Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.
There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together.
Harriet Ann Jacobs
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.
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.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.
“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.
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.
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)
“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.
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.
“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?
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!
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 thoughtsandreasonings 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.
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!
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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 humans—our 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 Earth—and 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?!
Unable—until now—to 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’ possibility—if we allowed our minds to think about it—that 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 ourselves—as 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:
They know what they are deeply passionate about.
They know what they can be the best in the world at.
They know how to make money with their passion.
They are disciplined.
They are great leaders and/or know how to lead themselves.
Five Traits of Foxes in Business:
They are scattered, going from one business idea to the next.
They have very little discipline.
They may be good leaders but their leadership style is egocentric and self-centered. They take credit for success while blaming others for failure.
Their passions are not narrowly defined. They go any direction that opportunity leads.
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:
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.
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!)
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!
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!
What new skills must you learn in order to get this job or launch this business?
The Pitfalls to Avoid:
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.
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.
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.
“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
“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..
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)
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:
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.
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.
“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)
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.
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)
The Assumptions Underlying Racial Profiling
Defenders of racial profiling argue that it is a rational response to patterns of criminal behavior.
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.
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.
While many examples could be offered, here are six particular applications where a Christian worldview provides a difference in perspective:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”  (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.
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.
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.”
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.
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, 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.
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).
How do you do a task in the strength of another? How do you exert your will to do something in such a way that you are relying on the will of another to make it happen?
Here are some passages from the Bible that press this question on us:
“By the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). So we are to do the sin-killing, but we are to do it by the Spirit. How?
“Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). We are to work. But the willing and the working is God’s willing and God’s work. How do we experience that?
“I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul did work hard. But his effort was in some way not his. How did he do that?
“I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). We toil. We struggle. We expend effort and energy. But there is a way to do it so that it is God’s energy and God’s doing. How do we do that?
“Whoever serves, let him serve as one who serves by the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11). We serve. We exert strength. But there is a way that our serving is the effect of God’s gracious power. What is that way?
I have not been able to improve on these five steps summed up in the acronym, A.P.T.A.T. (rhymes with Cap That).
In 1984 J.I. Packer published Keep in Step with the Spirit, and gave the very same steps on pages 125–126. He calls it “Augustinian holiness teaching.” It calls for “intense activity” but this activity “is not in the least self-reliant in spirit.” Instead, he says, “It follows this four-stage sequence”:
First, as one who wants to do all the good you can, you observe what tasks, opportunities, and responsibilities face you. Second, you pray for help in these, acknowledging that without Christ you can do nothing—nothing fruitful, that is (John 15:5). Third, you go to work with a good will and a high heart, expecting to be helped as you asked to be. Fourth, you thank God for help given, ask pardon for your own failures en route, and request more help for the next task. Augustinian holiness is hard working holiness, based on endless repetitions of this sequence.
My five steps omit his first one (“note what tasks are in front of you”). I divide his second step into two: A. Admit (his word, “acknowledge”) that you can do nothing. P. Pray for God’s help for the task at hand. Then I break his third step into two. He says “expect to get the help you asked for.” Then with that expectation, “go to work with a good will.” I say, T. Trust a particular promise of God’s help. Then, in that faith, Act (A). Finally, we both say, T. Thank God for the help received.
Trust God’s Promises
I think the middle T is all important. Trust a promise. This is the step I think is missing in most Christians’ attempt to live the Christian life. It is certainly my most common mistake.
Most of us face a difficult task and remember to say, “Help me, God. I need you.” But then we move straight from P to A — Pray to Act. We pray and then we act. But this robs us of a very powerful step.
After we pray for God’s help, we should remind ourselves of a specific promise that God has made. And fix our minds on it. And put our faith in it. And say to God: “I believe you, help my unbelief. Increase my faith in this promise. I’m trusting you, Lord, here I go.” Then act.
Paul says we “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and “live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). But for most of us this remains vague. Hour by hour how do we do this? We do it by reminding ourselves of specific, concrete promises that God has made and Jesus has bought with his blood (2 Corinthians 1:20). Then we don’t just pray for help hour by hour, we trust those specific promises hour by hour.
When Peter says, “Let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies,” we do this not only by praying for that supply, but by trusting in the promise of the supply in specific situations. Paul says that God “supplies the Spirit to you by hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:5). That is, we hear a promise and we believe it for a particular need, and the Holy Spirit comes to help us through that believed promise.
10 Promises to Memorize
So here is my suggestion for how to do this. Memorize a few promises that are so universally applicable they will serve you in almost every situation where you face a task to be done “in the strength that God supplies.” Then as those tasks come, Admit you can’t do that on your own. Pray for the help you need. Then call to mind one of your memorized promises, and trust it — put your faith in it. Thenact — believing that God is acting in your acting! Finally, when you are done,thank him.
Here are ten such promises to help you get started. Of these, the one I have used most often is Isaiah 41:10.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
“‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
“The Lᴏʀᴅ God is a sun and shield; the Lᴏʀᴅ bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalms 84:11)
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
“Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.” (Psalms 23:6)
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalms 50:15)
Never cease to ponder Paul’s words: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Not I. Yet I. By faith.
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph
You Can Serve God Successfully: God’s Power Can Work in Your Life.
The Bible promises that anyone is able to know God’s will, be forgiven of sin, resist temptation, endure hardship, serve obediently, and receive eternal life. God provides the power we need through Jesus’ blood, the Scriptures, prayer, hope, love, and other Christians. No one needs to be lost. Anyone can overcome their past, achieve victory over sin, and become what God requires him/her to be.
Joshua 1:7,8 – Most people want to succeed in some area: business, family relations, music, athletics, politics, education, etc. God promised Joshua he could succeed in the most important activity in life: serving God.
People today also need reassurance that we can succeed in being right with God.
People who are not Christians are sometimes overwhelmed by the sacrifices Christians must make, the work to do, habits to change. They become so discouraged they do not even try.
Christians may also become discouraged as they try to live for God and find they have failed in some area. Some give up entirely. Others pretend to serve God while living in sin and excusing themselves by saying they simply cannot accomplish what the Bible says.
The purpose of this study is to show that God has provided all the blessings we need to serve Him successfully and receive eternal life.
These blessings are available to everyone. We must meet conditions that require effort and sacrifice, but all of us are capable of meeting these conditions. You can have God’s power working in your life!
Consider the Bible promises. Note words referring to power, strength, and abilityin these verses.
I. What Power Does God Make Available?
A. You Can Have the Power to Know and Believe the Truth.
Some people get confused by the different teachings they hear. They say, “I don’t believe I can ever understand the Bible. One person teaches it one way and the next teaches it differently. I’ll never know what to believe.” But God can meet this need.
2 Timothy 3:15-17 – The Scriptures are inspired of God and able to make us wise to salvation. They are profitable to provide us to every good work.
1 Corinthians 2:4,5 – Paul’s preaching was in the demonstration of the Spirit and power, so our faith can stand in the <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power of God.
Romans 1:16 – The gospel is the <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power of God to save those who believe. But faith comes by hearing God’s word (10:17). The gospel is able to produce true faith in the heart of any honest person.
By human power alone truly we never could determine how to obtain eternal life. But God meets our needs by giving us the means to know and believe the truth if we study diligently with an honest, open heart.
[Mark 7:14; Eph. 3:3-5; John 8:31,32; Isaiah 55:11]
B. You Can Have the Power to Become a Child of God.
John 1:12 – Jesus gave the right (“power”) to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. Faith alone, without obedience, does not make one a child of God, but simply gives the power to become a child.
1 Peter 1:22,23 – The power to make us children of God is in God’s spiritual seed, His word. To be purified and born again, we must obey the truth. This includes repenting, confessing, and being baptized (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 17:30; Mark 16:16; Rom. 10:9,10).
Hebrews 7:25 – Jesus is able to save us to the uttermost. By human power alone we could never obtain forgiveness and become children of God. But God has made this power available to us.
C. You Can Have the Power to Resist Every Temptation.
People often excuse their sins saying obedience is just too hard. “I just can’t do it. God will just have to understand.” We may even blame God for being too demanding.
1 Corinthians 10:13 – God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. This is true of every temptation. We can be sure this is true because it is based on God’s faithfulness.
Ephesians 6:10-18 – The Lord provides <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>strength and power such that we are able to stand against the power of Satan. We can quench every one of his fiery darts (temptations). Again, this is not possible by human power. Perhaps Satan can defeat us if we face him alone, but we can succeed by the power of God’s armor.
These verses teach that a Christian can overcome every temptation. There is never any excuse for committing even one single sin. In practice we all commit sin, because we fail to use the weapons properly (1 John 1:8,10). But this is not necessary. If we believe our human nature compels us to sin and nothing can be done about it, we are looking at human power when we should be looking at God’s power.
[James 4:7; 2 Cor. 10:4,5; Jude 24]
D. You Can Have the Power to Endure Suffering and Hardship.
Often hardship, grief, sickness, and persecution tempt us to quit serving God. We think, “What’s the use?”
2 Corinthians 1:3-10 – Paul suffered beyond power such that he despaired of life. Someone may ask, “Doesn’t that prove there are temptations which are beyond our power?” Yes, perhaps we may face temptations beyond our power, but not beyond God’s power. Paul here says we should learn to trust in God.
Romans 8:31-39 – No suffering or hardship of any kind is able to separate us from God’s love. Rather, we are more than conquerors! We can defeat them all if we are on God’s side.
Nowhere does God say He will remove all our problems. Rather He promises we can endure, remain faithful, and receive eternal life despite our problems.
[Phil. 4:11-13; Heb. 11:34]
E. You Can Have the Power to Serve Others.
Discouragement sometimes comes when we try to help others, but we see no positive results. We may decide to quit trying, thinking, “It just doesn’t do any good.”
2 Corinthians 9:8-10 – God is <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>able to supply all our need, so we can abound in every good work and increase the fruits of righteousness.
John 15:4-8 – Jesus is like the vine that supplies the needs of the branches. Apart from Him, acting by human power alone, we can do nothing. But in Him we can bear much fruit.
2 Timothy 2:2 – Faithful men shall be <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>able to teach others. This is part of the power God promises us.
Romans 15:14 – We shall be <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>able to admonish one another. As in other areas, degrees of ability will vary, but all can develop some ability in teaching.
There is no need for Christians to live barren, unfruitful lives. We can accomplish much good for God if we will make use of His power.
F. You Can Have the Power to Do Everything Necessary to Receive Eternal Life.
Ephesians 3:20,21 – God is <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think according to His <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power that works in us.
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
1 Peter 1:3-5 – By God’s <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power we are guarded to an eternal and incorruptible inheritance in heaven.
2 Peter 1:3 – His power grants us all things that pertain to life and godliness.
The Bible nowhere teaches that it is impossible for a child of God to fall from grace. But it most certainly teaches that it is not necessary for us to fall!
I. What Methods Does God Use to Provide This Power?
This power does us no good unless we know how to obtain it. As we study the methods God uses, note that all of them require effort on our part. There are conditions we must meet in order to have God’s power.
A. There Is Power in Jesus’ Blood.
1 Corinthians 1:18,23,24 – The <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power of God is the word of the cross, the message of Christ crucified.
Hebrews 7:25; 9:14 – Jesus’ sacrifice is able to save to the uttermost.
“There is power in the blood.” But the power is conditional. To receive it, you must repent and be baptized (see earlier discussion). If we sin afterward, we must repent and pray (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).
B. There Is Power in God’s Love.
Ephesians 3:16,17 – We may be <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>strengthened in the inner man, being rooted and grounded in love [cf. v19-21]. All of us need to know that we are loved and cared for.
When a person knows he is wrong, he may not care if he does more wrong. He is already alienated, so what will it hurt? But when he knows he has been right and he feels a sense of being loved, he does not want to do anything to break that bond.
1 John 4:9,19; 5:3 – God loves us so much that He gave Jesus to die for us. This knowledge compels us to love God and obey Him. People in sin often talk about the sense of loneliness they feel, knowing they are alienated from God.
Love is a powerful motivation. God’s love is the most powerful love there is. It is a bond that draws us to God and motivates us to serve Him successfully. But there are conditions: love must lead to obedience.
C There Is Power in the Scriptures.
Romans 1:16 – The gospel is the <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>power of God unto salvation.
1 Corinthians 1:18 – The word of the cross is the power of God.
Ephesians 6:13-17 – Every part of the armor of God is related directly or indirectly to the word: loins girt with truth, feet shod with the preparation of the gospel, the sword which is the word, etc.
Further, the Scriptures are involved in every area in which we need power: they are the basis of knowledge and faith, they tell us how to become children of God, they strengthen us to overcome temptation and comfort us in trouble, etc. [Matt. 4:4,7,10; Rom. 15:4]
Joshua 1:7,8 – To be successful in God’s work, Joshua had to meditate on God’s law. Again, the power of the word is conditional. We must study and follow the word in order to benefit from the power it provides.
Ephesians 6:18 – There is power in God’s armor, but we are to take it on with prayer. We should make our requests known so God can supply what we need to serve Him.
Psalms 138:3 – In the day when I cried out, You answered me, Andmade me bold withstrength in my soul.
James 5:16 – The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
There is no need to bear our burdens alone. We can give them to God. But again there are conditions. We must use the privilege of prayer.
Too many of us are like a man with a powerful automobile who, instead of getting in and turning on the engine, stands behind the car pushing it. He tries to do it all himself and gets nowhere.
[1 Peter 5:7,8; Col. 1:9-11; 2 Thess. 1:11; Phil. 4:6,7]
E. There Is Power in Associating with Other Christians.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 – Two are better than one. If one falls, his companion can lift him up. An enemy might prevail against one alone, but instead there are two to withstand him. A threefold cord is not easily broken. There is strength in working together.
