I love the story of Abraham. I mean everything from when he lied about who his wife was to protect his own hide, to the amazing promises God gave him. But there’s a story nestled in the Genesis account that paints a powerful picture – to miss it is to miss the core message of the Bible. You can find this story in Genesis Chapter 15, verses 1-21 (but I encourage you to read a few chapters before and after as well to get it in context). In a nutshell, God reiterated His promise to Abram (for the third time) then Abram asked for a sign. So God gave Him one. First God told Abram to cut some animals in half then He put Abram to sleep and talked to him about his future. Finally, God appeared as a smoking fire and passed between the pieces of the animals.
This section of Scripture describes a common practice in those days called ‘cutting a covenant.’ Basically, when two people wanted to make a pact, a deal, or a bargain with each other, they would cut some animals into pieces and lay them apart on the ground. A space was left between them forming a sort of aisle. Each party would then state their oath(s) aloud as they walked down the aisle. The meaning of the ritual was simple: ‘May I be cut into pieces like these animals if I don’t keep my promise(s) as I’ve stated in this agreement (covenant).’ Normally there were commitments made on both sides, but not in Genesis 15. Did you catch it?
THE COVENANT WAS BETWEEN GOD AND ABRAM (ABRAM’S DESCENDANTS ARE ALSO MENTIONED) BUT ONLY GOD MADE THE COMMITMENT OF DEATH IN CASE OF A BREACH OF CONTRACT.
The Old Testament is a collection of stories that teach spiritual truths. The writers of the Bible would often take a common practice in the Ancient world and turn it on its head in order to teach the God-followers of Israel something that set Him apart from the gods of the surrounding cultures. That’s why it can be so dangerous to take the Biblical texts and stories literally. That’s why we should not try to bring ancient practices into today’s world and live by them as if they were laws. The sole purpose of Scripture is to teach us what God is like.
The story of God walking through the torn carcasses of animals is a strange one no doubt. But it speaks one of the most beautiful truths in the Bible. God always keeps his promises. God didn’t need Abram to walk through the pieces or make a bargain with Him in order for God to keep His promise. Abram only needed to know that God always keeps his promises, period.
Let’s look more closely for a moment. In verses, 1-5 God restated His earlier promise to Abram that he was going to have a child. In verse 6 Abram simply took God at His word and God equated Abram’s faith with righteousness. It is good to operate on the light God has already given us – that is a big part of how we will be judged in terms of our actions in this life. So by all means, believe what God tells you. Belief a good thing. Our beliefs govern our actions. Now understand that Abram’s belief played absolutely no part in the covenant about to take place. In other words, nothing Abram did or believed in any way impacted the promise God made to him. This is important.
The land was a separate promise from the promise to give Abram children. The land represented God’s presence with the Israelites. But God’s promise in regards to the land extended way beyond establishing the Jews in Israel. Consider why God called Abraham in the first place:
I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (emphasis mine)
GENESIS 18:18, 22:18, AND 26:4 COMPRISE GOD’S PROMISE TO ALL MANKIND: THE WORLD RENEWED.
In other words, the land – and by implication, intimacy with God in a loving relationship – was not for the Jews alone. Not by a long shot.
GOD’S END GAME HAS BEEN ALWAYS GLOBAL.
On the heels of the promises regarding the land, note that we are not told that Abram believed God, but instead that Abram asked a question: “How will I know that it will one day be mine?” What a great question! Sounds like Abram was looking for proof because this time he did not believe God. Little did Abram know he was asking the one question that concerns all of humanity. How do we know that God has a plan to bless us, to renew us, and to renew the world?
I KNOW BECAUSE SOME 4000 YEARS AGO GOD CUT A COVENANT WITH ME.
No, that’s not a typo. Shadows and types and representatives, oh my! The Bible is full of them. Abram was my – your, our – representative in this covenant. Just like Adam represented all of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and Jesus is named the second Adam in his obedient suffering, so Abram was mankind’s representative, cutting the covenant of grace.
Now it is time to consider the location of this story within the greater historical context. Abram was an ancestor of Moses through whom the Law came. As a reminder, we are not told that Abram did anything to earn God’s promise. The covenant was purely an act of God’s grace. So, before the Law came, the covenant of grace was established. Think about it. If the covenant of grace had come after the Law, we would have reason to believe that there is something we must do for God to keep His end of the bargain. This story puts it out there on display: there is nothing for us to do (not even believe). Why? you ask. Because if we have a part now in keeping this covenant then Abram would have believed and walked through the pieces as our representative back then.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE IT TO BE A PART OF IT.
Genesis 15:10: As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram… God put Abram to sleep so that he would have no chance of walking through those pieces. Why? Because God knew something we must all understand:
None of us will ever be able to keep covenant with God (Romans 3). We can’t even keep covenant with each other or ourselves! If there was any covenant to be made with mankind, it had to be on God’s side only. Our works and beliefs have nothing to do with God’s love for His creation or His absolute and unwavering commitment to make all things new. God Almighty cut a covenant with Abram as my representative, and now there is nothing I can do that will ever make God love me more or less than He did in that moment when He walked through the pieces! But there was a little part in the story that for many years I somehow missed. I bet you who are reading this have already seen it because it is so obvious.
