~Thou are only a Man~

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“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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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 ?

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Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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?

~The World Fears A Common Man with A Righteous Voice~

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“There is no broader way to apostasy than to reject God’s sovereignty in all things concerning the revelation of himself and our obedience…”
― John Owen

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A MAN SENT FROM GOD

Intro: The pages of our Bibles are filled with accounts of men that seem larger than life. People like Moses, David, Daniel, Paul and others, all seem to be characters that are so far above the realm of our own experience that we may feel like we can never be like them. However, I’ll let you in on a secret this morning: All of these people were just that: people! The fellow in our text is no different. When I read about the life and ministry of Elijah, I am amazed at his courage and at his power with God. Yet, I am reminded by the Word of God that Elijah “was a man subject to like passion as we are.” (James 5:17) He was just a man who walked in humble obedience before his God.

This morning, I am going to begin a series of messages that will focus on the life and ministry of this man named Elijah. We will call this series “Elijah: The Prophet of Courage and Confrontation”. Today, we will focus in on this one verse and talk about “A Man Sent From God.” In this message, I want you to see that God can take a nobody and make a somebody out of him. God can take any life that will be totally yielded to His will and use that life for His glory. Our goal this morning is to see whether or not we possess this kind of life within ourselves. If not, then you will be given the opportunity to get where God can use you. Let’s look at this verse together this morning and meet A Man Sent From God.

I. ELIJAH WAS A COMMON MAN

A. His Home – This verse tells us that Elijah was from a place called Tishbe in the region known as Gilead. Gilead was a rough, mountainous area known for its high peaks and deep valleys. The very name “Gilead” in its Hebrew form means “raw or rugged.” This tells us that Elijah was a backwoods man. When he stepped onto the scene and began his ministry, his methods, his mannerisms and his message were as rough and rugged as the place he called home.

Evidently, Elijah’s method of dress was as strange as anything else we know about him, 2 Kings 1:8.

B. His Humanity – We are given an interesting insight into the prophet Elijah in the book of James. “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.“, James 5:17-18. As one follows the life of Elijah, it becomes clear that he was a mere mortal. He was a man with a fiery temper, who was prone to bouts of depression. He also suffered from loneliness, due to the life of solitude from which he ministered.

(Ill. The emphasis here is that the Lord is not looking for spiritual giants to use for His glory. He is simply looking for people who will readily obey His Word and follow Him where He leads them. You see, nothing at all is known about Elijah until he steps onto the scene in the presence of king Ahab. He was a nobody from nowhere, but he was handpicked by the Lord God to do His will and to carry His message to a wayward nation.

God doesn’t need the rich, the educated, the intelligent, the beautiful or the movers and shakers of this word to get His work done. (Remember David? – 1 Sam. 16:6-7, 12) God has chosen to work through the lives of men and women who will simply yield themselves to the will of God and, who will like Isaiah, say “Here am I, send me!“, Isa. 6:8. The bottom line is this: God wants your obedient surrender to His will more than He wants anything else you can give to Him, 1 Sam. 15:22.)

I. Elijah Was A Common Man

II. ELIJAH WAS A COURAGEOUS MAN

A. He Defied A Foolish Ruler – The king of Israel during the time of Elijah was a little toad of a man named Ahab. According to the Bible, 1 Kings 16:30, 33, Ahab was the most wicked king that ever squatted upon the throne of Israel. Besides that, he was married to a wretchedly evil woman named Jezebel. She was the daughter of the king of Zidon. This too was an offense to the Lord, 1 Kings 16:31. Jezebel was from a group of people who were ardent Baal worshipers. And she, along with her husband Ahab, did more to introduce the worship of Baal to the people of Israel than any other ruling family, 1 Kings 16:32. This produced a state of affairs in Israel, where people lost all regard for the commandments of God. This is illustrated by 1 Kings 16:34, where a man named Hiel the Bethelite attempted to rebuild Jericho. This was in direct disobedience to a clear command of God, Josh. 6:26.

Yet, it was to this king that God sent the prophet Elijah. Elijah walked right into the presence of king Ahab and delivered the message of the Lord without flinching. He told Ahab that there would be no rain or dew until he said there would be. It took courage to defy the wicked ruler!

(Ill. Chuck Mcillhenny, pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the Sunset District of San Francisco for over twenty years, has written a book titled When the Wicked Seize the City. When I first met him, I expected to find the man in a chrome helmet with loaded weapons all around him and double bars on the door. Here’s a man whose home has been fire-bombed, whose bedroom for the children is built like a bunker (it’s so fireproof) so his children can survive as he stands actively for Christ. He is now ministering a great deal in the hospitals to those dying of AIDS, but standing firm for the truth, that the only hope beyond this life is a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

He told a wonderful story of how he was sitting, reading the newspaper one day. And there was a council meeting being held the next day in San Francisco, and he thought he’d go to the city council and hear this particular issue. It was a homosexual rights issue. He thought, I can’t just sit here and let that pass. He didn’t take anyone with him. He didn’t take any placards. He didn’t march against them, like many of them march against him. It’s not uncommon for his services to be interrupted by lesbians and homosexuals. He just went to the city-council meeting.

He sat there and heard the legislation. The council was about to take a vote. The chairman said, “Is there anyone who has anything to say?” No one moved. Then he stood up and said, “I would like to say something.” He walked to the platform, stated his name, that he was a citizen residing in the Sunset District, San Francisco. “What would you like to say?” He replied, “Well, I would like to say nothing for myself, but I would like to quote three individuals that I’ve respected for years.” And he read to them from Moses in Leviticus, from one of the psalms by David, and from Paul in Romans 1. Didn’t preach, didn’t scream, didn’t sermonize–just closed his Bible and sat down.

They said, “Wait. Before you sit down, who are those people–Moses and David and Paul?” And someone said, “You’re reading from the Bible, aren’t you?” “Yes,” he said, “I am.” And one of the council members then said, “I vote no,” and another and another. And it didn’t pass. He sat down. That is straight thinking and courage.

(Ill. Each of us needs to manifest that same kind of courage! America today is headed down the same road that Israel was on back then. We have sacrificed our innocence for the pleasures of the flesh. We have openly mocked the written Word of God. We have turned a deaf ear to the cry of the millions of the unborn who are slain in the name of convenience every year in this country. We have paid homage to the onslaught of sexually explicit programming that invades our homes on a daily basis. We have sacrificed our morality to gratify our flesh. We have watched in mock horror as our sons and our daughters yield their bodies to the perversions of premarital sex, homosexuality, and lesbianism. We stand by in mute silence while the minds of our own children are captivated by the siren song of prosperity, selfish indulgence and independence from God. We pass their choice of music off as a fad. We have no say in where they go or what they do. We have watched this once great, godly nation become reduced to a stagnated cesspool of iniquity, open sin and outright hostility to God Almighty! After Elijah was taken to Heaven in the whirlwind, Elisha took Elijah’s mantel and smote Jordan and cried, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?“. This morning, I would ask you, “Where are the Elijah’s of the Lord God?

B. He Denounced A False Religion – The crux of Elijah’s message was that there would be no dew or rain until he said so. This was a direct attack against the false religion of Baal worship. You see, Baal was the Canaanite god of fertility. He was seen in the thunder heads and in the rain that fell. Baal worship was usually conducted on the tops of hills where statues of Ball were built. Typically, these Baal shrines were staffed by priests and priestesses. Worship was carried out through performing sexual acts with one of these ministers of Baal. It was their belief that when you were joined to a priest or a priestess in a sexual union, that you literally became a god or a goddess for that period of time. One of the most horrible aspects of Baal worship existed in the realm of human sacrifice. When there was time of drought, it was supposed to mean that Baal was angry with the people. To get his attention, they would often sacrifice a firstborn child by burning it alive. It was a terrible religion that existed to gratify the flesh. There is much more that could be said about Baal worship, but this is enough to see why it was an offence to the Lord God of Israel. After all, it involved breaking many of the commandments, but especially numbers 1-3 and 7-10.

When Elijah made his announcement, he was declaring war on Baal. It took great courage to stand up before the chief promoter of that false religion and in effect say, “My God is greater than Baal! And to prove it, God is going to shut off the spigot. There will be no rain until I say so. And, there’s nothing you, Jezebel or Baal can do about it!

(Ill. That took courage! Can you imagine how they must have laughed at him and mocked him? That is kind of courage we need to see manifested in this day. This is the kind of courage that was derived from time spent with God and from angry indignation over the sins of the nation of Israel. This is the kind of courage that stands up against ridicule. It is the kind of courage that protests things like abortion, the homosexual agenda, the erosion of religious liberties, etc. It is the kind of courage that makes a difference for God in these days of self-indulgence. It is the kind of courage that says, “I will be different, regardless of what it costs me or my family. I will stand for God!” Are you filled with kind of courage? Can God count on us to stand?)

I. Elijah Was A Common Man
II. Elijah Was A Courageous Man

III. ELIJAH WAS A COMMITTED MAN

A. His Designation – His very name tells us his testimony. The name Elijah means “My God Is Jehovah“. His name tells us that he had a personal relationship with the God of Heaven. My friends, this is the first and crucial step in becoming anything for God. Until you know Him you cannot serve Him! Has there been that time in your life when you met the God of Heaven in a personal way? The only way to meet the Lord God is through His Son Jesus Christ, John 14:6; Acts 16:31. Are you saved?

B. His Dependence – By walking into the presence of Ahab and Jezebel in the name of Jehovah, Elijah was demonstrating that in his life and ministry, he was totally dependent upon the Lord. He was not trusting the arm of flesh, but was resting in the everlasting arms by faith. There is a huge difference! This is the secret of success for the child of God living in a wicked world. Only when we are totally yielded to God in total dependence, will we be assured of success. You see, there is only one thing that honors God: Faith, Heb. 11:6; Rom. 14:23. We must come to the place where we kick out all of our props and rest totally in the hand of divine providence. We must come to the place where we stop trying to and start trusting God to! We have plenty of people who live by plastic, by job, by education, by ability, by intellect, by whatever. What we need are people who will live by faith, depending on nothing but God to meet their needs and enable them to stand!

C. His Devotion – Note the phrase Elijah used “before Whom I stand.” Elijah was standing in the presence of the king of Israel. He was standing in the presence of one of the most powerful men of his time. Yet, Elijah was able to see beyond all the trapping of the throne room of Israel. Elijah knew that he was standing in the presence of God. He knew that here was no need to try and please Ahab. There was no need to soft sell his message and make it more pleasing. There was only one Person in that room Who had to be pleased and His name was Jehovah. You know, that is the place we all need to get to in our lives. If we can get beyond what this one or that one might think of us and live for nothing but to please the Lord God, then we are on the road to being used by God. Elijah was a man on a mission. He desired nothing less that carrying out the will of God. Can you honestly say that you do not care what anyone thinks about your stand for God? Can you honestly say that regardless fo what anyone thinks, you are going to live for God, stand for God and serve God until He finishes with you? That is the attitude of total commitment. That is the attitude God can bless and that God can use!

I. Elijah Was A Common Man

II. Elijah Was A Courageous Man

III. Elijah Was A Committed Man

IV. ELIJAH WAS A CONFIDENT MAN

A. In The Person Of God – Note that Elijah believed that God was alive. He said, “as the Lord God of Israel liveth.” Most of those other folks were living like Jehovah was dead. Sounds like America doesn’t it? We need some people like Elijah who will stand up and say, “You can live like God is dead if you wish, but I am going to live for Him, because He is alive in me.” You see, that was Elijah’s situation. God was living in him and when God lives in you, you just can’t keep Him quiet!

(Ill. Elijah’s God was alive. Is yours?)

B. In The Power Of God – Look at James 5:17-18. It seems from these verses that the drought was Elijah’s idea. Apparently, he was so upset with the sins of the people that he began to pray that is would not rain. Of course, this idea was put into his heart by the Spirit of God, no doubt. As he prayed, he received assurance that this was indeed the Lord’s will. So, he just marched up to Ahab and told him it would not rain. He believed that he served a God Who was powerful and able to do anything!

(Ill. One of the tragedies of the modern church is the lack of respect we have for God and His ability. I just want to remind you that we serve a God Who can do anything, Job 42:4; Luke 1:37; Eph. 3:20. He can meet any need. He can heal any disease. He can stop any anything from taking place. He can cause anything to take place. He is God and He is all powerful! Nothing is too hard for Him, Gen. 18:14! God help us that we quit living like God was dead or on vacation. God help us to remember that He is God all the time, in every situation, regardless of what we face in life. When we are battling sin: He is God! When we have a need: He is God! When we are fighting Satan and his activities: He is God! He is God all the time! Never forget that! What He did for people like Elijah, He can do for you and me. We just have to arrive at the place where we can trust His ability.)

C. In The Promise Of God – This man stood before Ahab because he had received a word from God concerning this matter. Elijah had enough sense to know that when God told him something was going to happen, it would happen. My friends, God will never, never, never back away from a single promise he has made to His people. He will not desert you and leave you to flap in the breeze. If He has made a promise to you, it will be fulfilled, Rom. 4:21; Heb. 6:18.

Conc: We are going to see that Elijah stirred up a hornets nest when he made his announcement before Ahab. However, the point of this verse is that he stood and he did what God had told him to do. Elijah was a man sent from God. He was sent to a wicked people to declare that judgment was coming from the hand of God. He was not afraid to speak up and expose the evils of his day. He was not afraid to live by faith in the God of Heaven. He was not afraid to put his very life into the hand of God and trust God all the way through. I just wonder this morning how many of us are like Elijah? How many of us are trusting God com what may? How many of us are taking our stand for God in the midst of this wicked world? How many of us are standing against the tide of evil in the world today? How many of us really know God like Elijah did. We need some Elijah’s in our day. Elijah’s God has not changed. Where are the Elijah’s who will believe Him regardless of the cost?

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~Ebb and Flow of Grace while in The Storms of Life~

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Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.

Ernest Gaines
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There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together.

Harriet Ann Jacobs
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Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way as we seek to understand the lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments.
The disciples experienced several “mountaintop moments” in their time with Jesus. But when a storm arose while they were out on the Sea of Galilee, fear took over. Amidst the roaring waves and with the boat rocking, Jesus’ chosen ones failed to recall the lessons they had learned about the power and purposes of their leader. Even the appearance of Christ walking on water didn’t bring immediate relief (Matt. 14:26).

When trouble strikes, we sometimes forget our knowledge of God, too. We struggle to recall past answers to prayer, specific guidance provided by the Holy Spirit, and lessons learned in previous crises. Only the present seems real. Our minds spin with future implications, and our troubled emotions inhibit clear thinking.

In our own strength, we lack sufficient resources and abilities to meet life’s challenges. So God provides what we need. Our suffering is never a surprise to the Lord. He knows everything we are going through. More than that, He’s orchestrating our circumstances for His glory and our benefit, according to His good will.

 

Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way. Let’s take a moment to fix our attention on the Lord and seek to understand four lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments:

 

1. One purpose for hardship is cleansing. Because of our own “flesh” nature and the self-absorbed world we live in, it’s easy to develop selfish attitudes, mixed-up priorities, and ungodly habits. The pressures that bear down on us from stormy situations are meant to bring these impurities to our attention and direct us to a place of repentance. Our trials are intended to purify and guide us back to godliness, not ruin our lives.

2. A second reason we face difficulty is so we’ll be compassionate and bring comfort to others. God’s work in our lives is not intended solely for us. It’s designed to reach a world that does not recognize or acknowledge Him. The Lord uses our challenges to equip us for serving others. As we experience suffering, we will learn about God’s sufficiency, His comforting presence, and His strength to help us endure. Our testimony during times of difficulty will be authentic. Those to whom we minister will recognize we know and understand their pain. What credibility would we have with people in crisis if we never experienced a deep need?

3. Third, God promises usHe’ll provide a path through any trialwe face. The disciples probably wondered how long the storm would last and whether they would make it safely to shore. Most likely, they wished it never happened. But, had they somehow avoided this storm, they would have missed the demonstration of Jesus’ power over the sea and wind. The frightening situation was transformed into a revelation of the Savior’s divine nature. God wants to make His power known through our trials, as well.

4. The most important thing He gives us isanawareness of His presence. At first, the disciples believed they were alone in a terrifying storm. When they initially spotted Jesus, their fear increased. They thought He was a ghost. But as they recognized Him, their fear changed to relief and hope. Similarly, we may not sense God’s presence during a crisis. But He has promised to always be with us (Heb. 13:5-6). The assurance that the Lord will never leave provides immediate comfort, an infusion of courage, and a sense of confidence to endure.

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No one enjoys suffering. But in the hands of almighty God, trials become tools. He uses hardship to shape believers into the people He intends them to be. Jesus allowed the disciples to experience the fear and anxiety of being in a boat on a raging sea. He permitted them to suffer because He had something far more important to teach them. He wanted the disciples to recognize their own helplessness, His sufficiency, and their dependence on Him.

Ask God to reveal His abiding presence in the midst of your trouble. And remember—He always provides for your spiritual needs to help you both endure and grow stronger in your Christian faith.

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A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

Martin Luther King, Jr
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~Color Forward In Spite Of Challenges~

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What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

What is the biggest barrier facing the formerly incarcerated as they try to reintegrate into society?
To us, the biggest barrier is the lack of critical legal information that people need in order to overcome barriers in reentry. We see the major issues as:

—Enormous legal and practical barriers to stability and success, including an inability to get an ID or open a bank account, enormous court debt, denials of employment, housing, and public benefits

—A complete lack of legal advocates, knowledge and navigational resources about these barriers

—An infrastructure of people and agencies who already support and work with those in reentry—including family and loved ones, social services agencies, housing facilities, legal advocacy groups, education programs, religious institutions, substance abuse facilities, corrections departments and government agencies—that lack the legal guidance necessary to navigate critical and often crippling issues

The lack of an integrated, knowledgeable and supported reentry infrastructure undermines the spirit and intent of reform efforts to reduce incarceration levels. The “Roadmap to Reentry” guide illuminates pathways to stability and success post-incarceration by educating people on how to navigate enormous legal and practical barriers.

In terms of the legal barriers, there are many—which is why the guide covers nine areas! Reentry is so unique to each individual, so we see that people experience very different issues, much of it dependent on their life circumstances and goals. The biggest issues that we see are court-ordered debt and fees that have amounted over time, which leads to an inability to get an ID; housing and employment discrimination; trouble reunifying with children and loved ones upon release; and unlawful parole conditions that can overly restrict where people can live and work.

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What is the most important thing families can do to ease the transition?

Plan, prepare and do research! Family has access to phone and Internet, so they can help the loved one make plans and goals and then research opportunities in the area they are returning to—including housing, employment, education and support services. If you know your loved one’s goals and have a timeline for completion, you can help to set them up for success before they get out. If the county to which they are returning doesn’t have the right resources, they can help their loved one understand the process to transfer counties, either before or after release. Also, I would say that families can help their loved one in reentry by helping them do research on the law—reading manuals like ours to help their loved one understand whether they are actually banned from public housing or public benefits, and what kinds of jobs they can get—because many myths persist. So family can help a huge amount by educating themselves, getting a ton of resources and then empowering their loved one with that information.

The other thing that I think is critical for family members is to take care of themselves. If you find your loved one a support group, find one for yourself too. Families are often the support structure for a person in reentry, but of course they do not have the education of a case manager, therapist or social worker, yet they are playing that role. So having support for families who are helping someone through the ups and downs of reentry is critical.

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The United States criminal justice system is the largest in the world. At year end 2011, approximately 7 million individuals were under some form of correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.1) The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, dwarfing the rate of nearly every other nation.2)

Such broad statistics mask the racial disparity that pervades the U.S. criminal justice system. Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.3) If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males—compared to one of every seventeen white males.4) Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.5)

The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. The former is the system the United States describes in its report: a vigorous adversary system replete with constitutional protections for defendants. Yet the experiences of poor and minority defendants within the criminal justice system often differ substantially from that model due to a number of factors, each of which contributes to the overrepresentation of such individuals in the system. As Georgetown Law Professor David Cole states in his book No Equal Justice,

These double standards are not, of course, explicit; on the face of it, the criminal law is color-blind and class-blind. But in a sense, this only makes the problem worse. The rhetoric of the criminal justice system sends the message that our society carefully protects everyone’s constitutional rights, but in practice the rules assure that law enforcement prerogatives will generally prevail over the rights of minorities and the poor. By affording criminal suspects substantial constitutional rights in theory, the Supreme Court validates the results of the criminal justice system as fair. That formal fairness obscures the systemic concerns that ought to be raised by the fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black.6)

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“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems

~Consider Your Ways~

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“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.”― Ezra Taft Benson

I have spent a great part of my  life searching for the one trait all successful people share. I found in my quest for this knowledge”The Common Denominator of Success” revealed successful people’s common characteristic was not hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, although these traits were important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest was the habit of putting first things first. I observed, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either, necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

The Book of Haggai, the second shortest in the Old Testament, communicates this same message: Put first things first. It was written to people like us, who would say that God must be first. But they had drifted away from this truth. They lived with misplaced priorities. Haggai was sent to help God’s people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.

Haggai spoke his message to Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after living in captivity in Babylon. As you recall, Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple some 70 years earlier. When the Jews returned from exile they faced the daunting task of rebuilding. The first returnees made preliminary attempts to clear the debris and lay the foundation for a second temple. Their Samaritan neighbors offered to join in the work, but the Jews refused them. The Samaritans, in turn, threatened the workers and sent men to Persia to lobby against the Jews, bringing the work to a halt.

As years passed, slowly but surely, Jerusalem came to life again. Homes were built, stores opened, commerce established, fields planted, crops harvested, and life began to resemble normalcy. Israel, however, got used to life without the Temple. The foundations were overgrown with weeds. They stood as a mute reminder of the Jews’ failure to take care of God’s house. Fourteen to 16 years passed, and then Haggai appeared on the scene with one prevailing message: It’s time to finish rebuilding the Temple.

It was a message of priority: Put first things first. The Temple was the center for worshiping God. It represented the heart and soul of the Old Testament religion. Although God is everywhere, the Temple was the place on earth where God dwelled in a special sense. For the Temple to lie in ruins was to neglect the worship of God. It was a testimony of misplaced priorities. It was an embarrassment to God and a blemish on his reputation.

Haggai’s message was blunt. He pulled no punches and wasted no words. Haggai spoke like a foreman on a construction project. With a hardhat and tool belt, walking around the construction site, he bellowed out orders. Found here are a few practical steps about putting first things first.

I. Stop making excuses

First, Haggai confronted excuses for the Temple lying in ruins. “The LORD of Hosts says this: These people say: The time has not come for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt” (Haggai 1:2, HCSB). They intended to build God’s house, but just hadn’t got around to it yet. If you were to ask them about it, they would probably say, “I’m all for building the Temple. It is a great cause. But God wants us to take care of our own families first. Times are hard. Jobs are scarce. We need to pray about it some more. We will eventually build it, but not now.” They made excuses.

Billy Sunday defined an excuse as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else.”

It is always easy to make excuses when you don’t want to obey God. We can always find rational justification for not doing what God wants us to do: The time is not right. I’ve got family responsibilities. My kids need me now. When things settle down at work, then I can do something. The first step to putting first things first is to admit our responsibility.

II. Cease being selfish

Closely aligned with excuse making is a selfish mindset that permeates everything. Haggai challenged the people’s selfish behavior. “The word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet: Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:34, HCSB). Paneled houses can mean “covered” or “roofed,” but the point was that it represented the finishing touches. Their homes were not “in process.” No weeds were growing around their unfinished foundations. Their homes were complete while the Temple remained nonexistent.

Please understand: Nothing is wrong with having a nice home. This statement is not an attack on riches or big houses. What’s wrong is to own a nice home while God’s house lies in ruins. What’s wrong is spend all your money on selfish needs while ignoring the things of God. What’s wrong is to spend one’s time, one’s best hours, and one’s talents on selfish pursuits while the things of God are left undone. It is an indictment of misplaced priorities.

It is easy to drift away from God’s agenda to our own. It is easy to pursue selfish desires while ignoring God’s. In fact, it is the default mode of our lives. If we give no thought to how we are living, we will naturally live for ourselves. The bent of our hearts and is always toward selfishness. This is what happened to the Jews Haggai addressed.

Like William Cowper, the hymn writer and pastor, penned: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” That is what happens when we don’t persistently and consistently seek God first.

III. Don’t miss God’s blessings

As a consequence of their excuse-making and selfish living, the people in Haggai’s day experienced hardship. He continues: “Now, the LORD of Hosts says this: Think carefully about your ways: You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to become drunk. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it” (Haggai 1:5-6, HCSB). They sowed plenty of seed, but there was a drought and the crops didn’t yield as much as they had hoped. They had active lifestyles but were not experiencing satisfaction. They were laboring but showing no profit. No matter how hard they tried, they seemed to be spinning their wheels. No matter how much money they made, they could not keep it. Do you know how that feels?

Because of their selfishness the people missed God’s blessings. Haggai points out a sobering reminder: What happens in your heart affects every other part of your life. Because the people had pushed God out of the center, they suffered in every area.

What they did not see was that God caused their predicament. They hadn’t stopped to consider that God was trying to tell them something. Haggai screamed: “Hey! It’s God who controls the rain and the harvest. He is withholding his blessing because your priorities are not right. Put his house first and he will bless you.” Jesus said the same thing: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:33, HCSB).

Blessings come through obedience. If we want to experience God’s blessings we will put him first.

IV. Take time to evaluate

With this strong indictment and devastating predicament, the people realized they had caused their own calamities. The people were ready to evaluate their situation. Twice Haggai instructed the people, “Consider your ways” (1:5, 7.). The word consider means to give careful thought to. It was time for the people to do some serious self-examination before the Lord. Haggai wanted the people to stop long enough in their busy schedules to evaluate their life in light of God’s Word. He wanted them to measure the consequences of their actions.

Evaluation is a good thing. That is why teachers give tests and employers hold job reviews. Socrates wrote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Each day we need to evaluate how we spend our time and our money, and how we use our talents. We should examine who we choose as friends, what we set as goals, and where we are going. If God is not first, guess who removed him from his rightful place?

The failure to make constant corrections each day is like a pilot who does not make slight course adjustments in flight. The plane will end up hundreds of miles off course later. The failure to take the proper precautions today will result in severe consequences tomorrow.

When we stop making excuses, cease being selfish, seek God’s blessings, and take time to evaluate, we can see God work in powerful ways. This is what happens when first things are first, when God is first in our hearts. How will we know that we have put first things first? How will we know that God is first place? Here are three indications.

A. We are active in the right things

“Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house. Then I will be pleased with it and be glorified, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:8, HCSB). In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act, a time to consider and a time to do. Those who put first things first are up and doing the right things: spending time with God daily, serving people, honoring him with their time, talents, and financial resources. For the Jews living in Jerusalem, it meant cutting down trees to build God’s house.

B. God is glorified

Why should the Temple be built? That God may be glorified. When God is not first we are indifferent to his glory—his fame and his reputation being spread. But when God is first revealing his glory is first on our minds. In fact, everything we think, say, and do is to honor God and bring credit to him. Whatever your occupation, the chief business of every Christian is to bring glory to God.

C. God blesses us

When the people obeyed, God sent word: “I am with you” (1:13). When God is first, he blesses us. And the sure sign of his blessing was his manifested presence. If God seems distant in your life, perhaps your priorities have gotten mixed up. When you put God first, you experience a new awareness of his presence. That is true blessing.

Conclusion

An instructor at a time-management seminar told the participants to prepare for a quiz. He reached under the table and took out a wide-mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table. Next to the jar were a number of fist-sized rocks. He asked the group, “How many of these rocks do you think we can get inside this jar?” The participants made their guesses. The instructor said, “Let’s find out.” One by one he began to put as many fist-sized rocks as he could into the jar until the rocks inside were level with the top of the jar.

The instructor then asked, “Is the jar full?” All the participants looked at the jar filled with rocks and said it was.

But then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar. The gravel filled the spaces between the big rocks. He grinned and asked again, “Is the jar full?”

The participants were not about to be fooled a second time. They said that the jar was probably not full.

The instructor nodded and said, “Good. You are catching on.” He next took out a bucket of sand and poured it into the jar. Slowly the sand filled the gaps between the rocks and gravel. After the sand settled, the instructor once again asked, “Now, is the jar full?”