Galatians 6:2 – Christians bear one another’s burdens.
2 Corinthians 1:4 – They comfort one another in times of affliction. Sometimes our problems are bigger than we can handle alone. We need help. But remember, if we want others to help us, we need to be willing to help them when they have needs.
Hebrews 10:23-25 – One excellent time to strengthen one another is when the church meets. We can provoke one another to love and good works. We can exhort one another.
Again, the strength God supplies is conditional. We must make use of it. Strangely, many Christians neglect or flat refuse to use this source of strength at the very times they need it most. Facing the greatest spiritual dangers of their lives, when they are tempted to fall away, they neglect to attend church meetings.
We can only be strong when we <b ‘mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal’=””>use what God provides to make us strong!
[Heb. 3:12-14; Eph. 4:16; Col. 3:16; Rom. 15:14]
F. There Is Power in the Hope of Eternal Life.
2 Peter 1:8-11 – The desire to enter the everlasting kingdom motivates us to make our calling and election sure by developing the needed qualities in our lives. Instead of being near-sighted, we should keep our eyes on our goal.
1 Corinthians 9:25 – Goals motivate us to work hard, as illustrated by athletes. Without a clear vision of our goal, we may easily give up in hardship. With a clear and valuable goal, we are strongly motivated to persevere.
Matthew 6:24,33 – But again there are conditions. We must keep our eye on the goal and not become overly involved in affairs of this life. We cannot serve two masters, but must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We must keep our priorities straight.
[1 Peter 1:3-5; Acts 20:32; Jude 24]
Acts 10:34,35 – God is no respecter of persons. In every nation, those who fear Him and work righteousness are accepted by Him. Everyone can serve God successfully. This is not just for other people. It includes you and me. [2 Peter 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4,6; Titus 2:11-14; Acts 2:38,39; Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 1:16]
Why then are so many people being defeated in God’s service? Because they are not using the armor properly!
Imagine an army of soldiers sworn to protect the country where you live.
Suppose a powerful enemy is coming to attack your city, destroy your wives and children, causing great pain and grief. The enemy has a powerful weapon which your army is convinced it cannot defeat.
Then the soldiers learn of someone who has a powerful new weapon. Everywhere it has been used, the enemy has been defeated.
The new weapon is obtained so every soldier can have one. The weapons come with an instruction manual. Meetings are set up so the soldiers can learn how to use the weapon. Your army can successfully win the victory! All the soldiers have to do is attend the meetings, study the manual, and use the weapons provided.
Would you want those soldiers to stay home from 1/2 to 2/3 of the meetings, when they could come? Should they daydream through the meetings? Should they take the manuals home, lay them on the shelf, and rarely read them?
The enemy is Satan. You and I are the soldiers. We will surely lose, not just our lives, but our souls eternally unless we learn how to defeat Satan’s forces. God has provided armor that is guaranteed to defeat Satan, but we must learn to use it. It comes with a manual we must study – the Bible. The church is instructed to provide meetings so we can learn to use the weapons.
You can successfully win the battle against Satan by the means God has supplied. Are you studying and attending the meetings diligently so you can be successful? Are you as diligent as you would want soldiers to be if they were defending you and your family in wartime? Have you even yet enlisted in the army?
Becoming a Christian requires change. We must remove old habits and develop new ones. This study considers Bible principles to help us improve ourselves: faith, love, repentance, Bible study, prayer, avoiding temptation, and patience. God’s word is the best source of guidance for self-help and motivation for self-improvement.
Have you ever had difficulty trying to change a habit? Human beings are creatures of habit. We tend to continue acting as we have acted in the past. Like a river flowing through a canyon, the longer a habit continues, the more deeply it becomes ingrained, and the harder it is to change. This is true of all habits, good or bad.
Ephesians 4:22-24 shows that major changes must occur when we are converted to serve God. Old practices and attitudes must be replaced by new ones. Christians must learn good habits like Bible study, prayer, love, faith, patience, attending church meetings, giving, teaching others, etc. We must also eliminate bad habits like foul language, uncontrolled temper, gambling, drugs, smoking, drinking, gossip, lying, pornography, sexual promiscuity, etc.
Knowing what changes to make is not enough. We also need to know how to make them. Change does not come easily. Since the Scriptures provide us to all good works (2 Timothy 3:16,17), they give all the guidance we need. God’s word is the best source of guidance for self-help and motivation for self-improvement.
Let us study 12 specific, practical steps the Bible gives to show us how to change and improve our selves to become what God wants.
Step1: Change Your Purpose in Life.
Before people are willing to act, they must be motivated. A sound sleeper is more likely to get up in the middle of the night if the house is on fire than if he remembers he did not brush his teeth! Christians have some of the strongest possible motives for changing. Consider some:
Love and Dedication to God
Romans 12:1,2 – Christians are transformed (changed) by renewing their minds (cf. Eph. 4:23). To live differently, we must think differently. We must not seek to be like the world but to use our bodies in God’s service.
The Macedonians practiced generous giving because they first gave themselves to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5). Changing our conduct becomes much easier when we are totally dedicated to God’s service. (See also Ecc. 12:13; Matt. 6:33; 16:24.)
1 John 5:3; 4:19,9 – What motivates us to obey God? Our love for Him. What motivates us to love Him? The fact that He loved us. How do we know He loved us? Because He gave His Son to die to save us.
Love is one of the strongest forces in existence. It can move a woman to rescue her children from a burning building or a man to lift an automobile that has crushed a loved one. If you are having difficulty changing yourself, you need to learn to appreciate God’s blessings and mercy. (See also 1 John 2:15-17; Matt. 10:34-37; 22:37-40; John 14:15; 2 Cor. 5:14-17.)
Imitation of Christ
The desire to be like someone we admire is another powerful motivation. Sports heroes inspire young people in athletics. Washington and Lincoln are models for patriotic citizens. So godly people like Abraham, Noah, Ruth, and Mary motivate us to serve God. But the greatest example of all is that of Jesus.
Matthew 10:24,25 – A disciple seeks to be like his master. Christians are disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:26). We should follow His steps because He left us a sinless example (1 Peter 2:21,22).
As we face each decision in life, we should ask, “What would Jesus do?” This will give us strong motivation to change our lives. (See also Gal. 2:20; Matt. 16:24; Col. 3:10).
Desire for Eternal Life, Not Eternal Punishment
1 Corinthians 9:25 – Athletes control their habits so they can win a temporary, earthly honor. Christians have an even stronger motive. We seek the crown of eternal life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10). We should set our minds on our eternal reward, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1-6; 2 Peter 1:10,11; 2 Thess. 1:8,9).
Lack of motivation is a major reason people do not change to please God. They do not have sufficient desire to change. Instead they want to please themselves or their friends and family. Often they are too concerned with the things of this life. Until our motives are right, little else in this study will help us. But when we are determined that serving God is our most important purpose in life, then we will find the means to make the necessary changes.
When we lack the motivation to change, let us think about why we should love God, think about the importance of being like Christ, and think about our eternal destiny.
Step2: Believe You Can Change with God’s Help.
Proverbs 4:23 – Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. The way you act is determined by your attitudes and intentions. People and circumstances may influence you, but you do not have to give in. You do what you decide to do (cf. Matt. 15:18,19; 12:34-37).
1 Corinthians 10:13 – God will not allow temptations that are beyond your ability to bear. He will always make a way of escape. “God is faithful.” He will always keep this promise. It follows that you can break any bad habit and develop any good habit according to God’s will.
Philippians 4:13 – We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. This includes changing to please Him. If we trust our own strength, we will fail. Satan can defeat us. If we use Christ’s strength we will succeed, because Satan can never defeat Him. Perhaps we have failed in the past because we have trusted our own power instead of using Christ’s.
People sometimes convince themselves, “I just can’t change. It’s too late. Besides, I’m only human.” They are not just belittling themselves; they are denying God’s word. They will fail simply because they will give up instead of persisting to use God’s power.
Psalm 37:5 – If you commit yourself to the Lord and trust Him, He will accomplish His will for you. No matter how strong a temptation you face, no matter how long you have practiced a sin, if God says to change, you can change. (See also Eph. 6:10-18; 3:20,21; 2 Cor. 9:8; Josh. 1:5-9.)
Step 3: Study the Bible about Your Habit.
Joshua 1:8 – To succeed in God’s work, meditate on God’s word. List the pertinent Bible passages about each habit you need to change. List reasons why you should change. Meditate on these verses daily, filling your mind with them. (Cf. Psalm 1:2; 119:11.)
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 – Frequently remind yourself of these verses. Write them and place them where they will remind you: on your bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, on your table at mealtime, on the TV knob.
Matthew 4:1-11 – Jesus overcame temptation by quoting Scripture. But this worked only because He knew the Scripture. Memorize verses about your habit so that, when you are tempted, they will come to mind and strengthen you. Quote them to yourself and to those who tempt you. (See also Prov. 3:5,6; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; Eph. 6:17; Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12.)
Step4: Repent of Sin.
Acts 8:22 – Sin requires repentance. Repentance is a change of mind – a determined commitment to cease sin and obey God (see Matt. 21:28,29; Acts 17:30; 11:23). Before one can change his conduct, he must change his mind.
Proverbs 28:13 – Do not cover up your sin, deny it, excuse it, or blame someone else. Admit the error and be truly sorry (2 Cor. 7:10). But sorrow is not enough. We have truly repented only when we are so sorry that we determine to change our conduct.
Most other achievements in life require about 10% ability and 90% just plain determination and hard work. In spiritual matters, every accountable person has the ability to please God; so changing to please God is 100% determined by our choice. God has provided everything we need. The decision is ours.
We will never change until we make up our minds to pursue the means God provides until we succeed. The decision to do this is repentance, and no one will change to please God without it.
Step 5: Develop a Plan of Action.
Proverbs 14:22 – We must devise to do good, not evil. God’s example demonstrates the importance of planning. He purposed man’s redemption (Rom. 8:28), the church (Eph. 3:10,11), the temple (Heb. 8:5), etc. (cf. Gen. 12:1-7). Likewise, God’s servants need to have a plan to succeed in His service (Luke 14:26-33; Dan. 1:8; Psalm 17:3; Acts 11:23; 2 Cor. 9:7).
In what other important endeavors will we succeed without a plan? Consider the forethought needed to build a house, run a business or a household, program a computer, etc. Worthwhile activities, to be successful, need planning.
Likewise, to change your life, you need a specific, practical checklist of steps you will take to change. Analyze the circumstances or causes that lead you to fail to do right, then plan how to avoid those causes. It may help to write your plan down and modify it as needed. This plan will include some specific points we are studying plus other points that fit your specific problem.
Many people fail to change to please God because they never planned to succeed. They did not plan to fail, but they failed to plan!
Step 6: Pray Regularly.
Prayer is essential in two ways.
A child of God should pray for forgiveness.
If you are not yet a child of God, you need to believe in Jesus, repent of sins, confess Christ, and be baptized to be forgiven of sins (Mark 16:16; Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 2:38; 22:16). When you have done those things, you become a child of God (Gal. 3:26,27; Rom. 6:3,4; 1 Peter 1:22,23). If you sin afterward, you need to pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:8-10; Prov. 28:13; Matt. 6:12).
Then pray for God’s help.
Matthew 6:13 – Ask God to “deliver us from evil” (cf. Matt. 26:41). Tell God exactly what your problem is. Pray often and regularly (1 Thess. 5:17; Col. 4:2). Pray especially at the moment when you face temptation (Matt. 26:36-46).
God has promised that, if you ask His help, He will hear and answer (1 Peter 5:7; Phil. 4:6,7; Eph. 6:11,13,18).
Step 7: Seek Help from Other Christians.
James 5:16 – Christians should confess their faults to one another so they can pray for one another. We should bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). If our sins have harmed specific individuals, we should apologize to them (Matt. 5:23,24).
When we are fighting an especially difficult habit, it may help to choose one or two special counselors to talk with regularly. They can give us Bible passages and good advice about how to change. They can encourage us. It may motivate us just to know that others are aware of our problem. And they can surely pray for us.
Public church meetings are especially designed to give encouragement (Heb. 10:24,25; 3:12,13; Eph. 4:15,16). We need to attend regularly for many reasons, but especially we need encouragement as we try to become what God wants us to be.
Step 8: Diligently Practice What is Right.
1 Corinthians 15:58 – Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work. Abundant, steadfast work is needed.
We have discussed several steps to prepare us to change, but none of them can substitute for hard work and dedicated effort. All the good attitudes in the world will not get the job done until we follow through with action. God does not promise change will be easy, but He promises it is possible if we work diligently according to His word.
James 1:22-25 – Be doers of the word, not just hearers. Habits are formed by repeated action. We learn to ride a bicycle by forcing ourselves to practice, even when it feels unnatural and uncomfortable. But repetition produces a habit that then feels natural and enjoyable.
So we change to serve God only when we compel ourselves to do what we know is right and repeat it until it becomes “second nature.” (See also Rom. 6:1-23; Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46.)
Step 9: Substitue Good Habits for Bad Ones.
Ephesians 4:22-32 – Do not just put off theold man. Put on the new man. Note the examples: Speak truth instead of falsehood (v25), work and give to others instead of stealing (v28), speak good instead of evil (v29), show kindness and forgiveness instead of anger and bitterness (v31,32).
Matthew 12:43-45 – A demon left a man but later found the man’s life still empty. He moved back in bringing seven other demons with him! Jesus applied this to Israel, but it is a general principle.
“Nature hates a vacuum.” Remove the air from a bottle, and it will try to get back in. Fill the bottle with something substantial, and the air stays out. So your life cannot stay a spiritual void. It will fill with good or evil. Replace bad habits with good and the bad is less likely to return.