One day it hit me what the pieces of those animals really were:
THE BROKEN BODY OF JESUS.
When God walked through the pieces, He knew that we were going to make a sacrifice out of His Son! “This is My body, broken for you…” Who cut the animals up? Abram did – in my place. I did it, through Abram. We did it. We cut up the sacrifice – the Romans stood in for me, for you, for us, crucifying Jesus on a cross. His Son’s death at our hands was the price God paid – in grim, gory detail – to shout out to the cosmos that love trumps all, that there is nothing we can do – not even murder – that will ever stop His love for us.
I pray that you understand – really understand – that God has no expectations of you as regards relationship with Him. He initiated it, He accomplished it, He will finish it, in your life and mine – all for the love He feels for everything and everyone He has made. Now that is Amazing Grace.
There’s something you gotta see, journey with me
It’s approximately 30 A.D.
In the land of Israel- the city of Jerusalem
But on the outside, there’s screams and loud cries
Through faith, this scene can be seen without eyes
The mean shout lies and seems to sound wise
As we inch through the crowd, we need to be cautious
A Roman execution, men on three crosses
But all the focus is on the one in the center
The gate closes behind you- no one can enter
The sight you behold is so odd, you’re stunned
The man hanging on the cross is God the Son
12 noon, it’s pitch-black because the sunshine’s lacking
Your minds can’t fathom this divine transaction
As slowly the sound becomes mostly drowned
You realize that you’re standing on holy ground
So forever will I tell
In three hours, Christ suffered more than any sinner ever will in hell
It’s where we see Your holiness- at the cross
We see that You’re controlling this- at the cross
We see how You feel about sin- at the cross
Your unfathomable love for men- at the cross
It’s where we see Your sovereignty- at the cross
We see our idolatry- at the cross
We know that there’s a judgment day- from the cross
May we never take our eyes away- from the cross
We’re now in the realm of the sublime and profound
With God at the helm, it’s about to go down
The Father’s wrath precise will blast and slice
The priceless Master Christ as a sacrifice
Willingly, He’s under the curse
To be treated as if the Son was the worst scum of the earth
The scene is the craziest
Jesus being treated as if He is the shadiest atheist
How is it the Messiah is in the fiery pit
As if He was a wicked liar with twisted desires?
The One who’s sinless and just
Punished as if He was promiscuous and mischievous with vicious lust
The source of all godly pleasure
Tormented as if He was a foul investor or child molester
How could He be bruised like He was a goodie-two-shoes
who doesn’t think that she needs the good news?
He’s perfect in love and wisdom
But He’s suffering as if He constructed the corrupt justice system
We should mourn at the backdrop
Jesus torn like He’s on the corner with crack rock with porn on His laptop
What is this, kid? His gifts are infinite
But He’s hit with licks for religious hypocrites
He’s the Light, but being treated like
He’s the seedy type who likes to beat His wife
He’s treated like a rapist, treated like a slanderer
Treated like a racist or maybe a philanderer
Jesus being penalized like He had sin inside
Filled with inner pride while committing genocide
I could write for a billion years and still can’t name
All of the sins placed on the Lamb slain
But know this: the main thing the cross demonstrated
The glory and the holiness of God vindicate
Closing: When evangelist John Wesley was returning home from a service one night, he was robbed. The thief, however, found his victim to have only a little money and some Christian literature. As the bandit was leaving, Wesley called out, “Stop! I have something more to give you.” The surprised robber paused. “My friend,” said Wesley, “you may live to regret this sort of life. If you ever do, here’s something to remember: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin!'” The thief hurried away, and Wesley prayed that his words might bear fruit. Years later, Wesley was greeting people after a Sunday service when he was approached by a stranger. What a surprise to learn that this visitor, now a believer in Christ as a successful businessman, was the one who had robbed him years before! “I owe it all to you,” said the transformed man. “Oh no, my friend,” Wesley exclaimed, “not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin!”
Has the blood been applied to your life? Is your name written down in Heaven? Is your faith in Jesus and in Him alone?
This name is especially applicable to Israel because of the geographical position of their country. (Cf. Numbers 23:9, “The people shall dwell alone.”) They were away, off the beaten track of the nations, shut in, and, as it were, hidden, by the deserts on the east and south, the sea on the west, and the mountains on the north, from the rest of the world. But the expression in the text is applicable to all God’s people everywhere and always. They are his hidden ones. And we note concerning them –
I. THE FACT – THEY ARE HIDDEN.
1. Their physical life God often hides from those who would destroy it. Not always does he do this, but often, as Peter from Herod (Acts 12.; and cf. Obadiah’s hiding of the prophets, 1 Kings 18:4). And how often God has hidden his servants in wildernesses, glens, mountain heights, catacombs, etc.! The adversary would fain have destroyed them all, as the wolf the sheep; but they have not all been destroyed, the sheep yet outnumber the wolves.
2. Their spiritual life is ever a hidden one. For it resides not in themselves, but in another, as the life of the branches is in the vine (John 15.; Colossians 3:3). The principles that govern it are not known or understood or appreciated by the world. Its law of self-sacrifice, meekness, etc. Except by uncertain conjecture, the world knows nothing of its springs of action and its controlling motives. The practice of this life is also so different from the world’s life. It is meek, retiring, not loving notoriety; it pursues a lowly and unnoticed way; it has no eye for worldly pomp, no ear for worldly applause. It is not necessarily identified with any places, or seasons, or forms of worship, or order of men; but whilst generally using more or less of them, is independent of them all.