The audience roared, “No!”

He said, “Good.” He was pleased that they understood an important principle. The instructor poured a pitcher of water into the jar. At this point he stopped and asked the group, “What’s the point of this?”

Somebody said, “Well, there are always gaps, and if you work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”

But the instructor said, “No, the point is this: If I hadn’t put in those big rocks first, I would never have gotten them in at all.”

What should be your big rocks? God and his house. Put them into your life first.

~What voice do You Hear?~

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“You cannot arrive at your life’s purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.”
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

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The Bible tells us that we need to be led by the Holy Spirit (see for example Romans 8:12-14 and Galatians 5:16-25). Therefore, it must be possible for every one of us to discern the promptings and guidance of the Holy Spirit within us!

You can hear the voice of God, and this article will teach you how.

It is not the purpose of this article to go into all of the different ways in which God speaks to us, such as dreams, visions, tongues and interpretation, prophecies, and so on, but this article will give you practical guidance in how to discern God’s usual “voice” which He often uses to speak to us.  Jesus Did It!

The Four Voices We Hear  

There are actually four types of “voices” which we hear speaking to us, and it is important that we learn to distinguish each one so that we are able to discern the true voice of God:

 

  • The voice that is perhaps the most obvious is our own voice. In addition to our speaking voice, we also talk to ourselves inside our heads, we see images and pictures inside our heads, we have emotions and feelings and desires, and so on. Our minds tell us what we think, our wills tell us what we want, and our emotions tell us how we feel. The Bible refers to our minds, wills, and emotions as our “flesh nature,” and this article will give you a better understanding of the “voice” of the flesh.
  • Another type of voice which clamors for our attention is the “voice” of other people. Sometimes people say things which are true, noble, and good, and sometimes people say things which are just the opposite. This article will provide some guidance to help you discern what you are hearing from the “voice” of other people.
  • The third type of voice is the “voice” of the devil. The devil has crafty ways of speaking to us which he has perfected over the millennia. He does not appear before us in a red, cloven-hoofed suit and speak out loud to us, he is much more subtle than that. What he does is to throw thoughts into our minds like flaming arrows, and he speaks to us through the worldly ideas and viewpoints that he has injected into other people. By the time you finish this article you will have a better understanding of how to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
  • The fourth and final type of voice is the most important, but it is also the most subtle. It is the voice of God. God does not speak to us in our minds, He speaks to us in our spirits because that is where the Holy Spirit lives. Unfortunately, we tend to spend most of our thought life in our heads, in other words in “the mind of the flesh” (Romans 8:7, AMP), focused on the sensory world around us where our physical senses and our thoughts, feelings, desires, and emotions are constantly being bombarded and stimulated in worldly, carnal, fleshly ways. We tend to live on the shallow surface, so to speak, rarely venturing deeper where the Spirit of God lives within us. The result is that many of us do not know where our spirits are nor how to hear and be led by our spirits. Because of this we leave ourselves wide open to fall for the many deceptions of the devil. This article will help you to begin recognizing the leadings and promptings that are coming from your spirit, and how to be more Spirit-led.  Jesus Did It!

 

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These are the four types of voices that we hear, and in the next several sections we will examine each of these more closely. Hearing from God is not a science, so I have tried to offer plenty of examples from my own experience to help describe some of the ways that God speaks to us. Please don’t let this mislead you, however. In order to “teach by example,” it is obviously important to offer examples of the times when I believe that I have heard from God. However, the danger in doing so is that it might give the impression that I am some kind of “spiritual giant” who always hears from God clearly and accurately and never makes any mistakes. Believe me, that’s definitely not the case! How I wish I could hear God speaking out loud every day, telling me exactly how I can be obedient to Him and serve Him and honor Him! But that’s not how He does things, and I’ll elaborate more on this throughout the article. Like everything else in the Christian walk, hearing from God is a journey, and we are all at different places along the way. The journey never ends and no-one ever “arrives,” and just like everyone else I still have a long way to go in this area of hearing God’s voice. All I have to offer are some things I have learned so far on my journey, which may help you on your journey. I hope that my experiences and examples are helpful in describing some of the ways that God speaks to us, and I am trusting God that soon you will have plenty of your own examples to help someone else who feels frustrated in his or her journey of trying to hear and obey God’s voice.

“The Mind of the Flesh”

Our greatest enemy

Here’s an interesting question for you: Who is our greatest enemy? If you said it’s the devil, you’re wrong! Our greatest enemy is our minds, our wills, and our emotions, which the Bible sometimes refers to as our “sin nature” or our “flesh.” Consider that if we did not have a sinful flesh nature then the devil would have no hold on us. For example, Jesus had a body made of flesh and blood but He did not have a sinful flesh nature as we do, and therefore the devil had no hold on Him (John 14:30).

1 Thessalonians 5:23 says that we are made up of “spirit, soul and body.” Your body is aware of the physical world around you, your spirit is aware of God within you, and everything else is your soul, which is aware of “self.” Your soul is made up of your mind (what you think), your will (what you want), and your emotions (what you feel). Our spirits were “regenerated” (made alive) the moment we were saved (see for example John 3:3-8), and our bodies will be made immortal when Jesus returns for us (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), but we must wage a daily battle against our “flesh nature.” For example, how often do we say or hear things like, “I know I shouldn’t say this, BUT” or “I know I shouldn’t do this, BUT” or “I know I probably shouldn’t eat this, but I’m going to eat it anyway”? Our “flesh nature” pushes us to do what it wants to do, and we often obey our “flesh” even when we know better!  Jesus Did It!

Our flesh is unGodly

You see, the problem is that our “flesh” is unGodly, it is our sin nature, and that’s why the Bible tells us to “crucify” our flesh (as we’ll see in the next section).

For example, try telling Jesus every day, “Jesus, You are my Lord and I am desperately in love with You. I will do anything and everything You say, without questions or hesitations or reservations. I will say what You want me to say, I will go where You want me to go, I will do what You want me to do. I am all Yours, Lord, live Your life through me and receive great glory and honor by my devoted, loving, and unswerving obedience.” Isn’t this the attitude that He wants us to have? Then why do we find it so difficult to say this and to live this way? It’s because we are afraid of what He might call us to do! For instance, you might have a great job and make lots of money and have an affluent lifestyle, but God might call you to leave all of that and to go spend the rest of your life ministering in remote African villages. He has done this before! You might be a shy, self-conscious stutterer, but God might call you to hold large healing and/or evangelism crusades all around the world where you will be speaking in front of thousands and thousands of people. He has done this before! You might be a comfortable, middle-class person successfully climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the “status” of being a member of the “right” clubs or social circles, but God might call you to turn your back on all of that and to begin spending your evenings or weekends in the “slum” areas of town ministering to the homeless or ministering among youth gangs. He has done this before! You might be a small-town housewife with a high school education, but God might call you to go on the road most of the year preaching several times a week in churches, universities, conferences, and so on. He has done this before! God has done every one of these things in certain people’s lives, and there is always the possibility that He might do it in our lives as well. Now, be honest, some of these things just scare the daylights out of us, don’t they? We are afraid to completely give ourselves over to God’s plan for our lives because we are afraid that we might be called on to do things which might embarrass us or stretch us out of our comfort zones. Our flesh doesn’t like the idea of having to go through these sorts of things, even though God will only call us to do things which are best for us. God always has our best interests at heart, but our flesh wants to cast its vote and make its wishes and desires known, and we tend to follow what our flesh wants rather than what God wants. Isn’t it fairly clear that our “flesh nature” tends not to want to obey God?

What does the Bible say about our “flesh”?

Now let’s take a close look at what the Bible has to say about our minds, our wills, and our emotions:

 

  • “And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also].” (Luke 9:23, AMP)
  • The Amplified Bible is often a useful study tool because it provides various shades of meaning to help us more fully understand what the original Greek words mean. According to these shades of meaning in the original Greek, Jesus was saying that we must follow His example by denying ourselves and our own agendas, by disowning ourselves, by forgetting ourselves and our own agendas, by losing sight of ourselves and our own agendas, by refusing ourselves and our own agendas, and by giving up ourselves and our own agendas! This is what it means to “take up [our] cross daily.” This is because our natural interests are contrary to the will of God, our natural feelings are contrary to the will of God, and our natural reasonings are contrary to the will of God. The cross is a place of death, which means that we should daily lose sight of ourselves (as in the verse above) in order to hear and obey God.  Jesus Did It!
  • the mind of the flesh [with its carnal thoughts and purposes] is hostile to God, for it cannot submit itself to God’s Law; indeed it cannot. So then those who are living the life of the flesh [catering to the appetites and impulses of their carnal nature] cannot please or satisfy God, or be acceptable to Him.” (Romans 8:7-8, AMP)
  • The apostle Paul said that the mind of the flesh has carnal (worldly, sinful) thoughts and purposes, and that it is hostile to God and cannot submit to God! Paul went on to say that if we are living according to our “flesh nature” then we cannot please God.
  • “The Lord knows the thoughts and reasonings of the [humanly] wise and recognizes how futile they are.” (1 Corinthians 3:20, AMP)
  • God says that our human thoughts and reasonings are futile!
  • walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh [of human nature without God]. For the desires of the flesh are opposed to the [Holy] Spirit, and the [desires of the] Spirit are opposed to the flesh (godless human nature); for these are antagonistic to each other [continually withstanding and in conflict with each other]” (Galatians 5:16-17, AMP)
  • The apostle Paul tells us that our “flesh” is our Godless human nature, and that our natural desires are opposed to the things of the Spirit and are continually in conflict with the Spirit. The solution, Paul says, is to walk and live habitually in the Spirit, always being responsive to and controlled by and guided by the Spirit within us. When we are busy analyzing things in our minds and trying to figure out the solutions to our problems and so on, it hinders us from hearing the Lord clearly.  Jesus Did It!
  • Now, obviously we need to use our minds and reasoning abilities throughout the day in order to do many of the things that we need to do, but the problem is that we tend to use our reasoning abilities almost exclusively and never bother to consult God on any of the decisions that we make.
  • “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
  • Paul said that his “flesh nature” had been crucified and that he no longer lived for himself. Instead, he allowed Christ to live His life through Paul, and this is the attitude that all of us should have.
  • “Those who belong to Christ Jesus, the Messiah, have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, AMP)
  • “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, NIV)
  • Once again Paul said that our “flesh” (which is made up of our minds, wills, and emotions) is our Godless human nature and our sin nature, which must be crucified with Christ. Jesus Did It!
  • Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. … But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)
  • Here Paul said that it is up to us to put to death whatever belongs to our “flesh” (our earthly nature).

 

As we can see, God has some pretty strong things to say about our “flesh nature,” and none of it is good! In the passages above we are told to deny ourselves and to lose sight of our own agendas. We are told that our minds and thoughts and purposes and impulses and desires are naturally hostile to God! We are told that our reasonings are futile and that our natural desires are antagonistic to and opposed to and constantly at war with the desires of the Spirit. We are told that our “flesh” is our Godless human nature and our sin nature and that it should be crucified and be put to death on a daily basis.

Those are some pretty strong words from the Lord, but the way to begin hearing God better is to quit listening to our flesh so much. That’s not an easy thing to do, but in order to hear God it is important to turn off our reasoning and to put our emotions into neutral when we are listening for an answer from God. Our flesh is always going to cast its vote on what it thinks we should do, but we need to ignore all of that voting and listen to our spirits instead. For example, if we are determined to do something no matter what anyone says, then we might not hear God when He is telling us not to do it. If we have weighed the pros and the cons and we have made the choice which seems to be the most rational to our minds, then we might not feel the need to ask God about it (even though He might guide us to an even better decision). If we really, really want to do something, then our emotions can drown out God when He is trying to prevent us from making a mistake. This illustrates how our wills, our minds, and our emotions can hinder us from hearing the voice of God.   Jesus Did It!

Jesus was “dead to self”

Jesus heard from God better than anyone who ever lived, and one of the main reasons is because He chose to deny His own opinions, interests, goals, thoughts, and so on, and He only did what the Father told Him to:

“Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”” (John 5:19)

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

“So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”” (John 8:28)

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

What it boils down to is that “the mind of the flesh” tends to be unGodly and tends to be directly opposed to the things of God. The reason I have been emphasizing this so strongly is because we are living in a war zone, and to a large degree the battle against the devil takes place in our minds. If we are led by our own reasonings and our own feelings when we make important decisions then it can leave us wide open to be deceived by the devil, and our lives might end up being useless for the kingdom of God.  Jesus Did It!

The Voice of the World

As I said, we are living in a war zone on planet earth. As Christians, we don’t belong to the world, we are aliens and strangers here (John 15:19, 17:15-17, James 4:4, 1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11). We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) serving as ambassadors here (2 Corinthians 5:20). The whole world is under the control of the evil one (1John 5:19), and we should be very careful not to become ensnared in the world’s ways of thinking and the world’s ways of doing things.

The devil speaks to us through worldly views  Jesus Did It!

In the world we are bombarded by loose morality, by various forms of spiritualism and the occult and New Age philosophies, and by other worldly, unGodly messages. This is why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts and minds from being contaminated by the world (see Acts 20:30-31, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Philippians 4:7, 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14, 4:14-15, 2 Peter 3:16-17). We live in the world but we are not of the world (1 Corinthians 2:12, 7:31, James 4:4, 1 John 4:4-5), and we should be very careful about what we are hearing in our daily lives. This is why it is important to be well-grounded in the Word of God.

Sometimes it is easy for the devil to deceive us simply because we do half the job for him by not reading our Bibles in a prayerful, honest, thorough, unbiased way, and we help the devil by being complacent in our Christian life. It is my prayer that by the time you finish this article you will be better equipped to listen with discernment to the Spirit of God within you as you study His Word. Even your pastor is not immune to these biases and “filters,” which is why it is important for you to develop your own spiritual sensitivity and to study the Bible for yourself, allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate to your spirit whatever He chooses to reveal. We should be careful not to let our feelings or our logical reasonings or other people’s opinions be our source of “truth,” but instead we should read the Word of God and listen to His Spirit within us. That is why God gave us both of these things!

The devil can speak to us through Christians!  Jesus Did It!

It is so natural for us to become caught up in what makes sense to us that we forget that often the things of God are far above our understanding. This makes it easy for the enemy to speak to us even through the voice of well-meaning Christian friends, family, pastors, and so on. For example, when God called me to this Internet teaching ministry, I wasn’t sure at first what the call was. I began applying to missionary organizations to see if that was the direction God was leading me, but when I mentioned this to Christians that I knew they sometimes tried to talk me out of it by saying things like, “Why would you want to be a missionary and maybe end up in some remote part of the world?” People mean well, but remember that they are not sensing the same call that you are sensing, so you should be careful sometimes about telling other people, even strong Christian friends, about what God is speaking to your heart.

Here’s an example from the apostle Paul’s life. In Acts 20:22-24, Paul said that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. However, in Acts 21:10-15 a prophet told Paul that he would suffer in Jerusalem, and Paul’s traveling companions pleaded with him not to go there. Paul knew that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, yet all of the Christians around him kept trying to talk him out of it. If Paul had allowed himself to follow his own reasonings and opinions and to be swayed by what other Christians thought, then he would have disobeyed God.

Another example in the Bible concerns the apostle Peter. In Galatians 2:11-14 the apostle Paul said that Peter was swayed by the opinions of others into separating from Gentile Christians, and in turn Peter swayed other Jewish Christians to do the same. In this case, an apostle was led astray by the “voice” of other Christians, and an apostle led other Christians astray! It is easy for us to be deceived, which is why we need to know how to discern whether or not our spirits are bearing witness with what we are hearing from the “voice” of other people (more on this in a later section). All of us have preconceived biases which act as “filters” when we read the Bible, and therefore even your pastor or my pastor can be deceived and teach us things that are incorrect. If an apostle can be deceived then certainly a pastor can! This is why it is important for each one of us to study the Bible for ourselves every day and to ask God for discernment so that we can recognize the Truth when we see it.

Here’s another example. When Jesus told the apostles that He would suffer and die, Peter took Him aside and tried to talk Him out of letting this happen. Do you remember Jesus’ reply? He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23). The devil was speaking through an apostle! Peter was not possessed by the devil, of course, but he was still choosing to follow his own thoughts and reasonings and opinions and emotions, and these are the very things that the devil uses to deceive us. In the very next verse, Jesus then told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Only by choosing not to be slaves to our own reasonings and emotions can we win the battle for our minds and begin hearing the voice of God within us.  Jesus Did It!

God can speak to us through other people

In examining the “voice” of the world, we should recognize that God speaks to us through other people as well, but the only way to know that it is God is if we are listening for discernment deep inside ourselves. For example, after the Lord taught me about healing and I had begun writing the articles in my Healing Training Course, I was at a friend’s house and as I was leaving I saw that their 10-year-old daughter had a cold. I debated within myself whether I should offer to lay hands on her or not because I didn’t know how well the idea would be received, and I missed my opportunity to possibly relieve her of her cold and to give Jesus glory. When I got home, my three-year-old son (Michael) wanted to show me something in his room, but he walked right past the light switch without turning the light on. Normally he is proud that he is now big enough to turn on the light, but that day he began whining that he couldn’t do it, even though he had come back and was standing right next to it and could easily have turned it on. There was a flash of discernment within me which caused me to see that as Michael was whining, “I can’t do it, I just can’t do it, I don’t know how to do it,” it was God’s way of showing me that this was how I was behaving when I debated with myself about laying hands on the 10-year-old girl. I could easily have done it and she might have been healed, but I allowed my mind to talk me out of it. In this case, it seemed that God was speaking to me through my child. On another occasion I was trying to teach Michael something, and I realized that he wasn’t quite old enough and mature enough to grasp what I was trying to teach him. Once again I got that flash of discernment within me, as if God was telling me that as I become more mature in the Lord then I will be laying hands on people when the opportunities arise. These are just a couple of examples of the way that God might speak to you through other people (even if they don’t realize that God is speaking through them), but it requires being sensitive to your spirit within you in order to recognize that God is speaking to you.

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“This is the responsibility we all owe to ourselves– that the purpose of our existence be to positively affect others with our gift and this does not begin when we feel we have become “something”. It begins when we decide to pick our gift and align it with it’s purpose.”
Chinonye J. Chidolue

 

~ Race and Reality for Blacks In America~

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Even for blacks who make it to college, the problem doesn’t go away. As statistics would have it, 70 percent of all black students who enroll in four-year colleges drop out at some point, as compared with 45 percent of whites. At any given time nearly as many black males are incarcerated as are in college in this country. And the grades of black college students average half a letter below those of their white classmates.

A pressing problem: teachers and police officers monitor, profile and police black and Latino youth and neighborhoods more than white ones.

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When asked during the 2008 campaign if he identified as black, President Obama simply said, “The last time I tried to catch a cab in N.Y.C….” His comment signaled to blacks that he experienced discrimination, while simultaneously illuminating a fatal flaw with race relations in the 21st century — our inability to separate black man from criminal.

In addition to the Department of Education study, sociological research continues to show that blacks and Latinos are more likely to be disciplined in school and stopped by the police. While some may anecdotally argue that black kids are badder than white kids, studies show a more pressing problem — teachers and police officers monitor, profile and police black and Latino youth and neighborhoods more than white ones.

While 75 percent of high school students have tried addictive substances, only specific groups and areas get targeted by the police. As evidence by the e-mail University of Akron sent their black male students, college status does not afford them the privilege to avoid policing. Thus, a black senator is treated similarly to a“potential felon.”

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Legalizing marijuana could potentially lead to more legitimized policing of black and Latino men. Reducing draconian drug laws would help in sentencing, but still not change the way that black and Latino men are criminalized. In this regard, this criminalizing epidemic is just as much a social problem as it is legal and institutional.

There are a few solutions worth mentioning. Legally, there can be tougher sanctions for racial profiling when individuals are unfairly targeted or searched.

Socially, when individuals meet a “good” black man, they can be seen as the rule and not the exception. Most black men are not criminals or untrustworthy; they are law-abiding citizens. People need to start recognizing social class cues that signal professionalism and decency instead of ubiquitously categorizing black men as dangerous.

It is high time that individuals see not just a black man, but a man who could be a doctor, lawyer, neighbor or even the president. These changes in individuals’ perceptions will a go long way to solve the criminalization of nonwhite bodies.

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I sense a certain caving-in of hope in America that problems of race can be solved. Since the sixties, when race relations held promise for the dawning of a new era, the issue has become one whose persistence causes “problem fatigue”—resignation to an unwanted condition of life.

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This fatigue, I suspect, deadens us to the deepening crisis in the education of black Americans. One can enter any desegregated school in America, from grammar school to high school to graduate or professional school, and meet a persistent reality: blacks and whites in largely separate worlds. And if one asks a few questions or looks at a few records, another reality emerges: these worlds are not equal, either in the education taking place there or in the achievement of the students who occupy them.

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As a Human Behaviorist , I know that the crisis has enough possible causes to give anyone problem fatigue. But at a personal level, perhaps because of my experience as a black in American schools, or perhaps just as the hunch of a myopic psychologist, I have long suspected a particular culprit—a culprit that can undermine black achievement as effectively as a lock on a schoolhouse door. The culprit I see is stigma, the endemic devaluation many blacks face in our society and schools. This status is its own condition of life, different from class, money, culture. It is capable, in the words of the late sociologist Erving Goffman, of “breaking the claim” that one’s human attributes have on people. I believe that its connection to school achievement among black Americans has been vastly underappreciated.

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This is a troublesome argument, touching as it does on a still unhealed part of American race relations. But it leads us to a heartening principle: if blacks are made less racially vulnerable in school, they can overcome even substantial obstacles. Before the good news, though, I must at least sketch in the bad: the worsening crisis in the education of black Americans.

Despite their socioeconomic disadvantages as a group, blacks begin school with test scores that are fairly close to the test scores of whites their age. The longer they stay in school, however, the more they fall behind; for example, by the sixth grade blacks in many school districts are two full grade levels behind whites in achievement. This pattern holds true in the middle class nearly as much as in the lower class. The record does not improve in high school. In 1980, for example, 25,500 minority students, largely black and Hispanic, entered high school in Chicago. Four years later only 9,500 graduated, and of those only 2,000 could read at grade level. The situation in other cities is comparable.

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Blacks in graduate and professional schools face a similarly worsening or stagnating fate. For example, from 1977 to 1990, though the number of Ph.D.s awarded to other minorities increased and the number awarded to whites stayed roughly the same, the number awarded to American blacks dropped from 1,116 to 828. And blacks needed more time to get those degrees.

Standing ready is a familiar set of explanations. First is societal disadvantage. Black Americans have had, and continue to have, more than their share: a history of slavery, segregation, and job ceilings; continued lack of economic opportunity; poor schools; and the related problems of broken families, drug-infested communities, and social isolation. Any of these factors—alone, in combination, or through accumulated effects—can undermine school achievement. Some analysts point also to black American culture, suggesting that, hampered by disadvantage, it doesn’t sustain the values and expectations critical to education, or that it fosters learning orientations ill suited to school achievement, or that it even “opposes” mainstream achievement. These are the chestnuts, and I had always thought them adequate. Then several facts emerged that just didn’t seem to fit.

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~ I Can’t See “You”~

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“We are not sheep or cows. God didn’t create fences for us or boundaries to contain our nationalities. Man did. God didn’t draw up religious barriers to separate us from each other. Man did. And on top of that, no father would like to see his children fighting or killing each other. The Creator favors the man who spreads loves over the man who spreads hate. A religious title does not make anyone more superior over another. If a kind man stands by his conscience and exhibits truth in his words and actions, he will stand by God regardless of his faith. If mankind wants to evolve, we must learn from our past mistakes. If not, our technology will evolve without us.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

I feel abandoned in my trial.
Why does God seem so distant when I need Him most?

You’re troubled, so you pray. You’re distressed, so you cry for God to bring you quick relief. But all you hear in reply is silence–a silence so deafening it drowns out every thought but this: God isn’t listening.

Is that your testimony? If so, we want to help you attain a biblical perspective by providing a few principles for you to reflect on. We trust these thoughts will bring you comfort and hope.

Yours Is a Common Experience

Feel left alone? Other believers have felt the same way. Peruse the writings of Oswald Chambers, Charles Spurgeon, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and you’ll discover they knew well the agony you experience. Spurgeon wrote this autobiographical account in his comments on Psalm 88:6:

He who now feebly expounds these words knows within himself more than he would care or dare to tell of these abysses of inward anguish. He has sailed around the Cape of Storms, and has drifted along by the dreary headlands of despair.

After C. S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer, he called out to God for comfort but sensed no reply. Confused, he asked, “What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”

But you don’t need a large library to know your experience is common. Just turn through the pages of your Bible, especially the Psalms, and you’ll read several distressed cries for God to act:

  • Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; but You, O Lord–how long (Psalm 6:2-3)?
  • Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion (Psalm 77:7-9)?
  • O God, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, O God, do not be still (Psalm 83:1).

Psalm 22:1 contains perhaps the most well-known example, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.” Jesus echoed that psalm on the cross: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?‘ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (Matthew 27:46).

A key passage in 1 Peter will help you appreciate that times of distress are common and are for the good of God’s children. Amid the rich details of God’s glorious grace, resides an affirmation that those who rejoice in their salvation will also experience distress due to various trials. Take special note of the second paragraph:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7).

Take solace in knowing that sorrowful times–even periods of feeling God has withdrawn His presence–are an integral part of your spiritual experience. God hasn’t utterly abandoned you, though you feel He has. Other believers have successfully traveled the dark path you walk and completed their journey.

Peter acknowledges that trials produce grief in believers–and grief is a common experience. He also touches on two further principles that will help you understand and patiently endure your trouble:

Yours Is a Temporary Experience

Feeling distressed by trials–such as sensing the absence of God’s presence–would crush a weakened believer if it had no end. And so Peter adds that the distress is only “for a little while.” Your trouble is temporary. God will not leave you in your distress forever. It will cease–maybe not as soon as you’d like–but it will come to an end. Once the trial has served its purpose, you will benefit from its results and regain the joy of your heavenly Father’s warm embrace.

Yours Is a Purposed Experience

Peter anticipates your next question, “Why does a believer have to experience grief-producing trials?” He replies, “These have come so that your faith … may be proved genuine” (v. 7).

As one of God’s children, you are promised His presence, though for now you feel alone and without help. Rest in knowing God your Father has good reasons for bringing you into your trial. He is committed to making you holy, even if it means taking away your happiness for a time.

You will derive benefit from your trial, not by ignoring it or fainting under its weight, but by understanding its purpose. When you realize God is using the trial to make you aware of His grace in your life and fit you for eternal glory, praise, and honor, you’ll be equipped to endure it even though it brings you into distress and heaviness of soul.

Suffering in silence will also:

  1. Make you more obedient (Psalm 119:67).
  2. Deepen your insight into God’s Word (Psalm 119:71).
  3. Increase your compassion and effectiveness in ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
  4. Teach you to wait patiently on God (Psalm 27:14).
  5. Make your joy less dependent on circumstances (Habakkuk 3:16-19).
  6. Make you appreciate God all the more when He restores you (Job 42:7-17).

Allow those principles to mold your perspective. Learn to respond biblically and not emotionally to your trouble. Lean on the revealed character of God. He is allowing you to experience a temporary sorrow that will provide you with the greater benefits of increased holiness and deeper assurance (cf. Romans 8:18).


Here are some other resources that will help you overcome the feeling God’s absence:

~Ministry and Criticism~

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“Choose a leader who will invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. Intellectualism and wisdom, not ignorance. Stability, not fear and terror. Peace, not chaos. Love, not hate. Convergence, not segregation. Tolerance, not discrimination. Fairness, not hypocrisy. Substance, not superficiality. Character, not immaturity. Transparency, not secrecy. Justice, not lawlessness. Environmental improvement and preservation, not destruction. Truth, not lies.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Generally speaking, parishioners appreciate the roles pastors perform in their churches and communities. This includes preaching/teaching Christian doctrine;performing rites of passage, such as baby dedications, baptisms, weddings, and funerals; pastoral care, such as visitation, counseling, comforting, and praying for people; and administration, such as chairing meetings, developing inreach and outreach programs for the church and community, and representing the church to the community.