For example, suppose you determine to watch less TV, so you turn it off, but sit in front of it with nothing else to do. Soon you will turn it on again. But if you become actively involved in family activities, Bible study, etc., soon you will replace it with other habits.
For every bad habit you “put off,” find some useful activity to “put on” in its place.
Step 10: Avoid Temptation.
Matthew 6:13 – We should pray, “lead us not into temptation.” If we pray this, surely we obligate ourselves to avoid people, places, and situations that tempt us (cf. Rom. 13:14).
1 Corinthians 15:33 – Evil company corrupts good habits. Note: “Do not be deceived.” Many people think they can return to bad company without returning to bad habits. They are deceived!
Many habits – such as drinking, smoking, drug abuse, gambling, and sexual promiscuity – are begun and continued because of “peer pressure.” Breaking such habits by themselves is hard enough, but it is far more difficult when “friends” urge us to continue them (1 Peter 4:3,4; Prov. 13:20; Ex. 23:2).
Psalm 26:5 – We should hate the congregation of evildoers. Too often people say, “I won’t drink (or dance or gamble, etc.). I’ll just go to the tavern (or dance hall or casino) to be with my friends.” When people have gathered together for the purpose of practicing sin, Christians belong somewhere else! (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11.)
You cannot change a bad habit while continuing to run with the “crowd” that caused the habit. Changing the habit will require changing your friends because the “friends” are part of the habit!
Step 11: Face One Day at a Time.
Matthew 6:33,34 – Do not worry about tomorrow. Today’s temptations will be enough to handle today. Handle tomorrow’s temptations tomorrow – if tomorrow comes.
Often people quit trying to serve God because they are overwhelmed by the sacrifices required to live the rest of their lives for God. But ask yourself this: “Can I practice what is right today – just today?” Of course you can. So when you get up each morning, promise yourself and God, “I will live today for God.” Don’t worry about handling tomorrow. If it comes, you can handle it the same way you will handle today.
Two men were climbing a steep path up a tall mountain. One looked to the top and asked, “How will we ever make it?” The other replied, “One step at a time.” And that is the only way for you to change yourself.
Step 12: Be Patient.
Romans 2:7 – We receive eternal life if we continue patiently in well doing. We must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 15:58).
Galatians 6:9 – Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Your habits did not develop overnight and will not likely disappear overnight. It will take time. If you fall, repent, and ask God’s forgiveness. But get up and go on. Do not give up. (1 John 1:8-2:2)
2 Peter 3:18 – Becoming a mature Christian is a process of growth. You are born again as a baby and gradually grow up in Christ. You may look at mature Christians and think, “Why can’t I be like them?” But they probably took years to mature. Do not be impatient with yourself.
As a child grows, you may notice small changes from day to day. But look at pictures from years ago and you will see amazing differences. So you may not see much change in your service to God today compared to yesterday. But if you diligently apply the steps taught in God’s word, after a period of 5, 10, or 20 years you will see significant changes compared to where you began.
By using the means God provides, you can change to be what He wants. He gives motivation, guidance, and encouragement. All that is left is for you to determine to follow His will and then diligently act on that decision. He provides the tools. You must use them. What choice will you make?
If God exists, why is there evil in the world? You know, this is a difficult stumbling block and question for many people. The simplest way to look at this question is to examine God’s nature and his desire for mankind. Look at the logic. God loves us and wants us to love him back. And how could we love him back unless we have the freedom to not love?
God could have made us like robots who do nothing more than say, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” But we’d be forced to do that and that wouldn’t be real love. Love is a choice. And if you have a choice you have to be able to choose not to love and that in itself is the nature of evil. Evil is choosing not to love. So when God gave us the freedom to choose, he gave us not only our greatest blessing, but he also gave us our greatest curse because we can choose to do right or choose to do wrong.
The reason there’s evil in the world is not because of God, but because God gave us the freedom to choose. Now the potential for love outweighs the existence of evil, because you see, evil is only going to exist for a short time, but love is going to go on forever. And all of the suffering and all of the death that we see in the world today are the result because man has chosen to make wrong choices.
God could have taken our freedom, but He didn’t. I hope you’ll use your freedom to choose God.
Question 2: Is Jesus really God?
Well when you think about it you only have three options as to who Jesus Christ was. You see, Jesus claimed to be God. He said things like, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” He claimed to be God many, many times. Now, that means either:
He is who he says He was
He was the biggest liar in history or
He was crazy, He was a lunatic on the order of the man who calls himself a fried egg.
You see, you can’t just say Jesus was a good man. I’ve had many friends who said, “Oh, I believe Jesus was a good man.” Well He couldn’t have been a good man and said those things He said. For instance, if I said to you, “I’m Rick Warren and I’m a good teacher and a good husband.” You might say, “Okay, I buy that.” But if I said to you, “I’m Rick Warren and I’m God and I’m the only way to heaven.” Well, you would have to make a decision. You couldn’t say I was a good person because a good person wouldn’t say that. You’d either say, “He is who he says he was, or he’s a liar or he’s crazy.”
Now Jesus didn’t just expect us to believe Him and take Him at His word. He said, “I’m going to prove the claim that I am God.”He said, “I’m going to let people kill me on a cross, then let them bury me. I’ll be dead for three days and then I’ll come back to life.” And, of course, that was the event that changed history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every person since then refers to Jesus Christ, whether they believe in Him or not, every time you right a date, A.D. or B.C., what’s the reference point? Jesus Christ. Because it was the event that split history when Jesus proved that He was who He said He was, He is God.
Question 3: Do all religions lead to God?
Well now think about the logic of this. Can I go into a phone booth and dial any phone number and get home? No, there’s only one number that’ll get me home. I could be sincere, but I could be sincerely wrong. The truth is, all roads don’t lead to Rome and all roads and all religions don’t lead to God.
You see, it all depends on which direction you take. Jesus said this, “I am the way and the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I’m betting my life on the fact that He was right because I figured Jesus knows more about it than I did.
The Bible tells us that on the road to heaven, there are only two directions, toward Christ or away from Him. You can accept it or you can reject it, that’s your choice. You can make Jesus the Lord of your life, that means the manager, the ceo, the person in charge of your life, or you can call Him a liar, but that’s what the Bible declares.
You know a lot of people sincerely believe that even though they’ve broken God’s rules that they can earn God’s forgiveness by doing good works, by observing the Five Pillars of Islam or the Buddhist Eightfold Path or the Hindu Doctrine of Karma, for example. But I don’t get it. How will doing some good works that we should have done all our lives, make up for all the countless times we failed? You see, heaven is a perfect place and that means only perfect people get to go there. If not-perfect people were allowed in, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. Well I don’t know about you, but I stopped being perfect a long time ago. So God came up with plan b. He came to earth in human form, Jesus Christ, and He lived a perfect life and now He offers to let us go to heaven on His ticket. And I pray that you will trust Jesus Christ and stop trying to bat a thousand because you ended up not doing that a long time ago and accept God’s free ticket through Jesus Christ.
Question 4: What’s going to happen to those people in the world who’ve never heard about Jesus Christ?
You may have heard this question put this way: “What about the person living in the jungle somewhere who’s never heard the good news about Jesus Christ? Are you christians saying that a person won’t go to heaven based solely on where he lives?” No, we’re not saying that. The Bible tells us that God doesn’t work that way. We understand that God is perfect in His love and perfect in His holiness and He’s perfectly just and fair. Therefore, it’s against God’s nature to be unfair. It’s against God’s nature to hide the ball on salvation or to condemn somebody who’s ignorant of his truth. In fact the scripture, the bible declares that God is loving and patient and not willing that anybody should perish. But He wants everybody to come to repentance, to come to know Him.
So if God is a perfectly loving and righteous God, then He will figure out ways to help people understand Him. He somehow reveals the simple truth of the gospel to people throughout the world. You know, I’ve talked to people who were missionaries in Africa who’ve told me that Jesus has revealed Himself through nature. When you look at nature you learn that God is organized, that God is creative, that God likes variety. But it’s when we look at Jesus Christ we realize that God is loving.
And as Christians we are called to tell the good news to other people. It’s God’s decision to decide what happens to people who haven’t heard about Him. But it is our decision to take that news to as many people as possible. And the bible says we will be held more responsible because we have heard and we have known that God is love, that God wants a relationship to us and that God will forgive us if we give our lives to Jesus Christ.
So, what do we do about those who haven’t heard? We tell them. First we accept God’s good news and then we tell them and we leave the result in the hands of a fair, loving and just God.
Question 5: What about all the wars that are caused in the name of Christianity?
Well first, let me say that a lot of things have been done in the name of Christianity that Jesus Christ would totally disavow. Andjust because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t necessarily make him a follower of Christ, nor does it make him a representative of Jesus. It’s very, very important to distinguish between the bible kind of Christianity and the actions that have been taken throughout history by people who claim to be Christians but really didn’t know.
You see there’s a difference between religion and a relationship with God. Jesus is not interested in the religion of Christianity. He’s interested in you having a relationship to Him. Jesus never said, “I’ve come that you might have religion.” He said, “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Now a lot of people have claimed to be followers of Christ but they’ve lived their lives contrary to His teaching. And we shouldn’t label that group Christian. But let me say this, have you ever seen a counterfeit dollar? Well, maybe you haven’t, but maybe you’ve heard of them. Why are there counterfeit dollars in the world? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because there are real dollars in the world. If there were no real dollars, there would be no counterfeits. And if you find counterfeit Christianity in the world, it must mean that somewhere there must be the real thing. The point is we don’t identify Jesus by claiming that all the things that were done in His name were done by Him. In fact, Jesus proffended His own disciples from defending themselves against the enemies when He said on a personal basis, He said, “I want you to turn the other cheek.”
So a lot of wars have been done in the name of Christianity that Jesus probably would have disavowed. The real issue is do you know Jesus Christ? You see, it doesn’t matter so much what has been done by hypocrites or phonies or false followers of Christ. What matters is do you know the real, true, genuine item? Have you ever turned your life over to Jesus Christ? If you haven’t, I would encourage you to investigate Him today.
Question 6: Is there any real right or wrong?
You know, you might have heard somebody say, “I don’t believe there’s such a thing as right or wrong.” Or maybe you’ve heard a professor say, “There are no absolutes.” Whenever I hear that I want to say, “Are you absolutely sure?” You have to ask yourself, “Is this statement even logical? Is there any right or wrong?” Because when people say, “There is no right or wrong, or it’s wrong for you to impose your morals on me,” think about it, by them telling you that, they are imposing their morals on you.
The fact is we all inheritantly know right from wrong and we just have this weird tendency to disregard it. To disregard morality when it conflicts with our desires for pleasure or personal gain. Now, sure, you might justify having an affair, but certainly you wouldn’t condone your spouse having one. Or you might justify taking something without permission, but if you were the one being robbed you wouldn’t think it was okay. You see the fact is, there isn’t a person alive today who’d come home from work and discover that their entire house had been robbed and say, “Oh, how wonderful that this burglar is able to enjoy all my things without my permission. And who am I to impose my view of right or wrong on this poor burglar?” You see how ridiculous that is? Of course.
Even those who claim there is no right or wrong have their own moral conscious, they’ve just set their own standards.Here’s a good way to determine right from wrong. Turn the situation around on yourself. Jesus said it best. He said, “Treat people the same way you want people to treat you.” You see we all know that murder and rape and lying and stealing and torture and injustice are absolutely wrong. Why? Because we wouldn’t want any of these things to happen to us. The person who would say, “there is no right or wrong,” would not agree that it was okay for them to be raped. No, when you turn it on yourself, you realize that even inside ourselves God has placed a moral conscious and that conscious tells us when we do right and when we do wrong. And when we violate our conscious, we need forgiveness. That’s why the bible said, “God sent Jesus to earth so that we might be forgiven of all of our wrong.”
Question 7: Why do I exist?
That’s the most fundamental question of life. What on earth am I here for?
Well, you need to understand God to answer that question. You see, the bible says, “God is love.” It doesn’t say He has love, it says He is love. It’s part of His nature, His character, it is the essence of His being. God is love. Now, love isn’t very valuable unless you bestow it on something and the bible says, “God made you to love you.” You were created as an object of God’s love. If you want to know why you’re taking breath right now, why your heart is beating, it’s because God made you to love you. It’s the sole reason. You were made to be loved by God and to bring Him pleasure.
Now God wants you to learn to love Him back and that’s the first purpose of your life, to get to know and love Him back.One day Jesus was walking down the street and a man came up and said, “What’s the most important command in the bible?” And Jesus said, “I’m going to summarize the entire bible in one sentence. Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.” That’s called the great commandment. And God wants you to get to know and love Him back. So that means when you get up in the morning, you should sit on the side of your bed and say, “God, if I don’t get anything else done today, I want to know you a little bit better and I want to love you a little bit more.” Because if at the end of the day you know God more and you love Him more, you have just fulfilled one of the purposes of your life.
If, on the other hand, you’ve accomplished all kinds of things and achieved many, many successes in life, but at the end of the day you don’t know God better or love Him more, you have missed the primary purpose of your life. Because God didn’t put you on this earth just to mark things off your to-do list. He put you here to know Him and love Him. That’s why you exist.
Question 8: What is my purpose in life?
Well the truth is, God created you for five purposes. You see, you were made by God and you were made for God. And until you understand that, life isn’t going to make sense. When you come to this question, what is my purpose, you only have three alternatives.
First is what I call the mystical approach, and that is look within. You find this in a lot of talk shows, a lot of new age books a lot of seminars. They say, “look within to discover your purpose.” The only problem is that doesn’t work. We’ve all looked within and I didn’t like what I saw. It’s quite confusing. In fact, if you could know the purpose of your life by looking within, we’d all know it by now. It doesn’t work.