3. And this condition of God’s hidden ones is of their own choice. (Ruth 2:12; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 143:9.) They love to have it so. The hidden life is, in their esteem, the blessed, the secure, the eternal life.
4. It is God who hides them. (Cf. Psalm 31:20; John 10:28.) He does this by his providential care and by keeping them in his own love. And the majority of them he has hidden from men below in his own blessed presence in heaven. The Church on earth is a little flock indeed, not absolutely, but in comparison with the vast flock in the heavenly pastures, and there they are forever hidden from all the malice and might of men or of the devil.
II. WHAT THIS FACT IMPLIES.
1. Their preciousness in the sight of God. Things common and cheap we do not hide, or those for which we do not care. Jewels are hidden oftentimes, and God calls his hidden ones his jewels (Malachi 3:17). And how could they be other than precious, when we remember their cost! – “redeemed with the precious blood of Christ;” each one was bought with that price. And God deems them precious, also, for their own sakes. They can and will respond, ever more and more perfectly, to that love in the heart of God which, like all love, yearns for a response such as they only can give.
2. Their peril. God would not have hidden them as he has were they in no danger (see text). And how perpetually did our Lord bids us “watch and pray”! The world, the flesh, the devil, are ever bent on doing us harm. We are safe only as “our life is hidden with Christ in God”
3. Obscurity. The world knows us not, even as it knew him not. See how all but unbroken is the absolute silence of secular history as to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and as to the history of his Church, until its marvelous growth and supernatural power compelled its attention. And still, the fame, layout, and honor of the world are things which none of God’s hidden ones may seek (John 5:41, 44).
4. Safety. (Psalm 91., the whole psalm.)
5. The love of him whose hidden ones we are.
III. TO WHAT IT SHOULD LEAD.
1. To the deep love of God. Whatever God has given you, he has given and he can give nothing like this – numbering you among his hidden ones.
2. To stay where you are. Dwell in the secret place of the Most High.
3. To have done with forebodings, murmurings, and helpless grief. Should such as you be chargeable with such things?
4. To confession of God’s love to you before your fellow men.
5. To all holy endeavors to bring others where you are
“God doesn’t bribe, child. He just makes a sign and lets people take it as they will.”
― Stephen King,
Can it really be true? America in Bible prophecy – absolutely! When you think about it, it makes sense that the most powerful and influential nation on earth will play a vital role in the final stunning events of the world’s closing history. But even more, surprises await you as the Bible reveals how the leading nation of the world came to exist and why! Please read Revelation 13:11-18 before beginning tho read this post, because these eight verses give a prophetic picture of America in the days ahead.
1. Two world powers are symbolized in Revelation chapter 13. What is the first power?
Answer: The beast with seven heads (Revelation 13:1-10) is none other than the Roman papacy.
(See Study Guide 15 for a complete study on this topic.) Remember that beasts in Bible prophecy symbolize nations or world powers (Daniel 7:17, 23).
2. In what year was the papacy predicted to lose its world influence and power?
“Power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.” Revelation 13:5.
Answer: The Bible predicted that the papacy would lose its world influence and power at the end of the 42 months. This prophecy was fulfilled in 1798, when Napoleon’s General Berthier took the pope captive and the papal power received its deadly wound.
3. Which nation was predicted to arise around the same time the papacy was receiving its deadly wound?
“And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth: and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.” Revelation 13:11.
Answer: The papal captivity mentioned in verse 10 took place in 1798, and the new power (verse 11) was seen emerging at that time. The United States declared its independence in 1776, voted the Constitution in 1787, adopted the Bill of Rights in 1791, and was clearly recognized as a world power by 1798. The timing obviously fits America. No other power could possibly qualify.
4. What is the significance of the beast “coming up out of the earth?”
Answer: This nation arises “out of the earth” instead of out of the water as did the other nations mentioned in Daniel and Revelation. We know from Revelation that water symbolizes areas of the world that have a large population. “The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” Revelation 17:15. Therefore, the earth represents the opposite. It means that this new nation would arise in an area of the world that had been virtually unpopulated before the late 1700s. It could not arise among the crowded and struggling nations of the Old World. It had to come up in a sparsely populated continent.
5. What is symbolized by its two lamb-like horns and absence of crowns?
Answer: Horns represent kings and kingdoms, or governments (Daniel 7:248:21). In this case, they represent America’s two governing principles: civil and religious liberty. These two governing principles have also been labeled “republicanism” (a government without a king) and “Protestantism” (a church without a pope). Other nations since ancient times had taxed people to support a state religion. Most had also oppressed religious dissidents. But America established something entirely new: Freedom to worship as you wish without government interference or control and with government protection. Absence of crowns signifies a republican form of government, rather than a monarchy. Lamb-like horns denote an innocent, young, non-oppressive, peace-loving, and spiritual nation. Jesus is referred to as a lamb 28 times in Revelation. So this new government was trying to uphold His principles. No other power on earth could possibly fit the characteristics and time slot of the lamb-horned beast, except America.
