The Teachings of a King’s Mother

By Nick Westbrooks

The teachings of King Lemuel’s mother found in the last chapter in the book of Proverbs is a testament to the wisdom of our mothers, and it serves as a timely Mother’s Day message this year, and being a young man, it’s especially meaningful to me. The woman in the text gives her son a few words of advice that sons and even daughters can apply now.

First, it’s important to understand the premise under which this queen is advising her son. The king’s name tells a lot about not only his mother’s high expectations for her son, but it reveals his divine identity and the Creator’s expectations for him. The name Lemuel means, “belonging to God.”

When you’re consciously classified as property of the Most High, you have to live a particular way and not do certain things. As a man of God, Lemuel couldn’t hang out all night stumbling around town in a drunken stupor and lustfully chasing after women.

More important than the things you can’t do are the things you must do. This is an important lesson for us who identify ourselves as children of God. We have to live righteously as we represent our families, our ancestors, our God and ourselves.

What wisdom did King Lemuel’s mother impart in him? She taught him not to spend his strength on women and his “vigor on those who ruin kings” (Prov. 31:3). Commentary in the New Quest Study Bible explains that kings were susceptible to investing their time, money and energy on courting and marrying multiple women. Engaging in this type of behavior will lead to self-destruction and ruin.

In verses 8 and 9, Lemuel’s mother instructs him to practice social justice by being a voice for the voiceless and being a reasonable advocate for the less fortunate: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the right of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (NIV).

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the right of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (NIV).

Sounds familiar right? In our society, poor people are marginalized and forgotten, because they don’t have the authority and resources to influence the dominant power structure. It appears that individuals who are in positions of privilege aren’t interested in working with anyone who can’t add to their power. The lessons taught by the king’s mother in these two verses are those that everyone should apply as it’s our responsibility as human beings and as God’s people.

To conclude the mother-to-son wisdom, Lemuel learns how to choose a wife of noble character. She tells him to choose a woman that is wise, works hard and exemplifies strength and dignity. But, one of the strongest pieces of advice from this epilogue in Proverbs is to choose a woman that transcends good looks and reveres her Heavenly Father: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

At the moment, we don’t know anything about who King Lemuel was or his kingship. But we do know that he felt it was imperative to share the wisdom that came from his mother. He probably recognized the influence and role his mother had in shaping who he was and had become. On this Mother’s Day, this scriptural passage reminds us of the role mothers can have in building character in their children, and it now may serve as a model for all parents and guardians everywhere aspiring to rear their youth in ways that are pleasing to the Creator.

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Women’s History Month: The History of Strong Women

By Nick Westbrooks

Bishop John R. Bryant, the Presiding Prelate of the Fourth Episcopal District and Senior Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and also the father of the Rev. Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant recently preached at a recent Sunday chapel service at Howard University. As it was the first Sunday in March, Bishop Bryant’s sermon correlated with the start of Women’s History Month. His message entitled “The History of Strong Women,” told the story of Queen Vashti’s strength and highlighted the strength of other influential women in our history while encouraging women now to build on their legacies.

The first chapter in the book of Esther discusses King Xerxes, a dominant leader of great power and wealth who “ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush” (v.1 NIV). After a six-month exhibition displaying the “vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor of his glory,” he held a weeklong banquet (Bryant called it a party) for “all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.” Meanwhile, his wife Queen Vashti held a banquet for the women. (v.4-5, 9).

Xerxes had an endless supply of fine wine and encouraged his guests to drink liberally as he did the same. On the seventh day of the banquet while in “high spirits from wine,” the king ordered his servants to bring Vashti before him so she could “display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at” (v.10-11). Providing commentary, Bryant emphasized that all of the men partying with Xerxes were drunk, and he was requesting that his wife –who was required to “walk in modesty”—parade herself in front of his guests.

Putting this point into perspective, Bryant asserts that Xerxes is objectifying and reducing his wife to a thing rather than a person. Upon receiving the king’s command, Vashti refuses to come, and the king becomes angry (v. 11-12). After his wife’s defiant act, Xerxes consults his law experts to decide what should be done to Vashti for disobeying the king’s command. The king feared that all women would become aware of Vashti’s conduct and begin despising their husbands. As a result, Vashti lost her crown and was permanently banished from King Xerxes’ presence.

Despite losing her royal position and her marriage, Vashti had enough strength to “stand for her personhood” according to Bryant. In the genealogy of strong women, he also mentioned individuals like Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks. These are all strong women that we should admire, but the bishop argued that we should go beyond veneration and not wait for the next comparable woman to liberate us.

It’s not enough to celebrate greatness. We must emulate it. We must be who we are in search of.