But despite the roles pastors perform, they are not spared criticism from a number of their parishioners. Some of the criticism may be constructive and some destructive.

Pastoral ministry has its ups and downs. One of the up moments is when church programs work well in the church and parishioners support and affirm the pastor’s ministry. During this time, the ministry becomes pleasant and rewarding. A down moment occurs when there is a lack of support from parishioners and the program fails. The pastor faces criticism and bitter opposition from parishioners that can lead to feelings of frustration and discouragement.

Let us face it, a leader cannot avoid criticism. It does not matter what leadership position you hold, whether in politics, as the president or prime minister of a country, the head of a corporate organization, a pastor, or church administrator, there will be criticism.

Some years ago an experienced minister advised me how to deal with criticism from parishioners. What caught my attention was a remark he made that has encouraged me in my ministry. He said, “Jesus faced criticisms, too, and if you are a pastor and parishioners don’t criticize all the work you do, you wouldn’t know how you are performing in ministry.”1 Since then, I have learned to take criticism differently.

Jesus faced criticism too

Jesus faced criticism in His ministry. Matthew writes, “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw” (Matt. 12:22).2 While the multitudes were amazed, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for casting out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (v. 24).

Some criticized even His eating habits. They said Jesus was “‘“a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” ’ ” (Luke 7:34). On another occasion, the Pharisees and scribes were critical of Him, saying, “ ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’ ” (Luke 15:2). Yet, reaching out to save sinners was an integral part of Jesus’ mission to this world. No wonder, in a similar incident in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus replied to the Pharisees, “ ‘For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’ ” (Matt. 9:13).

In spite of criticism, Jesus was a successful leader. He did not allow criticism of His good deeds to divert attention from His goal to reveal His Father’s love for humanity, and preach the good news of salvation. He stayed focused and accomplished His mission. Pastors need to understand that we will face criticism as Jesus did. Besides, unlike Jesus who did not sin (Heb. 4:15), we will make mistakes and face criticism as well.

Reasons for criticism

Here are a few reasons, both positive and negative, why pastors may face criticism.

1. Failure to fulfill the responsibilities of pastoral leadership. Pastoral leadership can be very demanding and parishioners often know when pastors perform their jobs or not. Hence, pastors should not be satisfied with a level of mediocrity in their job performances. When we fail to fulfill our responsibilities, criticism will most likely come.

2. When a pastor wants to introduce change. Usually, when a pastor is transferred to a new district and attempts to change established tradition, some parishioners criticize the pastor and resist such change. To most parishioners “change is uncomfortable and often threatening.” 3 There will always be resolute defenders of tradition in every congregation who will criticize your intentions for change.

3. A breach of pastoral ethics. Pastors are expected to uphold and commit themselves to practice a pastoral code of ethics. For example, parishioners want a pastor they can trust and confide in with their personal issues. Failure to “practice strictest professional confidentiality”4 will result in criticism from parishioners and a loss of credibility.

4. Pastor a district for years without transfer. Though parishioners may feel uncomfortable when a change occurs in the status quo, this is not always so when it comes to a change in pastoral leadership. With time, parishioners get used to the pastor’s method of preaching and leadership skills.

5. Parishioners’ unresolved issues. Sometimes parishioners go through church-related issues for which they have not sought help from a counselor or their local pastor. Quite often, they are stressed out, impatient, and angry because of these unresolved issues. The church board meeting, or the church business meeting, becomes the forum for them to blame and criticize the pastor for what goes wrong in the congregation.

6. Expectation to live above reproach. Generally, people hold pastors in high esteem and expect much from them. Since pastors are seen as preachers of probity and accountability, parishioners expect them to live above reproach. When a pastor breaks one of the commandments or doctrines of the church, criticism or even rejection often follow.

Approaches for dealing with criticism

Not all criticism from parishioners is destructive. Some may be constructive; therefore pastors should take criticism seriously and not ignore it. What may be considered trivial and not given much attention may become a serious issue too difficult and too late to solve. Here are some suggestions pastors may include in their approaches to criticism from parishioners.

1. Count criticism as a blessing, not a trial. Let’s be realistic about this. We do not find it easy to face criticism and accept it as a blessing from God. When I started ministry, I used to think that parishioners who criticized my job performance did not like me. But I have also come to understand that criticism from parishioners may be God’s way of pointing out something I need to change or correct in dealing with an issue as a pastor. While I do not allow destructive criticism to detract me from doing my job, I do not ignore constructive criticism either. It reminds me that I am human and make mistakes. Constructive criticism also helps me learn and avoid other similar and terrible mistakes later on.

2. Pray for guidance and for those who criticize you. In one district, I made an appointment to see one of our conference officials for advice concerning the criticism I was facing from some parishioners. I can recall sitting in his office and pouring out my heart to him. After I finished, he looked at me and said, “You must pray for them.” I must confess that was not the answer I expected at that moment. But I continued to pray for them and before long they stopped the criticism, though a couple of them occasionally criticized me about church programs. Praying for those who criticize you will make a difference in your ministry.

3. Avoid arguing with those who criticize you. This is one of the difficulties a pastor may encounter with parishioners, especially when the pastor knows they are right about an issue they are being criticized for in the church. However, try not to argue with those who criticize you in public, whether at a church board or church business meeting. Assume a good disposition when confronted with criticism. Calm down, and if it requires a response, choose your words carefully and answer gently.

4. Always do what is right. In every decision that involves the congregation, if you have the church board’s and the majority of the members’ approval, go ahead and implement it. People will criticize and persecute you for doing the right thing, but God will admire and vindicate you for not doing the wrong thing. Ellen G. White offers encouraging words here, “To accuse and criticize those whom God is using is to accuse and criticize the Lord who has sent them.”5

5. Uphold ethics and beliefs of the church. Whatever the pastor does should be in accordance with the church beliefs and policies. Parishioners respect pastors who are honest and have a strong affirmation for, and practice, ministerial ethics.

6. Address the needs of your parishioners in a timely manner. The nature of our work requires us to be sensitive to the questions and felt needs of our parishioners, and we should make every effort to address those needs in a timely manner. We should not treat parishioners’ needs as trivial. Every parishioner is important in the eyes of Jesus, and as ministers of God, we are to treat them with love and respect as we shepherd them. This will help pastors avoid some criticism.

7. Sell your ideas to your leaders: Pastors have good plans and ideas for the church but quite often we meet opposition and criticism because of the way those plans and ideas are communicated to parishioners. When this happens, we wonder whether the church officers and parishioners see what we see. When you work with leaders in a church, they want to feel that they are a part of the decision-making process of the church. The board of elders and the church board members should know the pastor’s ideas and programs. They will then be able to support and help sell them.

8. Do not sideline those who criticize you. Remember the saying Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. You will be surprised that, in most cases, parishioners who criticize you are not necessarily your enemies, but they may be going through personal issues that require a referral or your expertise in pastoral counseling.

9. Involve those who criticize you in church ministries. Sometimes you will find it necessary to harness the energy and talents of parishioners who criticize you for soul winning instead of using their time in sowing seeds of divisiveness in the church. You can request some of them to volunteer in the prayer team or a special needs ministry in the church. Meet with them periodically to affirm and evaluate what they are doing. As you engage them in church ministries, it will help them use their talents in the right areas.

10. Know if, when, and how to confront those who criticize you. Pastors approach and deal with criticism differently. Some pastors adopt an attitude of a culture of silence and ignore them. Others choose a confrontational approach. “The attitude needed to deal with criticisms is not a withdrawal from the issue or an arrogant approach to the issue. It is gentleness and firmness—an attitude of smart love.”6 Pastoral attitudes and approaches to criticism should follow the biblical instruction in Matthew 18:15–17. Try not to harbor any animosity toward parishioners who criticize you. Continue to love and pray for them. This will make a difference in your ministry.

Conclusion

The pastor cannot avoid criticism. Every congregation has parishioners who will affirm your ministry and those who will criticize what you do. At times, the criticism may be constructive, and other times it may be destructive. The pastor should be open to criticism and willing to accept mistakes and correct them. Never allow criticism to detract from your calling as a pastor to perform your role. You can count on Jesus as He guides you to shepherd His flock and prepare them for His kingdom.

 

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“A great leader must serve the best interests of the people first, not those of multinational corporations. Human life should never be sacrificed for monetary profit. There are no exceptions. In addition, a leader should always be open to criticism, not silencing dissent. Any leader who does not tolerate criticism from the public is afraid of their dirty hands being revealed under heavy light. And such a leader is dangerous, because they only feel secure in the darkness. Only a leader who is free from corruption welcomes scrutiny; for scrutiny allows a good leader to be an even greater leader.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

~Trust God’s Vision for Your Dreams~

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“He who has the audacity to stop you from dreaming is he who had given you the imaginations to think, but not those who watch you as you explore the dreams!”
Israelmore Ayivor

“When the actions becomes frequent than the words, success becomes heavier than the dreams. Do more, say less.”
Israelmore Ayivor

Genesis 37:1-11 The Message (MSG)

37 Meanwhile Jacob had settled down where his father had lived, the land of Canaan.

Joseph and His Brothers

This is the story of Jacob. The story continues with Joseph, seventeen years old at the time, helping out his brothers in herding the flocks. These were his half brothers actually, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought his father bad reports on them.

3-4 Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was the child of his old age. And he made him an elaborately embroidered coat. When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than them, they grew to hate him—they wouldn’t even speak to him.

5-7 Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said, “Listen to this dream I had. We were all out in the field gathering bundles of wheat. All of a sudden my bundle stood straight up and your bundles circled around it and bowed down to mine.”

His brothers said, “So! You’re going to rule us? You’re going to boss us around?” And they hated him more than ever because of his dreams and the way he talked.

He had another dream and told this one also to his brothers: “I dreamed another dream—the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to me!”

10-11 When he told it to his father and brothers, his father reprimanded him: “What’s with all this dreaming? Am I and your mother and your brothers all supposed to bow down to you?” Now his brothers were really jealous; but his father brooded over the whole business.

Intro: A certain evangelist’s wife died, and when he had to be away in meetings, he hired a babysitter to take care of his two sons. Whenever he had been away, he would always bring them a gift when he arrived back home. One day, however, he came home and had forgotten to buy the boys a gift. When they asked for their presents, the father d\told them that he would take them to the store and that they could have whatever they wanted. When they arrived, the first thing they saw was the candy counter. They decided they wanted to buy candy. Their father said, “Let’s look around a little more first.” Then, they went to the toy department and saw some cowboy suits, complete with guns, hats, ropes, etc. They both yelled, “This is what we want!” Their father replied, “Let’s just look around a little first.” Next, they went into the sporting goods and found basketballs. They began to dribble these about the place and told their father that they wanted to buy the balls. The father said, “let’s look around just a little bit more.” So they continue to shop and as they did, they spotted 2 brand new 10 speed bicycles against the back wall. Their father saw what they were looking at and said, “How would you like to have those bikes?” Those 2 boys left that store with far more than they bargained for because their father refused to let them settle for less that his best. You see, he had intended to buy the bikes all along! Those 2 boys thought candy would be wonderful, but their father had something far more wonderful in mind.

So it is with the Lord, He has plans for us that we can only begin to imagine. We see things and formulate plans that we think would be wonderful, but God has something far more special for us than we could ever imagine. A look at the life of Joseph illustrates this truth. Joseph’s life demonstrates four facts that you will find true as you travel the path God has cleared for you. If you can remember these truths, then no matter how dark the clouds, how depressing the circumstances or how diligent the critics, you will always be aware of the fact that God has something special for you.

I. V. 1-4 THERE IS A SPECIAL PERSON INSIDE YOU

A. Joseph was different – If you read the story of his life, it is plain to see that Joseph stood out from his brothers in his commitment, his character and in his clothing and as a result, his brothers hated him!

B. Being different is socially unacceptable – The secret to popularity is conformity. The world tells us that to get along, you must go along. This is the siren cry of the world. Everyone wants to fit in, everyone wants to be accepted.

C. Being different is OK – While the world calls us to conform, the Bible gives us a far different message. The Bible warns us against conformity, Rom. 12:1. This literally means, “Do not let the world press you into its mold.”

D. Be different because you are different – The main reason why you should be different is because you are! God made you an individual, (Ill. DNA), and you do not have to conform to the crowd. (Ill. There are those who are like whatever crowd they get around. They worship with the saints and they grovel with the sinners. This ought not be so! Think of Daniel, at the age of 17, he took a stand that was the equivalent to social suicide. He chose to be different. As a result, God was able to bless his life and get great glory from Daniel.)

E. All I am saying is that you do not have to fit into anyone’s mold to be accepted. The only person you have to please is the Lord God! If you are living your life in a manner that pleases Him, then you are living the right kind of life. Never sell out to this world or to people who want to make you like them! Make up your mind that you settle for nothing less than the approval of God upon your life. After all, He made you, He loves you, He died for you, and if you are saved, He saved you. You are going to His Heaven to live with Him for eternity. Realize and recognize that you are an individual and that you are unique among all the people who have ever, or will ever live. God made you special and your duty is to live for Him.

I. There Is A Special Person Inside You

II. V. 5 THERE IS A SPECIAL PLAN FOR YOU

A. This verse tells us that Joseph dreamed a dream. In this dream, the Lord revealed the future to Joseph. In this dream, God showed Joseph that one day all the resources (sheaves) and all the ruler (stars) of the world would bow down at the feet of Joseph.

B. God had a special plan for the life of Joseph, and He has a special plan for your life as well. Sadly, many people lack the faith or the vision to find out what God’s plan for them is. There is something that God wants you to do! He has something for you to do that no one else can do. He wants to work in you, through you and around you in a very unique ans special manner. He has something only you can do and it will not be done unless you do it!

C. You might as well know up-front that there will be those around who will try to stifle your dreams. You might as well know that there will be those who will hate you because you have a dream. Notice how Joseph’s brothers reacted to Him, v. 19. There will always be those who lack the faith and the vision and will tell you that your dreams are either inconceivable, impractical, or impossible. (Ill. Alexanders Graham Bell’s father-in-law called the telephone “a toy no one will play with.” The famous British physicist, Lord Calvin, said, “Radio has no future.” British Royal astronomer George Bidell Airy, said, “The computer is absolutely worthless.” In 1899 Charles H. Duell, Director of the United States Patten Office, made this statement: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” He was so convinced of this that he tried to get President McKinley to abolish his job next year. Well, the very next year R. A. Fessenden sent the human voice over radio waves for the first time. In 1901 the first Mercedes automobile was constructed. In 1903 the Wright Brothers successfully flew a powered airplane. In 1904 the photoelectric cell was developed. All of this only five years after Mr. Duell said nothing was left to be invented. But, regardless of what the critics say, never let anyone kill your dreams, Pro. 29:18.

D. It was the truth that God had a plan for Joseph that sustained him during the times when he was a slave in Egypt and when he was in prison. May I say that to live life with the knowledge that God had no plan for our lives would be hell on earth! Always remember that you are a special person created for a special purpose!

E. Often, during the storms and battles of life, our dreams seem to be all we have left!

I. There Is A Special Person Inside You

II. There Is A Special Plan For You

III. V. 18-36 THERE ARE SPECIAL PROBLEMS FOR YOU

A. The life of Joseph is one of great problems and trials. In v. 18, his brothers conspired against him. In v. 21, he was thrown into a pit. In v. 28, he was sold as a slave. In ch. 39, he is falsely accused of rape. In ch. 40 he is thrown into prison. Joseph was forsaken by his family, forgotten by his friends and frustrated by his failures. Please remember that all these things that happened to Joseph were just part of God’s plan for his life.

B. This is a hard pill to swallow, but it is still true: Life is unfair! If the Lord of glory came to this earth and was crucified, then what makes us think that life will treat us fairly? Why did these things happen to a young man who was guilty of nothing more than obeying the will of God? The answer is found in Genesis 50:20. You see, Joseph is the Old Testament illustration to one of the New Testaments greatest promises, Rom. 8:28.

C. Through all the problems that Joseph faced, the Lord is teaching his the difference between growing old and growing up! We need to remember that God is always doing for great things in our lives. Remembering these will help us when the storm clouds of life begin to gather about us.

1. God is always Guiding you – Psa. 37:23

2. God is always Guarding you – Psa. 121:5-8

3. God is always Gaging you – He is constantly measuring our growth. God is far more concerned about how we react to what we face than what we face. – Psa. 105:17-19

4. God is always Growing you – God isn’t as concerned about delivering us out of our mess as He is about us growing out of the mess we are in. He is in the saint building business.

D. Remember, whatever you may face in this world, however deep and dark the valleys you are called to walk through, however heavy the loads you are called upon to bear, God is merely allowing these things in your life to strengthen and to help you become more like Him. The question is: How are you responding to problems that come your way?

I. There Is A Special Person Inside You

II. There Is A Special Plan For You

III. There Are Special Problems For You

IV. 39:2 THERE IS A SPECIAL PERSON WITH YOU

A. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that God was ever with Joseph – 39:2; 39:3; 39:21; 39:23; Acts 7:9. In everything Joseph faced he had a Helper and a Companion!

B. Three times in chapter 39 we are told that the Lord was with Joseph. It will be helpful for us to see just how the Lord was with him.

1. 39:1-3 He Was With Him In Servitude – Even though he was a slave, Joseph conducted himself like the ruler God was preparing him to be. Instead of griping, complaining, whining, bellyaching, and fussing about his situation, he just served Potiphar and did the best job he could do. What a lesson! If ever expect to rule, then we must first learn to serve! You will never be over until you first learn to be under! Joseph was learning about humility.

2. 39:7-19 He Was With Him In Seduction – Potiphar’s wife tried everything in her power to seduce Joseph, but he stood strong in the Lord and fended off her advances. God was teaching Joseph that no price could be placed on a clean conscience. He lost his coat, but he kept his conscience. God was teaching Joseph a lesson in purity and in self-control. Both are essential to those in leadership positions.

3. 39:21-23 He Was With Him In Suffering – Even when Joseph was forced to endure the shame of a false imprisonment, God was with him and blessed him.

C. Well, you know the rest of the story. God turned tragedy, temptation, torment and trouble into a great triumph. God brought all Joseph’s dreams to pass teaching Joseph and us this lesson, 1 Pet. 5:6-7.

D. Joseph never quit on the Lord. He never stopped believing, he never stopped trusting, he never stopped dreaming until the Lord brought to pass everything in his life that God wanted to do. Through it all, Joseph never wavered, he never compromised and he never flinched at what the Lord allowed in his life. As a result, he won the victory and so can you – 1 Cor. 15:58.

Conc: I heard about a fellow who came into town to a Little League Baseball game. He looked at the scoreboard and it said, “21 to 0.” A little boy was sitting on the bench while his team was in the field. The other team was batting, and the fellow said to the little boy on the bench, “Son, it looks pretty bad for your team doesn’t it?” The little boy said, “Ah, no sir, we haven’t even come to bat yet!” Well dear friend, sometimes it may look like the world and the flesh and the devil is winning. But remember with God on your side, you will always win because He has something special for you. So, keep dreaming, keep trusting, keep serving because God is preparing a great victory for you to enjoy. He truly has something special for you!

~The Choice That Changed My Destiny of Life~

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“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

barabbas

An old godly preacher was dying. He knew that he would have just a few hours. So he called for two members of his congregation to come by his bedside: his banker and his lawyer, who were both members. They were honored to be with him in his final moments. As they came into his bedroom the old preacher held out his hands and motioning for one to sit on each side of the bed and he held their hands as the sat beside him. The preacher grasped their hands and gave a sigh of relief. For a while, everything was silent. They thought what a privilege it is to be with him, this godly preacher in his final moments. They were a little amazed that he thought that much of them since they both remembered his many long uncomfortable sermons about greed and covetousness. Finally the banker got up his courage and said, “Pastor, why did you choose us to come and to be with you during your final moments?” The old man mustered up his last strength and then said weakly, “Well, I’m dying and I always wanted to die like Jesus did, between two thieves! And that’s why I called you.”

Let me tell you, there should have been three thieves on the crosses. There should have been three. Jesus should never have been hung on a cross. There should have been three thieves, three criminals that day, almost two thousand years ago. But the shame about this is: the Jews chose Jesus to die instead of BARABBAS. They made a bad choice. And how people make choices is a very important thing. And so, BARABBAS was allowed to go free. But Jesus had to die on the cross.

In a sense, three criminals did die on those crosses that day because Jesus was a criminal, was He not? In a way. He was sinless, but Jesus was a sinner. All the sins of the world were on Him at that moment. They were there. All the sins of the world. And when Jesus died, He died for us.

I want you to take your Bible and turn to Acts 3. A lot of Christians hate Jews. Do you think that ought to be the case? Should we be anti-Semitic? I don’t think so. And yet, Peter condemns the Jews. Acts 3:14,15. “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” (Barabbas) “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” And so Peter condemned the Jews in a very harsh way: “You killed the Author of life! You bad people!”

Peter is not alone in his feelings. I had a newspaper clipping out of the Chattanooga Times. Jacquelyn Mitchard wrote an article in response to the Pope’s recent Apology for past sins of the Roman Catholic people. This lady says as a girl her “Catholic friends explained the real deal about Jewish people.” She was told that all Catholics were to resist Jews, or even hate Jews because it was thought that they killed Christ. Is this biblical? Did Jews kill Jesus? Were they responsible? Should we hate Jews?

Come to Matthew 27 for a eyewitness account of what really happened that horrible day almost two thousand years ago. (Also found in Mark 15:6-15 and Luke 23:13-25) Matthew 27:15-17. Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” Now, who was Pilate in favor of releasing? Jesus. Because Barabbas was bad.

The people had a decision to make. How fascinating to watch how some folk come to a decision. I think the decision was made out of peer pressure, or mob psychology. That’s what happened that day. This fateful day the peer pressure was a determining factor. That fateful day they decided because that’s what the crowd decided. Everybody went along with it.

I want to speak to that. Maybe some you are a teenagers. Maybe on a Saturday night your group gets together and you decide, “Well, let’s have a great time tonight. One of us here is of age, why not get him to go buy some alcohol and we could just have a good party instead of a mediocre time. We could do it up!” Instantly the whole group decides they’re going to have an alcoholic party. Peer pressure, and they make the wrong decision. If you do that, and you’re part of that crowd, then you basically are choosing Barabbas. Do you see how that works? When you know you ought to do right, and you know that, and you choose what is wrong, you are choosing Barabbas. In choosing Barabbas quickly and carelessly, they made the wrong choice. When you choose wrong, when you fully know what is right you are choosing Barabbas. A hasty decision is often a bad decision as well.

Pilate presented two fathers’ sons to the crowd. Jesus Barabbas and Jesus Christ. Jesus Barabbas means: son of A father.” (bar – son of, abbas – daddy or father) Jesus Christ means: “son of THE Father.” The one, poisoned by the devil, ready for hell. The other, sinless, perfect, ready for heaven. Everybody in the whole wide world was there represented in Barabbas or in Jesus. Look for yourself in this amazing story.

    The contrast was very clear. One was a robber, a criminal. – The other was compassionate, kind, loving.

  • When the crowd chose Barabbas they chose lawlessness instead of law.
  • They chose war instead of peace.
  • They chose hatred instead of love.
  • They chose Satan instead of God.

images

A bad choice!

You can the full account there in Matthew 27. Very, very bad. Read a key statement here in Matthew 27:22. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked And that is a key question of life. What are you, fellow McDonald Road member, going to do with Jesus Christ? What are you going to do? Are you going to accept Him or are you going to choose Barabbas? And the crowd, of course, chose Barabbas. In verse 25, all the people said, Let his blood be on us and our children!” And that’s why some people don’t like what the Jews did back then. And for years, fingers have been pointed at Christians saying that in our roots is anti-Semitism. We encourage hatred for Jews because they killed Jesus. The Roman governor was willing to set Jesus free, but the Jews shouted, “Crucify Him!” And Pilate gave in, rather than jeopardize the peace. So it sounds like the vast majority of people who were Jews hated Jesus.

Now is that true? What had happened to Jesus just five days before? What were the crowds doing to Jesus five days before? They were laying down the palm leaves, they were laying down their garments so He could cross over. They were honoring Jesus Christ. And now, all of a sudden, five days later, here they are crucifying Jesus Christ. What a fickle bunch of people. What in the world is happening to this crowd? What had Jesus done in the last five days that had agitated them? Nothing! Nothing had changed.

Let’s take a little closer look at this group. Are these people really wishy-washy? Why did practically everybody suddenly hate Jesus, now, and before, they loved Him? Well, the Bible plainly declares that Caiaphas and his confederates were determined to kill Jesus, not because He was unpopular, but because he was popular. So, the crowds were not against Him. So we can’t say that Jesus was hated by everybody, because He was popular. In fact, verse 18 says that they envied Jesus: they resented His success. So, it’s the opposite of hatred. I think they feared that the people would welcome Jesus as the Messiah and all of the pharisees, all the leaders would be unemployed because He was very popular. So, not everybody hated Jesus. In fact, very few did.

So, we could ask the question: Were Jesus’ accusers even Jews? The crowd that were there that day, were they Jews? Let’s look at this a little more closely as we read here in Matthew 27 you can tell that they were Jews by where they stood. These fault-finders stood out in the courtyard because they didn’t want to be contaminated. To go into this civil court would contaminate them and they would not be able to do anything about it and they would not be able to celebrate the passover. So, they couldn’t go in. Pilate had to go in and talk with Jesus, and go out and talk to the crowd… back and forth. That’s what you see going on here.

Did that zealous, accusing crowd hate Jesus? I don’t believe so. Now, could it be that almost nobody in Jerusalem even really knows that Jesus is on trial? Most of His friends aren’t quite aware of it yet. It’s really in the morning while this trial is going on. The crowds are possibly supporters of Barabbas who have come to get him released.

And so we need to ask, Who was Barabbas? In John 18:14 Barabbas is called a robber. In Mark 15:7, he’s called a murderer. He’s actually an insurrectionist, he’s a revolutionist. This man is a self-proclaimed messiah. That’s who Barabbas really is: he’s a freedom-fighter. He’s trying to get freedom for the Israelites to be free from the bondage of Rome. The purpose of the crowd that day was to get him released.

Jesus was also a freedom fighter. Jesus was trying to get freedom from the devil. They were very similar; Jesus and Barabbas. Jesus’ way involved gentleness, not swords.

    The crowd apparently believed in do-it-yourself liberation.

  • Salvation does not come by riot but by surrender.
  • Salvation is never by violence, it is by faith.
  • Salvation is not delivered by gun barrels and bullets.
  • Salvation does not come by works or by swords.
  • Salvation comes by yielding your life to your Savior, your God.

And they did not know that.

Both Jesus and Barabbas wanted to save their people. The difference between Jesus and Barabbas was like the difference between a lamb and a wolf: totally opposites

“Both Jesus and Barabbas were brought before the people and stood side by side. Jesus stood there wearing the robe of mockery and the stripes, from which the blood flowed freely. His face was stained with blood, and bore the marks of exhaustion and pain but never had it appeared more beautiful than now. Every feature expressed gentleness and the tenderest pity for His cruel foes. In striking contrast was Barabbas. Every line of the countenance of Barabbas proclaimed him the hardened ruffian that he was.  Barabbas was a ruffian. Jesus was tender. Yet they chose Jesus to crucify.

They chose Barabbas to set them free. And what they did: they chose short-term, immediate deliverance from Rome rather than long-term immediate eternal deliverance from sin and the devil.

Barabbas-Poster

We are just like them today. We are so short-sighted, we choose wrong, don’t we? Even babies would rather have a pacifier than a one-dollar bill. How crazy those babies are! They’d rather have a bottle than a Bible! Eve chose the apple rather than eternal security. Sometimes the dance seems so more important to us than attending prayer meeting. When you as a teenager go out and you choose to take some illegal drug into your life, you are choosing Barabbas because you are choosing a temporary high rather than an eternal high that you could have gotten. Gentlemen, when you look at some other man’s wife and you choose that pleasure, you are choosing Barabbas rather than what God has designed for you. We choose Barabbas every day. We shouldn’t. It’s wrong. It’s sinful. We’re crucifying Jesus when we choose Barabbas. Do you realize you hurt Jesus when you go on drugs. You hurt Jesus when you look at that “other” man or that “other” woman. That should never happen. Today, we choose Barabbas when we put anything ahead of Jesus. Jesus should be first and best in our lives.