The second way you can try to discover your purpose is called the intellectual or philosophical approach. And that’s where you go to a seminary class or university class and you sit there with a pipe and your latte and your coffee and you ask questions like, “Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going?” I once read a book by professor John Morehead, the Head of the Department of Philosophy at Northeastern University in Illinois. And he wrote to 250 well-known intellectuals and asked them, “What is the meaning and purpose of life?” These were novelists, scientists, well-known intellectuals, and I read the book, it’s now out of print, it was quite depressing because most of the people said, “I have no idea what the purpose of life is.” Some of them admitted they just made up a purpose. And some of the admitted they guessed. And some of them said, “If you know the purpose, please tell me.”
You see, there’s a better answer to speculation and that’s revelation. If I were to hold up an invention that you have never seen before, you wouldn’t know its purpose. The only way you’d know its purpose was either talk to the inventor, the creator who made it or read the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual of life is the bible and your Creator is God. And it is only as you get to know God you will discover his five purposes for your life. I hope you’ll begin that journey today.
Question 9: Does my life really matter?
Well, it’s a good question. You know, today we teach our kids that we’re all just one big cosmic accident. We came from the goo through the zoo to you over billions of years. Well, if that is true, in a nutshell it teaches that your life really doesn’t matter, you’re just the freak accident of random chance, you’re complex slime and you were an accident. And if you get accidentally killed, well, of course, that doesn’t matter. And that creates a lot of our sociological problems and a lot of our self-esteem issues.
But the truth is you are not an accident. You were created by a loving God who loves you and designed you with intricate detail in your life and when you understand that God made you to love you and that God made you to be a part of His family and that God made you to last forever, then you’re never going to have a problem with low self-esteem again.
It was Bertram Russell the atheist who once said, “Unless you assume the existence of God, then the purpose and meaning of life is irrelevant.” The truth is, if there is no God your life doesn’t matter. But because there is a God, God had a specific purpose in mind when He created you and you do matter. You matter because God created you. You matter because he sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. If you want to know how much you matter, think of Jesus Christ with his arms outstretched saying, “I love you this much.”
Now, if you had to chose between a loved one and a material thing, even if that thing was priceless, you’d chose your loved one in a heartbeat. And when you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to surround yourself with material possessions, you’re not going to say, “Bring me my trophies. Bring me my credentials. Bring me my certificates so I can look one more time at my grade point average.” No, you’re going to surround yourself with loved ones and everybody’s going to be crying because they’re going to miss you. You see, that’s how much you matter.
Personal relationships to God and to other people are the most important thing in life. And God wants you to know Him and He wants you to have a relationship with Him because you’re worth so much in God’s eyes that he sent His Son to die for you. I hope you’ll get to know Him very soon.
Question 10: Is there a real hell and why would a loving God send anyone there?
Well, first I believe in hell because Jesus talked about it. In fact, Jesus talked more about hell then He did heaven. He said it is a real place and it is a place of eternal torment. And I believe Jesus knows more about it than either you or I.
But second, I believe in hell because logic and fairness demand it. Think of all the atrocities and evil that have been done throughout history by evildoers in this world. For God to allow those crimes to go unpunished would mean that God is not worthy of our worship and love.
Now why would a loving God send anyone to hell? Well in a nutshell, God doesn’t. God doesn’t send anybody to hell. We choose to go there when we reject the love of God. If I were to say to my right is a door heading to heaven, and to my left is a door heading to hell, if you walk out the door heading to hell, you don’t have anybody to blame but yourself.
In fact, the bible tells us that God does almost everything – well everything possible to keep us out of hell. He cared so much to keep us out of hell that he sent Jesus Christ to come to earth, to die on the cross, to pay for our sins so that we don’t have to pay for them. He wants to set us free. He wants to give us forgiveness. God made us in his image and He gave us the ultimate power to say yes or no.
Now if we chose to reject God here on earth, then we, at the same time, are choosing to spend eternity separated from Him. You see, there are only two people in the world – two kinds of people. Those who say, “Thy will be done here to God on earth” and those to whom God says, “Your will be done,” when we say, “I want to do it my way.” And if we say, “God I don’t want you in my life while I’m here on earth,” then God says, “I don’t want you in my heaven for eternity.”
You don’t have to go to hell. In fact, Jesus Christ has made it possible for you to go to heaven. Open your heart to Him and say, “Jesus Christ, I need you, I want you, I trust you and I ask you to forgive me.” And He’ll come in and save you.
As we know, there is no shortage of boldness in our world. When you think of our political leaders, they are quite bold, often in an arrogant way, to impose their societal vision, values, and beliefs on others. If you’re a teacher, or state worker, you know how boldly Bureaucrats can regulate every manner of living, speaking, teaching, and thinking. Secularists self-righteously applaud their own tolerance even as they openly, flagrantly, boldly, suppress the slightest expression of Christian faith in the public sphere. Entertainers boldly flaunting their hyper-immorality—shoving their perversity into our faces, indoctrinating our children with their crass lyrics, all the while denouncing everything that’s good, decent, and holy.
But there are other kinds of boldness. What about the boldness of the adulterer or the fornicator? What about the gossip who stirs up dissension? The thief or robber who enters another’s home? The sluggard who feels entitled to the fruits of their parents labor, or worse, their neighbor? What about greedy lendors who brazenly prey, and financially exploit, the weak. Or the greedy debtors who boldly charge up their credit card with no intention of repayment. The son who rebels against his father can be quite bold! Or the man who abandons responsibility to his family while pursuing relations to another woman. What about the woman who boldly aborts her unborn child? Or, the homosexual or lesbian who ensnares another man or woman in their sin?
There is an abundance of boldness in our culture. But it’s boldness about all the wrong things! We’re bold about evil, about sin, and about our rights, freedoms, and entitlements. But where is the boldness for what’s “excellent and praiseworthy?” For “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable.”
People are unapologetically bold about all that is evil; meanwhile Christians are apologetically timid about all that is holy and good.
What’s needed isn’t “fleshly” boldness. When boldness is driven by the flesh, it is enormously destructive. Look at the trail of destruction that exists in your family alone, or our community, or state, or nation. We don’t need more fleshly boldness.
What’s needed (now, more than ever) is “spiritual boldness”—a boldness that’s born out of vital relationship with the Spirit of the Living God. Spiritual boldness does not derive its confidence from the flesh, or from the world, but from the mind of God. In your outline, let me share some things that are distinct about Christian boldness. . .
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Inspired Word.
What convictions do you hold about the word of God? 1 Peter 1:23 describes how the word is “imperishable”, “living and abiding” and is like a seed. Whereas the flowers and grass fade away, and the flesh/ glory of man withers… The word of God cannot be destroyed, nor will it ever pass away. We don’t have to understand how the word works, we just need to be faithful to plant it.
2 Timothy 3:15-16 says the Bible is able to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
In 2 Peter 1:20-21 were told, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
In Isaiah 55:11 God says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
A couple of thoughts. First, to the degree that our boldness is tuned to the Word of God, it’s redemptive. To the degree that our boldness is of the flesh, it kills and destroys. Understand that boldness with the Word of God—preaching, teaching—has revived nations. Where has boldness in the flesh done anything good except corrupt, kill, and destroy. Our boldness needs to be trained by the Word of God.
Second, greater boldness is needed by all of us to inject God’s word into conversations. In John 6:63 Jesus told his disciples, “My words are spirit and life.” When timid Christian withhold the word, it’s like a farmer withholding seed. You cannot reap a harvest of righteousness if you never plant anything.
Parents often ask, “why are my kids so disrespectful, crass, self-centered…” Well, you reap what you sow. If you plant the word deeply you won’t ask those questions of your kids, family, or culture. God’s word doesn’t return void, God’s word is spiritual and alive, it accomplishes the purpose for which God sent it.
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Spirit’s Activity
Another basis for boldness is the Spirit’s ongoing activity. In John 16:8 Jesus promised the Spirit would convict the world in regard to “sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment.” This is great news! We don’t have to be fanatics, or extremists about this stuff. If there is sin, the Spirit will show it to a person. We don’t have to scream, and yell, and shout, and hold demonstrations.
If there is something holy, righteous, good, the Spirit will show it for what it is. And the Spirit daily reminds people they are accountable before God for their life. Why else do you think people justify themselves, and plead their case, and boast, “But I’m a good person?” It’s because deep down people know they’re accountable to God.
This is why Paul tells the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, “. . . When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (NIV)
We don’t have to convict people, that’s the Spirit’s work. Our job is to faithfully and boldly plant seeds. We are to hold out the Words of Life. The gospel does not advance in the power of self, by intimidation or bullying, by shaming and giving guilt trips. Let the Spirit do what He does… and you and I can do the planting just as God’s asked us to do. The Spirit wins hearts and minds.
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Spirit’s Power
Like the Apostle Paul, I sometimes find myself in places of “weakness, fear, and trembling.” Every week our pastoral staff encounters situations for which there is no human wisdom or human answers or human remedy… or financial resources. If you’re a spiritual person, you have great advantage. Like the early in Acts 1:8, its mostly a matter of waiting for God to clothe us with power. But if you’re an unspiritual person, what power is available to you, beyond your own strength?
When we help unspiritual people, they keep returning with the same problems. A person comes needing gas money, or food, or some help. We encourage them to trust God, we teach them how to pray, but most do not. They get relief and continue on their godless path until they again hit rock bottom. And then they’re back at our door. Apart from faith in Jesus, there is no power for the godless. There is just the rough, godless, hard, lifeless, joyless, impoverished road you’ve always walked.
But with faith in Jesus Christ, there is real hope, there is real power! Romans 1:16 Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, of it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. . .” Ephesians 3:16 speaks of how God has granted that those in Christ to “be strengthened with power through His Spirit.”
Particularly noteworthy are Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:10-20 (see NIV). This weekend we honor the soldier. Our country has the most powerful military of any nation that’s every inhabited the earth. We also have the finest trained men and women. But there is a limit to what fleshly warfare can achieve—as we’re well aware!
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
The Spirit’s power is unleashed through prayer and proclamation of the Word. Our first priority when someone comes to the church in crisis is to first listen, but then pray with people and share the word with them. That is the greatest help/resource we can provide.
R.A. Torrey observes how the Spirit is like the wind. The wind is invisible, and mysterious. We don’t see from where it comes or where it goes. It turns the windmill (not at Southwind Park, but other windmills). It fills our sails, drives the vessel out to sea, churns up the dust, shakes foundations, and affects everything material and physical. The wind is indispensable—it strengthens, fortifies, anchors, roots, tests. In the same way, the Spirit is invisible, we don’t see him but we feel his power.
Trust God’s word! Pray!
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in our Eternal Hope
I want to end with this final idea. If we’re led by the Spirit, we could very well pay a great price with our life. Every sign points to an ever increasing hostility toward churches, and toward Christians. Around the world, this hostility is in full season. I think of the many soldiers, who have lost their lives, confronting evil around the world. There is a price that is to be paid for boldness—one that involves flesh and blood.
In Ephesians 1:3 Paul reminds us that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
In Ephesians 4:30 Paul urges us then, not to grieve the Holy Spirit “by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, “For all the promises of God find their YES in Jesus. That is why it is through him that we utter our AMEN to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
After they had destroyed Jesus’ body, God raised Jesus from the grave by the power of the Spirit. There are those who can destroy the flesh, but cannot destroy soul. God can destroy both. But if you’re in Christ God promises to preserve both body and soul. God promises to give us a new resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15), and he promises that our Spirit will dwell with him for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5).
We don’t have to be afraid. We can have boldness and courage about the things that matter for eternity. This was the hallmark of the early church.
Be bold. We have the Inspired Word of God… the Spirit is actively at work, all around us in the world… The Spirit by virtue of our faith, is powerful to save us… Finally the Spirit seals us, so that death can never lay claim on us, so that we can never be separated from God… but ushered into presence where we’ll dwell with him forever.
Question: “Why is God going to send a strong delusion in the end times?”
Answer: The Bible makes it clear why God is sending a strong delusion in the end times: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Simply put, God sends a strong delusion to those who chose not to believe the gospel of Christ. Those who take delight in mocking and rejecting Him, He will condemn.
It is man’s choice whether to accept and believe the truth of Jesus Christ as presented in the Scriptures. To receive the truth and the love God offers is in keeping with its teachings, “This is love for God: to obey His commands” (1 John 5:3). Conversely, to know the truth and not obey it is to face the wrath of God: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). Frankly speaking, there is no more dangerous condition for man than to know the truth and refuse to obey it. To do so is to harden the heart and make God’s condemnation sure.
When one knows the truth and refuses to obey it, he is subject to any lie, any deception, any untruth that man can conjure up. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21-22). Paul goes on in next few verses to describe the mindset and behaviors of those who disbelieve (see Romans 1:29-31). As a result of man’s foolishness and his arrogant disdain of the things of God, “God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). And correspondingly, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
Isaiah puts it succinctly: “They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations; so I [God] also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring upon them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in My sight and chose what displeases Me” (Isaiah 66:3-4).
When men know the truth and refuse to receive it, when they refuse to obey it and hold it in unrighteousness, “they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT).
“God is love” (1 John 4:16). He is not some cruel monster who deliberately and inwardly delights in preparing people for everlasting condemnation. But He earnestly and lovingly proclaims the gospel of Christ, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Throughout the Scriptures, God urges people to accept the truth. But when people reject Him and spurn His message, then—and not until then—God hardens them and turns them over to a deluded mind to wallow in their wickedness to their eternal damnation. This is what the Lord says about those who choose to reject the truth: “They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the Lord does not accept them; He will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins” (Jeremiah 14:10).
Question: “Is it possible to sell your soul to the devil?”
