-13
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

Two thousand years ago, the followers of Christ were considered unclean, much like lepers. They were law breakers and rule breakers. They were teaching others that the temple traditions were no longer necessary. They were breaking down societal structures. They all deserved to be cast away and thrown out from the protection of the city gates. This was the mindset of Paul of Tarsus and the crusade of his companions to obliterate the Christ-ians.

Now, some two thousand years, the tables have turned, and the very same believers in that former renegade, Jesus of Nazareth, are the ones who inhabit the “city” and have created their own order and culture of “righteousness.” It seems that anyone who might question or disagree with the current regime is cast outside the camp.

They are a new set of Pharisees who are putting people under microscopes before they are allowed inside.

But I believe Jesus is still outside the city. Jesus is still rubbing shoulders with the prostitutes and homeless, the poor and the outcasts, the disenfranchised and the orphans, the persecuted and the different, the prisoners and the ex-prisoners. The way of Jesus will always be the way of paradox. When we become to comfortable, we may have strayed onto the wide road [Matthew 7:13-14].

I am equally challenged here. I may go outside the “camp” for a visit, but every night I still run home to my comfortable bed and my air conditioning, my habits and my rituals.

I am yet afraid outside my “personal city” walls. I am afraid that I will be lost, that I will be hurt, that I will be shut out.

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Can I be honest about what I see when I meet someone? I’d love to say my eyes go inside and seek out the “sacred other” but no, not usually. I’m still assessing the outer shell. It happens in a flash, whether it’s chewed down fingernails or Jimmy Choo shoes, my first impression rules the day.

Philemon 16
. . . no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

Haven’t we all played that first impression game with people who have developed into friends?

“Oh, when I first met you, I thought you were a snob . . . or a slob . . . or whatever.” And then we laugh and say how wrong we were, how we had misjudged, how we had missed the clues of the truth inside. It’s all so funny, but is it?

Or what about those times I’ve yelled at a driver or gestured inappropriately or intentionally cut one off as a payback. Yeah, and then we both drive into the same church parking lot. That’s humbling. What did we see? What will we see next?

I work in a community library and we deal with the public all day long and sometimes, it’s not always pleasant. Patrons “swear” they returned a book only to find it later under their son’s bed; or they adamantly deny the water-damage happened during the three weeks they borrowed it. Bottom line? They lie and lie and lie. And often, they don’t just lie, they yell and threaten too. Just such an incident happened last Friday to my colleague and sure enough, they met up again in the same pew on Easter morning. Nice first impression on both sides. Not.

In this letter to Philemon, Paul is asking him to “see” Onesimus, not as a slave, but a “brother” and even moreso, as a man.

When Jesus came to the Jews, he turned their belief system upside down, announcing himself as the Messiah, breaking the dietary laws and traditions, and advocating for grace over legalism. Then, Paul comes along and moves into the Greek and other Asian cities nearby. If we think following Christ in those places was any less disruptive, that’s just wrong. Hierarchy and class ruled those cultures and now, they were being asked to set those traditions aside as well. A slave is a person, a human being, and if that man has entered the life of Christ, then how is he different from you or me?

Some weeks ago, a friend shared this video with me about Narayanan Krishnan, a successful restaurateur who decided to return to his native city in India to feed and care for the poor, some of them untouchables. Who did he see?

CNN Video Story about Narayanan Krishnan [2.5 minutes]
Is it not the Christ?

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Art by Ed Unitsky

What does the Godly life look like? And why would it be, that a person who is following in the way of Jesus, living out righteous, faith, love and peace, why would that cause persecution? It’s another type of contradiction.

II Timothy 3:12
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, . . .

I have seen people hold this scripture up as a banner when their particular political cause or moral stand is shot down or watered down or disregarded in some way. Some people have a litmus test like abortion or birth control or the death penalty or gay rights, and anything outside of their view is perceived as persecution: “right” being attacked by some liberal/left point of view.

There is one sect of believers who are known for door-to-door evangelism to the extreme and if people are rude to them or shut a door in their faces, they report that “persecution” to the team-faithful. It’s to be expected they say; they are living the life.

But where do we see anything like this in the life of Jesus? Our Man/God was so comfortable in his skin that He could be anywhere and talk with anyone without harsh judgments. The truth was in Him, the Spirit close by and available, the ability to love and connect with everyone was apparent. His persecution came later.

His persecution did not really begin until he revealed his identity, an identity that challenged the traditions of authority.

The poor did not persecute Jesus nor did self-professed sinners. The hungry and the needy did not persecute Jesus. Only those who had an agenda that was jeopardized by the long-awaited appearance of a Messiah who would turn their world upside down. Actually, even the Romans did not persecute Jesus until He was dumped into their legal system.

Living the life is more like the first thirty years of Jesus’s life — the silent years. Did Jesus love less in those years than he did in his public ministry? Did he care less, speak less, understand less? Or did he wake each day with the Shema Yisrael and with mindfulness toward the presence of God, and thereby simply live and serve his immediate world.

So, is there persecution in my life? And if there isn’t any, does that mean I am not living a Godly life? Am I too homogenized into the cares of this world? Am I holding on too tightly to my comforts?

Oh, I suppose I could take a political stand about this or that; I could march in the streets for one cause or another, but in the end, I would still come home to my middle class life, my credit cards, and my steak on the grill.

The chorus of the song below was framed and given to me many years ago and, in its simplicity, this is the only way I can see how to “live the life” right now, today.