The bulk of the crowd had assembled that morning for the legitimate purpose of extracting their hero, Barabbas, out of the iron grip of the Romans. They had not really come to condemn an innocent man, Jesus, to death.

Does this explain why Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead? Notice John 11:47-50, Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Caiaphas had been around. He knew the Romans would not tolerate revolt. His motive is clearly seen in verse 50. It would be best for Jesus to die than for the entire nation to perish. Caiaphas feared that one more uprising would end what little freedom the Jewish people had left. Perhaps Jesus had a larger following than Barabbas. To kill Jesus was better than to let Him live and lead the nation to oblivion.

I wonder what ever happened to Barabbas when they set him free, which they did? I wonder if he went on to become a freedom-fighter? I believe he did. In fact, I believe that the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. could have been caused by this one man being a freedom-fighter, going out and getting a group together and causing the Romans to come against them. It could have happened.

That mob’s choice of Barabbas over Jesus contributed to the fall of Jerusalem a generation later. Even Jesus stated that in Matthew 23:37-39. So, be careful when you choose the world because it could in fact contribute to your fall. When you go out and you choose to smoke that cigarette, you choose to defile your body by some way, it could also hurt your family. Those who live in Jerusalem could be hurt by your actions. You must be careful what you choose when you choose Barabbas. You are in danger of doing that when you place anything else ahead of Jesus Christ.

Be careful when you chose the world. You are in danger when you place anything above Jesus. There is an old song… “NOTHING between my soul and the Savior.” So be careful.

Jesus came to His own, and His own received Him not. They took Him and cast Him off. They judged Him worthy of death. And the whole multitude cried, Give us Barabbas! Liberation through Jesus Barabbas! He believed in self-redemption, not in redemption through the loving Messiah.

Look at Mark 15:25. All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” What the crowd was saying here is, “We release you, Pilate, from all guilt. We’re not going to hold you guilty. Pilate, if you just destroy Jesus, everything will be all right.” Is that true? Yes, in a way that is true. Everything can only be all right if Jesus is destroyed. If Jesus hangs on that cross, then everything can be okay. That’s what can happen. The people chose Barabbas. And only Barabbas could say to Jesus, “You have physically saved me from death.” Because, Jesus died in the place of Barabbas, didn’t He. And from physical death, Jesus saved Barabbas.

I imagine Barabbas was waiting in his cell. He was there on death row waiting to be crucified on that cross. And they tell me that people that are about to be hung oftentimes their hand goes around their neck and feels their neck. They know that rope is going to be there shortly. They know it won’t be long and they kind of put their hand around their neck and feel it.

And people that are on death row and they’re going to be taken to the gas chamber, I have been told, that those folks practice holding their breath before that event takes place. They know that soon they’ll be in the gas chamber, so they hold their breath. They practice that until their eyes nearly pop out of their heads. Because they know that some day they will be taken into that room and they will be tied in that chair and soon they will hear a little hissing sound, and that death vapor will be coming in. And they know that if they hold their breath, they can elongate their life just a little. But soon they will have to exhale the last oxygen and they will inhale the death vapor.

I think that Barabbas must have looked at the palms of his hands and he realized that soon spikes, big nails, would be driven through his hands and he would be impaled onto a cross and he would die. Every time a hammer struck a blow out in the courtyard he thought, “Oh dear, they’re building a cross for me.” And I imagine that when the soldiers came to his cell that day, that he probably thought, “This is it! This is it.” And yet they came and released him. And they said, “That man over there took your place. See that man over there? That’s Jesus. He took your place. You’re free because of Jesus.” And I want you to know that you can be free because of Jesus. That’s the only person that can set you free.

In Matthew 20:28 we read a fascinating verse: “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Praise God for Jesus. He is the Ransom for many, many people. I’m so glad for that. He came to serve.

Let us pray. Dear Father, Give us wisdom to make the right choices. Give us the courage to stand for you even when the crowd goes the other way. Forgive us for choosing Barabbas in the foolish days of our past. Give us the heart to choose Jesus now and forever.

~Let’s Boycott Sin ~

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APRIL 9th, 1951

Florida Sheriff Shoots Two Black Defendants After Supreme Court Overturns Convictions

On April 9, 1951, the United States Supreme Court overturned the convictions and death sentences of Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, two black men wrongly convicted of the rape of a white woman in Groveland, Florida. The Court held that the men were entitled to new trials because black people had been excluded from serving on their juries.

NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall represented Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Irvin in appealing their death sentences. The case originally had four black defendants, but one of the young men was lynched by a mob prior to trial, and the youngest defendant, at just 16 years old, had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In Sheriff Willis McCall’s custody while awaiting their first trial, the three defendants had been brutally beaten and tortured in the Lake County Jail. Following the reversal of Shepherd’s and Irvin’s convictions, Sheriff McCall volunteered to personally transport the men back to the Lake County Jail from Florida State Prison for retrial.

En route to the jail, on November 6, 1951, McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin. McCall later claimed that Shepherd and Irvin, handcuffed to each other in the back of the police car, attempted to attack him when he stopped on a deserted road to check the vehicle’s tires. McCall shot both men.

Mr. Shepherd died instantly from his wounds. Deputy James Yates, who was summoned to the scene, observed that Mr. Irvin was wounded but still alive, and shot him again in the neck. Yates and McCall then ripped McCall’s clothing and struck a blow to his head to substantiate his self defense claims. After multiple people arrived at the scene, someone observed that Mr. Irvin was miraculously still alive, and he ultimately survived his injuries. Though Mr. Irvin told the NAACP and the FBI that McCall had shot him and Mr. Shepherd without cause, a coroner’s jury found that McCall had acted in self defense and cleared his name. McCall remained Lake County Sheriff until 1972, when he was indicted for the murder of another black prisoner.

Mr. Irvin was retried for rape, again convicted and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Florida governor in 1955, and Mr. Irvin was released on parole in 1968. In 2012, FBI investigative documents surfaced showing that medical examinations of the alleged rape victim in 1949 revealed no evidence of assault. Surviving family members of the Groveland Four have since launched efforts to secure exonerations and an apology from the State of Florida.

Apr 9 1951

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.”
Ernesto Che Guevara

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
1 Peter 4:1–6

“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”
Marcus Garvey

After spending a week on the road speaking and engaging other leaders about our current state of existence as church leaders and advocates for Prop 47 and housing for formerly incarcerated populous I have come to the conclusion that It’s sin to deprive a human being of the necessities of life. I doubly find it horrific that our churches are not relevant in this work. Here are some of the sinful issues ahead of us to combat and boycott.

  1. Educational and Vocational Barriers As a group, previously incarcerated persons have low levels of education and face many barriers in regards to their employability. The Urban Institute reports the following information on soon-to-bereleased inmates from state prisons: ƒ 70% are high school dropouts ƒ 50% are functionally illiterate ƒ 19% have less than eight years of education ƒ The pre-incarceration employment rates of offenders are lower than the employment rates of the general U.S. population
  2. Mental and Physical Health Issues Previously incarcerated persons struggle with a wide range of mental and physical health problems. A 2003 Urban Institute paper reported the following statistics on male previously incarcerated persons: ƒ 75% have substance abuse problems ƒ 21% report having a disability that limits their ability to work ƒ 18% have Hepatitis C ƒ 16% report mental illness ƒ 12% report a vision or hearing problem ƒ 7% have a tuberculosis infection 4% show symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome related to incarceration ƒ 2-3% are HIV-positive or have AIDS
  3. Reclassification for Prop 47 needs funding
  4. Voter restoration of rights

I for one will give my life to advocate and educate the system and the oppressed about the goodness of our Lord and what He desires of us as a people to drive positive change in a sinful legislative body of government and policy makers in America. I will partner with ICUC- PICO and a coalition of churches to be a safe environment that desire to recycle this populous of people into humanity again as productive family, community oriented people.

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Be Prepared by Recognizing that God Will Bring Justice at the Judgment

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 4:5

Here in this passage, Peter encourages the believers who were suffering abuse by saying that ultimately the world will give an account to God for their sins, which in this context includes their persecution of believers. The reality of the world’s perceived prosperity and sometimes persecution of the righteous, has confused and frustrated many including some biblical writers. Look at what Asaph said:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied thearrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression…
Psalms 73:2–8

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin (emphasis mine).
Psalms 73: 13–18

Asaph said this reality plagued him. He couldn’t understand it. It made him question if he should remain holy. Was it really worth practicing godliness when those who did not prospered? No doubt, these believers were also being tempted to doubt God and possibly compromise to be like the world.

Peter encourages them with the same truth that comforted Asaph. It may seem like the world is carefree as they enjoy sin and mock the righteous, but the ground they stand on is slippery(Ps 73:18). It’s not stable, and their final destiny is ruin. This is the same truth that Peter comforts the believers with. He says in 1 Peter 4:5: “But they will have to give account to himwho is ready to judge the living and the dead” (emphasis mine). Not only will God judge them for their sin, but he will specifically judge them for their abuse of the righteous. Their mocking, their cursing, their murder will all be held accountable by God. This should comfort the believer in a world where it looks like there is no justice, where things are not right.

This concept of God’s righteous judgment should enable believers to be prepared to suffer for righteousness’ sake. In fact, Paul encourages believers who are suffering with the same truth in Romans 12:19-21,

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for Gods wrath, for it is written: It is mineto avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (emphasis mine).

Paul says the believer can return good for evil in part because God will take revenge. He is the one who will repay the world with judgment for their mistreatment of believers. This may not always happen during one’s life time, but it surely will happen at the judgment, if they will not repent.

It is for this reason that the believer can serve and bless because revenge is not the lot of the believer. It is reserved for God. In fact Paul, also, encouraged the suffering saints in Thessalonica with God’s justice. Look at what he says:

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you (emphasis mine).
2 Thessalonians 1:4–6

Many times, believers are tempted to get angry at God. They were mistreated; they were stepped over for a promotion; they were slandered. Many times they want to get mad at God and mad at people. The believer must understand this: God does not pay his accounts on our time schedule. Ultimately, this will take place at the judgment.

Listen to the story about this farm community:

The story is told of a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong disdain for “religious” things. As he plowed his field on Sunday morning, he would shake his fist at the church people who passed by on their way to worship. October came and the farmer had his finest crop ever––the best in the entire county. When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local paper which belittled the Christians for their faith in God. Near the end of his diatribe he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.” The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite. In the next edition of the town paper, a small ad appeared. It read simply, “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

Our God may also choose to not settle accounts until the judgment. Let us not be discouraged now, but live in hope. Our God will make all things right.

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DECEMBER 31st, 1952

First Year in 70 Years With No Reported Lynchings in the United States

On December 31, 1952, for the first time in seventy years, a full year passed with no recorded incidents of lynching. Defined as open, non-judicial murders carried out by mobs, lynching befell people of many backgrounds in the United States but was a frequent tool of racial terror used against black Americans to enforce and maintain white supremacy.

Prior to 1881, reliable lynching statistics were not recorded. But the Chicago Tribune, the NAACP, and the Tuskegee Institute began keeping independent records of lynchings as early as 1882. As of 1952, these authorities reported that 4726 persons had been lynched in the United States over the prior seventy years and 3431 of them were African American. During some years in American history it was not unusual for all lynching victims to be African American.

Lynching in the United States was most common in the later decades of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century, during post-reconstruction efforts to re-establish a racial hierarchy that subordinated and oppressed black people. Before the lynching-free year of 1952, annual lynching statistics were exhibiting significant reductions. Between 1943 and 1951 there were twenty-one lynchings reported nationwide, compared to 597 between 1913 and 1922. After 1952, the number of lynching incidents recorded annually continued to be zero or very low and the tracking of lynchings officially ended in 1968.

Though the diminished frequency of lynching signaled by the 1952 report was encouraging, the Tuskegee Institute warned that year that “other patterns of violence” were emerging, replacing lynchings with legalized acts of racialized inhumanity like executions, as well as more anonymous acts of violence such as bombings, arson, and beatings. Similarly, a 1953 editorial in the Times Daily of Florence, Alabama, noted that, though the decline in lynching was good news, the proliferation of anti-civil rights bombings demonstrated the South’s continued need for “education in human relations.”

Nooses

MAY 17th, 1954

United States Supreme Court Declared Racial Segregation of Public Schools Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education grew out of several cases challenging racial segregation in school districts across America, filed as part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s strategy to bar the practice nationwide. Because the lawsuits addressed the same legal questions, the United States Supreme Court consolidated them under the name of a case in which lead plaintiff, Oliver Brown, sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education on behalf of his daughter, Linda.

A black public school student in Topeka, Kansas, Linda Brown lived blocks from an elementary school but was forced to travel over an hour to reach the all-black school she was designated to attend. When she tried to enroll in the closer neighborhood school, which was all-white, the Board of Education denied her request.

In the United States Supreme Court, NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall argued that segregated schools were harmful and left black children with feelings of inferiority. On May 17, 1954, the Court unanimously ruled that segregation in public education is unconstitutional, overturning the “separate but equal” doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Relying on evidence of segregated facilities’ negative psychological impact on black children, Chief Justice Earl Warren declared that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Be Prepared by Focusing on the Gospel and the Faithful Before Us

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 4:6

Remember the reason that believers can suffer for righteousness is because of their focus on the gospel and remembering the faithful saints that were persecuted before us. It is the gospel that should enable believers to suffer for righteousness as it has many martyrs throughout the history of the church. In fact, this has been one of his main themes and encouragements throughout the epistle. Remember what he said in chapter 1:

Who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord JesusChrist! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through theresurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 1:2–5

He starts off the book comforting these believers with election, being chosen by God for salvation. He says they have experienced the new birth and have an inheritance being reserved in heaven. This is a tremendous comfort for the believer in persecution. But it is also astrength that enables the believer to suffer and even die.

It is the gospel that allows the believer to take up his cross and die for Christ. He knows that heis going to heaven. This truth has enabled many believers from the beginning of the church to give their lives for Christ, since they knew they would immediately be translated into the presence of God and eventually be resurrected. Therefore, in this verse Peter comforts this church with the gospel and the testimony of previous saints who had been persecuted and now were dead. He says:

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
1 Peter 4:6

This is a debated text, but Peter seems to be saying it is because of God’s coming judgment that the gospel was preached to previous believers who are now dead. Those who responded to the gospel were judged according men in the body, which means they suffered and possibly even died for the faith. However, they now live according to God in regard to the spirit. This means that they are now in heaven, living as spirits worshiping God. We probably get a picture of this in Hebrews 12:22-23:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men,to the spirits of righteous men made perfect (emphasis mine).

The writer of Hebrews speaks of not only angels in the city of God, but of the church and the spirits of the righteous men made perfect. These believers now worship God in spirit and await the rapture of our human bodies.

Peter writes to these scattered believers and calls them take comfort in the gospel and the faithful, persecuted saints before them. If they died, they would go to heaven, just as the many suffering saints before them who are now living in the spirit. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Understanding this reality will help prepare us to suffer. The best is yet to come.

Conclusion

We are living in a time where persecution towards the church is increasing daily even in Western nations. How can the believer be prepared to suffer unjustly?

  1. Be prepared by remembering that Christ suffered.
  2. Be prepared by having the attitude of Christ—as a soldier willing to die.
  3. Be prepared by recognizing the believer’s deliverance from sin in Christ’s death.
  4. Be prepared by recognizing we no longer follow the ways of this world.
  5. Be prepared by expecting abuse and suffering from the world.
  6. Be prepared by remembering God will bring justice at the judgment.
  7. Be prepared by a focus on the gospel and the faithful before us.

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~Are “MLK Jr.” Dreams Obtainable In 2016?~

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“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Is the American Dream attainable? My intelligently pessimistic side says no. My willingly optimistic side says yes.

The more pessimistic approach is rooted in the fact more than one American Dream exists. And they mostly wither when placed against reality.

One dream, for example, is rooted in beliefs about labor and upward mobility, the dream contained in the oft-asked survey question: Do you think the American Dream — that if you work hard you’ll get ahead — still holds true, never held true or once held true but does not anymore? The best data we have suggests that over the last 40 years upward mobility has stagnated significantly. Further, this data suggests that America fares far worse than other developed nations.

Another American Dream, rooted in beliefs about racial equality, particularly along political and economic lines, is contained in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This too is under siege. The wealth gap between blacks and whites, which was already large, is growing. And if the homicides of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Tensha Anderson (among others), tell us anything it’s that black lives do not seem to matter as much as other lives.

Americans in general and African-Americans in particular then have a right to be pessimistic about the attainability of the dream, or dreams.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

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‘He would be ashamed’ to walk MLK Blvd today’

Much progress has indeed been made. As a participant in the civil rights movement, I’m proud of that progress. But as long as there is necessity for such a legal category as hate crime, the “Dream” remains unfulfilled. As long as(“DWB (“Driving While Black”) in the presence of police remains a perilous activity for many African Americans throughout our nation, the Dream remains diluted. As long as unemployment among African Americans keeps repeating the historic ratio of double the rate of unemployment among white people, the Dream remains unfulfilled. As long as polarisation of wealth and absence of equal access to economic opportunity continue to escalate and disproportionately affect African Americans, the Dream remains unfulfilled.

These are not anomalies; they are realities in America. As such, the Dream that Martin Luther King Jr brought to us remains out of reach.

Those who argue that our election of an African American president proves that racism is a thing of the past are not looking closely at the subtleties of racism. Of course, Barack Obama is living proof that progress has been made towards respect for African Americans, but consider the hatred that bubbled up as he gained momentum in the primaries.

Even Obama’s eventual running mate, Joe Biden, was scrutinised by the media over a possibly racist comment. Among the adjectives he used to describe his then opponent, Biden offered “African American” and then the word “clean”. And while he kept backpedalling, saying he meant the phrase to invoke the idea there were no skeletons in Obama’s closet, one cannot help but wonder. Would Biden or any other public servant ever describe someone like John Kerry as “white and clean?” It is doubtful.

The post-racial America it’s been suggested we achieved by Obama’s election is nowhere in sight. The truth may be that we don’t want to admit to ourselves that an African American president does not mean a society wholly accepting of all African Americans. Indeed, racism continues to fester in every American city and town. We can safely, if sadly, say that we have not fully achieved the Dream.

Those who say otherwise simply have not taken the requisite look at the underlying political ideology that powered the philosophical engine of Martin Luther King Jr. The essence of his dream for African Americans after the March on Washington was this: a United States where every person has the equal opportunity – educationally, economically, culturally and politically – to participate in our society and develop themselves to the maximum of their abilities, irrespective of the colour of their skin or ethnicity. This concept assumes that, all other things being equal, African Americans should have access to the same opportunities as whites.

But this “all other things being equal” is the lie of race relations in America. Because our country has not levelled the playing field at all. Various civil rights bills, constitutional amendments and supreme court decisions aimed at dismantling segregation in education, transportation and rental housing, have not constituted “all other things being equal”. Ours is a capitalist society, and each individual’s market power is key to how he is treated. There remains an enormous division between the races when it comes to median income, home ownership, education, life expectancy, the incarceration rate, drug use and mortality rate.

The issue at the heart of all these problems is the idea that freedom and economic opportunity are interchangeable; that freedom is economic opportunity. This is false logic. Freedom without economic opportunity is just a variant form of oppression. Further, this thinking is dangerous because it obscures the definitive criterion necessary in evaluating the realisation of Martin’s Dream for African Americans in the 21st century and beyond: wealth.

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~Be Christ Centered In 2016:Happy New Years

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“We are not as Christ-centered and cross-cherishing as we should be, because we do not ponder the truth that everything good, and everything bad that God turns for the good, was purchased by the sufferings of Christ.”

― John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ

Have you heard them yet? Scores of people talking about “New Year’s resolutions?” Have you tried making those kinds of promises to yourself, only to find that they usually never last beyond January 31st?

Shortly after becoming a Christian, I began making resolutions “before God” and declaring everything from losing weight and eating better, to reading more good books and turning off the television.

Dare I say it? They didn’t last long. What happens? How do our good intentions derail so easily? Should Christians even engage in the practice of making resolutions? We would probably all be surprised how many do not.

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Obviously, resolutions are helpful and productive when they are accompanied by heartfelt “resolve.” This is perhaps the problem that confronts too many of us — we are simply not serious enough to change. We get caught up in the moment, making some declarations we don’t really mean, and are not willing to follow through to fulfillment. But we desire to change. We sense a need to change. Every January 1st brings another opportunity to effect change. So, what happens to the change?

For centuries, January 1st has marked more than the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. This date holds an almost spiritual sense of completion (of the previous year) and expectation (of the coming year). There is a natural awareness of change at this time of year. Even those tradtional symbols of year end — the old man with the long beard, and the baby in diapers — spell newness and impending change. But how does this relate to the believer? Can we anticipate change just because of the new calendar year? Is God motivated by our calendar observances?

“For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6, NKJV). We take great comfort in knowing that the Ancient of Days never changes. The Alpha and the Omega has no beginning and no end. We rejoice in the revelation that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 12:8). Changelessness is part of the very nature of God. But change IS part of the nature of man. God has created us to change, and His revealed will for mankind changes, not because of a character flaw on His part, but because our nature requires and thrives on change.

Consider God’s revelation to Jeremiah (29:11):

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Imagine God thinking about our future! He desires us to have hope — a confident expectation of blessing and provision in the days ahead. Hope causes us to walk forward into our future with faith and anticipation, even though we don’t know every detail concerning our future.

Someone once said that if God showed us every detail of our lives, all at one time, we would sit down at that point and refuse to face another day! We were not created to contain omniscience (the quality of knowing everything) like God. So, He reveals our future to us in portions we can digest — like a loving parent feeding their child only the texture and amount of food that their child can sustain. God wisely only reveals what we can understand, perceive, and apply at that time.

Knowing this, I am intrigued by the scriptures that speak of God declaring and doing “new” things:

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
“Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
“Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’ … indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11).
Careful and thoughtful study of these scriptures show us that God is not intending to do something capricious or whimsical. He is deliberately leading each of us to specific moments of destiny with which He is already completely familiar!

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Several years ago, I listened intently to a Christian teacher ministering from Habakkuk 2:1-4 concerning living by vision, and learning to establish God-centered goals for our lives. This teacher very passionately taught that we must first discern the vision of God for our lives by taking time to hear God’s voice in prayer. From that point, as Habakkuk records, we should “write the vision and make it plain…” so that “…he may run who reads it.” The teacher taught that God’s vision is His will for our lives, and that we should write on paper what we perceive His will and destiny for us to be. We must also be careful to note that:

“the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry (forever).”

From this place of perceiving God’s will, the Christian teacher suggested that we should all begin to establish God-centered goals from His perceived will as a means of ensuring accountability and productivity. I began then to see that setting goals wasn’t about what I wanted to do, but what I believed God could do through me!

We must understand that God is sovereignly in control of our today and our tomorrow! So then, He enables us by grace to point ourselves toward the target of His perceived will for our life. With His will in mind, we can make a measurable impact in His Kingdom and significantly change our world by making goals that agree with God. What about Providence, you ask? All the time that we pursue our goals, we remain mindful that He has ultimate say in our destiny. His destiny for us doesn’t change each day. But our destiny is a journey, and our perception may become clouded by sin, doubt or ungodly assumptions. These areas must be corrected — minor course changes along the journey.

The Apostle James taught us to make plans with the qualifier “if the Lord wills” (James 4:13-17). Surely we’ve heard that response from someone asked about their plans: “Well, Lord willing, and if the creek don’t rise!” We must understandably make sufficient room in our goals and objectives for God’s course changes and adjustments. But the sovereignty of God is no excuse for human inactivity, procrastination, or irresponsibility. God is much bigger and mightier than our missteps. Wouldn’t we all rather be pursuing a spiritual goal that might need adjustment, than to be doing nothing for the Kingdom out of fear that we might miss His will?

Will this year be full of spiritual milestones and accomplishments, or another year of “shoulda-coulda-woulda?” Someone once said that “Goals are the rudder of our lives, and God’s wisdom is the wind filling the sails.” I suggest that our year will be more fulfilling if we are able to recognize significant Kingdom exploits (Daniel 11:32) made by setting godly goals! If we will challenge our hearts to trust in what we perceive God’s will to be for our lives, and write down several motivating thoughts concerning His will, in January 2016 we will sense His peace and pleasure.

We are not just spiritual or just physical beings. Our goals should encompass many areas of our life: spiritual, physical, mental, social relationships, and stewardship. Now, formulate one or two goal statements for each area and write them in the your prayer journal.

Remember to make your goals S.M.A.R.T. — Specific (not just lose weight, but instead “lose 35 pounds”); Measurable (can you tangibly show you met the goal?); Attainable (“bring about world peace” is WAY too lofty!); Realistic (“never eat chocolate again” — gallant thought, but better to say limit it to one day a week!); and Timely (set a date — not too soon, and not too late — but time constraints are helpful to bring about change).

Ready to set a goal focus for this year? Make this faith declaration with me:

“In agreement with God’s Word that says God intends to give me ‘a future and a hope,’ I offer these goals and plans to Him as a gift from my heart. I challenge myself to see exploits done for His Kingdom through my life. I will ‘redeem the time’ during this next year. I fully understand that all goals are subject to change and to the perfect will of God. By His help these dreams of my heart shall become reality!”

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.
The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
― Ezra Taft Benson

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~“Who despises the day of small things?~

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SMALL BEGINNINGS! Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (The seven lamps represent the eyes of the LORD that search all around the world (Zechariah 4:10)).

“You cannot expect victory and plan for defeat.”
Joel Osteen

Occasionally we all wonder if our efforts are making a difference. It is easy to grow discouraged thinking that our acts of kindness are insignificant. Many Americans suffer from depression because they do not get a sense of the significance from their lives. People need to know that what they are doing counts.
The Israelites faced a similar problem when they returned from Babylonian captivity and began to rebuild Jerusalem as they fell victim to despondency. The people were discouraged because their numbers were small and their efforts seemed feeble when compared with the accomplishments of their ancestors. When they started to rebuild the temple they only saw how meager their contributions would be and stopped working. Paul once wrote to the Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal. 6:9,10)

Quote: God can do a lot with a little. A little is a lot with God.

Jesus fed five thousand people with five small barley loaves and two small fish. (John 6:10,11) Little becomes much when we place it in the Master’s hand.