Answer: In the fanciful tale of Dr. Faustus, a man makes a deal with the devil: in exchange for his body and soul, the man is to receive supernatural power and pleasures for 24 years. The devil agrees to the trade, and Dr. Faustus enjoys the pleasures of sin for a season, but his doom is sealed. At the end of 24 years, Faustus attempts to thwart the devil’s plans, but he meets a frightful demise, nonetheless. This legend works well as a morality tale and as a metaphor for the wages of sin, but the details of its plot are not biblical.
The Bible has no instance of a person “selling his soul” to Satan, and it never implies that making a bargain with the devil is possible. Here is some of what Scripture does reveal about Satan:
5) As “the god of this world,” Satan has dominion over those who live without Christ in the world (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Surely, there are those who suffer under direct satanic control, such as the young medium of Philippi (Acts 16:16-19). And there are those who have devoted themselves to the devil’s work, such as the sorcerers Simon (Acts 8:9-11) and Elymas (Acts 13:8). However, in each of these three examples, the power of God prevails over Satan’s slavery. In fact, Simon is offered a chance to repent (Acts 8:22). Obviously, there had been no irrevocable “selling” of Simon’s soul.
Without Christ, we are all under condemnation of death (Romans 3:23). Before we are saved, we are all in bondage to the devil, as 1 John 5:19 says, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Praise the Lord, we have a new Master, One who can break the chains of any sin and set us free (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Mark 5:1-15).
I’m convinced that the two most important questions every one of us has to ask and ultimately get right are, is life a waste of time: Is there a God? If there is a God, has that God spoken and revealed Himself in a way that we can understand and know him?
Really since the beginning of time, the human race has been plagued with questions about life, death, evil, goodness and purpose. Is there a God? If there is a God, has that God spoken and revealed Himself in a way that we can understand and know him?If the answers are no, then it really doesn’t matter if there is a God!
Now lets say – there is a God, what good is that if I can’t know Him and understand what He communicates to me? This is one of my major arguments with Islam and New Age – to them God is not personal or knowable and this is so defeating and fatalistic!
Today, what I want to do is deal with the fundamental statement of the fool…“There is no God!”
But maybe you’re thinking, Pastor, I’ve never seen this God? I realize this, but this is true with gravity and oxygen and your enjoying both right now! You see, you don’t need to see Him physically to experience Him spiritually!
Do you know what’s amazing about this Psalm? This Psalm begins with people who don’t believe in God. And get this:
– There are 41,173 verses in the Bible and God gives one half of one verse to the atheist!
– There are 774,746 words in the Bible and God gives the atheist 11 words.
There was an atheist who was complaining to his friend that there’s no holiday for the atheist. Christians have Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Then his friend said, “Then why don’t you take April 1st!”
I’ve come to realize that there are only 3 things we can do with God, and they’re all found right here in Psalm 14.
Let’s look at them…
1. We Can Deny The Reality of God. Vs. 1a
About 7% of America does just that! They say, “There’s no God, so I’m a fool!” What we just read is the only dialogue God has with the atheist – that’s it! 2 sentences: “There’s no God!” And God says, “Fool”! End of conversation!
This reminds me of a little boy who was talking to his atheist dad at dinner and said, “Dad, do you think God knows that we don’t believe in him?”
Even the most educated genius with the highest I.Q. can be a fool! The person in the natural can know what E=MC square is, but in the spiritual knows nothing about the ABC’s of God!
Think about it – the most brilliant scientist who sees a car – has no problem believing there’s a designer. He sees a portrait and has no problem believing there’s an artist. He reads a book and has no problem believing there’s an author! But when he sees creation, he denies there’s a creator! That’s really amazing to me!
In 1916 Albert Einstein was so disturbed that the universe was not eternal but in fact had a beginning that he wrote about this “Irritating fact”, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant to me…I should like to find a genius loophole.”
But in 1949 he wrote, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
You know, while there really is only about 7% in America who are atheist, the truth of the matter is that there’s more foolish people in America than we admit! More foolish people who claim to be Christians even!
There are 2 types of atheist in America:
– The intellectual – believes there’s no God.
– The practical – behaves like there’s no God.
And the most foolish person in the world today is not the intellectual fool, but rather the practical fool, the one who believes in God but their lifestyle is godless!
The practical atheist says:
There’s a God, but I’m going to live without him.
There is a Bible, but I’m not going to live by it.
There’s a Lord’s Day, but I’m going to sleep it away or go fishing all day!
The most famous atheist of our day was Madelyn Murray O’Hare. Her son William quotes her as saying…“I’m an atheist, not because I’ve searched behind every star and looked under every rock to prove there’s no God. I’m an atheist because I want to live my life as if there’s no God.”
I can understand why she would say this – but why do people who believe in God say this also?
2. We Can Detest Any Response To God.
Don’t miss what I’m about to say…God doesn’t deal with atheism on an intellectual level – because atheism is not an intellectual issue, it’s a moral issue. It’s not so much a mental problem as it is a moral problem! Atheism is not a head problem – it’s a heart problem! Atheism is not a person who cannot believe in God as much as it’s a person who will not believe in God!
Why? Verse 1
The atheist’s biggest problem is not in the evidence but rather the great threat God is to their lifestyle! Think about it…If there’s no God, then there’s no judgment, no punishment, no standard of what’s right or wrong – why not make it whatever you want?
Why not have a fling without a ring? Why not perous with someone else’s spouse? Why not flirt and pervert your vows – after all, to the atheist there’s no judge or standard!
You maybe thinking, “Pastor, you’re exaggerating!” Think again!
Psalm 10:13 “Why do the wicked renounce God? He has said in his heart, you will not require an account.”
Here’s the basic reason we live a life as a practical atheist or an intellectual atheist – there’s no accountability!
Bin laden, Hamas, Hezbollah and all these terrorizing termites around the world, really believe they will get away with such evil acts – and somehow 70 virgins and flowing wine await them in heaven!
From Corporate America to Capital Hill, from cheating spouses to cheating taxpayers, from the drug pusher to the gangbanger, from the porn king to the drag queen – somehow they really think they’ll get away with it all!
Folks, that’s why the intellectual atheist is hell bent to get God out of the School House, Court House, White House and eventually the Church House! And all long, the practical atheist is silently rooting for the intellectual atheist – because they think this just might smooth over their conscience!
Mr. Newdall the man who was trying to get the words, “In God we trust” out of the pledge last year…inwardly he’s screaming, “Stop reminding me that I just might be accountable to God!” Why is Christianity under attack today in such a vicious manner? Mark it down, when people begin with intolerance towards God – they end up intolerant with God’s people! You see when atheistic people see you and me more like Christ – it gets under their skin and their conscience begins to itch away at their deepest level.
Folks…the same reason people can’t find God is the same reason a thief can’t find a police man! It’ll mess up their lives!
3. We Can Delight in a Relationship With God. Vs. 5
It’s not about people doing right, but people being right. Huge difference! People who want to see God with their heart and head!
Jeremiah 29:13 “And you shall seek me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Here’s the key…a real relationship with God is through faith. Not just science, not just by touch – and don’t let anyone ever ridicule you because you live your life by faith, because the atheist does also!
Robert Rowe, An atheist professor from Purdue University, educated at Oxford, once read to his students from his new book, “Even as the evangelical Christian accepts God by faith, I reject the idea of God by faith, but I cannot reject God by reason alone for there is too much evidence of His existence. It is by faith I am an atheist.”
LifePoint: We can experience victory and experience His forgiveness and spend eternity with Him – it may start with the head but it’s going to lead to the heart!
You’ve probably never heard of O. W. Saunders, an atheist that spent all of his life without God. He was a popular journalist about a 100 years ago from North Carolina.
At the end of his life he wrote these heart-breaking words…
“I would love to introduce you to the most lonesome individual on earth. I’m talking about the man who doesn’t believe in God. I can introduce you to such a man because I’m that man. By introducing myself, I introduce an atheist or a skeptic that lives in your neighborhood, because he’s everywhere. You’ll be surprised that the atheist envies your faith in God, your subtle belief of heaven after life. He’s jealous of your blessed assurance that you will meet your loved ones in the after life with no sadness or pain.
He would give anything to be able to embrace that faith and be comforted by it, for him, there’s only two things, the grave and the persistence of matter.
The atheist may face life with a smile and a heroic attitude. He may put on a brave front, but he’s not happy. He stands in awe and reverence before the vastness and majesty of the universe, not knowing where he came from or why. He’s appalled by the Why is Christianity under attack today in such a vicious manner? Mark it down, when people begin with intolerance towards God – they end up intolerant with God’s people! You see when atheistic people see you and me more like Christ – it gets under their skin and their conscience begins to itch away at their deepest level.
Folks…the same reason people can’t find God is the same reason a thief can’t find a police man! It’ll mess up their lives!
3. We Can Delight in a Relationship With God. Vs. 5
It’s not about people doing right, but people being right. Huge difference! People who want to see God with their heart and head!
Jeremiah 29:13 “And you shall seek me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Here’s the key…a real relationship with God is through faith. Not just science, not just by touch – and don’t let anyone ever ridicule you because you live your life by faith, because the atheist does also!
Robert Rowe, An atheist professor from Purdue University, educated at Oxford, once read to his students from his new book, “Even as the evangelical Christian accepts God by faith, I reject the idea of God by faith, but I cannot reject God by reason alone for there is too much evidence of His existence. It is by faith I am an atheist.”
LifePoint: We can experience victory and experience His forgiveness and spend eternity with Him – it may start with the head but it’s going to lead to the heart!
You’ve probably never heard of O. W. Saunders, an atheist that spent all of his life without God. He was a popular journalist about a 100 years ago from North Carolina.
At the end of his life he wrote these heart-breaking words…
“I would love to introduce you to the most lonesome individual on earth. I’m talking about the man who doesn’t believe in God. I can introduce you to such a man because I’m that man. By introducing myself, I introduce an atheist or a skeptic that lives in your neighborhood, because he’s everywhere. You’ll be surprised that the atheist envies your faith in God, your subtle belief of heaven after life. He’s jealous of your blessed assurance that you will meet your loved ones in the after life with no sadness or pain.
He would give anything to be able to embrace that faith and be comforted by it, for him, there’s only two things, the grave and the persistence of matter.
The atheist may face life with a smile and a heroic attitude. He may put on a brave front, but he’s not happy. He stands in awe and reverence before the vastness and majesty of the universe, not knowing where he came from or why. He’s appalled by the stupendency of space and the infinity of time, humiliated at the smallness of himself and his own weakness and brevity. of space and the infinity of time, humiliated at the smallness of himself and his own weakness and brevity.
Certainly he yearns for a staff on which to lean, he too carries a cross. For him this earth is but a tricky raft, adrift in the unfathomable waters of eternity with no horizon in site. His heart aches for every precious life upon the raft because he’s always drifting, always drifting, always drifting, where he goes he does not know.”
There may be a Mr. Saunders here today, and I say to you, there is a God who loves you, cares for you and even poured out His life for you and His name is Jesus! And He did all that so you can know for sure that your drifting days are over!
Christian Lifestyle – Unchanged
What’s the purpose of living a Christian lifestyle? Choosing to make Jesus Christ the Lord of our life changes our lifestyle dramatically. Friendships, activities, and even health issues receive careful evaluation. While we formulate reasons for the way we live our Christian lives, God’s purpose for our lives never changes.
To remain connected to God through Jesus Christ (John 15:4–8). A life that’s cut off from God withers and dies — physically as well as spiritually. God desires to reproduce His Son’s life through our fruitfulness.
To remain faithful through persecution and to resist false doctrine (2 Timothy 3:12–17). The apostle Paul expected situations to become worse as worldly pressures increased. Our testimony and knowledge of the Scriptures arm us against any deceivers or deceptive ideals.
To present the Good News to a lost world (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Timothy 6:12) Like an athlete or soldier, we present our best efforts to further the faith. Our transformed lives compel us to share the Gospel’s impact not just for our “today,” but for our eternity.
Christian Lifestyle – Rules
Are there specific guidelines that constitute a Christian lifestyle? From theologian to theologian, any “lifestyle” list would differ. Drinking, movies, music, dancing, politics, fashion, education . . . to what degree do we shape our choices so we maintain a Christian lifestyle? “Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do…” (Romans 12:2). For one year A.J. Jacobs attempted to obey more than 700 rules and prohibitions found in the Bible. At the end of one year he confessed, “I started the year as an agnostic, and now I am a reverent agnostic.” A Christian lifestyle should never become a list of rules. We must take our attention off mandates and focus on the Man. To paraphrase, “What did Jesus do?”
Christian Lifestyle – Inside Out
What are the outward and inward evidence of a Christian lifestyle? You can present an outward appearance of holiness daily and still serve as a poor Christian witness (Matthew 23:27-28). To live as a Christian requires having the character of Christ. A transformation must occur, as a result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (Galatians 5:24-25).
When we truly practice a Christian lifestyle, the inward evidence becomes obvious. God’s glory and power pours out upon all those around us. Our faith in the midst of turmoil flows from a heart given to a loving Father. Every breath carries words of compassion and affirmation to a hurting world. Those who live the Christian lifestyle live a confident life on the inside and outside.
“This High Priest [Jesus Christ] of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
WHAT DO YOU THINK? – We have all sinned and deserve God’s judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to theBible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, “Jesus is Lord,” you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.
Becoming a leader was a great challenge for me. My first responsibility as a leader was as class president. My second was fatherhood, my third was team leader on several campaigns abroad while serving my country. I was blessed to have been raised by a leader in my home. LT. Cornell Johnny Pratt United States Army. Under his grooming I found excuses to rebel. It was uncomfortable learning how to follow not knowing in doing so I was being prepared for great responsibility.
“There’s an ego looking for a place to inflate,” my mom would whisper to me as my siblings entered the room, a prophecy that unfortunately soon proved itself to be true. “The long, dark corridor of life narrows at the end./ And those whose ego grow too tall will have to learn to bend.” I miss my mom who ultimately was the stronger vessel in our home due to all the humility she showed while ministering her faith in Christ to a Islamic domineered home.