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How many of us are ashamed of the chains of another person? Sometimes it’s a looking away or denial of the mistake someone has made and “paying for it” through imprisonment. But there are other chains, like mental illness, grief, illness, divorce, unemployment, and poverty.

II Timothy 1:16
May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.

I was ashamed of myself today as I realized I had lost touch with a woman who lost her husband last year. When he died suddenly, I had every intention of reaching out, of staying in touch, of being present to my friend as she went through the grieving process. But I didn’t. And now it has been a year. What caused this lack of attention? I wasn’t ashamed of her pain, per se, but I was uncomfortable. Grief is palpable.

And then I thought of other women I have left to bear the chains of their sorrow, my dearest friend whose brother died suddenly in a car accident. I didn’t know what to say or do and so I did next to nothing. Another friend lost her husband to lung cancer and it was months before I even sat at table with her. She was bitter at the desertions, not unlike Paul who names Phygelus and Hermogenes [vs 15].

I have colleagues whose teen and twenty-something children have gotten caught up in dangerous and illegal circumstances that have put them in prisons and detention centers. I know these mothers sorrow and I know it is hard for them to talk about it. What am I doing to ease their pain?

Another blogger wrote of the isolation that comes from mental illness and how people fear it, not unlike an infectious disease. The very thing that is needed is an unfailing and understanding presence.

I know, I shy away from so many things I do not understand but I am caught short today by my frozen inaction. Even though I am not gifted in removing the chains of others, I can still give a cup of water and hold a hand. A pastor friend of mine once said that people in grief generally need little but someone sitting beside them. Talk is often unnecessary. But I am all about the talk and the words. Silence in a group is outside my comfort zone.

It’s back to phrases like “life is in the being not in the doing” or, we are human “beings” not human “doings.” Corny but all true. But all that “being” needs to be in a place, needs to be with others who are struggling with their current state of “being” and could use a little support, like Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of Moses [Exodus 8:12].

For all of those whose chains I ignored, I ask you to forgive me. May this day be a reminder and a call to be present in the lives of those around me, chains and all.

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It’s not always what we think it is: true life. Understanding is particularly difficult for the wealthy and, even though I hate to say it, I am among these. Most Americans are. We have abundance and we have fooled ourselves into believing it’s the life, that American dream.

I Timothy 6:19
In this way they [the wealthy] will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Oh, compared to Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, I’m not rich. But, compared to the millions of people who live on a dollar a day or who are deeply dependent on welfare and social security subsidies, I am flush. And yet, Paul admonishes his mentee, Timothy, to pay particular attention to the wealthy, who must be reminded often that it is not their goods, but their good works that have value over time. It is their liberal generosity willingness to share with others. . . . not just share money, but time.

The rich become complacent and arrogant more easily.

I can certainly attest to the complacency. If it were not so, I would be manifesting greater service to those in need. It’s not that I don’t care, I just can’t seem to “fit it all in.” How lame.

As a supervisor, I have asked employees who struggle with “best use of their time” to log their days for a couple of weeks and analyze how their time is really spent. Clearly, I need to to do the same thing.

What did I do yesterday that was investment in “true life?” What will I do today?

Sometimes and maybe even more than sometimes, generosity is not about money, but about generosity of the heart. If we give out of true self, like time and authentic connections, that has value too. Can I give bountifully of myself today? Can I stay mindful enough of the inner presence of the Holy Spirit, that I can be open to feel, to hear, to see, to sense, the pain of another, the loss, the hollow places that need an outpouring of love? Can I? Will I?

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Culture, culture, culture. Is there any doubt that Paul is writing out of his time and place? In these verses, Paul lays out some very specific parameters and rules in order to be on the “widow list.” What did they get for being in this list?

I Timothy 5:9-10
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband [dead or alive], and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

According to the Amplified translation, the list or roll was for those women who would, from that day forward (assuming they could stay on the list), would receive church support. They would be cared for and loved. God forbid if a woman was 59 or 58. Would they bend the rules? What is her husband was an abusive clod? What if her children, despite her efforts, ended up in jail? Who decides what is hospitable?

If there are women out there who met all of Paul’s rules, I doubt very seriously that they would need to be on the widow list because individuals would be reaching out to them for all their good deeds, help, and foot washing [personal service]. Outside of money, the women on Paul’s list seem to be strong, healthy, and full of spiritual insight. They would be loved and appreciated already.

Sorry, but I think the women on the widow list might need to be different in today’s world: homeless, abused, neglected, lonely, shamed, lost, addicted, sick, or hungry. They need strategies for survival and recovery. They need patience and forbearance. They need unconditional love and wisdom.

The widow list is not like Santa’s list, where only the “good kids” get the stuff. Like the movie, Cider House Rules, where the list was made by people who had never walked or understood the shoes of those who lived in the Cider House, so are Paul’s Widow List Rules. I find him insensitive and downright clueless.

But perhaps the really sad thing is that we all make “Widow lists.” We judge the ones around us and compare their circumstances to the list in our heads. Is this person deserving? Should I give this homeless person a dollar or will he/she squander it away?

I wish I could remember her name, but there is an amazing British woman who has served in China for many years as a missionary. I will never forget one of her teachings that chided us well-meaning helpers saying that Jesus only asked that we give and serve the poor, not second-guess what will be done with with the gift. Such an idea goes against everything we assume: shouldn’t I be a steward for what I give? I don’t know the answer to that.

But today, I’d like to throw out my lists and see what happens.

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