1. FAITH GIVES MEANING TO SMALL ACTS OF SERVICE. Trust in God means that we believe God can accomplish everything He wants through our lives no matter how insignificant it might appear in the eyes of people. Many people will not see the greater works that God has been working through their small acts of love until they get to heaven. The Lord is able to take the seeds of small acts of love, faith and truth telling and multiply them significantly. Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20) Faith helps us see how God can use small faith to accomplish much for His purposes. Do not underestimate the power of a little act of faith to move away huge obstacles to progress.
2. FAITHFULNESS IN SMALL THINGS LEADS TO PROMOTIONS. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10) People who fail to be trustworthy in showing love, kindness and service in little opportunities will not be give greater responsibilities in the future. Whoever serves God and does good with the little time, talents and resources they have, will be entrusted with more blessings. The person who hides their talents, resources or service abilities will never improve and grow stagnant. How can we expect God to enrich us with more if we do not serve him with what He has already given? One man put it best, “Use it or lose it.”
3. GREAT THINGS COME FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” (Mark 4:30-32) Plant seeds of kindness, truth and love where you ever you go. Give people hope that their lives are getting better in the Lord and it will buoys their outlook on a whole range of issues. Allow the Lord to use your seeds to expand His kingdom and righteousness in qualitative and quantitative ways. The work of grace is always small in the beginning but it becomes great in the end. The seeds of the gospel may appear to be insignificant but will bring a harvest of righteousness. The Psalmist wrote, “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Psa. 126:6)
4. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE ANY INDIVIDUAL. It is just like Jesus to take the small, seemingly insignificant and weak people of the world and use them in a mighty way. Paul wrote, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Cor. 1:26-29) The Lord does not see as men see. He is a better judge than we are of what instruments will best serve His purpose. Hudson Taylor was once asked, “Why do you think God chose you to start China Inland Mission. He replied, “God picked out somebody who was so weak that apart from Him I knew I could do nothing.” God despises the proud but gives grace to the humble of heart. He uses the people who realize they are small so that apart from His all-sufficient grace we are inadequate. Never overlook any person who might be used of God in a great way for His greater purposes. Jesus picked out little Zacchaeus and said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9,10) Jesus uses anyone who realizes they are need Him every moment of every day.
5. GOD MULTIPLIES OUR LITTLE DONATIONS. Jesus said of the widow’s two small copper coin offering. “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she has out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) Never underestimate how the Lord will multiply every gift you give for the advancement of His kingdom and righteousness around the world. God is far better able to multiply your giving than any mutual fund, certificate of deposit or hedge fund.
6. DO NOT OVERLOOK CHILDREN OR THE NEGLECTED. Luke wrote, “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt. 19:13,14) 85% of the people who come to Christ do so before the age of eighteen. 72% of the people whose parents bring them to church tend to become believers. We should not despise the little hearts, which look to us for knowledge and guidance. God knows what each child is capable of accomplishing if someone will simply invest a little love, truth and faith in them. What part will you play in setting that Child’s feet upon the path of Christ likeness?
7. DO NOT OVERLOOK ANY PEOPLE GROUP. Jesus went to one Samaritan woman in the village of Sychar and shared the gospel. Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10) Later the woman was used of God to tell everyone in her village about Jesus Christ. God continues to use that little encounter to impact the world in showing others how to share the gospel across cultures. There are still 6000 people groups in the world to be reached with the gospel. Adopt a people group and begin to pray and ask the Lord how He can use you and your church to reach one person, one village or one people group with the gospel.
8. CONSIDER HOW GOD MULTIPLIES A LITTLE CUP OF COLD WATER. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40) What can you accomplish with one visit, one cup of water, or one meal? You can save your soul.
9. FOLLOW THE FAITH OF PEOPLE LIKE ABRAHAM. Paul wrote, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Rom. 4:20,21) Abraham did not know how much the Lord would use his faith to multiply His blessings to the nations. There are still about 5.4 billion people on the planet who still need to experience the blessings of God through saving faith in Jesus Christ. Will you allow God to use your faith to help reach them through your serving, giving and loving acts?
10. GOD USES THE FAITHFUL FEW TO ACCOMPLISH MUCH. Do you remember the Old Testament story of Gideon? Gideon led the army of Israel to defeat the Midianites who had invaded Israel with an army of 135,000. When God called Gideon to do this He didn’t pat Gideon on the back and say…. Now Gideon you can do this…YOU must believe in yourself…YOU CAN DO THIS! No.in fact God commanded Gideon to reduce his army from 32,000 to a mere 300. In so doing, Gideon was forced to trust in God…he was led from self-confidence to develop God-confidence. You see…You cannot be too small for God to use…but you can be too big. God always works in a powerful way in the lives of weak people. Allow the Lord to use your faithful few friends, disciples and companions to do great things through you. Jesus said, “He who believes in me the works that I do will. Will he do also and greater works than these will He do because I go to the Father. And you can ask anything in my name and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

Conclusion: Do not wait until you think an act of kindness is significant before serving someone. Nobody is able to determine if his or her actions  will make a great or small impact on another. Prov. 21:31 says, “A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory is in the hands of the Lord.” Let God use you in great ways, but realize He is the one who gives ultimate success, fruit and blessings. If you wait until you are asked to do something great, you might never be given these lofty opportunities. Be faithful in little things and God will make you faithful over much. (Luke 16:10) You may not think you are accomplishing a whole lot today but be like a farmer and realize that seeds planted today will yield a thirty, sixty and hundredfold harvest as God blesses.

~Don’t Despise The Small Victories In Life~

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“Winning isn’t everything–but wanting to win is.”
Vince Lombardi

As my teen daughter was learning to drive, I winced in the passenger seat beside her when she ran over a curb and the car lurched toward a mailbox. I could easily have panicked in that moment, especially since I had struggled with anxiety for years. But something wonderful happened instead: I stayed calm! No yelling, no hyperventilating, no grabbing the steering wheel or frantically trying to reach the brake with my foot – I simply said a silent prayer and watched my daughter stop the car, then safely back up onto the road.

“Dad, are you okay?” she asked, staring at me with a shocked expression on her face.

“Oh, sure,” I replied. “That was just a bump. You’re not injured either, are you?”

Now my daughter was laughing. “Injured? That’s not what I mean. I’m asking what’s up, since you’re not freaking out about what just happened. You didn’t even get emotional when we hit the curb. What’s wrong with you, Dad?”

Reflecting on her questions, I realized that something was actually right with me: I had successfully overcome my long struggle with anxiety enough to respond to stress with peace – peace that Jesus had given me. I had achieved a spiritual victory! The victory reflected just one small decision to trust God in an ordinary moment, but it represented the larger accomplishment of overall spiritual growth in my life. Now I had enough self-control to choose faith over anxiety – and that was enough to pique my daughter’s curiosity.

Every small victory in your journey of faith is significant to God because it helps you become the person God intends you to become. When you recognize those victories in your life, you’ll be encouraged to keep growing closer to God, reaching your full potential in the process. Here are five ways to recognize small victories in your faith journey:

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1. You focus your mind away from what’s negative and toward what’s positive.The more you follow the advice in Philippians 4:8 to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… excellent or praiseworthy”, the more you’ll grow spiritually because the way you think determines the direction of your life. Thoughts turn into attitudes, which lead to actions, which over time shape the kind person you become. The Holy Spirit will renew your mind as you make an effort to change your thinking through spiritual disciplines like prayer, and reading and meditating on the Bible’s words. You’ll know that your mind is being transformed when you notice yourself moving away from negative thoughts (such as those that are disrespectful or unloving to people, or those that fuel an addiction to something that’s unhealthy) while moving toward positive thoughts that help you understand and appreciate more about God’s perspective. So, for example, if you notice that you’re tempted to think about men or women in a sinful way (reducing them to sex objects) when an ad for pornography pops up on your computer, you can celebrate a victory when you intentionally redirect your thinking toward God’s perspective (that men and women should be loved, not used) and that change of mind helps you overcome the temptation to sin.

2. You’re able to be peaceful in stressful situations. Whenever you choose to trust God rather than panic in stressful circumstances, that’s evidence that your faith in God has deepened. You can always count on Jesus to give you peace when you need it. He promises in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” An argument with your spouse, a broken down car, an unexpected bill, or a crisis with your child will still concern you but not overwhelm you. When you notice that you’re at peace in the midst of stress, it’s thanks to the Holy Spirit’s work in your life.

3. You treat difficult people with kindness. When you interact with people who are annoying or mean and catch yourself being kind to them, that’s a sign of spiritual progress. You speak calmly to a person who is used to hearing you yell at him or her. You refrain from sending an angry email you’re tempted to send. You invite a relative you don’t like to a family gathering rather than excluding him or her. You eat lunch with a coworker who makes you uncomfortable and learn more about his or her life story. You devote time and energy to helping people in need who you’ve ignored in the past – from playing with one of your children who is acting out for attention to doing some yard work for an elderly neighbor who isn’t particularly friendly but needs help. Whenever someone hurts or offends you, you choose to forgive that person, with God’s help, rather than hold a grudge or seek revenge.

4. You pray because you want to pray, not because you feel like you have to pray. Check your motives. Are you praying out of routine or obligation, such as saying grace at meals by force of habit or praying for people you know simply because you would feel guilty if you didn’t? Or, are you motivated to pray because you enjoy communicating with God? Whenever you notice that you’re eager to express your thoughts and feelings to God, whenever you look forward to listening to God’s messages to you during prayer – that’s when you know that you’re growing spiritually. God accepts any prayer from you gratefully, but he is especially pleased when you truly want to pray because you love him. Love is what motivates God to spend time in prayer with you. Love is what God hopes will motivate you to spend time in prayer with him.

5. You embrace grace. Grace empowers you to keep moving forward in your journey with God even when you go through setbacks along the way. The Bible promises in Romans 8:1 that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Keeping that truth in mind will help you realize that experiencing failure doesn’t mean that you yourself are a failure. Rather than feeling ashamed when you fail and moving away from God in your shame, you reach out to God for grace. You’re confident that God loves you unconditionally, so instead of giving up after making mistakes, you ask him to show you what you can learn from your mistakes – and as you learn, you will grow closer to God.

Every small victory you notice in your journey of faith is worth celebrating, because it moves your life forward in the right direction. The more you recognize those victories, the more your faith can grow in the God who notices and rejoices along with you!

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~I Forgive You In Jesus Name~

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“The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.”
Kent M. Keith, The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council

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Forgiving Yourself

Forgiving Yourself – A Belief System
Forgiving yourself is essential. There is a tendency in all of us to hold ourselves more accountable than we do others. Perhaps you have been one who can justify forgiving others, even for a heinous offense, yet you find no justification for forgiving yourself for an equal or lesser offense. Perhaps you believe that forgiving yourself is not even a consideration because you think you must hold yourself in a state of constant remembrance, lest you forget. Perhaps you believe there is a price, some form of life-long penance that you must pay.

Forgiving Yourself – The Divine Example
Forgiving yourself is not specifically addressed in the Bible, but there are principles regarding forgiveness that should be applied. For example, when God forgives us, it states that He remembers our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34). This does not mean that our all-knowing Father God forgets, but rather, because He forgives us, He chooses not to bring up our sin in a negative way. Peter said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Applying “no partiality” to the issues of forgiveness, God does not choose to forgive one person and not another. He forgives everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. Applying His “no partiality” standards to ourselves, it is just as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive others. return-to-me

Forgiving yourself is not about forgetting. It is about not bringing the offense up to yourself in negative ways. Forgiving yourself is simply letting go of what you are holding against yourself so that you can move on with God. If God has moved on, shouldn’t we do the same? Philippians 4:9 states that we are to put into practice those things that we have learned from God and from His Word. To continue to rehearse in our thoughts the events of our transgression, opposes Philippians 4:8 which tells us to dwell on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

Forgiving Yourself – Personal Action
Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” The energy it takes to harbor anger, hatred, and resentment towards yourself is exhaustive. Every bit of energy we give to negative activities and dwelling on regrets, robs us of the energy we need to become the person God wants us to be.

Life is full of choices and every choice we make will either take us in a positive, life-giving direction or rob us of the opportunity to be a life-giving individual. Forgiving ourselves does not let us off the hook, it does not justify what we have done, and it is not a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is a choice that takes courage and strength, and it gives us the opportunity to become an overcomer rather than remaining a victim of our own scorn.

If you do not forgive yourself of past sins, it is a form of pride. Whenever we enact a different set of rules, a higher set of standards for ourself over others, that is pride. When we can find it within ourself to forgive others, but not ourselves, we are saying that we are less capable of making a poor decision than others. We are somehow more intuitive, wiser, more insightful, more careful than others, and therefore, we are without excuse and should not forgive ourselves. When we reject the forgiveness extended to us by God and others, when we refuse to forgive ourselves, what we are doing is setting ourselves above others and that is pride! Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Unforgiveness of oneself will bring self-destruction, a haughty spirit, and a fall. Christian forgiveness will bring peace.

Forgiving Yourself – Helping Others and Yourself
Forgiving yourself is also important for those in your sphere of influence. It is a well-known fact that hurting people hurt others. The longer you avoid forgiving yourself, the longer you allow yourself to harbor the feelings that you deserve to suffer for what you did, the more explosive you will become and, therefore, the more apt you are to hurt others.

The reality is that you cannot change what has happened. You cannot restore lives to where they were before the event. However, you can make a difference in the lives of others. You can give back some of what you have taken away by finding a different place to invest your time and compassion. Forgive yourself and let the healing begin!

Forgiving yourself will change the direction of your life. Consider the following prayer. Read quietly through the following declaration and then read it aloud. Or perhaps you would like to use your own words. Whichever you do, give voice to it. You need to hear yourself forgive yourself! There is great power in the spoken word!

Dear Heavenly Father,  In the matchless name of Jesus, I understand that there is nothing to gain by holding myself in unforgiveness and there is everything to gain by releasing myself from unforgiveness and beginning the process of healing. I want to move forward and make a positive difference in the future. I confess the ungodly accountability, self-abasement, and the vows I have made to never forgive myself. Because Jesus died for my sins, I choose to forgive myself–to no longer punish myself and be angry with myself. I forgive myself for letting this hurt control me and for hurting others out of my hurt. I repent of this behavior and my attitude. I ask for Your forgiveness and healing. God,  thank you for helping me to NEVER again retain unforgiveness of myself or others. Thank you for loving me and for Your grace to move forward with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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~Your Life Is the Best Christmas Gift~

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“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” | Lou Holtz

“Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.” | Langston Hughes

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“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.” | William W. Purkey

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” | Mahatma Gandhi

A Sunday school teacher once asked her class of children: “What is Christmas a time for?” Many of the kids gave the usual answers—Jesus’ birthday, a time of joy… but one child responded it was “a time for sportsmanship, because you don’t always get everything you want.”

Everybody gets gifts they really don’t want during this season and several years ago “USA Today” conducted a survey among adults to find out what they do with that not-quite-right holiday gift:
– 31%: Keep it
– 30%: Hide it
– 13%: Toss it
– 12%: Give it away
– 6%: Return it
Every once in awhile, everyone receives gifts that they’re really not sure that they want.

In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey had a gift that he wasn’t sure he wanted. His gift was the gift of life. And his life had seemingly fallen apart all around him. He just knew he was going to lose his business, his livelihood. He faced prison for something he hadn’t done. And as a result of all this… his family faced shame and poverty.

In desperation, he pleads with his arch-enemy (Mr. Potter) for a loan on his life insurance. Potter gleefully observes “George, you’re worth more dead than alive!”

And thus, George Bailey decides that his only solution is to throw himself off the bridge into the frigid waters below and at least supply his family with the money from his life insurance.

But God steps in and an angel is sent to earth to stop George Bailey before he can take his life.
But how do you convince a man that the gift he wants to throw away is in reality far too valuable to be destroyed?
The angel’s solution: to grant George Bailey’s wish and show him what life would’ve been like if he’d never been born. So, as George tries to get back to his home, he finds that…
• the town he’d worked so hard to build up and protect had become a den of iniquity and evil
• the pharmacist – who George saved from a tragic mistake – has become the town drunk
• his brother Harry whom he’d saved from falling thru the ice, dies because George wasn’t there to save him and the hundreds of men died that Harry would have saved during the war, because Harry wasn’t there to save them.
• and the beautiful woman he’d married and had had such wonderful children with ended up becoming a wretched, dejected and lonely spinster.

George Bailey finally understood how wonderful his life had been because he was allowed to see how much would have been lost if he had never been born. That – which he’d been tempted to throw away – he came to realize was too valuable to lose.

I. Here in Ephesians 2, Paul is writing to Christians who had been tempted to throw away their gift as well.

Before they’d become Christians, these Ephesians had been
• Gentiles
• Pagans
• dead in their transgressions and sins, (Ephesians 2:1)
• and objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3)

But, all that had changed, because “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4b-5)

But, now, False Teachers had come to town telling the Ephesians that what God had done through Jesus Christ wasn’t enough. They were teaching that it didn’t really matter that Jesus had been born.
The Ephesians were being told they needed to be circumcised according to the law of Moses.
To be acceptable to God (said the false teachers) they needed something Jesus couldn’t supply.
In essence these false teachers were saying it would be just as well as if Jesus had been born. Jesus hadn’t supplied anything that the Law couldn’t give.

In order to counter this vicious teaching, Paul decided to remind the Ephesians what they’d been like before Jesus had come into their lives. His objective was to teach them what would have happened if Jesus had not been born.

II. What would it have been like if Jesus had never been born?

Paul answers that question from the very outset. He tells the Ephesians they had once been objects of wrath and dead in their sins. AND if Jesus had never been born… they’d still be objects of wrath and dead in their sins.

BUT… what if they’d become Jews?
What if they had become circumcised and become part of the nation of Israel?
What if they went to the Temple every week and offered blood sacrifices to God for their sins?
What if… by faith… they lived as best they could according to the Law of Moses?
Wouldn’t they be acceptable to God then?
Couldn’t they have been saved from their sins?

I mean – Abraham and Isaac and Jacob…
David and Solomon and Hezekiah…
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel…

… All these men all had lived BEFORE Jesus was born. Weren’t they all saved? Well… no… they weren’t!’

Scripture DOES tell us that “Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:9) but curiously, it doesn’t tell us that he was saved.

And there’s a good reason for that… because he wasn’t. Jesus hadn’t died for his sins yet.

Hebrews 11 tells us all about the great heroes of the faith.
It mentions Abraham, … and Enoch, and Noah, and Moses and David and Samuel and whole cast of others. People of faith whom God held up for us to examine and to admire and to try to model our lives after.

Hebrews 11 then ends with these words:
“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them….” Hebrews 11:36-38

Wow!?! The World wasn’t worthy of these people. These were great and admirable people that we can look up to … and we wonder if we could ever be like them.

But then Hebrews 11:39 tells us: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”

Whoa! They hadn’t received what was promised? What could that mean?

Well, the next verse tells us…
“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:40

You see, as much faith as Abraham, and Enoch and Noah and Moses and the others had – as admirable as their lives were for us – they didn’t get what we have now received. They hadn’t received what was promised… salvation.

Why? Because Jesus hadn’t been born yet! If these Old Testament greats could have been saved without the blood of Jesus… so could we. Jesus would never have needed to have been born because we could have been justified by keeping the Law.

III. Now… that might have seemed practical for individuals who aren’t “bad” people -You know what I mean. There are folks who live all around us that we look at and think – they’re pretty nice people. I mean – if ANYBODY should be acceptable to God… they should be.

But you’ve got to understand – the whole purpose of the Law was to drive home that even “nice” people sinned and needed a sacrifice to atone for their bad thoughts their bad words and their bad actions.

Thus, in the Old Testament, every day at the Temple you’d see people lined up with their sheep and goats and bulls – nice people and people who weren’t so nice – all offering up blood sacrifices to atone for their sins. Why would “nice people” bring their offerings to the Temple? Because they realized they might be able to fool their neighbors… but they couldn’t fool God. So, even they broughtt their sacrifices to God on a regular basis.

But, like I said, trying to be justified under the Law might seem practical for individuals who weren’t bad people (the nice folks). But now… you get yourself a one of those “real sinners”… now, you’ve got a problem.

But how do you deal with people who’ve “really sinned?”

The Apostle Paul was a bona fide Israelite with a pure blood line. A Pharisee of the Pharisees, a Hebrew of Hebrews, according to the righteousness of the law – faultless (Scripture tells us).

But then… he was responsible for the murder of Stephen, the first Christian to die for the faith
And he persecuted the church and imprisoned and tortured every Christian he could find. As a result Paul wrote the following words to Timothy:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16

Paul was the worst of all sinners? Yes. And he knew it! And being a “nice guy” wasn’t going to change that. Being a nice guy wasn’t going to bring Stephen back from the dead. Or heal the damage he’d done to scores of Christian lives.
• The only thing that was going to change his life
• The only power that would salvage his soul
was the blood of Jesus Christ
TO PAUL – it mattered that Jesus had been born.

IV. And so Paul pleads with these Ephesian Christians to remember what their lives were like before Jesus was “born” into their lives.

He says:
“…remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2:11-12

Before Jesus had been born into their lives
They didn’t have a relationship with God
They had no promises from God
AND they had no hope

But a few verses later, Paul wrote:
“(Jesus) came and preached peace to you…” Ephesians 2:17

You see – without Jesus, there is no real peace to be had in this world. How do I know that?

ILLUS: Christmas time is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill. And with Jesus it can be. But what if you have Christmas with all it’s gaiety and excitement… without Jesus?

• Did you know statistics tell us that December is the time of year when murder and robbery reach their highest peak in the US?
• Did you know that the Christmas season ranks just behind Memorial Day weekend in the number of car wrecks on the highway?
• Did you realize that the suicide rate will begin its annual climb until it peaks out at what some call the “big downer” of New Years Eve?

Why would this season be like that? Because we have been trained since our youth to believe that this special season of the year… it’s a time of family and hope and peace and contentment and security.

But what happens is that (without Jesus) all some people see is tinsel and lights on a dead tree. They see gaily wrapped packages containing nothing of any consequence.

If Jesus isn’t at the center of this holiday season, it’s kind of like this:

ILLUS: (Gaily wrapped box – cut into the shape of a “cross” and then lightly taped back into the shape of a box with a bow on top. Cut down the sides of the box making the bottom the center with the arms spreading out in 4 directions. You’ll need to cut one of the tabs off the top and tape it to the tab across from it creating a more cross-like shape.
Open up box to reveal there’s nothing inside, but be careful not to reveal the cross shape until you’re ready)

Without Jesus in our lives, this season of the year is like getting a present that has nothing inside.
Without Jesus, Christmas offers tinsel and decorations – promising joy that can’t be delivered. It offers gaily wrapped packages that yield empty promises and broken toys

But the beauty of God’s gift of Jesus is that even into an empty life, God can give forgiveness and hope (Shape of the cross revealed at this point)

Without Jesus – Christmas is an empty holiday
But with Jesus – you can really have “a wonderful life.”

Sermons in this series: Christmas At The Movies
* Miracle on 42nd Street – Matthew 1:1-17
* How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Matthew 2:1-20
* The Santa Clause – Ephesians 4:17-5:2
* It’s A Wonderful Life – Ephesians 2:1-20

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” |  Marianne Williamson, Return to Love

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” | Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

~Why Do I feel Unworthy of being Saved?

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“The discontent and frustration that you feel is entirely your own creation.”
Stephen Richards, Think Your way to Success: Let Your Dreams Run Free

“Love is holy because it is like grace–the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.”
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Several days ago I went through a very awful thought. That thought whispered into my being and said you are not worthy of any of the grace or things God’s grace has afforded you thus far. This attack occurred after I was called by 3M corporation for a Chemical Engineering position. I was excited about this company being interested in me. I went through the interview over the phone and it was very intense because I was being hit with questions I hadn’t prepared for. All of this was spontaneous, the call and the acceptance to perform the phone interview on the spot. Thank God He’s always alive and active in my life. God did so well that I was given another phone screen by HR manager and everything was going well the salary and benefits package were all to my liking. But, when she asked me to disclose about my past, I cringed within and became frightful. My boldness left and His presence went with that fear. My ability to feel confident within Him about all things, my transparency ego left, my ability to conjugate a verb and form a powerful sentence had left me due to my knowing what the hiring practices are for ex-offenders. I forgot about Second Chance Alliance and what God was doing within me to assist others. I forgot about what God saw in me when He thought I was to die for. I forgot about how He had set me free to live within me and still have hope through every difficulty that may arise in my life. My eyes left being content and went straight to mammon ($165.000) a year offer took my eyes off the God who changed my life.

Faith is essential because it’s required for our salvation. However, even after accepting Christ, believers are to continue living by faith. Some of us may have great faith while others have only a little. But we can also be characterized by wavering faith—up one day, down the next. Genuine faith is the confident conviction that God will do what He promised. However, if we take our eyes off Him and start looking at our circumstances, our confidence in Him could start to wobble. We will all experience situations like this because the Lord tests our faith in order to make it stronger.

The short book of James contains practical advice for those whose faith fluctuates because of difficult circumstances (1:1-8). When we start doubting, we’re driven and tossed about like the surf of the sea. James says a doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways and should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. To be double-minded is to go back and forth in our thinking. We may begin with strong confidence in God, but as time goes by and the difficult situation continues, we may start to doubt that He will do what He’s promised. Doubting and questioning are not necessarily the same thing. Questioning is seeking to gain further information or understand whether we’re accurately us, we can live a supernatural life in His power if we’ll just obey Him. We’re called to live by faith, not fear.

We don’t see God in certain circumstances. The Lord has promised to take care of us, but it may not be in the way we want. We may think that the Lord couldn’t possibly be in the midst of a difficult or painful situation, but He is. According to Romans 8:28, He promises to work all things for our good if we love Him and are called according to His purpose. n We listen to negative counsel. When we’re trying to discern the will of God, we must be careful whom we ask for guidance. Some friends might offer to help us seek the Lord’s direction through prayer, but others may simply tell us what we want to hear or what they’d do in that situation. n We focus on the circumstances. Little problems can become huge when they dominate our thoughts. That’s why we must always consider every situation in the light of our great God. He can handle anything and everything. Worry and fretting demonstrate that we do not trust the Lord. n We may be ignorant of God’s ways. When Lazarus fell ill, Mary and Martha called for Jesus because they believed He could heal their brother. They thought they knew how God should work in the situation, but Jesus had something greater in mind. He delayed coming in order to raise Lazarus from the dead. Spiritually speaking, we must get rid of our watches and calendars because God’s timing is not ours. He alone knows what to do, and when to do it. His delays do not mean He’s forgotten us. n We might feel guilt over past sins. Sometimes we doubt that God could possibly forgive us for something we did in the past. Even after we’ve confessed it, we still carry a heavy load of guilt. The problem is one of unbelief because 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” As believers, there’s nothing we have to do to earn His forgiveness since Christ paid for all our sins on the cross. Although we may still hearing from the Lord. Doubting, on the other hand, involves believing what we think, see, or feel rather than what we know God has said. It’s natural for us to question or doubt when we’re suddenly overwhelmed by a distressing event. The Lord understands our struggle and wants us to come to Him with our pain and confusion. We may have to take time to pray, listen, and evaluate before we know what He’s saying. Sometimes God has to sift our thinking by reminding us of His truth or His past faithfulness to us in a similar situation. Why do we doubt? Even if we’ve trusted the Lord for many years, certain conditions may cause our faith to waver. n A situation goes against our human reasoning. A good example of this is Peter’s experience of walking on the water. He started out confident, but as soon as he looked away from Jesus and saw the waves, he started thinking humanly—people can’t walk on water—and his faith faltered. We are just like Peter when we know what God has said but try to add our reasoning to His commands. For instance, if we give part of our income to the Lord, it seems like we won’t have enough. But Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). Anytime we rely on our own logic, we’ll miss God’s best for our lives. n We allow feelings to overcome our faith. If the Lord calls us to do something that seems impossible or unreasonable, we can be certain that He will equip us for it. However, if we let feelings of fear, inadequacy, or unworthiness cause us to doubt His promise, we could miss the opportunity through disobedience. Because the Holy Spirit lives within have to deal with the consequences, our guilt has been removed.

We could be listening to the devil. He’s always trying to deceive us and put doubts in our minds so we won’t trust the Lord (John 8:44). How do we deal with doubts? When we face situations that cause our faith to falter, we should ask ourselves the following questions: n Where do these doubts come from? n Has God ever failed me in the past? n Didn’t the Lord promise to meet all my needs (Phil. 4:19)? n Did He give me the Holy Spirit to enable me to believe Him and do whatever He requires of me (John 16:13)? n Did He not promise to be with me at all times (Heb. 13:5)? n Is anything too difficult for God? n Will this unbelief cost me a lifetime of regret?

RESPONSE : How would you describe your current faith? Is it strong, weak, or wavering? Is anything presently causing you to doubt God? If so, what can you do to strengthen your confidence in Him? n What kinds of situations typically tempt you to doubt the Lord? What Scripture passages address these issues? n Have you ever faced a fork in the road that determined your future? If so, did you believe God or allow your reasoning or feelings to govern your choice? What happened as a result of your obedience or disobedience?

~I Smell Feet~

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You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics looks so petty.

Edgar Mitchell

John 13:6-10

Aaron Pratt
In the Upper Room
In Jerusalem

The disciples gather with Jesus for their final meal. They are all there-James and John, Judas, Peter, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon the Zealot, and all the rest. Reclining around the low table, they chatter in a nervous tone. The men know that something is up. Jesus seems pensive and quiet. He talks, but it seems as if he has something on his mind, and indeed he does. Jesus, as he eats that meal, knows that before long Judas will come with a kiss, the Roman soldiers will come to arrest him, and soon he will stand before Caiaphas and Herod and Pilate. In less than twelve hours he will be hanging on a cross. The conversation goes on back and forth and Jesus listens.