I. A place of leadership is a place of honor
Imagine the honor of it. From what may have been two million people 12 men were chosen. One dozen, from two million. Surely, the crowd roared for each name called, the way sports fans cheer for their heroes, the way political rallies yell the name of their candidate. They had a cheering base of more than 150,000 to a man, and the sound must have thundered across the valley.
Moses called them, one by one. Shammua, Shaphat, Caleb, Igal, Hoshea (or Joshua), Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, Geuel!
Their heads held high, these 12 men chosen as leaders for God’s people, were honored for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of integrity, and a lifetime of courage. The applause must have been sweet to many of them, if not every one of them.
We already know the rest of the story, how 10 out of the 12 would fail miserably in their leadership role. Only Caleb and Joshua would lead with courage and God-led conviction. Before we get to the failures of the 10, however, focus on the truth of the honor. It is a great honor to be chosen as a leader among God’s people.
When Paul briefed Timothy about the qualifications of deacons, he said – If a man serves well as a deacon, he earns an “excellent standing.” (1Timothy 3:13) The phrase for “excellent standing” means, “A step above.” The leader, who would be a deacon or a pastor in a church, is not exalted over the Christians he serves. Instead, he is simply pulled out of the group, like these 12 leaders in the wilderness, and placed in the spotlight. He is given a small step stool so all who are near can see his example. It is as if God says of this leader: “Here’s the example of what it means to be a Christian. Here’s one we will use as a model.”
There is great honor in being selected as a model for God’s people. The danger arrives when a leader wants all of the honor, without taking all of the responsibility.
II. A place of leadership is a place of great responsibility
This is the cost of leadership. This is where the great leaders earn their place in history.
For the generation of God’s people on the edge of the Promised Land, there was never a bigger crisis of leadership than when their 12 leaders were given the responsibility of spying out the land. They were to seek out the land, come back with the reports, and then issue the challenge of faith to all the people. Two would be up to the challenge, but 10 would wilt under the heavy load of responsibility.
Be careful to note this: All 12 of these leaders were courageous, and all 12 took courageous action in the beginning. They slipped into the land of the enemy, managed to live for some time in a dangerous place, and they even stole some prime produce from land owners who were surely protecting their crops. All 12 came home safely, and the entire dozen completed the first portion of the task given them. They had been good spies and had full reports of what they had seen.
However, the responsibility of this group was not simply to spy out the land. They were not chosen to be geologists, real estate agents, or agricultural surveyors. They were chosen to be leaders of God’s people, charged with giving God’s people God’s message. Whatever godly leaders are charged to do, eventually their responsibility is to be faith-driven leaders.
That’s where this group failed. Instead of reporting faith, ten of these leaders would eventually report of the fear they felt. Only two gave the challenge of moving forward in faith. When the people sided with fear instead of faith, their opportunity to live inside the Promised Land vanished.
A place of leadership is a place of tremendous responsibility, for a leader’s faith is on public display. The responsibility of a leader to live in that faith is a great weight.
III. An effective leader does not let problems stop the promise
When the people listened to the ten frightened spies who made a case for fear, instead of the two leaders calling them toward faith, God wanted to destroy them all. Had God done so, the entire exodus from Egypt would have been wasted. The promise of the Promised Land would be delayed by centuries. The nation of God’s people would be destroyed, and God’s reputation, therefore, would be greatly damaged. This was no small problem.
Moses made his best case before God, desperately trying to ward off a deadly, righteous anger.
Amazingly, God relented. Instead of destroying the nation, God only destroyed a generation. Forty years later, Joshua and Caleb would lead the children and grandchildren of this experience into the Promised Land. They would do so only because Moses did his best to not let a problem stop the promise.
If you’re going to lead, you’d better comprehend the truth. There will always be problems along the way. The problems come, and the problems go. Moses might put it this way: Today they complain about manna, tomorrow they’ll complain about quail. One day it’s a problem of thirst, the next it’s a problem of idolatry.
Leaders learn that problems look very large in the present, and very small from the distance. Effective leaders simply refuse to let something that looks so large block out the big picture. If Moses had forgotten the priceless value of God’s promise, his people would have died in the dessert. An effective leader simply cannot let a temporary problem – no matter how large – block the promise of the goal.
Colonel George Washington Goethals, the man responsible for the completion of the Panama Canal, had stifling problems with the climate and the geography of Central America. Driving rains, incredible heat, and deadly disease were problems that never left his task. But his biggest challenge was the growing criticism back home from those who predicted he’d never finish the project. The voices of the critics appeared to be the biggest problem of all.
Finally, a colleague asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer these critics?”
“In time,” answered Geothals.
“When?” his partner asked.
“When the canal is finished.”
IV. The most important quality a leader must have is faith
Moses was humble, he was compassionate, he was consistent. But most of all, he was a man of great faith. The writer of Hebrews said the greatest mark of Moses was that he believed God, and that he led God’s people by faith. History’s summary of this great leader’s life was that he was a man of faith. (see Hebrews 11:23-29)
Moses had been a consistent man of faith among a people who had been consistently faithless. When God listed his complaints about the people, He said they had tested him ten times (see Numbers 14:22). How could people who had escaped Egypt, walked safely across the dry floor of the Red Sea, and eaten miraculous food doubt that God was with them? Had they not seen the Tabernacle, and the fire that glowed over it at night? Could they not remember the plagues that struck Egypt at Moses’ command?
Don’t be too hard on the people surrounding Moses. The disciples of Jesus had trouble walking across the bridge of faith, even after the Resurrection!
The followers around Jesus who were about to see the Lord ascend into heaven had seen the healing of countless sick people, the restoring of sight to the blind, and the raising of the dead. They had seen the crucifixion and the resurrection, and had reflected on the prophecy concerning the Messiah for more than a month. They had been with their resurrected Lord on multiple occasions, and could see him at that very moment. But just before Jesus gave his last instructions, Matthew records these words:
“The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted.” Matt 28:16-17 (HCSB) It seems unbelievable. How could they see all that they had seen, and still doubt the power of God?
The end truth is that faith is a tough quality to have, and that if a person is going to lead God’s people, he or she simply cannot lead without faith. You must believe, without doubting. You must be able to believe, and then act confidently upon those beliefs. Perhaps that is why Jesus looked at those struggling, doubting disciples, and then simply said … “Now, go into all the world …” Jesus called his leaders to a faith-based action, just as he does today. You may still have some doubts, but the instruction still comes, loud and clear: “Go!”
What a gift God has given us in the stories of the Bible. While we might be squarely in the middle of a crisis, a problem, or a great challenge, the record of God’s people before us reminds us of the course of action we must take, and of the great reward for the leader who holds fast to the challenge of faith.
When God issued his judgment against the people, he also issued his rewards:
Joshua had the privilege of leading a new generation across the Jordan River, through the crumbling walls of Jericho, and into the Promised Land. Caleb lived a long, vibrant life, and saw the passion of his faith greatly rewarded. Both men outlived every grumbler, complainer, and naysayer around them. They became the only two names we remember from the original 12 leaders who spied out the land. The rewards of leadership are priceless.
C.S. Lewis halted a generation of would-be converts in their tracks when he famously said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Lewis’ candor is certainly a strange sales pitch today, when Christianity is more often presented as good medicine for life’s ills than a costly call to faith. Today, Jesus is more often equated with the cure-all to felt needs—happiness, inner peace, life purpose and more— than the objective truth of the gospel. “Jesus will make your life better” is the gist of it.
But how does this pitch line up with the gospel? It hardly squares away with Jesus; words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 6:24.) If this is Jesus’ invitation, then we need to drastically change the current call to faith. Instead of making cheap promises, we need to ask the harder question: “Will you follow Jesus even if your life doesn’t get better?” If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better. Too often evangelistic zeal truncates the gospel to be more accessible, more compelling, and more applicable to the felt needs of an audience. Are you sad? Jesus is your joy. Are you depressed? Jesus is your comfort. Are you confused? Jesus is your guidance. Surely, these are all important truths that are part of real faith. But they are not the whole package. If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better.
The False Promise Gospel
But the trend becomes even more disturbing as we observe the fallout of our Jesus-will-fix-all-my-problems kind of faith.
This gospel presentation misleads people to become more focused on their problems than on Jesus Himself. While they step into faith, they stay center stage. And unfortunately, when circumstances do head south, they are ill-equipped to deal with them. When something bad happens, all is lost. Many of us have had tear-filled conversations with friends who are questioning why God would let bad things happen to people, let alone to good people, and even more so to His people. When these questions go unanswered, many people leave faith behind because they are tired of waiting, or they do not trust God to actually show up. Instead they go off in search of their own, more immediate solution. They want comfort and happiness. They’d prefer the port. Ultimately, they are still the center of their lives, not God.
The sincerity of such struggles should not be undermined, nor the biblical precedent for lamenting overlooked. The Bible shows many of God’s people questioning His inactivity or perceived absence. However, it seems that people want to follow Jesus—even enthusiastically for a season—but then jump ship when their lives don’t get better, easier, brighter—you name it.
Perhaps we need to stop and examine if we have set them up for this by portraying a circumstantial spirituality that stops short of the robust faith of the Bible.
Jesus does make your life better. Jesus certainly is the ultimate problem-solver, and it is true that we will find our deepest purpose satisfied only in the life He offered on two crooked beams. But Jesus by no means promises a better life in the sense of all your circumstances. In other words, following Jesus doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly, that every aspiration of your heart will be achieved, and that all your loved ones will live to see 100. Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light but so is the gate wide that leads to destruction, and narrow the one that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14; 11:30.)
Somehow people get the notion that when God blesses, it means that He will give us great things and perfect circumstances—and right now. Or, if God’s blessing is upon us we can expect to have better lives than those who do not believe in Jesus. Blessing equals easier and better. Conversely, sometimes people believe that extended discomfort means there is something they have done wrong, or a lack of faith which inhibits God’s blessing. But what if this is a misconstrued concept of blessing? Can’t the blessing of God involve pain, suffering, waiting and holding on to a truth in spite of our circumstances? Isn’t it a blessing to be disciplined by our loving Father even if it causes discomfort?
In his classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan writes a beautiful hymn about the difficulties of the Christian journey: “This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend, The Difficulty will not me offend. For I perceive the Way to life lies here: Come pluck up Heart, let’s neither faint nor fear; Better, though difficult, the Right Way to go, Than Wrong, though easy, where the End is Wo.”
I can imagine Paul joining in the singing of this song. In his second letter to the Corinthians, after recounting all the challenges he faced following Jesus faithfully—in being mistreated, punished, sorrowful, poor—he concludes that in having nothing, he possessed everything (2 Corinthians 6:1-10.) When Paul’s life and circumstances were destitute, and when he could have been reasonably despondent, he experienced joy. How? He practiced an objective, God-focused Christianity rather than a subjective, me-focused Christianity. He was marked by a spirituality that takes the focus off oneself.
A Fresh Start to Faith
Our circumstances, as important as they may be, are not the primary guidelines for our faith. When we make personal benefits and rewards the starting point of our faith instead of praise that we owe our Savior, we start a walk of faith that is backward in its priorities. Yes, a great truth about God is that He is for us, with us, and even acts on our behalf. But it is His Truth that impacts our circumstances, and not the other way around. Our circumstances, as important as they may be, are not the primary guidelines for our faith. What is supposed to be our hope, our trust, despite whatever may come is that God is true, good, eternal and persistently consistent. Our trust is in God’s character, revealed ultimately in the gospel, and not in how congruent our circumstances are with what we know of God.
Often, circumstances will not be as easy or comfortable as we would prefer. The Bible paints an honest picture of reality: You will sin, you will have challenges in relationships, people will hurt you and you will hurt them, the world is set against you and evil is actively working against you. So, what do we do? The one consistent action of the people of God is a recognition of who God is, what he has done in the past and what He promises to accomplish at the end of time. We can rest our faith on the permanence of this truth.
We believe that no life is beyond the reach of God’s power, and we envision a future in which countless prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, are redeemed, restored, and reconciled through the love and truth of Jesus Christ. We equip local churches and thousands of trained volunteers to spread the Gospel and nurture disciples behind prison walls, so that men and women become new creations in Christ – not repeat offenders. We prepare Christian inmates to become leaders of their families, communities, and churches once they are released back into the community. We support inmates’ families, helping them become reconciled to God and one another through transformative relationships with local churches.
Throughout the long history of corrections, religious persons and religious institutions have greatly influenced the treatment of offenders. For centuries, churches were among the first institutions to provide asylum for accused criminals. The actual establishment of prisons and penitentiaries was a religious idea to that allowed the offender to obtain penance for his crimes, make amends, and convert while being isolated from others. But probably the most significant influence was the establishment of a regular chaplaincy. Correctional chaplains were among the earliest paid non-custodial staff and were the first to provide education and counseling for inmates. Currently, many correctional inmates practice their religion on an individual basis or within the structure of an organized religious program. Religious programs are commonplace in jails and prisons and research indicates that one in three inmates participates in some religious program during their incarceration.
The influence and practice of religion in the correctional setting is as old as the history of prisons. Initial entry of religion into prison was probably carried out by religious men who themselves were imprisoned. The Bible stories of such prisoners include Joseph and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, and John the Baptist, Peter, John, and Paul in the New Testament. Beginning in the days of Constantine, the early Christian Church granted asylum to criminals who would otherwise have been mutilated or killed. Although this custom was restricted in most countries by the fifteenth century, releasing prisoners during Easter time, and requests by Church authorities to pardon or reduce sentences for offenders, remained for centuries with the latter still in existence in a modified form.