It’s currently a crucial time for everyone to study and pay homage to strong women in history, not only because it’s Women’s History Month, but because we live in a society beleaguered with sexism, misogyny and objectification that continues to be fueled by ignorance and misinformation. Men should learn the history of strong women to correct the falsehoods and stereotypes that have traditionally characterized women as weak, irrational and inferior. This may help to promote a new culture of giving women the respect and love they deserve. Women should learn the history of their strength to rise out of mediocrity, love and revere themselves, become the greatness that they seek and demand respect just as Vashti stood strong for her personhood.

The Holy Spirit is the Treasure Within You

By Nick Westbrooks

Interpreted by Rev. Dr. Earl D. Trent Jr.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us, we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. –2 Corinthians 4:7-10

It was an amazing testimony of the human spirit when Manteo Mitchell broke his left fibula while running his final 200 meters of the preliminary 4×400 meter relay. Most runners would have stopped once they felt the pop and limped off of the track. But determined by his teammates’ dependence, he fought through the pain and finished his leg, allowing Team USA to make the finals. They would eventually earn a silver medal in the event.

Mitchell’s human spirit was the force that helped him finish the race. As followers of Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the force that keeps us going day after ordinary day.

Take the apostle Paul, the author of the first and second books of Corinthians. Before changing his name and undergoing a life-changing experience, Paul was a Pharisee named Saul who used to persecute the same people he advocated for when he was writing to the church of Corinth.

After his life-changing experience, Paul became a missionary, building churches and spreading the word of Jesus Christ. Throughout his transformation and ministry, Paul faced challenges that he had to overcome through only the power of God inside of him.

Paul lets the church know that it was not him that overcame his obstacles. He puts this idea into perspective by comparing the physical body to frail and easily-broken jars of clay filled with a valuable treasure—the spirit and power of God (v7).

Paul’s analogy is a reminder for us today as we endure struggles and challenges daily. It is not us that gets us through tough times, but it is God’s power within us that is the driving force. We are mere frail, vulnerable and easily-broken jars of clay. But in our brokeness, the Holy Spirit inside of us provides the power to finish our race.

We Are One: Unity in the Body of Christ

But speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself in love, as each part does its work. –Ephesians 4: 15-16

Today I visited Florida Avenue Baptist Church in northwest D.C. for the first time. The guest preacher, the Rev. Janelle Thompson delivered her sermon from the scripture above. The title of the message was “We Are One.”

As the apostle Paul wrote at the start of the fifteenth verse, we should speak the truth in love rather than deceiving and scheming one another. Focusing on that part of the text, Thompson stressed the importance of doing everything out of love. “Without love, what good is what we say or do?” We are able to do everything with love when we feel and identify with love.

The core of the message was the notion that all of God’s people are united as one body in Christ. Here in verse fifteen going into verse sixteen, the writer Paul compares our connection with each other to the anatomy of the human body. Christ is the “Head”, and his people are the “ligaments” joined together through Him. Whether you’ve studied anatomy or not, you know that the body doesn’t function if all of its parts aren’t working together. The same holds true in terms of our progression and relationships with one another.

In the church’s role of spreading the Gospel, all of its members are individuals and have individual gifts. The ideas and perspectives of the individuals usually aren’t homogenous. Despite our differences, we all must be willing to be joined together through Christ’s love with the common goal of delivering the good news and developing our faith.

As Thompson said in her sermon, “The Lord made us different so we can come together in our differences.” Since we are all God’s people—not judged by our social or economic status—we all have value and a purpose regardless of who we are in the secular world. This means listening to and respecting others opinions.

This message of unity can be applied to other instances in the secular world. Many people are employed at jobs where they don’t like their bosses or co-workers, but united under that company, they work together to provide a service and to earn a paycheck for doing so. Too often we see single parents who dislike their baby’s mother of father, but they must be united with the common goal of rearing their child to be the best that he or she can be. Additionally, we can apply this to our human rights movements for freedom and equality. History has proven that mass movements for civil rights and political revolutions were only successful through the unity of its participants.

The soul artist Maze was most likely singing about a romantic relationship in his classic “We Are One.” “We are one, no matter what we do / we are one, love will see us through / we are one, and that’s the way it is.” This too applies to us in a broader sense. I also think of Earth, Wind and Fire’s song “Fantasy.” “And we will live together / until the twelfth of never / our voices will ring forever as one.”  The combination of our gifts, talents and perspectives are valuable individually, but they are the most effective when they’re combined as one. Maurice White and Philip Bailey could have had successful solo careers, but not to the magnitude of EWF’s.

Remember, no matter what the goal or objective is, we each have a specific purpose and gift to contribute. We must unite as one body despite our differences or else we won’t achieve our common goal. If we don’t move together, we won’t move at all.

If we don’t move together, we won’t move at all.