Suddenly he stands up, takes off his tunic, and wraps a towel around his waist. Taking a basin of water, he goes to the end of the table and kneels down. Without a word he takes the feet of one of the disciples, brushes the dirt off, and washes them with water, one foot at a time. When he is finished, he takes the towel and wipes the feet dry. He goes to the next one and does the same thing. In the room there is silence. No one dares to speak. They cannot believe what Jesus is doing.

I. Foot washing was a sign of common courtesy.

What seems odd to us would not have seemed odd in the first century. Because most people wore sandals and the roads were dusty, even a short trip meant that your feet ended up dirty. The Romans had built such a fine road system (“all roads lead to Rome” was more than a slogan) that some of those roads are still in use today. After constructing a road from one city to another, they put a kind of dirt on the road that provided a smooth finish. But that dirt left indelible marks on anyone who walked on the roadway. So it was common in the ancient world to provide a basin of water for visitors to wash their feet. The custom goes back so far that the first four mentions of the word “feet” in the Bible involve washing dirty feet (Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24). In each case the water was provided so that the visitors could wash their own feet. This was simply common courtesy in those days. And in fact not to offer water for a guest to wash his feet would be a breach of etiquette and an act of unkindness to a guest.

We see this clearly in Luke 7:36-50 when Jesus visits the home of Simon the Pharisee. A pleasant dinner was interrupted when a woman who had been a prostitute comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet, weeping because of her love for him, and then drying his feet with her long hair. Simon was scandalized by this shocking, outrageous behavior. But knowing he was thinking, Jesus rebukes Simon with these stinging words:

Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet (vv. 44-46).

The woman loved much because she had been forgiven much. Simon didn’t see himself as a great sinner so he didn’t even bother to offer Jesus the signs of common courtesy:

            Water for his feet,
A kiss to welcome him,
Oil to anoint his head.

II. Foot washing was the work of slaves.

In those days you normally washed your own feet after the host offered you a basin of water. You knelt down, removed your sandals, washed your feet, and then dried them with a towel. If a man had servants, they might be delegated to do the job for you. This was the mark of a high achievement in society-that servants washed the feet of your guests. But under no circumstances would the host wash the feet of his guests. The master would never stoop so low as to wash the feet of those beneath him.

Slaves washed feet.
Masters never did.

III. Foot washing by definition is a dirty, smelly, humiliating business.

Feet stink when they are dirty.

That’s a human fact, not a cultural observation. After a long, hard day your feet have absorbed a pounding. If you wear sandals, they have been exposed to dirt everywhere. If your feet are in socks, they are likely to be sweaty. And then you have all the usual foot problems-ingrown nails, corns, calluses, cracked heels, and for some people, fungus of various kinds.

It’s no great revelation to say that most people don’t pay much attention to their feet.  And men definitely pay less attention than women. For men feet are those things attached to the bottom of our legs. We think about them when we buy shoes, and we think about them when they hurt, but that’s about it. Lots of men go a lifetime without having a pedicure. For women it’s a different matter. But still, most of us don’t think much about our feet unless they’re bothering us.

Have you ever tried to wash someone’s feet at the end of a long, hot day? Have you ever tried to wash somebody‘s feet when they are covered with grime and sweat? Have you ever put your face right down next to an ingrown toenail? It’s not an easy thing to do. Some groups observe foot washing as a church ordinance. I have no objection whatsoever to that practice and in fact think it can be a beautiful remembrance of that night in the Upper Room. But if you know you’re going to a foot washing service, what do you first? You wash your feet! That’s what I would do. We just naturally do that because we don’t want someone having to wash our dirty, smelly feet.

But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

IV. Feet represent the whole body.

This may not be apparent at first, but think about it. Your feet carry an enormous load. Did you know that the average person walks the equivalent of three times around the earth in a life time? And the foot itself is a complex mechanism made up of 23 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles and tendons. Whether you know it or not, your feet represent all of you. After all, wherever your feet go, the rest of you must follow.

If your feet hurt, your whole body hurts.
If your feet are cold, you are cold all over.
If your feet are dirty, you can’t feel clean until your wash your feet.

Your feet take you anywhere you want to go. That’s why the Bible says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)  In our bedroom we have a picture of two pairs of feet. One is masculine and a bit rough-looking. The other is small and well-manicured. The first belongs to Josh, the second to Leah. Josh took the picture of their feet standing side-by-side. The picture is engraved with the words “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” And indeed, those feet are beautiful to us.

V. Foot washing exposes the heart for all to see.

Because the feet are a humble part of the body, washing them touches us deeply and reveals our truest feelings. That’s why Peter reacted so strongly when Jesus approached him with the towel and the basin (John 13:6).  In Greek the words are even stronger than in English. The words “you” and “my” are put in an emphatic position, as if Peter is saying, “You my feet are washing?” But even that doesn’t express the shock Peter felt. “How can it be that you my Lord should wash the feet of someone like me?”  Peter felt that this was simply not right, that somehow the roles had been reversed. It violated all that he had been taught for Jesus to touch his dirty feet. This simply could not happen.

By the way, this is one of the longest conversations between Peter and Jesus. And everything Peter says is wrong. Don’t you love Peter? He swings from one extreme to another. The more Peter talks, the more confused he gets. First he is shocked (v. 6), then he flatly refuses for Jesus to wash his feet (v. 8), then he tells Jesus to wash his hands and his head too (v. 9). He speaks out of confusion born of frustration and complete misunderstanding. Nothing that Jesus says or does makes sense to him.

In verse 8 he refuses Jesus in the strongest language possible. He uses so many negatives that we can’t translate it very well into English. It means something like, “You will never, ever wash my feet, not now, not ever, absolutely not.” To which Jesus calmly replies, “Fine, but if I don’t wash your feet, you have no part with me” And that’s when Peter impulsively says, “Go ahead. Give me a bath. Wash me all over.”

God bless Peter. He doesn’t understand, but he wants Jesus to know that he loves him wants to be his disciple through and through.

That’s what I mean when I say that foot washing exposes the heart. The lack of water for foot washing exposed Simon the Pharisee’s callous indifference. Peter’s confusion reveals the depth of his dedication.  He wants to follow Jesus with clean feet, a clean heart, and with every other part of his body.

Don’t miss the fact that according to John 13:4 the meal was already underway when Jesus began washing the disciples’ feet. But the time for foot washing normally came before the meal. Why hadn’t they washed each other’s feet? Why hadn’t someone washed Jesus’ feet? Why did they start the meal with dirty feet? No doubt the events of the final few days had distracted them. But we get a greater clue from Luke 22:24, which tells us that in the Upper Room after Jesus had instituted the Lord’s Supper, “a dispute arose among them as to which of them was to be considered the greatest.” Can you imagine that? Jesus has just revealed that he would give his body and blood for them, and now they are all looking out for number one.  No wonder they didn’t wash each other’s feet. No wonder it was left to Jesus. The Master must become the servant of all so these big shots will understand who he really is and why he came to the earth.

Foot washing pictures Christ’s death on the cross.

That’s what Jesus meant when he told Peter, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (v. 7). The dirt on their feet symbolized the dirt they all carried on the inside. The outer stain from the dusty roads mirrored the inner stain of sin no washing with water could ever remove. Jesus putting on the servant’s towel pictured his willingness to die the death of a common criminal. And the water stood for his blood that cleanses from sin. The washing itself stands for the “washing of regeneration” (see Titus 3:5) whereby our sins are washed away. That’s why Jesus told Peter that his feet must be washed or he would not have any part in him (v. 8). As long as Christ is outside of us, all that he has done for the world is of no value to us. It is not enough to say, “I attend Wesley Methodist Church” or “I love to sing the hymns” or even “Pastor Brian baptized me.” It’s not enough to say, “I believe that there was a person named Jesus who lived and died 2000 years ago.” On that night in the Upper Room, it was not enough to say, “I like the idea of Jesus washing feet; I just don’t want him washing my feet.” As long as you stand apart from Christ, all the knowledge and religious experience in the world makes no difference.

Charles Spurgeon points out that Peter’s many spiritual advantages made no difference:

He was humble but humility is not enough.
He experienced miracles but miracles are not enough.
He heard Christ teach but knowledge is not enough.
He walked with Christ but merely being close to him was not enough.
He performed acts of service but doing good was not enough.
He saw Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration but spiritual experiences are not enough.
He was full of enthusiasm for Jesus but even that was not enough.

Peter must humbly submit to having his feet washed by the Son of God, and he must do it even though he did not fully understand it. In the same way coming to Christ is like having our feet washed. We must come to him, dirty and unclean, embarrassed by the stain of sin we cannot remove, and we must do nothing at all while Christ does the work for us.

~Being Dark In America~

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You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.

You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having.

 

Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.

 

As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache producing; it is also that you have a destination that doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable, hasn’t happened before, and the before isn’t part of the now as the night darkens 
and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.
When you arrive in your driveway and turn off the car, you remain behind the wheel another ten minutes. You fear the night is being locked in and coded on a cellular level and want time to function as a power wash. Sitting there staring at the closed garage door you are reminded that a friend once told you there exists a medical term — John Henryism — for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure. Sherman James, the researcher who came up with the term, claimed the physiological costs were high. You hope by sitting in 
silence you are bucking the trend.

When the stranger asks, Why do you care? you just stand there staring at him. He has just referred to the boisterous teenagers in Starbucks as niggers. Hey, I am standing right here, you responded, not necessarily expecting him to turn to you.

He is holding the lidded paper cup in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. They are just being kids. Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say.

Now there you go, he responds.

The people around you have turned away from their screens. The teenagers are on pause. There I go? you ask, feeling irritation begin to rain down. Yes, and something about hearing yourself repeating this stranger’s accusation in a voice usually reserved for your partner makes you smile.

A man knocked over her son in the subway. You feel your own body wince. He’s okay, but the son of a bitch kept walking. She says she grabbed the stranger’s arm and told him to apologize: I told him to look at the boy and apologize. And yes, you want it to stop, you want the black child pushed to the ground to be seen, to be helped to his feet and be brushed off, not brushed off  by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself.

The beautiful thing is that a group of men began to stand behind me like a fleet of  bodyguards, she says, like newly found uncles and brothers.

The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.

At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?

It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.

I am so sorry, so, so sorry.

~Change the culture and Become Missional as a Church~

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Chances are you have a very well thought-through mission and vision.

And that’s fantastic.

But have you ever thoroughly thought through the culture of your organization?

Here’s why that matters:

Your mission and vision determine the what and the why of what you do.

Your culture determines how your organization feels and behaves.

And, in most cases, your culture trumps your mission and vision. Often without anyone saying a word or even realizing it, you can undo a great mission by having a terrible culture.

If you’ve ever struggled with why a compelling mission and vision haven’t taken you further, maybe it’s time to look at your culture.

The truth is simple: A bad organizational culture will kill a great organizational mission.

Yes, You’ve Left Great Missions Behind Because of a Bad Culture

You’ve already left great missions behind because of bad organizational cultures.

You went to a home design store that had the exact product you needed, but you left because the staff didn’t care or because the owner treated you poorly.

You avoid a certain location in a restaurant chain you otherwise love because the staff always get your order wrong and the restrooms are rarely clean.

You didn’t stay long at the company you first worked for after graduating, not because it wasn’t in your field (it was), but because you really didn’t like the people you worked with.

None of these problems are really mission or vision problems. At their heart, they’re cultural problems.

And if you think about it, you probably have a few places you visit regularly not because you even like the mission or vision, but because you like the culture?

Ever go to a coffee shop or favourite restaurant when you weren’t all that hungry, just to hang out? Miss your college days because you loved the people you were with? I sometimes go to my favourite bike store even when I’m not buying anything because I love the vibe and conversation (and even the smell). That’s culture.

Your problem often isn’t what you believe as an organization, it’s how you behave.

 Many churches that have a culture problem exhibit similar signs. Here are some I’ve observed.

(By the way…because culture problems are often people problems and sin problems, the phenomenon is wider than just church. So even if you don’t work in church, some of these signs might seem uncomfortably familiar.)

Here are 5 signs your culture needs to change:

1. You judge the culture around you, rather than love the people in it

For some strange reason, most of us in the church today are known for our judgment more than our love. This is almost criminal, as Jesus said that the defining hallmark of his followers should be love.

It is impossible to judge someone and love someone at the same time. Certainly, you can discern that there are issues. But to judge is to put yourself above someone. (I would cite scripture here, but I think we all know the Bible couldn’t be clearer about not judging outsiders).

Somehow we’ve flipped it. We let people on the inside off the hook and judge people outside. And then we wonder why our church isn’t growing and why our church is serially unhealthy.

Many churches aren’t growing because people judge more than they love. It’s human nature to gravitate to people who accept us (this explains everything from gangs to clubs to friendships), and I believe the point of the cross is not judgment but salvation through Christ.

If you lead a Christian church, your mission is to reach people, not judge people.

2. You don’t talk the way you talk outside of church when you’re in church

Even if you love people, someones Christians have this weird habit of behaving in ways that are just…strange.

When there is a significant gap between how you talk to people in the grocery store and how you talk to people in church, it’s a sign you might have a cultural barrier that new people will find hard to surmount.

I realize people have traditions, but sometimes these traditions get in the way of the mission. If nobody can understand what you’re saying because you speak in Christianese or some kind of insider code, well, how do you expect people to feel a sense of belonging before they read your book of code (which by the way, nobody bothered to publish).

I don’t want to have to convert people to my culture. I’d rather see them converted to Jesus.

When you need to convert people to your culture before they convert to Christianity, your mission is at risk.

3. What you think is contemporary, isn’t

Of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the most subtle and deadly. Far too many churches make a lot of changes to how they behave and declare themselves ‘contemporary’, when the truth is they just sound traditional in a slightly different way to outsiders.

If you’re trying to be a contemporary church (and I realize not everyone is), get some outside feedback as to whether people who don’t go to church really connect with your culture and style. The fact that your ‘people’ like it simply creates a self-perpetuating community.

4. You handle conflict poorly and indirectly

Conflicted churches rarely grow. And, unresolved, sustained conflict will kill almost every organization’s mission in the long run.

Ironically, churches should be the best at resolving conflict. Often, we are the worst, despite some incredible biblical instruction on how to do it.

If your church has years (or decades) of continual infighting and never resolves conflict directly, just one question: why would anyone join you?

5. You have a justification for every bit of criticism you receive.

Sometimes people love their not-very-effective culture.

Churches that are great at never changing their defective culture often have a handy justification for every suggestion for improvement that comes their way.

In fact, often that justification comes with a bit of arrogance toward the dummies who ‘just don’t get us’.

Sadly, a closed and mildly arrogant attitude will often shrink a group until it becomes a closed minded ‘us against the world’ kind of attitude. That’s too bad. Because Jesus died for the world too many church leader resist.

Caution Against Bad Advice

~ The Power of Prayer~

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Many people seem to think that their prayers don’t matter. Even people who believe in the power of prayer don’t always consider their prayers to be effective.

What is the key to effective prayer? The Bible tells us, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). A righteous person has a personal relationship with Jesus and is in right standing with God.  A righteous person seeks to obey God, yield to the direction of the Holy Spirit, and see God’s will established on this earth.

We see the effectiveness of prayer by a righteous person in the Old Testament prophet Daniel. His prayers provide a model for us to follow. Read his powerful plea to God in Daniel 9:4-19 and observe the key components of his prayer.

START WITH PRAISE

Daniel began his prayer by praising God, focusing on “the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands” (Daniel 9:4). Start your prayers with praise and thanksgiving to God.  Praise Him for His glory, power, and love. Thank Him for His daily provision in your life, your salvation, and His many blessings. Spend time just adoring God.

CONFESS YOUR SINS

Daniel confessed that Israel had sinned. He didn’t try to dismiss, justify, or sidestep the fact that Israel had made a grave error.  He didn’t make excuses to God, but took responsibility, saying, “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws” (Daniel 9:5).  When you go to God in prayer, acknowledge your sins before him.

APPEAL FOR MERCY

Daniel appealed to God’s mercy, saying, “O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn way your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem. . . . For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on our desolate sanctuary. . . . We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy” (Daniel 9:16-18). Acknowledge to God that you do not deserve His blessings, but you receive them because He is a merciful and loving God. Humble yourself before God, realizing that personal transformation and corporate revival can only come by His grace.

PETITION FOR GOD TO ACT

Daniel very specifically asked the Lord to take action: “O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name” (Daniel 9:19). Like Daniel, we are to pray that God will act in a way that brings God the greatest glory and in a way that is the most profound witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Like Daniel, we are to pray boldly and full of faith—without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). These are the prayers that God uses to move mountains.

PRAY THE WILL OF GOD

How can you be assured that you are praying for God’s will, and not your own to be done? Immerse yourself in the Word of God. As you pray for specific requests, always check them against Scripture; you can be sure God’s desires for you will never go against His Word. As you read God’s Word and study it, ask the Lord to give you a greater awareness of specific promises that He wants you to pray about and believe for.

We must pray with praise on our lips, a confession of our sin, and with a petition that God will act in the way that accomplishes His purposes and brings Him glory. Then, we must listen very closely to what God may lead us to say or do. God uses individual people to accomplish His purposes. Be willing to be used.

As you pray, never lose sight of this Truth:  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).  Continue to pray and act as God leads, knowing that at God’s appointed time, the harvest will come.

~Why is Jesus Not loved in the way He depicts Through Scripture?~

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It is erroneous to think that all Orthodox are in reality not sectarians and that all sectarians are in reality not Orthodox. Not every Orthodox in name is so in spirit, and not every sectarian in name is so in spirit, and, especially at the present time, it is possible to meet “Orthodox” who are in fact sectarians at heart: fanatic, unloving, narrow minded, persistent in human precision, not hungering or thirsting after God’s truth, but gorged with their own presumptuous truth, strictly judging others from the summit of this their imaginary truth dogmatically correct from the outside, but lacking origin in the Spirit. And, conversely, it is possible to meet a sectarian who apparently does not understand the meaning of the Orthodox worship of God in Spirit and in Truth, who doesn’t “recognize” this or that expression of ecclesiastical truth, but who in fact conceals within himself much that is truly divine, who is truly filled with love in Christ, truly a brother to his fellow man.

And the existence of such variety in Christian society does not allow a shallow approach to the problem of interfaith relations. Sectarians sin in their failure to understand Orthodoxy, but we Orthodox also do not follow our own Orthodox teachings in not understanding sectarians who are at times surprisingly fervent and pure in their persistent pursuit of the Lord towards a life in Him alone.

The narrow, arrogant, ailing reason of mankind, not transfigured in the Spirit of God, aspires identically to division and seeks a cause for it, whoever this reason might belong to – Orthodox or sectarian.

The love of Christ for us in his dying was as conscious as his suffering was intentional. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). If he was intentional in laying down his life, it was for us. It was love. “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Every step on the Calvary road meant, “I love you.”

Therefore, to feel the love of Christ in the laying down of his life, it helps to see how utterly intentional it was. Consider these five ways of seeing Christ’s intentionality in dying for us.

First, look at what Jesus said just after that violent moment when Peter tried to cleave the skull of the servant, but only cut off his ear.

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52-54)

It is one thing to say that the details of Jesus’ death were predicted in the Old Testament. But it is much more to say that Jesus himself was making his choices precisely to see to it that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.

That is what Jesus said he was doing in Matthew 26:54. “I could escape this misery, but how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” I am not choosing to take the way out that I could take because I know the Scriptures. I know what must take place. It is my choice to fulfill all that is predicted of me in the Word of God.

A second way this intentionality is seen is in the repeated expressions to go to Jerusalem–into the very jaws of the lion.

Taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)

Jesus had one all-controlling goal: to die according the Scriptures. He knew when the time was near and set his face like flint: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

A third way that we see the intentionality of Jesus to suffer for us is in the words he spoke in the mouth of Isaiah the prophet:

I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6)

I have to work hard in my imagination to keep before me what iron will this required. Humans recoil from suffering. We recoil a hundred times more from suffering that is caused by unjust, ugly, sniveling, low-down, arrogant people. At every moment of pain and indignity, Jesus chose not to do what would have been immediately just. He gave his back to the smiter. He gave his cheek to slapping. He gave his beard to plucking. He offered his face to spitting. And he was doing it for the very ones causing the pain.

A fourth way we see the intentionality of Jesus’ suffering is in the way Peter explains how this was possible. He said, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

The way Jesus handled the injustice of it all was not by saying, “Injustice doesn’t matter,” but by entrusting his cause to “him who judges justly.” God would see that justice is done. That was not Jesus’ calling at Calvary. (Nor is it our highest calling now. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord, Romans 12:19.)

The fifth and perhaps the clearest statement that Jesus makes about his own intentionality to die is in John 10:17-18:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

Jesus’ point in these words is that he is acting completely voluntarily. He is under no constraint from any mere human. Circumstances have not overtaken him. He is not being swept along in the injustice of the moment. He is in control.

Therefore, when John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16), we should feel the intensity of his love for us to the degree that we see his intentionality to suffer and die. I pray that you will feel it profoundly. And may that profound experience of being loved by Christ have this effect on you:

The love of Christ controls us . . . . He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15

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~Keep the text in Context~

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Why is context so important in studying the Bible? What is wrong with looking at verses out of context?

The main reason it is important to study the Bible in context is in order to obtain a correct understanding of the passage. Misunderstanding a portion of the Bible can lead to misapplying it in our lives as well as teaching something wrong to others. These are quite the opposite of God’s desire for our lives, which includes knowing His Word accurately, applying it in our own lives, and teaching it to others, following the example of Ezra, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

Another concern with taking the Bible out of context is the temptation to make the Bible say what we want rather than what it originally meant. Those who have taken this misguided approach have used Scripture to “prove” a wide variety of practices as “biblical.” However, a practice is only biblical if it is based on an accurate understanding of Scripture that includes studying the context surrounding a passage.

For example, some have taught that slavery was biblical since this practice can be found in the Bible. However, while it is true slavery is found in the Bible, the New Testament did not teach Christians to enslave one another. On the contrary, in Paul’s most personal letter regarding this issue, he wrote to Philemon with the intention that Philemon should free his runaway slave Onesimus (Philemon 1).

In addition, Genesis 1:27 speaks of men and women being created in God’s image. Christians are called to love neighbor as self (Mark 12:31), a practice that would certainly contradict the practice of modern slavery. Further, a close examination of slavery and servanthood in first century times shows that it often differed widely in application from modern slavery. A doulos (Greek word for servant) could have a servant of his or her own and held much responsibility. While there were certainly masters who treated their servants poorly in that time, slavery then was not practiced exactly as slavery has been in modern times. Without studying the context of biblical passages on this topic, however, past generations have used Scripture to support the most tragic of interpretations regarding the enslavement and mistreatment of people.

Scripture encourages readers to study the full counsel of God. In Acts 20:27, the apostle Paul told the elders in his presence, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Our lives are to follow this same practice of studying all of God’s Word to accurately understand its teachings and apply them to our lives. Second Timothy 2:15 is clear, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

For God So Loved the World

Someone recently submitted a comment saying in part,  “God is love PERIOD…Are you sure YOU know God?”

I had to admit, as I read the person’s comment that it was abundantly clear we didnot serve the same God.  The idol god they endorsed was someone completely alien to the Father, because their perversion of “love” does not involve obedience to God’s commands.  In this erroneous perspective, sin is of no consequence because God is love.  Holding to God’s truths are merely academics in “biblical knowledge” which has nothing to do with a Christian’s call to “show love.”  Somehow, I don’t think this is what God meant when He said that love covers a multitude of sins.  God is love, but God is also Truth.  You cannot separate the two without perverting who God is.

Christianity itself is being redefined to be about tolerance (of sin), diversity (of sin), and unity (with thosewillfully in sin).  Anyone who speaks about sin is therefore “judging” and “unloving.”  The hatred coming against those who speak against sin has indeed become palatable.

Let me say unequivocally that I am not a servant of this idol “god of love” promoted by many in the churchworld which shies away from addressing sin and uses the grace of God to promote lasciviousness.  If that makes me your enemy, so be it.

~Real Truth Is Coming Out~

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Churches today are filled with people who hold to a faith that does not save. James referred to this as a “dead faith”-meaning a mere empty profession (James 2:17, 20, 26). Paul wrote to the people in the church at Corinth to test or examine themselves to see if they were truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). As important as it was in Paul’s day, how much more important it is for people in our churches today to put their faith to the test and to make sure they have not been deceived.

But where do we start? By what criteria do we determine true from empty faith? What are the distinguishing marks of genuine saving faith? Surprisingly, there are a number of popular standards or tests that really don’t prove the genuineness of one’s faith one way or the other. So before we look at the tests that prove genuine faith, let’s take a look at some popular tests that neither prove nor disprove the genuineness of one’s faith.

Here is a list of seven conditions that do not prove or disprove the genuineness of saving faith. One can be a Christian and possess these things or one may not be a Christian at all and still possess them. While they don’t prove or disprove one’s faith, they’re important to know and understand so you will not be deceived.

Seven conditions that do not prove or disprove genuine saving faith.

1. Visible Morality

There are some people who just seem to be good people. They can be religious, moral, honest, and forthright [trustworthy] in their dealings with people. They may seem to be grateful, loving, kind and tenderhearted toward others. They have visible virtues and an external morality. The Pharisees of Jesus day rested on visible morality for their hope and yet some of Christ’s harshest words were directed at them for this very thing.

Many who possess visible morality know nothing of sincere love for God. Whatever good works they appear to possess, they know nothing of serving the true God and living for His glory. Whatever the person does or leaves undone does not involve God. They’re honest in their dealings with everyone-but God. They won’t rob anyone-but God. They’re thankful and loyal to everyone-but God. They speak contemptuously and reproachfully of no one-but God. They have good relationships with everyone-but God. They are like the rich young ruler who said, “All these things [conditions] have I kept, what do I lack?” Their focus is on visible morality, but that visible morality doesn’t necessarily mean salvation. Jesus told one of the Pharisees “you must be born again” (John 3:6), not “you must put on an external morality.” People can “clean up their act” by reformation rather than regeneration-so reformation in itself is not a mark of saving faith.

2. Intellectual Knowledge

Another condition that can be misleading is intellectual knowledge. People can possess an intellectual understanding and knowledge of the truth and yet not be saved. While the knowledge of the truth is necessary for salvation, and visible morality is a fruit of salvation, neither of these conditions by themselves translate into true saving faith. People can know all about God, all about Jesus, who He was, that He came into the world, that He died on the cross, that He rose again, that He’s coming again, and even many details about the life of Christ-and still turn their backs on Him.

That’s what the writer of Hebrews was warning against in Hebrews 6:4-6. There were people in the church who knew all about God and understood gospel truths. They even had a measure of experience with gospel truth. They’d seen the ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives-and yet knowing all of that, they stood in grave danger of turning away and rejecting Christ.

In Hebrews 10 the writer warns this kind of man that he is treading underfoot the blood of Christ by not believing what he knows to be true. There are many people who know the Scriptures but are on their way to hell! A man cannot be saved without the knowledge of the truth, but possessing that knowledge alone does not save.

3. Religious Involvement

Religious involvement is not necessarily a proof of true faith. According to Paul there are people who possess an outward form (a mere external appearance) of godliness but who have denied the power of it. They have an empty form of religion. Jesus illustrated this when He told of the virgins in Matthew 25. They waited and waited and waited for the coming of the bridegroom, who is Christ. And even though they waited a long time, when He came they didn’t go in. They had everything together except the oil in their lamps. That which was most necessary was missing. The oil is probably emblematic of the new life; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They weren’t regenerate. They had religious involvement but were not regenerate. A person can be visibly moral, know the truth, be religiously involved, and yet not possess genuine saving faith.

4. Active Ministry

It is possible to have an active and even a public ministry, and yet not possess genuine saving faith. Balaam was a prophet who turned out to be false (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Saul of Tarsus (later becoming the apostle Paul) thought he was serving God by killing Christians. Judas was a public preacher and one of the twelve disciples of Christ-but he was an apostate. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” Those whom Jesus spoke of had been involved in active and public ministry-but Jesus said he never knew them. Sobering words indeed.