Imprisonment under church jurisdiction became a substitute for corporal or capital punishment. In medieval times, the Roman Catholic Church developed penal techniques later used by secular states such as the monastic cell that served as a punishment place for criminal offenders. In 1593 the Protestants of Amsterdam built a house of correction for women, and one for men in 1603. In Rome, what are now the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, built correctional facilities for women, and in 1703 Pope Clement XI built the famous Michel Prison as a house of correction for younger offenders with separation, silence, work, and prayer emphasized. As late as the 18th century, the Vatican Prison still served as a model prison design for Europe and America.
Early settlers of North America brought with them the customs and common laws of England including the pillory, the stocks and the whipping post. During the 18th century isolating offenders from fellow prisoners became the accepted correctional practice. It was thought that long-term isolation, combined with in-depth discussions with clergy, would lead inmates to repent or become “penitent”—sorry for their sins. Thus the term “penitentiary” was derived. West Jersey and Pennsylvania Quakers were primarily responsible for many of the prison reforms. They developed the idea of substituting imprisonment for corporal punishment and combining the idea of the prison with the workhouse. The prototype of this regime was the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia that in style reflected the Quakers’ belief in man’s ability to reform through reflection and remorse.
Even during the 19th century when daytime work was initiated by the Auburn System, solitary confinement at night was still the norm in correctional practice. The forced solitary confinement was thought to serve the same repenting purpose as the older penitentiary. Belief in education as a tool for reducing criminal activity also assisted in the growth of religion in prison. Because of the limited budgets of correctional institutions, Chaplains were often called upon to be the sole educator in many American prisons. The “schooling” often consisted of the chaplain standing in a dark corridor with a lantern hanging from the cell bars while extolling the virtues of repentance.
Volunteers also have a long history in corrections that can be traced back to the beginning of prisons. In the last 200 years many religious groups have entered correctional facilities to provide religious services to inmates. One of the most famous advocates for volunteers in corrections was Maud Ballington Booth, the daughter-in-law of William Booth who founded the Salvation Army. Today, volunteers are vital to religious programs and without them inmate participation would surely be limited. Faith representatives would be unable to minister to the large number and variety of inmates.
Many older correctional institutions are being refurbished or destroyed; replaced with facilities designed for better observation and security. Yet the initial influence of religion on the philosophy and the design of the penitentiary will surely remain in correctional history.
To provide ministry to those that are incarcerated.
To provide aftercare ministry to those released from jail or prison.
To provide ministry to the families of those incarcerated.
Many inmates leave prison as Christians and have a strong desire to participate in a Christian based aftercare program where they can develop relationships with other believers and continue to grow in faith. They need to know that they have a place in the body of Christ, where they are accepted, loved and nurtured.
Why should the community be concerned about the aftercare of ex-offenders?
In the United States, approximately 1,600 people will leave state and federal prisons every day. Most will start their journey back into society with “gate money” ($20 – $200), a one-way bus ticket and little else. Many will be drug abusers who received no treatment for their addictions, sex-offenders who received no counseling and illiterate high school drop-outs who took no classes, and acquired no job skills.
Only about 13 percent of prisoners will have participated in any kind of pre-release program to prepare them for life outside of prison. Nearly 25 percent will be released with no supervision. Nearly two-thirds will return to just a few metropolitan areas in their states where they will be further concentrated in struggling neighborhoods that can ill-afford accommodate them.
Almost all prisoners get out eventually. What happens when they do, however, is not a topic that has held the interest of legislators who passed mandatory sentencing laws, abolished parole boards and eliminated funding for prisoner education and training. As a result, prison sentences have grown longer, while prisons have done nothing to prepare inmates for life outside of prison. A study sponsored by the Virginia Department of Correctional Education tracked recidivism rates for inmates who had pursued an education, and found the rate was 59 percent lower than those who had not. Ironically, even as the evidence in favor of such programs mounts, willingness and capacity to fund them continues to shrink.
Ex-offenders leaving prison have cause to fear the wrath of “free-world” residents, much like Onesimus had cause to fear his former master. In a society that casts a jaundiced eye toward the “usual suspects,” men with limited job skills, who are trying to rebuild their lives with few resources can relate to Onesimus’ situation.
Paul urged Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Onesimus Ministries urges people to help ex-offenders get a fair shot at rebuilding their lives. Onesimus Ministries began as one man ministering to men in a city jail. It has grown to include two residency locations, a bus ministry and other outreach efforts to people with criminal convictions. With a waiting list of 6-12 months for acceptance into the training center, the need is great and growing greater. In our approach to gain leverage and exposure to the various prisons,We are studying Onesimus Ministries brand and operational procedures and submitting to being a alternative facility for those who can get transfers. Please keep our vision before God….
Question: “Why did Jesus ask Peter ‘Do you love me?’ three times?”
Answer: Jesus asked Peter three times,“Do you love me?” as recorded in John 21:15–17. This occurred when Jesus was having breakfast with His disciples soon after His resurrection. Jesus used this opportunity to encourage and exhort Peter about his upcoming responsibilities and even to prophesy the manner in which Peter will die. By asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of Peter’s love and unswerving obedience to his Lord as necessary for his future ministry.
Jesus begins by questioning Peter about His love for Him, and each time Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus follows up with the command for Peter to feed His sheep. His meaning is that, if Peter truly loves his Master, he is to shepherd and care for those who belong to Christ. His words reveal Peter’s role as the leader of the new Church, the Body of Christ there in Jerusalem that will be responsible for spreading the gospel after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
It is possible that by His repeated question Jesus is subtly reminding Peter of his three denials. There’s no doubt those denials and how he felt when Jesus turned to look at him at that moment were seared deeply into Peter’s mind (Luke 22:54–62). It wasn’t lost on Peter that Jesus repeated His question to him three times, just as Peter previously denied Him three times.
There is also an interesting contrast when you look at the Greek words for “love” used in John 21:15–17. When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” in John 21:15–16, He used the Greek word agape, which refers to unconditional love. Both times, Peter responded with “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” using the Greek word phileo, which refers more to a brotherly/friendship type of love. It seems that Jesus is trying to get Peter to understand that he must love Jesus unconditionally in order to be the leader God is calling him to be. The third time Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” in John 21:17, He uses the word phileo, and Peter again responds with “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” again using phileo. The point in the different Greek words for “love” seems to be that Jesus was stretching Peter to move him from phileo love to agape love.
Whatever the reason for the three-fold “do you love me?” question, Jesus was impressing on Peter how important his new role of tending the flock of Christ’s followers would be. When someone repeats instructions to us over and over, we quickly understand that it’s extremely important for us to heed them. Jesus wanted to make sure Peter understood this vital charge He was tasking him with and the ultimate reason for it, to follow Him and glorify God (John 21:19).
Question: “How can demonic strongholds be overcome?”
Answer: Before demonic strongholds can be overcome, it must be understood exactly what demonic strongholds are. The word stronghold appears only once in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 10:4), and the Greek word translated “stronghold” means “a fortification such as a castle.” In this passage, the apostle Paul is instructing the church at Corinth on how to fight against and “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (v. 5). They do this, not by using the weapons of the world, but by “divine power.” Lofty arguments and opinions are the result of pride and evil and vain imaginations, the very strongholds in which demons reside. This, then, is the essence of demonic warfare—the power of God to overcome the strongholds of demons.
In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul describes the resources that God makes available to His followers—the armor of God. Here we are told how, in an attitude of humility and dependence, we are to avail ourselves of God’s resources. Note that we are to be strong “in the Lord” and “in the power of His might.” We do not take on demonic strongholds in our own strength. We protect ourselves with the first five pieces of defensive armor and wield the one offensive weapon—the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. In verses 12 and 13 ofEphesians 6, Paul continues, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
One of the habits that every believer needs to develop is to focus on Ephesians 6:10-18 and commit himself to “get dressed” spiritually every day. It would go a long way to giving victory over the devil and his schemes. Here Paul states that, while we walk in the flesh (we are living and breathing in this human body), we do not war according to the flesh (we can’t fight spiritual battles with fleshly weapons). Instead, as we focus on the resources and weapons of spiritual strength, we can see God give us specific and real victory. No demonic stronghold can withstand Christians wearing the full armor of God, battling with the Word of God, and empowered by His Spirit.
Question: “What should we learn from the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?”
Answer: The amazing story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young men defying the mighty KingNebuchadnezzar and thrown into a fiery furnace, has captured the hearts of young children as well as adults for centuries. Recorded in the third chapter of Daniel, the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego provides believers today with strong and lasting lessons.
For their refusal to obey the king’s decree to bow down to the idol, three charges were brought against them. They paid no heed to the king and his commands, they did not serve the king’s gods, and they refused to worship the golden statue the king himself had set up. The penalty for their actions was death. Their response to the king was profound:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:15-18).
We cannot but be astonished by their faith in the one true God. At the very outset, their response in the moment of trial confirmed three things: their unswerving conviction of the God of the Bible, their confidence in the God who is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do, and their faith as revealed by their reliance upon the only One who had the power to deliver them from evil. Their acknowledgment of God over the world’s most powerful king resulted in God’s supreme power being revealed to unbelievers. Their faith demonstrates that God is able to deliver us from our own problems and trials.
As believers, we know that God is able to deliver. However, we also know that He does not always do so.Romans 5 tells us that God may allow trials and difficulties in our lives to build our character, strengthen our faith, or for other reasons unknown to us. We may not always understand the purpose of our trials, but God simply asks that we trust Him—even when it is not easy. Job, who endured incredible pain, almost insurmountable agony, and suffering, was still able to say, “Though He may slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
We also know that God does not always guarantee that we will never suffer or experience death, but He does promise to be with us always. We should learn that in times of trial and persecution our attitude should reflect that of these three young men: “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). Without question, these are some of the most courageous words ever spoken.
Jesus Himself said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Even if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to suffer a horrible, painful death in a burning oven, they refused to abandon God and worship an idol. Such faith has been seen innumerable times throughout the centuries by believers who have suffered martyrdom for the Lord.
Nebuchadnezzar was astonished that the fire did not consume Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He was even more amazed when he saw not three, but a fourth person with them: “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25 NKJV). The point here is that, when we “walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), there may be those times of fiery persecution, but we can be assured that He is with us (Matthew 28:20). He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22; Psalms 147:6). He will ultimately deliver us. He will save us … eternally (Matthew 25:41, 46).
The chief lesson from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is that, as Christians, we will never be able to bring the world to Christ by becoming like it. As did these three men, so should we in revealing to the world a higher power, a greater purpose, and a superior morality, than the world in which we live. If we are put before the fiery furnace, we can reveal the One who can deliver us from it. Remember the powerful, yet comforting words, of the apostle Paul:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Our hope when experiencing illness, persecution, or pain lies in knowing that this life is not the end—there is life after death. That is His promise to all those who love and obey Him. Knowing that we will have eternal life with God enables us to live above the pain and suffering we endure in this life (John 14:23).
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea presented in The Arabian Nights, when Aladdin finds the lamp and a genie permits him a wish. It makes me wonder what I would choose if given such a choice. Since I’ve never been wildly wealthy, the first things that come to mind are endless riches, a dream house, or luxury travel. But as soon as I think of those things, I wonder if that’s really what I want. I think of some of the names we see constantly in the tabloids and wonder if they would trade all their fame and fortune for some inner peace and a sense that what they’re doing matters.
Of course, if I read my Bible with the intent of obeying what it says, I’ll find it difficult to wish for wealth and luxury. Jesus said things such as, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20), and “those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, NLT), and “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return” (Luke 12:48, NLT), and “These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matthew 6:32, NLT).
What was Jesus’ purpose in saying such things? Was it just to be a killjoy? Did he want to make sure we were miserable while here on Earth so we would long for heaven? Or was it because he knew what would really make us happy?
To Be Blessed Means …
One of my favorite Scripture passages is the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, where Jesus lists what it means to be blessed. It’s certainly not what comes to my mind when I think of being blessed or when I pray for others to be blessed. Remember all those childhood prayers, “Bless Mommy, Daddy, and Auntie Sue”? We had no idea what we were saying! We were actually saying, “Let them be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted.”
So how could such things lead to happiness? It seems like they lead more to the opposite of happiness. But the Beatitudes tell us one thing clearly. We can never be happy when we live self-centered lives. We may be fooled into thinking we’re happy for a while, but eventually it will fold in on us because true happiness can be found only in a relationship with our Creator. Only the One who made us knows what will truly make us happy and give us satisfaction in life. We have to get to the end of ourselves and the beginning of God to gain any lasting contentment in life. And that can happen only through divine revelation and transformation through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It’s the “pearl of great value” (Matthew 13:46), worth selling everything to gain it. And ultimately, it’s the secret to true satisfaction.
If you found a genie in a lamp, what would you wish for? Quick, name the first thing that comes to your mind. After you’ve named it, take time to think about it. Would that really make you happy? Why or why not?
Have you ever been physically hungry or thirsty to the extreme—perhaps after an illness, an intense workout, or during a hot spell? If so, think back to that experience. Read Psalm 63:1, Matthew 5:6, and John 6:35. What do you think it means to hunger and thirst after God? Why is this essential to being satisfied about life?
Do Something about It
Spend time reading the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and asking God to give you insight into what they mean in your life. Pray that God will give you a desire for him that is all-consuming. Ask for victory over anything that keeps you from desiring him in such a way. And ask that God give you a real sense of what it means to be satisfied.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalms 34:18). It is encouraging to read what King David wrote in the previously quoted psalm. We can be healed and delivered from a broken heart.
A broken heart can happen when we lose a loved one such as a spouse or a child or even a beloved Friend or stranger. Metaphorically, it is that emotional aching in your chest that happens when you are deeply disappointed or grieved over a life circumstance.