Special Note: How we wish we could stop right here in Jesus’ description of America but we can’t, because He didn’t. What comes next is jolting and disquieting. America is truly a great country with its freedom of conscience, press, speech, and enterprise the protection it provides its golden opportunities its sense of fair play its sympathy for the underdog and its strong Christian orientation. It is not perfect, but even still a host of people from other countries hasten to become American citizens every year. If America’s doors were opened wide, a vast portion of the people of the world would move to the United States at once to “heaven on earth” as they perceive it. Sadly, this richly blessed country will change drastically in the days just ahead, precipitating unparalleled heartache and woe for God’s people. We report it with reticence and deep concern.
America in the end time will force people to either worship or be punished.
The dragon is Satan, who works through various governments of the earth to establish his evil kingdom and crush God’s church by persecuting and destroying His people. Satan’s aim always has been to usurp God’s power and throne and to force people to worship and obey him. (See Study Guide 2 for details.) So “speaking as a dragon” means that the United States (under the influence of Satan) will, in the end time, force people to worship contrary to conscience or be punished.
Apostate religion and civil government will unite in the end time to force people’s consciences.
7. What specifically will America do that will cause it to speak as a dragon?
Answer: Notice the four crucial points:
A. “Exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him.” Revelation 13:12. America will become a persecuting power that will force people to go against their conscience, as did papal Rome which is portrayed in the first half of Revelation chapter 13.
B. “Causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” Revelation 13:12. The United States will lead the nations of the world in forcing worship of, and allegiance to, the papal Antichrist. The issue is always worship. Who will you worship and obey? Will it be Christ your Creator and Redeemer, or Antichrist? Every soul on earth will finally worship one or the other. The entire approach will appear to be deeply spiritual. Incredible miracles will be wrought (Revelation 13:14, 15) which will deceive billions (Revelation 13:3). Those who refuse to join this movement will be considered godless radicals. Jesus labels Protestant America of the end time a “false prophet” (Revelation 19:20 20:10), because it will appear spiritual and trustworthy but instead will be satanic in its conduct.
All this may seem impossible, but Jesus’ words are always totally reliable and true (Titus 1:2). He foretold the rise and fall of the four world empires and the Antichrist (Daniel chapters 2 and 7) at a time when such predictions seemed outlandish and incredible. But all came to pass precisely as predicted. His warning to us today regarding prophecy is, “I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” John 14:29.
C. “Saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.” Revelation 13:14. The United States will make an image to the beast by legislating religious practice. It will pass laws requiring worship and force people to either obey them or face death. This action is a copy or image of the church-state combination that the papacy utilized at the height of her power during the Middle Ages, when millions were slain for their faith. America will combine civil government and apostate Protestantism in a “marriage” that will support the papacy. It will then influence all the nations of the world to follow her example. Thus, the papacy will gain worldwide support.
D. “And cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” Revelation 13:15. The United States, as head of this international movement, will next influence the nations of the world to impose a universal death sentence upon all who refuse to worship the beast or his image. Another name for this worldwide coalition is “Babylon the Great.” (Study Guide 22 will provide more information.) This worldwide alliance will, in the name of Christ, substitute the policeman’s power for the Holy Spirit’s persuasion and will force worship.
8. Over what specific issues will force be utilized and the death sentence passed?
“And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Revelation 13:15-17.
Answer: The final points of contention will be worshiping and obeying the beast and receiving his mark–Sunday as a holy day–versus worshiping and obeying Christ and receiving His mark–His holy seventh-day Sabbath. (For details, see Study Guide 20.) When the issues become clear and people are forced either to worship on Sunday and break the Sabbath or be killed, those who then choose Sunday rather than Sabbath will be, in essence, worshiping the beast. They will have chosen to obey the word of a creature, a man, instead of the word of their Creator, Jesus Christ. Here is the papacy’s own statement: “The church changed Sabbath to Sunday and all the world bows down and worships upon that day in silent obedience to the mandates of the Catholic Church.” Hartford Weekly Call, February 22, 1884.
During World War II, ration stamps controlled the sale of food, fuel, tires, and other necessities. Such control could easily be utilized again.
9. Could a government really control buying and selling?
Answer: During World War II, buying was controlled for some items (such as sugar, tires, and auto fuel) by requiring ration stamps. Without stamps, money was worthless. In this highly computerized age, a system based on your Social Security number could easily be set up. Unless you agreed to cooperate with the worldwide coalition, your number, when punched in before a purchase, could show you disqualified. We do not know precisely how all this will come about. But we can be positive it will happen because in Revelation 13:16, 17, God says it will.
Two Emerging Powers
Revelation chapter 13 is clear. Two superpowers will emerge in the end time: the United States of America and the papacy. The United States of America will support the papacy by leading a drive to force the people of the world to worship the beast (papacy) and receive his mark or else face death. The next two questions will evaluate the strengths of these two superpowers.
The papacy is the strongest religio-political power on earth.
10. How strong and influential is the papacy today?
Answer: She is by far the strongest religio-political power in the world. Virtually every leading country of the world has an official ambassador or state representative at the Vatican. Notice the following facts:
A. The papacy is so influential and powerful that nearly every major country consults her before making major policy moves. Her “large diplomatic corps maintains relations with more than 100 nations.” U.S. News and World Report, October 30, 1978, p. 24.