Faith of Our Mothers Part 2: From Pain to Power

At the beginning of our Mother’s Day service at Calvary Baptist, we had a special alter prayer for the mothers and their children. Sons, daughters and grandchildren stood next to each other, touching and agreeing while the pastor prayed for their faithfulness, unity and encouragement. After the alter prayer, everyone returned to their seats and had a moment of silence for the mothers who were not among us anymore.

The assistant pastor also suggested that we pray for those mothers who may be going through painful times. I prayed for the mothers who passed and for the mothers enduring pain. In particular, I lifted up the mothers who lost children, and that time of meditation reminded me of a recent story in The Final Call.

The article told the stories of mothers who lost children to violence and how they are turning that pain into power; using their faith to remain hopeful while leading the movement to prevent other mothers from feeling that pain.

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, lost her son in February when he was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman. She has dealt with the pain by reminding herself that “God is still in control.” She said she would tell mothers who lost children to “read their Bible, remain prayerful and keep pushing forward.”

Dealing with the pain of losing a child is unimaginable and has to be increasingly overwhelming on Mother’s Day, a day that is suppose to be a joyous time where children show their appreciation towards their mothers. But the faith of Ms. Fulton and the many other mothers is the catalyst that transforms their pain into power.

Wanda Johnson’s son, Oscar Grant, was shot and killed in 2008 on a train station platform by a former Bay Area Rapid Transit District officer. Johnson attributes her strength to endure and remain hopeful to her faith.

“Had I not had a relationship with the Lord, I probably would have fallen into depression.”

She also said that prayer not only gave her power through God but it gave her the strength to encourage others. The article entitled “Mother Love Conquers Adversity” also told the stories of Theresa Williamson, Valerie Bell, Enola Causey and Wanda Hawkins, all mothers who lost their children to violence but found power in their faith.

As I reflect on this subject, I think of Nardyne Jefferies, the mother of 16-year-old Brishell Jones who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in southeast Washington, D.C. in 2010. I met Ms. Jefferies a couple of months ago when she spoke to the male students in the chapel at Howard University on the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. We prayed with her, and it was evident that her faith was keeping her grounded during those trying times.

I also think of the mothers of Tylik Pugh, Saahron Jones, Shakur Prince, Sha’Ron Jackson, Jonathan Paraison and the several other names from around my way who are gone but never forgotten. My prayer is that those mothers find the faith and peace to turn their pain into power on this Mother’s Day.

My heart goes out to all mothers who may be experiencing the pain of lost. Lord willing they keep pushing forward, remain faithful and keep the memory of their children alive so another mother will not have to experience the same pain.

Happy Mother’s Day

Peace

Faith of Our Mothers: Part One

Last year, I stayed on campus for Mother’s Day, but this year I made sure I was home to sit next to my mother and grandmother in church on Sunday. Along with sitting next to two of my favorite girls, I was highly anticipating the Mother’s Day word from my dear pastor, the Rev. Dr. Dwight C. Northington.

Referencing 2 Timothy, the preacher focused on the first chapter and the fifth verse in which Jesus remembers the “unfeigned faith” of Timothy’s mother, Eunice and grandmother, Lois. The “unfeigned faith” of the two biblical mothers is the faith that our mothers should strive to achieve. This is the same faith that is sung about in that classic congregational hymn that churches sing every year at this time, “Faith of Our Mothers.”

We were encouraged to pray for our mothers, for they “go through many things men wouldn’t go through.” The biggest task of them all, the pastor said, is carrying a child for nearly a year and giving birth: “Lord have mercy, I know brothers couldn’t deal with that nine months of kicking and moving.” I know I could not deal with it. Women are especially blessed with the God-given ability to bring forth life.

There was a word of encouragement for our mothers who face unfortunate circumstances with their children. Whether the child is not doing right or the child’s father is not doing right, the preacher man urged those mothers to not let the negative hand they have been dealt to interfere with the love of their children.

In order to survive those troubling times, mothers “must have unwavering faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that is deeply grounded in the word of God.” Also in the words of the reverend,

“Don’t hit the panic button, hit the prayer button.”

Having that steadfast faith, that faith of Eunice and Lois, means mothers should bring their children to the house of the Lord so they may learn about Jesus and learn that “God is good.” Not only should mothers bring their children to church and Sunday school, but they should come and learn WITH their children. In this manner, mothers adhere to Proverbs 22:6 which instructs parents to “train up a child in the way that he should go…”

Every day should be Mother’s Day. On this day, we should pray for their continued strength and be thankful for their faithfulness and nurturing love. Most importantly, we should honor our mothers just as the Word says. I pray that all mothers be encouraged and continue to have genuine faith.

Look out for part two.

Happy Mother’s Day!