5. Conviction of Sin

By itself, even conviction of sin is not a proof of salvation. Our world is filled with guilt-ridden people. Many even feel badly about their sin. Felix trembled under conviction at the preaching of the apostle Paul, but he never left his idols or turned to God (Acts 24:24-6). The Holy Spirit works to convict men of sin, righteousness, and of judgment, but many do not respond in true repentance. Some may confess their sins and even abandon the sins they feel guilty about. They say, “I don’t like living this way. I want to change.” They may amend their ways and yet fall short of genuine saving faith. That’s external reformation, not internal regeneration. No degree of conviction of sin is conclusive evidence of saving faith. Even the demons are convicted of their sins-that’s why they tremble-but they are not saved.

6. The Feeling of Assurance

Feeling like you are saved is no guarantee you are indeed saved. Someone may say, “Well, I must be a Christian because I feel that I am. I think I am one.” But that is faulty reasoning. If thinking one is a Christian is what makes one a Christian, then no one could be deceived. And then, by definition, it would not be possible to be a deceived non-Christian, and that doesn’t square with the whole point of Satan’s deception. He wants people who are not truly saved to think they are. Satan has deceived multiplied millions of religious people into thinking they are saved even though they are not. They may say to themselves, “God won’t condemn me. I feel good about myself. I have assurance. I’m ok.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.

7. A Time of Decision

So often people say things like: “Well, I know I’m a Christian, because I remember when I signed the card,” or “I remember when I prayed a prayer,” or “I remember when I walked the aisle” or “went forward in church.” A person may remember exactly when it happened and where they were when “it” happened, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Our salvation is not verified by a past moment. Many people have prayed prayers, gone forward in church services, signed cards, gone into prayer rooms, been baptized, and joined churches without ever experiencing genuine saving faith.

These are seven common conditions or tests that don’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of saving faith. What then are the marks of genuine saving faith? Are there some reliable tests from the Word of God that enable us to know for certain whether one’s faith is real? Thankfully there are at least nine biblical criteria for examining the genuineness of saving faith.

Nine conditions that prove genuine saving faith.

1. Love for God

First of all a deep and abiding love for God is one of the supreme evidences of genuine saving faith. This gets to the heart of the issue. Romans 8:7 says “the carnal mind is enmity [hostility, hatred] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Thus, if a man’s heart is at enmity with God there is no basis for assuming the presence of saving faith. Those who are truly saved love God, but those who are not truly saved resent God and His sovereignty. Internally they are rebellious toward God and His plan for their life. But the regenerate person is set to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His delight is in the infinite excellencies of God. God is the first and highest affection of his renewed soul. God has become his chief happiness and source of satisfaction. He seeks after God and thirsts for the living God.

By the way, we must be careful to distinguish the difference between that kind of true love for God that seeks His glory from the kind of self-serving love that sees God primarily as a means of personal fulfillment and gain. True saving faith doesn’t believe in Christ so that Christ will make one happy. The heart that truly loves God desires to please God and glorify Him. Jesus taught that if someone loved their father and mother more than they loved Christ, they were not worthy of Him. In Matthew 10:37-39 Jesus put it like this: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).

The question then is this: Do you love God? Do you love His nature? Do you love His glory? Do you love His name? Do you love His kingdom? Do you love His holiness? Do you love His will? Is your heart lifted when you sing His praises-because you love Him? Supreme love for God is decisive evidence of true faith.

2. Repentance from Sin

A proper love for God necessarily involves a hatred for sin that leads to repentance. That should be obvious. Who wouldn’t understand that? If we truly love someone we seek their best interests. Their well being is our greatest concern. If a man says to his wife, “I love you but I could care less what happens to you,” we would rightly question his love for her. True love seeks the highest good of its object. If we say that we love God, then we will hate whatever is an offense to Him. Sin blasphemes God. Sin curses God. Sin seeks to destroy God’s work and His kingdom. Sin killed His Son. So when someone says, “I love God, but I tolerate sin,” then there is every reason to question the genuineness of his love for God. One cannot love God without hating that which is set to destroy Him. True love for God will therefore manifest itself through confession and repentance. The man who loves God will be grieved over his sin and will want to confess it to God and forsake it.

In examining our faith we should ask: “Do I have a settled conviction concerning the evil of all sin? Does sin appear to me as the evil and bitter thing that it really is? Does conviction of sin increase in me as I walk with Christ? Do I hate it not primarily because it is ruinous to my own soul or because it is an offense to the God I love? Does the sin itself grieve me or am I only grieved over the consequences of my sin. What grieves me most-my misfortune or my sin? Do my sins appear to me as many, frequent and aggravated? Do I find myself grieved over my own sin more than the sins of others?” Genuine saving faith loves God and hates what He hates, which is sin. That attitude results in real repentance.

3. Genuine Humility

Saving faith is manifested through genuine humility. Jesus said blessed are those who are poor in spirit, and those who mourn [their sin], and those who are meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:3-6)-all marks of humility. In Matthew 18 Jesus said that “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). True saving faith comes as a little child-humble and dependent. It is not the man who is full of himself who is saved, but the man who denies himself, takes up his cross daily and follows Christ (Matthew 16:24).

In the Old Testament we see that the Lord receives those who come with a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2). James wrote: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). We must come as the prodigal son, broken and humble. Remember what he said to his father-“Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Those possessing genuine saving faith do not come boastfully to God with their religious achievements or spiritual accomplishments in hand. They come empty-handed in genuine humility.

4. Devotion to God’s Glory

True saving faith is manifested by a devotion to God’s glory. Whatever believers do, whether they eat or drink, their desire is to see God glorified. Christians do what they do because they want to bring glory to God.

Without question Christians fail in each of these areas, but the direction of a Christian’s life is to love God, hate sin, to live in humility and self-denial, recognizing his unworthiness and being devoted to the glory of God. It is not the perfection of one’s life but the direction of a life that provides evidence of regeneration.

5. Continual Prayer

Humble, submissive, believing prayer is mark of true faith. We cry “Abba, Father” because the Spirit within us prompts that cry. Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon titled, “Hypocrites are Deficient in the Duty of Secret Prayer.” It’s true. Hypocrites may pray publicly, because that’s what hypocrites want to do. Their desire is to impress people-but they are deficient in the duty of secret prayer. True believers have a personal and private prayer life with God. They regularly seek communion with God through prayer.

6. Selfless Love

An important characteristic of genuine saving faith is selfless love. James wrote, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (James 2:8). John wrote, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).

If you love God you will not only hate what offends Him, but you will love those whom He loves. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14). And why do we love God and love others? Because this is the believer’s response to His love for us. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Jesus said we will know that we are His disciples by our love for each other (John 13:35).

7. Separation from the World

Positively, believers are marked by a love for God and for fellow believers. Negatively, the Christian is characterized by the absence of love for the world. True believers are not those who are ruled by worldly affections, but their affection and devotion is toward God and His kingdom.

In 1 Corinthians 2:12 Paul wrote that “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” In 1 John 2:15 we read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15). True saving faith separates one from the pursuits of this world–not perfectly, as we all fail in these areas, but the direction of a believer’s life is upward. He feels the pull of heaven on his soul. Christians are those whom God has delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of His Son. The believer is marked by the absence of love or enslavement to the satanically controlled world system (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:13; James 4:4).

8. Spiritual Growth

True believers grow. When God begins a true work of salvation in a person, He finishes and perfects that work. Paul expressed that assurance when he wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

If you are a true Christian, you are going to be growing-and that means you are going to be more and more like Christ. Life produces itself. If you’re alive you are going to grow, there’s no other way. You’ll improve. You’ll increase. The Spirit will move you from one level of glory to the next. So examine your life. Do you see spiritual growth? Do you see the decreasing frequency of sin? Is there an increasing pattern of righteousness and devotion to God?

9. Obedience

Obedient living is not one of the optional tracks given for believers to walk. All true believers are called to a life of obedience. Jesus taught that every branch that abides in Him bears fruit (John 15:1-8). Paul wrote that believers “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). That speaks of obedience. We are saved unto the obedience of faith (see 1 Peter 1:2).

How can we know our faith is genuine? Examine your life in the light of God’s Word. Do you see these characteristics in your life? Do you have a love for God, hatred for sin, humility, devotion to God’s glory, a pattern of personal and private prayer, selfless love, separation from the world, the evidence of spiritual growth and obedience. These are the real evidences of genuine saving faith.

~God’s Trust Of Human Beings To Steward This Planet: What’s Destroying This World?~

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The environment is promoted everywhere as the great ‘Save the World’ issue, BUT the truth is we have only been focusing on the symptoms of the devastation of our world and the disintegration of society that is happening everywhere we look, not the cause, which is us humansour egocentric, competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour. And the deeper truth is, to change that behaviour and, by so doing, truly save the world, we needed to find the reconciling, redeeming and thus rehabilitating biological explanation of our seemingly-highly-imperfect so-called HUMAN CONDITION! As the author Richard Neville so accurately summarised our species’ plight: ‘we humans are locked in a race between self destruction and self discovery’

MOST WONDERFULLY, however, biology is now, at last, able to provide this long dreamed-of, exonerating and thus psychologically rehabilitating and human-race-transforming understanding of ourselves that will actually save the world! Yes, at the absolute eleventh hour for our species, the arrival of ‘self discovery’ finally and thankfully gives us the real means to defeat the threat of ‘self destruction’ and save the world! (And it should be mentioned that this explanation of our species’ deeply psychologically troubled human condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that the biologist E.O. Wilson has put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, real explanation of it.)

The reality has been that until we found the reconciling, redeeming and thus healing truthful explanation of the human condition we could hardly afford to admit that the issue even existed, let alone acknowledge that it is THE underlying, core, real question in all human life that we needed to solve if we were to save the world. Yes, are humans good or are we possibly the terrible mistake that all the evidence seems to unequivocally indicate we might be? While it’s undeniable that humans are capable of great love, we also have an unspeakable history of greed, environmental indifference, brutality, rape, torture, murder and war. Despite all our marvellous accomplishments, we humans have been the most ferocious and destructive force that has ever lived on Earthand the eternal question that we needed to answer if we were to actually save the world has been ‘why?’ Even in our everyday behaviour, why have we humans been so competitive, selfish and aggressive when clearly the ideals of life are to be the complete opposite, namely cooperative, selfless and loving? In fact, why are we so ruthlessly competitive, selfish and brutal that human life has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet?!

Unableuntil nowto truthfully answer this deepest and darkest of all questions of our seemingly-highly-imperfect, even ‘fallen’ or corrupted human condition, of are we humans fundamentally good or bad, we have used denial as our only means of coping with the whole depressing subject; so much so, in fact, that the human condition has been described as ‘the personal unspeakable’, and as ‘the black box inside of humans they can’t go near’. Indeed, the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was referring to this terrifying dilemma of the human condition when he wrote that ‘When it [our shadow] appears…it is quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil’.

Yes, the ‘face of absolute evil’ is the ‘shattering’ possibilityif we allowed our minds to think about itthat we humans might indeed be a terrible mistake!

So while the human condition has been the real, underlying issue we needed to solve if we were to exonerate and thus rehabilitate the human race and save the world, we have beenso fearful of the issue that instead of confronting it and trying to solve it we have beenpreoccupied denying and escaping it. The truth is, rather than an attempt to save the world, focusing on the environment was a way of avoiding the issue of ‘self’; it was a way of relieving ourselves of the real issue of our troubled human condition through finding a cause that made us feel good about ourselvesas the editor of Time magazine, Richard Stengel, recognised, ‘The environment became the last best cause, the ultimate guilt-free issue’ (Time mag. 31 Dec.1990).

Environmental problems are certainly real enough but the fact is, to save the world we had to resolve the issue of our less-than-ideally-behaved human condition that has been causing all the environmental issues and social problems that plague our world. Carl Jung was forever saying that ‘wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow’because he recognised that only finding understanding of our dark side could end our underlying insecurity about our fundamental goodness and worth as humans and, in so doing, make us ‘whole’. The pre-eminent philosopher Sir Laurens van der Post was making the same point when he said, ‘True love is love of the difficult and unlovable’ (Journey Into Russia, 1964, p.145) and‘Only by understanding how we were all a part of the same contemporary pattern [of wars, cruelty, greed and indifference] could we defeat those dark forces with a true understanding of their nature and origin’

The fable details the life of a fox whose pursuits are to no ends and see the world in all its complexity. Yet, he is scattered, moving on many levels, never unifying his thinking into an overall concept or his entire vision.

Hedgehogs on the other hand are narrowly focused creatures. Regardless of the complexities of the world, the hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas into simple ideas. This is where it gets interesting because anything that does not relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance — this is why when hedgehogs and foxes are pitted against one another, the hedgehog always wins!

On many levels, we can all be classified as either a hedgehog or a fox. Just like the hedgehog and the fox concept, I also like to think that there are two unique types of people in this world – people who own their passion and find a job or a business to monetize what they love. Then there are people who don’t have any
concept of thriving in a world with so much opportunity so they panic and instead try to “survive” by making a living any way necessary by doing things they don’t love.

Five Traits of Hedgehogs in Business:

  1. They know what they are deeply passionate about.
  2. They know what they can be the best in the world at.
  3. They know how to make money with their passion.
  4. They are disciplined.
  5. They are great leaders and/or know how to lead themselves.

Five Traits of Foxes in Business:

  1. They are scattered, going from one business idea to the next.
  2. They have very little discipline.
  3. They may be good leaders but their leadership style is egocentric and self-centered. They take credit for success while blaming others for failure.
  4. Their passions are not narrowly defined. They go any direction that opportunity leads.
  5. Instead of finding their passion, they find opportunity first, and then build passion second, which usually leads to feeling unfulfilled and dejected.

Did you know that less than 10% of the world’s population owns 90% of the wealth? These rare individuals could not have done it if they were foxes. Even if you’re not an Entrepreneur or someone who aspires to be an Entrepreneur someday – from self-employed to employee, they all fall into one of the two categories.

How to Discover Your Life Purpose in 5 Easy Steps:

  1. What do you enjoy doing the most? Make a list of 5-10 things that rock your world and bring a smile to your face.
  2. When you compile this list, search for jobs that are oriented around this topic. If instead of a job, you want to start a business, perhaps you can be an expert on the topic and teach others what you know and make money at the same time? (This is what I am doing now!)
  3. Ask yourself – am I really great at [whatever you chose]? If you’re not that great now, can you learn to be? If so, then you have a winner!
  4. Are there jobs related to your chosen path and does it pay well? If this is a business idea, have you got a plan to monetize it? Is there a market for your idea? The more people in the field of your interest, the better!
  5. What new skills must you learn in order to get this job or launch this business?

The Pitfalls to Avoid:

  1. If money is your biggest motivation, you will lead an unfulfilled life. However, if you can put your passion first, the money will come… Eventually.
  2. How are you increasing your tool chest? What skills are you learning that are tailored to your “chosen” profession? The more skills you have, the more valuable you’re.
  3. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. After you work so hard finding your passions, create goals and a step-by-step action plan to achieve your desires.

~ A Product of your environment~

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“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.”
Anonymous, Holy Bible: King James Version

Introduction

“Interpersonal relations” is not usually thought of as a Bible topic, but advice about dealing with other people makes up a large part of the teachings of Jesus and His apostles as well as the wisdom books of the Old Testament. Whether dealing with parents, children, spouses, family, friends, co-workers, strangers or even enemies, the Bible’s advice is spiritually sound and effective for promoting peace and harmony.

The Greatest Commandment

All of the New Testament teachings on interpersonal relations follow from Jesus’ commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was most important, He replied,

The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. (NRSV, Mark 12:26-31)

The English word “love” has many different meanings, but this “Christian love” of the Bible comes from the Greek word agape which means respect, good-will and benevolent concern for the one loved. It is deliberate, purposeful love rather than emotional or impulsive love. The King James Version of the Bible often uses the word “charity” for this kind of love.

“Love your neighbor” was not a new commandment (Leviticus 19:18), but the people of Jesus’ time had developed a rather narrow view of who should be considered a “neighbor.” In HisParable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus corrected that view and teaches us that a “neighbor” is anyone we come in contact with, regardless of race, nationality, religion or other distinctions..

Related verses: Matthew 22:34-40, Luke 10:25-28, John 13:34-35, John 15:12, Acts 20:35, Romans 13:9-10, 15:1-2, 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, 16:14, Galatians 5:14.

Self-righteousness, Arrogance, Smugness

No one is perfect; we are all sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:21-24, 1 John 1:8). If we treat people we consider to be “sinners” with scorn, or think we are better than they are, we are guilty of the sin of self-righteousness:

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.” (NLT, Luke 18:9-14)

Related verses: Proverbs 26:12, Isaiah 5:21, Matthew 9:10-13, 18:10, Luke 7:36-50, John 8:1-11, Romans 14:1, Galatians 6:1-3.

Judging, Criticizing, Condemning Others

Self-righteousness is one of the hardest sins to avoid because it is so much easier to see other people’s faults than to see our own faults. But, judgment of a person’s character must be left to God (Romans 2:1-4, James 4:11-12). Rather than look for faults in others, we should look for the good in others and try to correct the faults within ourselves. Rather than criticizing other people, we should concentrate on living holy lives, ourselves. Jesus’ comical parable of a person with a log in his eye trying to see to remove a speck from another’s eye reminds us that we probably have bigger faults within ourselves (including self-righteousness) than the faults we like to criticize in others:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (NRSV, Matthew 7:1-5)

This does not mean, however, that all sin should be ignored:

Related verses: Luke 6:37-38, 6:41-42, John 8:2-11, Romans 2:1-4, 14:10-12, 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, James 2:12-13, 4:11-12.

Humility, Humbleness

But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (NAS, Matthew 23:11-12)

An attitude of humility is the key to dealing with other people in a Biblical way. Humility or humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness and exaggerated pride. Humility is the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs of others. Why do qualities such as courtesy, patience and deference have such a prominent place in the Bible? It is because a demeanor of humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. Acting with humility does not in any way deny our own self worth. Rather, it affirms the inherent worth of all persons.

Related verses: Psalms 147:5-6, Proverbs 11:2-3, 12:16, 19:11, 22:4, 27:1-2, Matthew 5:5-9, 18:2-4, 20:25-28, Luke 14:8-11, 22:25-27, Romans 12:3, Galatians 5:26, Philippians 2:3-8,James 3:13-18, 1 Peter 5:5-6.

The Golden Rule

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV, Luke 6:31)

The Golden Rule, spoken by Jesus, is possibly the best-known quote from the Bible and is the standard Jesus set for dealing with other people. If we wish to be loved, we must give love. If we wish to be respected, we must respect all persons, even those we dislike. If we wish to be forgiven, we must also forgive. If we wish others to speak kindly of us, we must speak kindly of them and avoid gossip. If we want happy marriages, we must be faithful, forgiving and kind to our spouses. If we wish to be fulfilled in our lives, we must share generously with others.

Related verse: Matthew 7:12.

Anger, Retaliation, Holding a Grudge, Revenge

“Under the laws of Moses the rule was, ‘If you murder, you must die.’ But I have added to that rule and tell you that if you are only angry, even in your own home, you are in danger of judgment! If you call your friend an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse him, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (TLB, Matthew 5:21-22)

No one makes us angry. Anger is our own emotional response to some action or event. More often than not, our angry feelings are based on a misinterpretation of what someone said or did or on our own exaggerated sense of pride. Angry words and actions escalate hostilities and block communication rather than solve problems. Whether between parent and child, spouses, siblings, friends, or nations, expressions of anger divide us and drive us toward open hostility.

It is all too easy to react to life’s annoyances and disappointments with anger. It is far more challenging, but much better, to react with understanding and empathy. In this way, we can quickly settle disputes and avoid turning minor incidents into major battles:

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. (NRSV, James 1:19-20)

Holding a grudge can consume us with hatred, blocking out all enjoyment of life. A grudge clouds our judgment and may lead us to an act of revenge that can never be undone. The Old Testament law specified equal revenge for equal wrong: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20), but that rule was too harsh for the new age of the kingdom of God. Jesus said the right thing to do is to take no revenge at all:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (NRSV, Matthew 5:38-42)

Related verses: Leviticus 19:18, Psalms 37:7-13, Proverbs 14:29, 17:13-14, 17:27, 20:3, 20:22, 29:11, 29:22, Matthew 5:43-48, Romans 12:14-21, Ephesians 4:31-32, Colossians 3:8,1 Peter 3:8-11.

Forgiveness

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NLT, Matthew 6:14-15)

We should always be willing to forgive others and not hold any ill will against them. Holding a grudge and seeking revenge have no place in the lives of those who truly love their neighbors. Jesus calls us to remember that we are all God’s children. Just as He loves all His people and is willing to forgive their sins, we should be willing to forgive also.

Related verses: Matthew 6:12, 18:21-22, Mark 11:25, Luke 11:4, 17:3-4, Romans 12:14, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12-14.

Honesty, Gossip, Slander, Lies, Deception

A good person produces good words from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil words from an evil heart. And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak. The words you say now reflect your fate then; either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned. (NLT, Matthew 12:35-37)

The words we say or write have tremendous power for good or evil. Words can promote love and understanding or inflame prejudice and hatred. It is words that make or break marriages and other relationships. Words can make peace or make war. Our words should always show a spirit of Christian love.

A lie is any false statement made with the intent to deceive someone. We must always be honest in our dealings with other people. The Bible strongly condemns any attempt to deceive with the intent to hurt someone or gain unfair advantage:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (The Ten Commandments, NRSV, Exodus 20:16)

Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit. (NRSV, 1 Peter 3:10)

Gossip or slander is an act of hostility intended to harm someone’s reputation. We must avoid the temptation to misrepresent someone’s character or actions:

An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends. (TLB, Proverbs 16:28)

~Send The Cushite to the King~

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The Assumptions Underlying Racial Profiling
Defenders of racial profiling argue that it is a rational response to patterns of criminal behavior.

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In the context of street-level crime, this argument rests on the assumption that minorities—used in this context to refer to African Americans and Hispanics—commit most drug-related and other street-level crimes, and that many, or most, street-level criminals are in turn African Americans and Hispanics. Thus, the argument continues, it is a sensible use of law enforcement resources to target African Americans and Hispanics in this context. This assumption is false.

The empirical data presented in Chapter III (A) of this report reveal that “hit rates” (i.e., the discovery of contraband or evidence of other illegal conduct) among African Americans and Hispanics stopped and searched by the police—whether driving or walking—are lower than or similar to hit rates for Whites who are stopped and searched. These hit rate statistics render implausible any defense of racial profiling on the ground that African Americans and Hispanics commit more drug-related or other street-level crimes than Whites

Well, the problem is that the profile many people think they have of what a terrorist is doesn’t fit the reality. Actually, this individual probably does not fit the profile that most people assume is the terrorist who comes from either South Asia or an Arab country. Richard Reid didn’t fit that profile. Some of the bombers or would-be bombers in the plots that were foiled in Great Britain don’t fit the profile. And in fact, one of the things the enemy does is to deliberately recruit people who are Western in background or in appearance, so that they can slip by people who might be stereotyping.

~Advocacy and Unity~

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“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
― William Faulkner

Advocacy – a voice for the voiceless

Advocacy is a complicated word for an activity that is at the heart of ICUC and Second Chance Alliance.

I feel the marks of our mission is to – seek to transform the unjust structures of the world. It is speaking out about the injustices we see around us and giving a voice to the voiceless: those people who are at the receiving end of those unjust structures, but who are powerless and unable to change their situation. Churches often talk of this as the ‘prophetic voice’. The issue is how do we make sure that our voice is heard, and what we ask for.

Many of us act as advocates every day without thinking about it:we take friends or relatives to hospital and advocate for the kind of treatment they want when they’re too sick to speak
for themselves, we speak to a school about a family we know that is in hardship so their children can get support, or we go to an resource center or local authority to get food or other supplies for people whose homes have been flooded. Working through the Alliance we can scale up our role as advocates, co-ordinate it and make it more effective.

Last night’s event that advocated and prayed and shared hope that Governor Jerry Brown would hear our voices was one of great unity and passion. We met at 7:00 pm. at Our Lady Of Guadalupe Shrine, 2858 9th Street, Riverside..I feel our advocacy has been very effective, ICUC left prayed up and focused for the big task that awaits in Sacramento. We all want to change local decisions, that aren’t justice based, that means being heard by the local authorities, if we want to change public opinion, we need to reach the wider community, sometimes via the media.

“Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, Don’t give up the fight.”
― Bob Marley, Bob Marley – Legend

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Driving for Change-AB-953( Racial Profiling)

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I am not amazed at how God will change your whole message and how He will use a little force to drive a “BIG” idea. I am thankful for our partners ICUC and PICO who allowed us to support them as they support “Second Chance Alliance” and it’s desire to drive change within the Inland Empire.

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
― E.B. White

Hello All,
My name is Aaron Pratt and I am one of the founders of Second Chance Alliance a reentry facility that is still at vision stage.

I have been given this opportunity to support (ICUC) Inland Congregations United for Change on behalf of AB-953. I want to personally welcome you all to this life changing, relationship building and accountability voice of togetherness event.
The reason this event is so imperative is because unless we all take a look at the issue of racial profiling and make suggestive interventions to stop it we will live unfulfilled lives. Our world as we know it is without social accountability; which stands the reason Inland Congregations United for Change has arranged this press conference to lift our voices together so that Governor Brown can hear the herald of a community that desires social accountability that relies on civic engagement with law enforcement agencies throughout the Inland Empire and abroad to unite ordinary citizens and/or civil society organizations who participate directly or indirectly in exacting accountability with law enforcement.
Racial profiling was alive and well three thousand years ago. God hated it then as He does now, because He made all mankind of one blood and in his own image Acts17:26.
Racial profiling can been seen clearly in the text of old chirography 2 Samuel 18:19-21 and verse 20 tells the “TRUTH”

According to the Sentencing Projects Manual on Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System for Practitioners and Policymakers (2000) there are four key aspects to addressing racial disparity in the criminal justice system and they are as follows:
(1) Acknowledge the cumulative nature of racial disparities. The problem of racial disparity is one which builds at each stage of the criminal justice continuum from arrest through parole, rather than the result of the actions at any single stage.
2) Encourage communication across players in all decision points of the system. In order to combat unwarranted disparity, strategies are required to tackle the problem at each stage of the criminal justice system, and to do so in a coordinated way. Without a systemic approach to the problem, gains in one area may be offset by reversals in another.
3) Know that what works at one decision point may not work at others. Each decision point and component of the system requires unique strategies depending on the degree of disparity and the specific populations affected by the actions of that component.
4) Work toward systemic change. System wide change is impossible without informed criminal justice leaders who are willing and able to commit their personal and agency resources to measuring and addressing racial disparity at every stage of the criminal justice system, and as a result, for the system as a whole.

Please click this link to view our petition for hiring practices of ex-offenders-https://t.co/oN0a7fK1dC

Like us on Facebook-https://www.facebook.com/MayandAaronSecondchancealliance

If God can use anything He can use me!– Click to view..

~I See You Lord In Everything~

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“The Lord put it on my heart to talk to you”—“I did not hear back from that employer, God must not want me to have that job”—“That conversation went really well, God must have blessed it.”

Some people build their entire lives around statements such as these. Others think they should read God’s will into everything in their lives. For example, a man of this mindset has a flat tire during his commute to work. Afterward, he decides it was God’s will and tries to find the “hidden purpose” behind the event—when, in actuality, the man simply neglected to check the air pressure in his tires!

Should God be involved in where we plant a flower garden? Does He have an opinion on which auto mechanic we use for repairs? Is He directly involved in how we organize our home libraries? Or which pair of shoes we buy?

By using a number of verses in the Bible, we can begin to understand God’s role in our lives. The book of Colossians states, “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (1:17). In Hebrews 1:3, we find that He is “upholding all things by the word of His power.” God holds the universe together! Through the power of His Spirit, He makes certain that the laws of science are in motion—even keeping atoms from coming apart.

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Without God, all physical life would cease. Realize what this means: each breath you take is only possible because the Creator is in control.

He also guides major events on Earth according to the Master Plan for mankind. Notice Daniel 2:21: “And He changes the times and the seasons: He removes kings, and sets up kings: He gives wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.”

God is certainly involved in the affairs of men, and especially His people. Yet thinking He orchestratesevery event in our lives is dangerous—and stems from an incorrect understanding of how God individually works with us.

The Smallest Matters

Jesus asked His disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father [knowing]. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear you not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).