B. She takes the credit for the demise of communism, saying that Mary, Jesus’ mother, guided the pope’s strategy that brought down communism. “Handmaid or Feminist,” Time, December 30, 1991, pp. 64, 65.
C. The aim of the pope is to unify the Christian world under the leadership of the papacy by the end of this century. He has made more than 40 world trips to lay the ground work for this goal. Gene H. Hogberg, The Plain Truth, November/December 1989, pp. 24, 25.
D. The worldwide response has been almost overwhelming. During the Iraqi crisis, the pope and America’s president sometimes discussed world affairs weekly by phone. U.S. News and World Report, August 13, 1990, p. 18.
E. On June 7, 1982, former President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II met for 50 minutes at the Vatican and structured a plan to eliminate communism. The United States shipped tons of modern communication equipment to Poland (the starting place) to help spread necessary information to the masses. “The Holy Alliance,” Time, February 1992, pp. 28, 31, 35.
F. Gorbachev said, “Everything which took place in Eastern Europe in recent years would have been impossible without the Pope’s efforts and the enormous role, including the political role, which he played in the world arena.” Mikhail Gorbachev, Toronto Star, March 9, 1992.
The papacy, which formerly referred to Protestants as “heretics,” is now calling them “separated brethren” and graciously suggesting that all work and pray together for peace and God’s presence. Millions of Protestants are deeply impressed. In fact, several Protestant denominations have had official dialog with the papacy to try to settle the differences that caused the Reformation.
1. How strong and influential is the United States today?
Answer: The United States is regarded as the world’s number one military power and center of influence. Note the following:
A. “[America is] the planet’s sole remaining superpower.” “The U.N. Obsession,” Time, May 9, 1994, p. 86.
B. “There is no prospect in the immediate future of any power to rival the United States.” Charles Krauthammer, “The Lonely Superpower”, The New Republic, July 29, 1992, p. 23.
C. Yassir Arafat labeled America “the new Rome” because, as old Rome was the undisputed superpower of its age, America is now number one. Newsweek, August 12, 1991, p. 33.
D. “America’s power will now determine all major global events.” Jim Hoagland, “Of Heroes …”, The Washington Post, August 21, 1991, p. A-23.
When a Marxist group overthrew the government of Ethiopia, America was asked to negotiate. When Boris Yeltsin took office as president of the newly independent Russia, he visited America first. Former U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev turned to America in his crisis. When Kuwait was invaded, its government called on America. The U.S.-led war against Iraq rallied the support of almost the entire world. A National Public Radio correspondent called the American president the “president of the world.” We now have “a highly unusual world structure with a single power, the United States, at the apex of the international system.” Krauthammer, The New Republic, p. 23.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
—Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
Taking time to inventory the great challenges God has delivered me through today has allowed me to get to know Him more intimately. Jesus loved all my hurt and misconceptions about my life away, He turned everything around. I looked in the mirror and saw His character today and for that I say,,. Thank you, Jesus…
That sounds good, doesn’t it? I’ve had enough “heavy stuff” in my life, and I want to enjoy freedom. When you are overloaded with the cares of life you need some help. Your mind needs rest from worrying, your emotions need rest from being upset, and your will needs a rest from stubbornness and rebellion. So you need to be humble enough to call out to God and say, “I need help!” Your beginning doesn’t have to dictate your ending. Get God involved in every area of your life and allow Him to lead you into “real rest.”
“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
― Marcus Aurelius,
The early civilizations were well aware of the danger of pride and power and knew that this could destroy kings and empires if not held in check. And thus a philosophy was developed by the very wise Greco-Roman philosophers (lovers of truth) in order to help their rulers and themselves to be vigilant about their behavior, lest they destroy themselves by pride. And thus when any great general (be it an emperor-to-be, a war general, or any victor of a great battle) was honored by a great manifestation such as a triumphal entry into his city-state, a slave (a lowly of lowlies) would ride in the chariot with him and whisper in his ear that he should remember that he is not a god, but a mortal human being.
I think a better source than wiki might be a scholarly treatise aboutRoman triumphal marches by the historian Robert Payne in the book “Rome Triumphant: How the Empire Celebrated its Victories” Robert Payne, 1962, Barnes & Noble Books 1993. In the closing remarks of the book (pg 251), Payne remarks “…it was the anonymous slave standing behind the triumphator, whispering in his ear about the vanity of honours, who represents the greater triumph. The voice of the slave was the voice of humanity,never so desperate as when it passed unheard.– We do not know when the slave first rode in the triumphal chariot and held the golden crown over the conqueror’s head, or when he stepped down for the last time. We do not know whether the triumphator ever spoke to him in reply,or even glanced at him. He appears only briefly in the history of the triumph, and only once do we see him plain –on the Boscoreale cup,where he is depicted as a youth who seems to be filled with a sense of compassionate duty.”