If God keeps up with every sparrow, consider how much more attention He gives His people: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (II Chron. 16:9).

In addition, “The Eternal looks from heaven, beholding all mankind; from where He sits, He scans all who inhabit the world; He who alone made their minds, He notes all they do” (Psa. 33:15, Moffatt translation).

God is both all-powerful and all-knowing, and guides how events play out on Earth. Yet how much is He directly involved in individual lives?

Each of us is a free moral agent, meaning we are free to make decisions in our lives. God has invested in Christians by giving them an earnest, or down payment, of His Holy Spirit (II Cor. 1:22). He watches all we do to see what kind of “return” He will get on His investment—how much we are growing and overcoming.

This is where the towering law of cause and effect comes into play. As human beings, and especially as God’s people, we are to be responsible and circumspect, and exercise thought when making decisions.

Proverbs describes this principle: “He that handles a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusts in the LORD, happy is he” (16:20). A variation of this verse could be rendered this way, “He that handles a matter unwisely shall find bad”—meaning he will be forced to suffer the consequences of his actions. Good choices—causes—will render good effects. Bad choices, bad effects.

Throughout the day, you have hundreds of decisions that are yours to make—each an opportunity to grow in godly maturity, experience and wisdom. Note I Corinthians 6:2: “Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?”

While God is watching what you do, He will not directly interfere with the day-to-day routine of your life unless necessary. If we are sick, He will heal us on His timetable. If our lives are in peril, He will protect us through His angels. If we have a need, He will provide. But throughout all of these, we must do our part. We must maintain our health, not tempt God by putting ourselves in dangerous situations, and put forth maximum effort in all we do.

We should ask God to lead, guide and direct us throughout our lives. In order to gain more wisdom in how “to judge the smallest matters,” we must go to the source of wisdom—God.

What About Resistance?

When making important decisions, such as buying a home, a car, or seeking a job, we should always ask for God’s involvement and guidance.

Again, He does not plot every move in our lives. He allows us to make judgments and decisions on our own. The choices we make can change our circumstances and future. God will not always step in and cause us to make a different choice. He especially does not get directly involved in everyday, mundane decisions we make, such as the exact time we go to bed or what time we get up.

God does expect us, however, to be responsible and do our part. For example, if someone contacts a mortgage company when wanting to purchase a home and finds that they are unqualified for a loan, should this person give up? Should he conclude that God does not want him to buy a house?

The same conditions exist for any similar situation. Should a person give up trying to buy a car simply because the first dealership rejected his application?

Certainly not. He should go to a number of dealerships in search of one who will finance a vehicle.

Cause and effect are at work in such situations. There could be a problem with the person’s credit, something that he would need to correct before any dealership would sell him a car. At that point, it is his responsibility to correct that issue and begin trying again.

If a person is looking for a job, should he quit looking after the first several rejections? Of course not! He should continue for as long as it takes, applying both perseverance and resourcefulness.

How can we build character if we do not put forth maximum effort in all we do?

If we encounter resistance in any given situation, it does not necessarily mean God is saying, “No.” Life is a series of challenges that we must overcome. We are in a lifetime of training and enduring for a greater purpose. We should be overcoming these problematic situations that occur in our lives every day.

It is unnecessary to overanalyze every situation and confrontation we encounter by asking: “Is this God’s will?” “Is this from God?” Instead, we should simply ask in faith for God’s overall guidance, and know that He will deliver.

Notice Luke 11: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened” (vs. 9-10).

Stay in contact with God, maintain a humble attitude, and He will respond to your needs.

Going Overboard

While seeking to do God’s will in everything, some fall into the trap of mentioning God or Jesus in virtually every sentence of their conversations. Others seem to be always saying “God willing” after every sentence: “I am going to the store later, God willing.” “We should sit down and have a cup of coffee sometime, God willing.” Or “God willing, I am going to put up a new deck in the spring.”

At their core, these actions are a form of self-righteousness and vanity. While such people think they are being humble by always involving God in their lives, they are actually drawing attention to their own “righteousness.”

This thinking breaks the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).

One of the definitions of vain is “to no useful purpose.” When God’s name is constantly used in casual conversation, it is being taken in vain.

The person who constantly mentions God in conversation is in effect saying, “See how godly I am?” or “See how religious I am?” By attempting to include God in everything he does, such a person is actuallydiminishing God’s role in events.

These attitudes stem from the fact that human nature is given to extremes. If a Christian is not circumspect, he can take things too far and “go overboard.” While we should seek God’s will and talk to brethren about spiritual matters, we must be careful not to go too far.

Christians are to let their moderation be known to all men (Phil. 4:5). God wants us to be balanced in our thinking. We should never be seen as odd, weird, strange or syrupy—since this is how manmade religions look.

We should reflect a sound, balanced way of thinking in all we say and do: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7).

Time and Chance

There is another element at work in our lives, which Ecclesiastes 9:11 sums up as “time and chance.” While many of our problems, whether small or great, are caused by our weaknesses or irresponsibility, other mishaps and bad events can occur due to no fault of our own.

Under such circumstances, many people will immediately peg the blame on Satan, not realizing it was mere “time and chance.” Influenced by human nature, people love to blame bad things that happen, or even sinful actions, on what they deem as Satan’s direct involvement.

Just as God does not orchestrate every event in our lives, Satan is not behind every bad occurrence.

Consider. Would we conclude that if a person slips and injures himself tripping on a toy his child left on the floor that Satan is behind the event? No!

In the same way, we cannot blame the devil for situations we bring upon ourselves, or mere time and chance. While Satan fulfills the role of “tempter” (Matt. 4:3), God has limited him so he cannot force us to sin. Rather, the devil relies on situations, circumstances and human nature to tempt people to sin. He may cause circumstances or situations to lead us to compromise our beliefs, but the choice to sin or not to sin is ours alone.

Avoid the dangerous thinking of blaming Satan after a sin is committed. When people make Satan out to be the “bad guy” when they sinned, they are no longer growing and overcoming. Instead, they have taken on the childish attitude of “the devil made me do it”—in an attempt to deflect blame from themselves.

This excuse is as old as the Garden of Eden, when Eve said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13). Yet it was Eve’s decision to make, and the consequences (vs. 16) fell on her, not just Satan!

On the contrary, we are to be sober and vigilant because Satan is like a roaring lion, walking about seeking whom he may devour (I Pet. 5:8). He is constantly looking for weaknesses in our character, andwill take advantage of those flaws through temptation or deceit.

Yet God promises He will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). If we allow God to fight our battles and deal with the problems we encounter each day, we will not have to fear Satan’s snares, as they will have no power over us.

In the end, Satan will interfere in our lives only to the extent we allow—and that God allows (Job 1:12,2:6). We can unknowingly nurture Satan’s involvement by failing to resist him in actions and thoughts. This is done through pride, vanity, rebellion and disobedience. Instead, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jms. 4:7).

You can resist the devil by obeying God, submitting to His laws and government, and asking Him for help every day in prayer.

We should not place too much emphasis on Satan’s influence in our lives, especially in every small thing that seems bad or wrong. At the same time, we should certainly be aware of his tactics. Our main focus should be on matching the attitude found in Psalm 119: “O how love I Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (vs. 97).

Our thoughts should be centered on God and the Work He is doing—not on the devil.

Seeing God’s Power

God cares about everything that happens to us. He is concerned about every problem we have to confront, whether small or great. No problem is too small or too big for Him. We do not have to face any problem alone. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psa. 34:19).

God also commands us to cast our cares upon Him (I Pet. 5:7). His power is available to us whenever we need it. It is by His power our prayers are answered, but we must do our part to seek wisdom and counsel, as well as implement the seven laws of success in our lives. You may want to review our booklet The Laws to Success.

While God does not orchestrate each and every event in our lives, He does want to be involved in all we do. We should not “see God” in everything, but we should see God’s power at work as we grow and overcome in this life.

Take advantage of the great privilege offered to those begotten by God to be a part of His Family. Share every aspect of your life with God, and you will see His mighty power. You will experience what moved David to say, “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusts in Him” (Psa. 34:3-4, 8).

When you do your part, God allows you to tap into His infinite power and wisdom, which then helps you make decisions—large and small. “Great is our LORD, and of great power: His understanding is infinite” (Psa. 147:5).

Treat each day as a training ground as you qualify to rule in God’s soon-coming kingdom. Consider this awesome fact as you make decisions and judgments each day. If you do, you will properly SEE God working in your life!

When-Man-Lost-God-He-Lost-Everything

~You Shall Know The Truth For The Word of God~

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Everyone Has a Worldview

A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” Water is the sum and substance of the world in which the fish is immersed. The fish may not reflect on its own environment until suddenly it is thrust onto dry land, where it struggles for life. Then it realizes that water provided its sustenance.

Immersed in our environment, we have failed to take seriously the ramifications of a secular worldview. Sociologist and social watchdog Daniel Yankelovich defines culture as an effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront human beings in the passage of their lives. A genuine cultural shift is one that makes a decisive break with the shared meaning of the past. The break particularly affects those meanings that relate to the deepest questions of the purpose and nature of human life. What is at stake is how we understand the world in which we live.

The issues are worldview issues. Christians everywhere recognize there is a great spiritual battle raging for the hearts and minds of men and women around the globe. We now find ourselves in a cosmic struggle between Christian truth and a morally indifferent culture. Thus we need to shape a Christian worldview and lifeview that will help us learn to think Christianly and live out the truth of Christian faith.

The reality is that everyone has a worldview. Some worldviews are incoherent, being merely a smorgasbord of options from natural, supernatural, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern options. An examined and thoughtful worldview, however, is more than a private personal viewpoint; it is a comprehensive life system that seeks to answer the basic questions of life. A Christian worldview is not just one’s personal faith expression, not just a theory. It is an all-consuming way of life, applicable to all spheres of life.

Distinguishing a Christian Worldview

James Orr, in The Christian View of God and the World, maintains that there is a definite Christian view of things, which has a character, coherence, and unity of its own, and stands in sharp contrast with counter theories and speculations. A Christian worldview has the stamp of reason and reality and can stand the test of history and experience. A Christian view of the world cannot be infringed upon, accepted or rejected piecemeal, but stands or falls on its integrity. Such a holistic approach offers a stability of thought, a unity of comprehensive insight that bears not only on the religious sphere but also on the whole of thought. A Christian worldview is not built on two types of truth (religious and philosophical or scientific) but on a universal principle and all-embracing system that shapes religion, natural and social sciences, law, history, health care, the arts, the humanities, and all disciplines of study with application for all of life.

Followers of Jesus must articulate a Christian worldview for the twenty-first century, with all of its accompanying challenges and changes, and to show how such Christian thinking is applicable across all areas of life. At the heart of these challenges and changes we see that truth, morality, and interpretive frameworks are being ignored if not rejected. Such challenges are formidable indeed. Throughout culture the very existence of normative truth is being challenged.

For Christians to respond to these challenges, we must hear afresh the words of Jesus from what is called the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36–40). Here we are told to love God not only with our hearts and souls but also with our minds. Jesus’ words refer to a wholehearted devotion to God with every aspect of our being, from whatever angle we choose to consider it—emotionally, volitionally, or cognitively. This kind of love for God results in taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), a wholehearted devotion to distinctively Christian thinking (or as T. S. Eliot put it, “to think in Christian categories”). This means being able to see life from a Christian vantage point; it means thinking with the mind of Christ.

The beginning point for building a Christian worldview is a confession that we believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth (the Apostles’ Creed). We recognize that “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15–18), for all true knowledge flows from the One Creator to his one creation.

We Believe in God, Maker of Heaven and Earth: A Worldview Starting Point

A worldview must offer a way to live that is consistent with reality by offering a comprehensive understanding of all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. As we said earlier the starting point for a Christian worldview brings us into the presence of God without delay. The central affirmation of Scripture is not only that there is a God but that God has acted and spoken in history. God is Lord and King over this world, ruling all things for his own glory, displaying his perfections in all that he does in order that humans and angels may worship and adore him. God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

To think wrongly about God is idolatry (Ps. 50:21). Thinking rightly about God is eternal life (John 17:3) and should be the believer’s life objective (Jer. 9:23–24). We can think rightly about God because he is knowable (1 Cor. 2:11), yet we must remain mindful that he is simultaneously incomprehensible (Rom. 11:33–36). God can be known, but he cannot be known completely (Deut. 29:29).

We maintain that God is personal and is differentiated from other beings, from nature, and from the universe. This is in contrast to other worldviews that say God is in a part of the world, creating a continual process, and that the process itself is God—or becoming God. God is self-existent, dependent on nothing external to himself. God is infinite, meaning that God is not only unlimited but that nothing outside of God can limit God. God is infinite in relation to time (eternal), in relation to knowledge (omniscience), and in relation to power (omnipotent). He is sovereign and unchanging. God is infinite and personal, transcendent, and immanent. He is holy, righteous, just, good, true, faithful, loving, gracious, and merciful.

God, without the use of any preexisting material, brought into being everything that is. Both the opening verse of the Bible and the initial sentence of the Apostles’ Creed confess God as Creator. Creation is the work of the trinitarian God. Creation reveals God (Ps. 19) and brings glory to him (Isa. 43:7). All of creation was originally good but is now imperfect because of the entrance of sin and its effects on creation (Gen. 3:16–19). This is, however, only a temporary imperfection (Rom. 8:19–22), for it will be redeemed in the final work of God, the new creation.

The Creator God is not different from the God who provides redemption in Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. God is the source of all things. This means that God has brought the world into existence out of nothing through a purposeful act of his free will. A Christian worldview affirms that God is the sovereign and almighty Lord of all existence. Such an affirmation rejects any form of dualism, that matter has eternally existed, or that matter must, therefore, be evil since it is in principle opposed to God, the Source of all good.

A Christian worldview also contends that God is set apart from and transcends his creation. It also maintains that God is a purposeful God who creates in freedom. In creation and in God’s provision and preservation for creation, he is working out his ultimate purposes for humanity and the world. Human life is thus meaningful, significant, intelligent, and purposeful. This affirms the overall unity and intelligibility of the universe. In this we see God’s greatness, goodness, and wisdom.

General Implications of a Christian Worldview

A Christian worldview becomes a driving force in life, giving us a sense of God’s plan and purpose for this world. Our identity is shaped by this worldview. We no longer see ourselves as alienated sinners. A Christian worldview is not escapism but is an energizing motivation for godly and faithful thinking and living in the here and now. It also gives us confidence and hope for the future. In the midst of life’s challenges and struggles, a Christian worldview helps to stabilize life, anchoring us to God’s faithfulness and steadfastness.

Thus, a Christian worldview provides a framework for ethical thinking. We recognize that humans, who are made in God’s image, are essentially moral beings. We also recognize that the fullest embodiment of good, love, holiness, grace, and truth is in Jesus Christ (see John 1:14–18).

A Christian worldview has implications for understanding history. We see that history is not cyclical or random. Rather, we see history as linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity (see Eph. 1). Human history will climax where it began—on the earth. This truth is another distinctive of Christian thinking, for Christianity is historical at its heart. In the sense that according to its essential teaching, God has acted decisively in history, revealing himself in specific acts and events. Moreover, God will act to bring history to its providential destiny and planned conclusion.

God who has acted in history in past events will also act in history to consummate this age. So when we ask, “How will it end?” we do not simply or suddenly pass out of the realm of history into a never-never land. We pass to that which is nevertheless certain of occurring because God is behind it and is himself the One who tells us it will come to pass.

Developing a Christian worldview is an ever-advancing process for us, a process in which Christian convictions more and more shape our participation in culture. This disciplined, vigorous, and unending process will help shape how we assess culture and our place in it. Otherwise, culture will shape us and our thinking. Thus a Christian worldview offers a new way of thinking, seeing, and doing, based on a new way of being.

A Christian worldview is a coherent way of seeing life, of seeing the world distinct from deism, naturalism, and materialism, existentialism, polytheism, pantheism, mysticism, or deconstructionist postmodernism. Such a theistic perspective provides bearings and direction when confronted with New Age spirituality or secularistic and pluralistic approaches to truth and morality. Fear about the future, suffering, disease, and poverty are informed by a Christian worldview grounded in the redemptive work of Christ and the grandeur of God. Moreover, a Christian worldview offers meaning and purpose for all aspects of life.

Particular Applications

While many examples could be offered, here are six particular applications where a Christian worldview provides a difference in perspective:

  1. Technology—Technology can become either an instrument through which we fulfill our role as God’s stewards or an object of worship that will eventually rule us. A Christian worldview provides balance and insight for understanding this crucial aspect of twenty-first-century life.
  2. Sexuality and marriage—Sexuality has become a major topic for those entering the third millennium. Much confusion exists among Christians and non-Christians. Sexuality is good in the covenant relationship of mutual self-giving marriage. Sexual intimacy, separated from covenant marriage, in hetero-sexual or homosexual relations is sinful and has a distorted meaning, a self-serving purpose and negative consequences.
  3. The environment—Environmental stewardship means we have a responsibility to the nonhuman aspects of God’s creation. Since God’s plan of redemption includes his earthly creation, as well as human (see Rom. 8:18–27), we should do all we can to live in it carefully and lovingly.
  4. The arts and recreation—The arts and recreation are understood as legitimate and important parts of human creativity and community. They express what it means to be created in the image of God. We need to develop critical skills of analysis and evaluation so that we are informed, intentional, and reflective about what we create, see, and do.
  5. Science and faith—For almost two centuries science has been at the forefront of our modern world. We must explore how we see scientific issues from the vantage point of a Christian worldview. An understanding of God includes the knowledge we gain through scientific investigation. With the lens of faith in place, a picture of God’s world emerges that complements and harmonizes the findings of science and the teachings of Scripture.
  6. Vocation—Important for any culture is an understanding of work. Work is a gift from God and is to be pursued with excellence for God’s glory. We recognize that all honest professions are honorable, that the gifts and abilities we have for our vocation (vocatio/calling) come from God, and that prosperity and promotions come from God.

These are only a few examples that could be cited that will help shape our thinking in other areas.

Conclusion

Thus Christian thinking must surely subordinate all other endeavors to the improvement of the mind in pursuit of truth, taking every thought captive to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). At three places in the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we cannot presume that our thinking is Christ centered. In 2 Corinthians 3:14 we learn that the minds of the Israelites were hardened. In 4:4 Paul says that the unregenerate mind is blinded by the god of this world. In 11:3 the apostle says that Satan has ensnared the Corinthians’ thoughts. So in 10:5 he calls for all of our thinking to be liberated by coming under the lordship of Christ.

So today, as in the days of the Corinthian correspondence, our minds and our thinking are ensnared by the many challenges and opposing worldviews in today’s academy. Like Paul and Bernard of Clairveaux several centuries after him, we must combine the intellectual with the moral and spiritual expounded in Bernard’s famous statement:

Some seek knowledge for
The sake of knowledge:
That is curiosity;
Others seek knowledge so that
They themselves may be known:
That is vanity;
But there are still others
Who seek knowledge in
Order to serve and edify others;
And that is charity.

And that is the essence of serious Christian worldview thinking—bringing every thought captive to the lordship of Jesus Christ in order to serve and edify others. That is a high calling indeed as we move forward and faithfully into the twenty-first century.

The Puritans, preserving the line of faithful and orthodox Christians, have always had a passion for Truth. This pattern was established in the story of the Bereans who asked if what the Apostle Paul was saying was true (Acts 17:11). And how would they know? They searched the scriptures.

There are two sources of Truth: God’s work and his word. Psalm 148 reminds us that all creation communicates about God’s existence and his nature. Paul reiterates, in Romans 1:20, that all human beings can know that God exists and something about his nature through the things that he has made.

Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin spoke of two books: God’s Word – the Special Revelation comprised of scripture, and His Works – the General Revelation of Creation.

Three other reformers–Campenella, Comenius, and Alsted–spoke of three books:

  • The book of revelation – Special Revelation – The Bible
  • The book of nature – General Revelation – Science (a la Aristotle)
  • The book of the mind – Reason or Logic – Philosophy (a la Plato)

Truth is found at the intersection of the books of Scripture, nature, and reason. Comenius writes of the tripartite revelation for truth: “the only true, genuine and plain way of Philosophy is to fetch all things from sense, reason and Scripture.” Puritan Historian Dr. David Scott says that “Comenius went on to say that the end of scholarly endeavor is not to merely add to the wood pile of human knowledge, but to grow a living tree that from its roots to its boughs and fruit reflects the image of the words and works of its divine Creator.” [1] (For more on this subject see Dr. Scott’s excellent paper A Vision of Veritas: What Christian Scholarship Can Learn from the Puritan’s “Technology” for Integrating Truth .)

William Ames (1576-1633), the French Huguenot Educational Reformer, wrote of the three books,

Thus, let us not become the slaves of anyone, but performing military service under the banner of free truth, let us freely and courageously follow the truth …. Testing all things, retaining that which is good, let Plato be a friend, let Aristotle be a friend, but even more let truth (veritas) be a friend.

When, eight years after landing in New England, the Puritan fathers established Harvard College (now Harvard University) to educate pastors and civic leaders, they enshrined VERITAS with the three books in the college’s shield.

truth in Harvard logo

Harvard’s first mission statement was explicitly Christ centered:

Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17.3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.

Christ is the focus of all of life and vocation. It was this that laid the groundwork for their Christian culture and self government.

Sadly, the Western world today is no longer founded on a Biblical worldview. And only the Biblical Worldview provides a foundation for free, just, prosperous, and compassionate nations. The four dominating worldviews today are Biblical Theism, Secularism, Evangelical Gnosticism, and Monism.

~Where does your integrity stem from?~

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A Christian view of work is distinctive in the way it insists that human work ultimately derives its meaning from God’s character and purposes. It is who God is and what God does that shape the way we see the world, our place and work in the world, and the values that we take to work. Fundamental to this understanding is recognition that God is at work in the world and we are workers made in the image of God and invited to work as partners in God’s continuing work. We work to further God’s purposes through our work and to reflect God’s character in the way we work. It is our understanding of this reality that injects distinctive Christian perspectives into our view of workplace ethics. But we begin with some more general observations about ethics.

Christian ethical living is concerned with “…ordering our steps in every situation of life according to the fundamental faith commitments we share as Christians.” Or, according to another definition: “Christian ethics is the attempt to provide a framework and method for making decisions, that seeks to honor God as revealed in Scripture, follow the example of Jesus and be responsive to the Spirit, to achieve outcomes that further God’s purposes in the world.”

COMMAND APPROACH

The command approach asks, “Is this action right or wrong in itself, according to the rules?” It is often called the deontological approach (from the Greek deon for duty or rule.It is based on the proposition that actions are inherently right or wrong, as defined by a set of rules or duties. This set of duties/rules may be given by divine command, natural law, rational logic or another source. In Christian ethics, we are interested in commands given by God or logically derived from God’s self-revelation in the Bible.

CONSEQUENCES APPROACH

The consequences approach asks, “Will this action produce good or bad results?” It is often called the teleological approach (from the Greek telos for end because it says that end results decide what is the morally correct course of action. The most moral course of action may be decided by:

  • What will result in the greatest good? One well-known example of the teleological approach is called Utilitarianism,[5] which defines the greatest good as whatever will bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.
  • What advances one’s self interest best? For example, the system known as Ethical Egoism assumes that the most likely way to achieve what is in the best interests of all people is for each person to pursue their own best interest, within certain limits.
  • What will produce the ends that are most in accord with God’s intent for his creation? This approach can focus on subordinate goals, e.g., gaining a better quality of life for a disabled person, or an ultimate goal, such as glorifying God and enjoying him forever. In the case of complicated circumstances, this approach tries to calculate which actions will maximize the balance of good over evil.

Because neither happiness nor self-interest seem to be the highest results God desires for his creation, neither Utilitarianism nor Ethical Egoism are generally considered Christian forms of ethics. But this does not mean that consequences are not ethically important to God, any more than the fact that there are unbiblical systems of rules means that ethical commands are not important to God.

CHARACTER APPROACH

This approach asks, “Is the actor a good person with good motives?” In this approach, the most moral course of action is decided by questions about character, motives and the recognition that individuals don’t act alone because they are also part of communities that shape their characters and attitudes and actions. This is often called virtue ethics. Since the beginning of the Christian era, virtues have been recognized as an essential element of Christian ethics. However, from the time of the Reformation until the late 20th century, virtue ethics — like consequential ethics — was overshadowed by command ethics in most Protestant ethical thinking.

But how do these three different approaches apply to Christian ethics?

The Bible is the basic source for the commands we are to obey, the consequences we are to seek, and the characters we are to become as followers of Jesus Christ. Although the Bible’s commands may be the first things that come to mind when we think about Christian ethics, consequences and character are essential elements of Christian ethics too. For most of us, the most effective way to become more ethical is probably to give greater attention to how our actions and decisions at work are shaping our character. The best ethical decisions at work and elsewhere are the decisions that shape our character to be more like Jesus’. Ultimately, by God’s grace, “we will be like him” (1 John 3:2).

~ Kingdom Building Requires Suffering~

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Is suffering for Christ always going to be a part of being a follower of Christ?

Image result for images of suffering for Christ always going to be a part of being a follower of Christ?

The Bible talks a lot about suffering for the sake of Christ. In the era in which the New Testament was written, followers of Jesus were often ostracized by their own families and communities. Some of the worst persecution came from the religious leaders (Acts 4:1–3). Jesus told His followers, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). He reminded His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Second Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As in biblical times, many Christians today have found that making a public declaration of faith in Christ can result in imprisonment, beatings, torture, or death (Hebrews 11:32–38; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 3:8; Acts 5:40). Often those of us in free nations shudder at the thought, but we feel relatively safe. We understand that there are thousands who suffer daily for the sake of Christ and are thankful we don’t have to. But is there only one kind of persecution?

Jesus stated clearly what it means to follow Him: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23–25). Our modern understanding of the phrase “take up their cross and follow me” is often inadequate. In Jesus’ day the cross always symbolized death. When a man carried a cross, he had already been condemned to die on it. Jesus said that, in order to follow Him, one must be willing to die. We will not all die martyrs’ deaths. We will not all be imprisoned, beaten, or tortured for our faith. So what kind of death did Jesus mean?

Paul explains in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” To follow Christ means we die to our own way of doing things. We consider our will, our rights, our passions, and our goals to be crucified on the cross with Him. Our right to direct our own lives is dead to us (Philippians 3:7–8). Death involves suffering. The flesh does not want to die. Dying to self is painful and goes against our natural inclination to seek our own pleasure. But we cannot follow both Christ and the flesh (Luke 16:13;Matthew 6:24; Romans 8:8). Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Paul suffered more than most for Jesus’ sake. He said this to the Christians at Phillipi: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:2). The wordgranted here means “shown favor, given freely as a gift.” Paul does not present suffering as a curse, but as a benefit.

Suffering can take many forms. By choosing to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, we are setting ourselves at odds with the world. Galatians 1:10 says, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (NASB). By closely adhering to the teachings of the Bible, we set ourselves up for rejection, mockery, loneliness, or betrayal. Often, the cruelest persecution comes from those who consider themselves spiritual but have defined God according to their own ideas. If we choose to take a stand for righteousness and biblical truth, we ensure that we will be misunderstood, mocked, or worse. We need to keep in mind that no threat of suffering deterred the apostles from preaching Christ. In fact, Paul said that losing everything was worth it “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, NASB). Acts 5:40–41 describes the reaction of the apostles after they received another beating for preaching about Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

Suffering in some form is always going to be a part of being a true follower of Christ. Jesus said the path that leads to life is difficult (Matthew 7:14). Our hardship is also a way of identifying with His suffering in a small way.

Jesus said if we deny him before men, He will deny us before His Father in heaven (Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9). There are many subtle ways to deny Christ. If our actions, words, lifestyle, or entertainment choices do not reflect His will, we are denying Christ. If we claim to know Him but live as though we didn’t, we are denying Christ (1 John 3:6–10). Many people choose those forms of denying Christ because they do not want to suffer for Him.

Often our greatest suffering comes from within as we battle for control over a heart that must die to its own will and surrender to Christ’s lordship (Romans 7:15–25). In whatever form suffering comes, we should embrace it as a badge of honor and a privilege that we, like the apostles, have “been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”