You should be aware that this type of reminder of vigilance is still very meaningful and applied in many ways in modern life as a philosophical heir to the ancient traditition. The warning against pride and care to remember that life is a fleeting gift and should not be squandered on empty vanities that are really meaningless when considering the totality of life’s journey (the human actions of craving for power, riches, adulation, popularity) is just as important today as it was 2500 years ago. Instead of wasting time thinking that you are “God’s gift to humanity”, the reminder states, “try to live life as a good and simple, honest, kind and noble person (like the beautiful shaker hymn: “Tis a gift to be simple…”)
You might be aware of the yearly Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday in the beginning of the Lenten journey when people receive blessed ashes on their foreheads with the words “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return”. This is done not to depress people, but to remind them that true happiness of this life is totally dependant upon our own human goodness to be fantastically good people instead of selfish jerks.
Whenever a bishop (or cardinal) is elected to be a pope (a really tremendous honor in the Catholic Church), before the pope steps out into the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica to greet the City and the World and to be hailed as the new pontiff (Viva el Papa !) something really cool is done that is centuries old. A simple poor franciscan friar stands before the pope with a broom-like staff made with a pile of dry straw. The straw is lit and for a few seconds a huge flame bursts out, but is gone in a mere minute (a straw fire means an empty fleeting fanfare). (This is done three times) Each time the friar utters the words to the pope “sic transit gloria mundi) meaning “and thus passes the glory of this world”. This is of course a reminder that the great Roman pontiff (like the Roman generals and emperors) should remember that he is nothing more than a lowly servant and all the glory and power and wealth of this world is meaningless when compared to the true meaning of life : just be a very very good and kind and honest person – at the end of your life this will be the only measure of true meaning of the nobility and richness of one’s life.
Is it not cool how all of this applies to our lives today ?
Is good enough, good enough? Consider, if you will, that if 99.9 percent were good enough then
- 2 million documents would be lost by the IRS this year.
- 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next 60 minutes.
- 1,314 telephone calls will be misdirected by telecommunications companies every minute.
- 2,488 books will be shipped with the wrong covers on them each day.
- Over 5.5 million cases of soft drinks in the next year will be flat.
- 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written each year.
- 12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.
Obviously, being good enough is not good enough for life in modern society. So why do we think that being good enough is good enough to get us into heaven? You’ve heard people ask, “If I try my best won’t God let me into heaven?” or “Doesn’t God just require me to be better than the average human?” or “Don’t I have to just live a good life to be a Christian?” or “How could a loving God send good people to hell?”
Martin Luther, the reformer, wrote, “The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has every plagued the mind of man is the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.” A Bible teacher used to say, “Man is incurably addicted to doing something for his own salvation.”
Let’s examine what the Bible has to say about being good enough.
I. God’s standard is perfection
In one sense, one can be good enough to get to heaven, but they would have to be perfect. God’s standard for entrance into heaven is perfection. On one occasion Jesus identified the two most outwardly religious groups of people in his day the Pharisees and the scribes and told his listening audience, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). On another occasion Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
God’s standard never falls short of complete righteousness and holiness. Anything less than perfection is sin. Think about heaven for a moment. Heaven is a place of the “no more’s” – no more tears, no more sadness, no more pain, no more sickness, no more death. All of those things are caused by sin. The “no more’s” don’t exist in heaven because sin does not exist in heaven. Heaven will be wonderful, not only because of what is present – God, but also because of what is absent – sin.
God’s standard of perfection is not arbitrary. God does not grade on the curve. He does not say, “Oh, you are close enough” or “You have tried really hard to live a good life.” God does not compare. “Well, Bill you are better than John so you are in and John is out, Betty, you are better than Sue, so come right on in.” That would be like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. So what if your jump thirty feet and set an Olympic record, you still splatter.
Now don’t get me wrong, for the most part we are all pretty good. I don’t suppose there are any rapists or murderers among us. If we were grading ourselves on goodness we would rank right up there pretty high on the scale. Let’s call ourselves Danny or Debbie Decent. From our perspective, we do everything right. We pay our taxes, pay our bills, pay attention to our family, and pay respect to our superiors. We are good people.
But God sees us differently. God sees what Danny and Debbie Decent choose to overlook. For as decent as we are walking through life, we make mistakes. For example, we stretch the truth. We might fudge, ever so slightly, on our expense report. We gossip about the new employee. From our perspective, these aren’t big deals. But our perspective does not matter. God’s does. And what God sees is a person wrapped in mistakes.
So let me ask you, is there any sin in your life? If so you are not perfect. You have not met God’s standard of perfection.
II. God’s solution is a pardon
Fortunately, there is good news. There is a solution, a remedy to our imperfection. God’s solution is a pardon found in Jesus Christ. Here’s how is works: “Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! . . . It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. . . . Our sins are taken care of for good” (Heb. 10:12-18 MSG). The apostle Paul described it this way: “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). When Jesus Christ, God’s Son, went to the cross he took our sins, our mistakes, our evil, and our unrighteousness. He was the ultimate sacrifice.
R.G. Lee, former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, was visiting Gordon’s Calvary at Jerusalem, possibly the site where Jesus was crucified. Lee told the Arab guide he wanted to walk to the top of the hill. At first the guide tried to discourage him, but when he saw that Lee was determined to go, he went along. Once on the crest, Lee removed his hat and stood with bowed head, greatly moved. “Sir,” asked the guide, “have you been here before?”
“Yes,” replied Lee, “2,000 years ago.”
And so have we. We were there because our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Now we must go there to find redemption, to find our pardon for our sin.
So, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to going to heaven, whether we are more like Hitler with our evil or more like Mother Teresa with our purity, our sins are no longer the issue. The issue is what we do about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s solution to our not measuring up to his standard. Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. Jesus now offers us a pardon, a release from our sin.
Think about it this way: if a criminal was handed a pardon that would release him from prison, the issue is no longer the crime but rather what he will do about the pardon. If he refuses he will remain in prison. The questions, why he is in prison?, and why is he not out of prison? have two different answers. He is in prison because he is convicted criminal. He is not out of prison because he refuse the pardon. Likewise, the answer to the question, why will a person be in hell? Is because he is a sinner, but the answer to the question, why will he not be in heaven? Is because he did not accept the pardon offered in Christ.
Let me see if a story will not help clarify this issue. Many years ago a young boy shot and killed a man while gambling. In those days, murderers were sentenced to hang. But the townspeople were so concerned for the young lad that they gathered a petition asking the judge to pardon the boy. Finally, the judge agreed but only on one condition. The judge would wear a clergyman’s robe and collar and carry the pardon between the pages of the Bible.
As the judge approached the boy’s cell, he could hear the young man cursing and swearing at him. “Get out of here, preacher, I don’t want what you have to offer.”
“But, son,” the judge replied, “You don’t understand.”
“I understand fine,” said the boy. “I don’t want what you have to offer.”
The dejected judge left the jail. Later the guard told the boy that it was the judge who was dressed like a minister. Between the pages of the Bible was an authorized, sealed pardon for his release.
When the day of execution arrived, just before they put a black sack over the boy’s head, they asked if he had anything to say.
He replied, “I am not dying because I killed a man. I am dying because I rejected the pardon.”
You see the issue is not your sin. The issue is what you will do with Jesus Christ. Our fault before God is not necessarily our sin – He made a remedy for that. Our fault before God is rejecting the pardon.
“Yea, but,” I can hear some people say. And then the question: How could a loving God send good people to hell? The question itself reveals a couple of misconceptions. First, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice, as when the judge honored the choice of the condemned boy who rejected the pardon. Hell is the ultimate expression of God’s highest regard for the dignity of man. He has never forced us to choose him, even when that means we would choose hell. As C. S. Lewis stated: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it.”
No, God does not “send” people to hell. Nor does he send “people” to hell any more than the judge sent the boy to be hung. That is the second misconception.
The word people is neutral, implying innocence. Nowhere does scripture teach that innocent people are condemned. People do not go to hell. Sinners do. The rebellious do. The self-centered do. The ones who reject God’s pardon do.
So how could a loving God send people to hell? He doesn’t. He simply honors the choice of sinners.
III. God’s salvation is through personal faith
So what must we do? We must, by faith, accept Jesus’ finished work on the cross as God’s only accepted way to enter heaven. God’s salvation is through personal faith in Jesus Christ. We must trust in what he has done for us.
Ten of the eleven world religions teach a salvation by good deeds. Christianity stands alone with its emphasis on faith rather than works for salvation. The Scriptures say, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift – we don’t work for it, we don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it. We simply trust God for what he has done through his son, Jesus Christ.
It is like a medicine. You can believe a certain medicine will help you, but until you trust it enough to take it, it won’t do anything for you. Faith is more than believing in God. It is trusting in him to the point of receiving Christ into your life.
Was there a time when you honestly realized that you were a sinner and admitted that to God? Do you truly understand that Christ took your place on the cross? Do you understand that the real issue is not your sin, but what you will do with Jesus Christ? Have you received Christ alone for your salvation?
Sure it can be disputed what black/African American culture is. I personally don’t believe blacks have much of a culture in America anymore, thanks to assimilation. When I hear blacks referring to every and anything as ghetto, ratchet, bad, and hood,…I assume this is the Negro people culture if anything. *Never knowing nothing about themselves, but what they’ve been told by the media and brainwashed blacks.
Most people’s concept of Race relies on an artificial construct of relatively recent invention. Since the human race originated in Africa (ca. 150 – 250 thousand years ago) there have been several sub-species of human. The last was called Neanderthal. They became extinct about 30,000 years ago. Since then, there has been only one race: the human race. We are all biologically identical and interchangeable, yet culturally and ethnically diverse and distinct. This cultural and ethnic diversity has been institutionalized during European global colonization from about the 14th century on as categories of Race.
In the colonies that were to become the United States of America, these racial categories came to be institutionalized on the basis of skin color. People were placed in different groups based on skin color (among other differences such as religion). This was a political arrangement made mostly for economic reasons. Indian land had value. African labor produced value, and so on. Therefore these groups became (racial) social classes. Social Class refers to a person’s economic access and opportunity within a social system.
Since society is made interlocking institutions (systems) that control people’s lives, race and class distinctions have concrete consequences for all involved. For some the color based race system would mean rewards – for others it would mean degradation. To be defined as White (and male) resulted in unachieved preference and power. To be institutionally identified as non-White resulted in degrees of disenfranchisement and unrewarded labor. It is a social history of a racist culture.
Culture is – in part – is the set of assumptions and beliefs about the way the world should work. These assumptions and associations govern individual behavior. As I have said, these peoples coming to the lands that would be called the United States were culturally and ethnically distinct. Sometimes – often, actually – the cultural expectations of a people are in conflict with one or more of the institutions of society. They had differing interpretations of how the world should work. It is just that one of the color-coded racial groups would have the (unearned) power to enforce its vision of exclusivity. If one institutionally confirmed group expected the world should work one way – let’s say enslavement – and yet other groups expected the world should work differently – let’s say freedom – then out of that cultural and institutional conflict emerges the incidents of history. It is the interaction between these three – race, class and culture – that we will use to define Black American history. This interaction drives historical events.
And, all too often, the history of African Americans is taught as if bound in the fetters of enslavement – as if the sole identity of Black Americans is one of tragedy. Instead, this text substitutes the triumph of an enslaved people – a people who – though racialized and marginalized – yet continue to challenge the nature of American Justice.
First, what is an African? Second, what is America? And, also, what do I mean by Black? To be Black and American is an international experience. To overlook that fact diminishes both Africans and Americans. After all, more Africans ended up in other parts of the Americas than the small area we now call the United States. To use the words: Black American – to be Black and American – acknowledges a social and cultural dislocation from both Africa and America. Both Africa and America are continents. Each is made of many nations, cultural traditions and societies. Almost all Americans came from elsewhere – decimating and absorbing the indigenous Americans in the process. Each immigrating group retained an identity associated with their place of origin. Only the African diaspora required the purposeful destruction of national, social and cultural identities. Only the forced relocation of Africans required a people to re-invent themselves – and – in the process of this reinvention – American culture has been reinvented. The politics and economics of the African American experience have transformed America. And, it has transformed Africans into Blacks.
Black Americans are not just African any more than other Americans are just American. But, the cultural genocide of American institutions of enslavement stripped Blacks of this self awareness. “Black” may well be an ironic metaphor for this blank spot in what could have been a truly African American identity. Other Americans can proudly self-assert themselves as Dutch-American, or English-American, from Cornwall, or Jicarilla Apache. African Americans must affiliate with an entire continent. This presents certain unusual problems in understanding African American history and identity. No matter how strongly some Black Americans may wish otherwise – contemporary African Americans may well be the most “American” of us all. The African American search for a useful past upon which to build a present full of possibilities – the Black yearning for freedom and self determination – has defined just what it can mean to be American. And, it will be the future of Black Americans that will define the future of the American Dream.
Structurally, technologically and culturally speaking, there is no “music industry” any more. There is also no “movie industry” any more. Those two things have been consolidated into a more generic and all encompassing, “entertainment industry.” But that’s not even the kicker. The kicker is that technically, the entertainment industry is now a sub-division of a much larger and more insidious industry known as the “telecommunications industry.” This is the delivery system under which all media and cultural distribution is being consolidated. Some entities to look out for in this telecommunications act generated morass: Google, Apple, and Access One. This shift presents both new challenges and new opportunities. Those engaged in cultural struggle as well as those engaged in labor struggle are currently smack dap up against that.
Firstly: all of you reading this are Africans. To be human is to be African. It is where all contemporary human life originated. Current American culture views African as synonymous with skin color. We do not know whether ancient Africans were Black in the modern concept of Race (capital “B” and “R”), but they were African.
Africa is where most of what it means to be human originated also. The family, language, astronomy, technology, religion, domestication of plant and animal species (and, perhaps, beer): all African. In brief, the biological, social, and cultural source of all human beings is Africa. Therefore, we are all Africans in some more recent or more distant context.
Exhaustive DNA studies have replicated the biologic origin of humanity as being African. Some of the best evidence places the origin of all modern humans in the womb of a single mitochondrial “Eve” in East Africa around 200,000 years ago (Ehrlich: 94-109). It is from her that we are all descended. She was the mother of all humanity. And, she was African.
Our best current scientific data show Homo sapiens – modern humans – first migrated from their African origins into other parts of the world about 100,000 years ago (Fernandez-Armesto: 13). Already, the primary elements of the civilizations we all know and share were part of the human toolkit. Cultural understanding and complex social organization are well documented in many archaeological sites in and near the continent of Africa (Ehrlich: 205-09).
The next step in the human adventure on this planet is called “Civilization.” It, too, is of African origin. Along African rivers such as the Nile, the Congo, or the Niger, Black people would develop all aspects of complex and sophisticated societies. The well known ancient architectural marvel of the pyramids is the only one of humanities Seven Ancient Wonders to survive. But other less well known African civilizations contributed the bulk of peoples that would one day be called African Americans.
Beyond the physical biology, the size of our brains or the types of tools we make, the things that make us all human – that gives us our humanity – are culture and social relationships. These too are of African origin. Language, religion, and abstract thought, are all elemental to the human being. Families, bands, tribes, city-states, and nations are African firsts. The use and control of fire, organized scavenging, hunting, and gathering, the domestication of plants and animals are all part of our African heritage.
The diverse environment represented in Africa also laid foundations for the diversity of human approaches to survival and prosperity. Twa and !Kung hunter-gatherers share the African continent with Bantu agriculturalists and Maasai pastoralists. These modern examples of our collective African heritage stem from an ancient population that generated far more than we see now. Probably the most ancient and certainly the most original human society and culture of all time is African. Even though some interesting modern interpretations assert that it is in the Middle East or that its people were “White,” or that it was a Mediterranean empire, and even though we know it by the Greek name, Egypt was (and is) African.