The Lord is Strong; Do not Fear
Psalms 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
I would also like to answer the question why? Why this Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and this list since 2015 click the link to view how many black lives since 2015 http://killedbypolice.net/? Why these many black people? I cannot tell you, and I encourage you to resist anyone who offers a confident answer. God himself did not answer that question for Job, nor did Jesus answer why questions. We have hints, but no one knows the full answer. What we do know, with full confidence, is how God feels. We know how God looks on this nation called ‘America” right now because God gave us a face, a face that was streaked with tears. Where misery is, there is the Messiah.
Not everyone will find that answer sufficient. When we hurt, sometimes we want revenge. We want a more decisive answer. Frederick Buechner said, “I am not the Almighty God, but if I were, maybe I would in mercy either heal the unutterable pain of the world or in mercy kick the world to pieces in its pain.” God did neither. He sent Jesus. God joined our world in all its unutterable pain in order to set in motion a slower, less dramatic solution, one that involves us.
One of our neighbors said to me, have you ever read a book ” book called Where Is God When It Hurts,?” Yes. “Well, I don’t have much time to read. Can you just answer that question for me in a sentence or two?” I thought for a second and said, “I guess I’d have to answer that with another question: ‘Where is the church when it hurts?'”
The eyes of the world are trained on this predicament. You’ve seen satellite trucks parked around town, reporters prowling the grounds of your schools. Last week we visited Los Angeles , We were invited to the Ezell Ford wrongful death hearing. As happened here, reporters from every major country swarmed the streets of LA county, looking for an angle. They came to report on evil and instead ended up reporting on the church. The advocates and church leaders were not asking, “Where is God when it hurts?” They knew where God was. With our long history of persecution, the black leaders weren’t for a minute surprised by an outbreak of evil. They rallied together, embraced the killer’s family, ministered to each other, and healed wounds by relying on a sense of community strengthened over centuries.
Something similar has taken place here in Hemet Ca. and abroad. You have shown outrage against the evil deed, yes, but you’ve also shown sympathy and sadness for the family of the one who committed all of these atrocities on black life. Every one of the police involved in these since-less deaths , too, has a memorial on our hearts and in our ministry.
The future lies ahead, and you’re just awakening to the fact that you are an independent moral being. I speak to our youths now, Until now, other people have been running your life. Your parents told you what to do and made decisions for you. Teachers ordered you around in grammar school, and the pattern continued in high school and even into college. You now inhabit a kind of halfway house on the way to adulthood, waiting for the real life of career and perhaps marriage and children to begin.
What happened in Harris County, Texas demonstrates beyond all doubt that your life—the decisions you make, the kind of person you are—matters now. There are countless students and member families who have no future in this world due to the illness called hatred.
That reality has hit home more than ever since we have attempted to pursue our vision of Second Chance Alliance. So many doors have shut just because we want to help those who have been hit with the mass incarceration epidemic. Watching human life be denied employment they are truly qualified for because they’ve done the same work in Prison for several years and now that they are free no one wants to believe in them. We watch and record the devastation this draconian practice has on a human being.
Samuel Johnson said when a man is about to be hanged, “it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” When you’re homeless and broke without a community to return to that will assist you in the necessities of life, it concentrates the mind. When you survive another day of brutality and separation due to stigma’s, it concentrates the mind. I realized how much of my life focused on trivial things. During my seven months of captivity in Lybia and prison terms severed , I didn’t think about how many books I could write about these issues or what kind of car I drove (it was being confiscated by the feds ). All that mattered boiled down to four questions. Whom do I love? Whom will I miss? What have I done with my life? And am I ready for what’s next? Ever since that day, I’ve tried to live with those questions at the forefront.
You know, too, that the world has fallen. Here in America, you know that as acutely as anyone on this planet.
I ask you also to trust that the world, your world, will be redeemed. This is not the world God wants or is satisfied with. God has promised a time when evil will be defeated, when events like the shootings Thursday’s movie theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana and every black life will come to an end. More, God has promised that even the scars we accumulate on this fallen planet will be redeemed, as Jesus demonstrated to Thomas.
I once was part of a small group with a Christian leader whose name you would likely recognize. He went through a hard time as his adult children got into trouble, bringing him sleepless nights and expensive attorney fees. Worse, my friend was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Nothing in his life seemed to work out. “I have no problem believing in a good God,” he said to us one night. “My question is, ‘What is God good for?'” We listened to his complaints and tried various responses, but he batted them all away.
A few weeks later, I came across a little phrase by Dallas Willard: “For those who love God, nothing irredeemable can happen to you.” I went back to my friend. “What about that?” I asked. “Is God good for that promise?”
I would like to promise you an end to pain and grief, a guarantee that you will never again hurt as you hurt now. I cannot. I can, however, stand behind the promise that the apostle Paul made in Romans 8, that all things can be redeemed, can work together for your good. In another passage, Paul spells out some of the things he encountered, which included beatings, imprisonment, and shipwreck. As he looked back, he could see that somehow God had redeemed even those crisis events in his life.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us,” Paul concluded. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39). God’s love is the foundational truth of the universe.
Clinging to Hope
Trust a God who can redeem what now seems unredeemable. Ten days before the shootings on this Virginia Tech, Christians around the world remembered the darkest day of human history, the day in which evil human beings violently rose up against God’s Son and murdered the only truly innocent human being who has ever lived. We remember that day not as Dark Friday, Tragic Friday, or Disaster Friday—but rather as Good Friday. That awful day led to the salvation of the world and to Resurrection Sunday, an echo in advance of God’s bright promise to make all things new.
Honor the grief you feel. The pain is a way of honoring those who died, your friends and classmates and professors and prisoners. It represents life and love. The pain will fade over time, but it will never fully disappear.
Do not attempt healing alone. The real healing, of deep connective tissue, takes place in community. Where is God when it hurts? Where God’s people are. Where misery is, there is the Messiah, and on this earth, the Messiah takes form in the shape of his church. That’s what the body of Christ means. Remember each of you reading this post is a (CHURCH).
Finally, cling to the hope that nothing that happens, not even this terrible tragedy, is irredeemable. We serve a God who has vowed to make all things new. J. R. R. Tolkien once spoke of “joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” You know well the poignancy of grief. As healing progresses, may you know, too, that joy, a foretaste of the world redeemed.
“As I have said, the Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain. It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking question “Why?” Instead, it raises the very different, forward-looking question, “To what end?”We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with him. And that process may be served by the mysterious pattern of all creation: pleasure sometimes emerges against a background of pain, evil may be transformed into good, and suffering may produce something of value.”
I have never seen a statue erected depicting Jesus as a man of sorrow, but still we worship
“We feel pain as an outrage; Jesus did too, which is why he performed miracles of healing. In Gethsemane, he did not pray, “Thank you for this opportunity to suffer,” but rather pled desperately for an escape. And yet he was willing to undergo suffering in service of a higher goal. In the end he left the hard questions (“if there be any other way . . .”) to the will of the Father, and trusted that God could use even the outrage of his death for good.”
“Bear one another’s burdens, the Bible says. It is a lesson about pain that we all can agree on. Some of us will not see pain as a gift; some will always accuse God of being unfair for allowing it. But, the fact is, pain and suffering are here among us, and we need to respond in some way. The response Jesus gave was to bear the burdens of those he touched. To live in the world as his body, his emotional incarnation, we must follow his example. The image of the body accurately portrays how God is working in the world. Sometimes he does enter in, occasionally by performing miracles, and often by giving supernatural strength to those in need. But mainly he relies on us, his agents, to do his work in the world.We are asked to live out the life of Christ in the world, not just to refer back to it or describe it.We announce his message, work for justice, pray for mercy . . . and suffer with the sufferers.”
We have gathered in my home today still trying to make sense of what happened in Harris County, Texas , still trying to process the unprocessable. We come together in this place, as a Christian community, partly because we know of no better place to bring our questions and our grief and partly because we don’t know where else to turn. As the apostle Peter once said to Jesus, at a moment of confusion and doubt, “Lord, to whom else can we go?”
In considering how to begin today, I found myself following two different threads. The first thread is what I would like to say, the words I wish I could say. The second thread is the truth.
I wish I could say that the pain you feel will disappear, vanish, never to return. I’m sure you’ve heard comments like these from parents and others: “Things will get better.” “You’ll get past this.” “This too shall pass.” Those who offer such comfort mean well, and it’s true that what you feel now you will not always feel. Yet it’s also true that what happened on July 21, 2015, will stay with you forever. You are a different person because of that day, because of one troubled young man’s actions.
I remember one year when three of my friends died. In my thirties then, I had little experience with death. In the midst of my grief, I came across these lines from George Herbert that gave me solace: “Grief melts away / Like snow in May / As if there were no such cold thing.” I clung to that hope even as grief smothered me like an avalanche. Indeed, the grief did melt away, but like snow it also came back, in fierce and unexpected ways, triggered by a sound, a smell, some fragment of memory of my friends.
So I cannot say what I want to say, that this too shall pass. Instead, I point to the pain you feel, and will continue to feel, as a sign of life and love. I’m feeling the same pain as the whole community of mourners across America today. because of our broken hearts from all the death and devastation of blacks in the most power nation in the world. For the first few hours of intercession in behalf of our country and communities that suffer from this atrocity I refuse to not let the crucible of life’s pain to not be felt because I wanted the host of gathers to see my pain so I could hear their response to it. My wife May r kept probing, moving my limbs, asking, “Does this hurt? Do you feel that?” The correct answer, the answer both she and I desperately wanted, was, “Yes. It hurts. I can feel it.” Each sensation gave proof that my limbs had not been severed. Pain offered proof of life, of connection—a sign that my body remained whole.
Love and Pain
In grief, love and pain converge. I don’t want to render or pass judgement on the arresting officers or the Texas police, but I don’t see any signs of them feeling any grief behind Sandra Bland’s death the video shows they felt no love for her. You feel grief because you did have a connection. We as human beings of color are very connected Some of you had closer ties to the victims of police brutality, but all of you belong to a body to which they too belonged. When that body suffers, you suffer. Remember that as you cope with the pain. Don’t try to numb it. Instead, acknowledge it as a perception of life and of love.
Sandra Bland’s death has officially been ruled a suicide, according to an autopsy conducted by officials in Harris County, Texas. Warren Diepraam, a prosecutor for Waller County, Texas, where Bland was arrested and later died in police custody, laid out how this cause of death was determined:
“There were no bite marks or other injuries on her face, on her lips, on her tongue, which would be consistent with a violent struggle,” he said.
If there had been a violent struggle, the prosecutor said, examiners would most likely not expect to see a uniform and consistent mark around Bland’s neck — which is what they, in fact, observed. They also did not observe damage to her trachea and esophagus, which they might expect to see if there had been a violent struggle, he said.
Diepraam also mentioned cuts on her wrists and back, which could be consistent with how she was handled during her arrest, or that she tried to harm herself. The prosecutor also mentioned that Bland had marijuana in her system, which could’ve been a factor in her suicide.
Medical students will tell you that in a deep wound, two kinds of tissue must heal: the connective tissue beneath the surface and the outer, protective layer of skin. If the protective tissue heals too quickly, the connective tissue will not heal properly, leading to complications later on. The reason my home and other ministries around the world offer counseling and hold services like this one we are holding is to help the deep, connective tissue heal. Only later will the protective layer of tissue grow back in the form of a scar.
We gather here as Christians, and as such we aspire to follow a man who came from God 2,000 years ago. Read through the Gospels, and you’ll find only one scene in which someone addresses Jesus directly as God: “My Lord and my God!” Do you know who said that? It was doubting Thomas, the disciple stuck in grief, the last holdout against believing the incredible news of the Resurrection.
In a tender scene, Jesus appeared to Thomas in his newly transformed body, obliterating Thomas’s doubts. What prompted that outburst of belief, however—”My Lord and my God!”—was the presence of Jesus’ scars. “Feel my hands,” Jesus told him. “Touch my side.” In a flash of revelation, Thomas saw the wonder of Almighty God, the Lord of the universe, stooping to take on our pain.
God doesn’t exempt even himself from pain. God joined us and shared our human condition, including its great grief. Thomas recognized in that pattern the most foundational truth of the universe: that God is love. To love means to hurt, to grieve. Pain is a mark of life.
The Jews, schooled in the Old Testament, had a saying: “Where Messiah is, there is no misery.” After Jesus, you could change that saying to: “Where misery is, there is the Messiah.” “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus said, “and those who hunger and thirst, and those who mourn, and those who are persecuted.” Jesus voluntarily embraced every one of these hurts.
So where is God when it hurts? We know where God is because he came to earth and showed us his face. You need only follow Jesus around and note how he responded to the tragedies of his day: with compassion—which simply means “to suffer with”—and with comfort and healing.
Joseph had a lot of things going his way in life at first. He was handsome. He was the first son born to Jacob through Rachel, and therefore, he was his father’s favorite son. He had great dreams that made him feel good about himself. But then one day his entire life changed. Can you imagine how it must have felt to know your brothers hated you so much that they would sell you out of their lives? He was forced to leave the comfortable life he had known, full of love from his parents, and go forth into the unknown. How frightening that must have been for a boy of 17. Yet, God had His hand on Joseph. God had a divine purpose for this young man. Joseph didn’t know why God had chosen this path for his life until the very end, yet he never seemed to waver. God was always in control. Joseph kept his eyes on God, and He used Joseph greatly. What an encouragement to us. Let God use you where you are. Let Him use you in the hard times, as well as the good times.
The story of Joseph spans many chapters, Genesis 37-50. We could actually do an entire study just on the life of Joseph, but because of time limitation, we will just focus on the key events in his life.
“Lord, thank you for the lessons you teach me through Joseph’s life. Encourage me through his life to seek you more intimately and to trust you for every situation that comes into my life. Keep me mindful that you are always in control.”
1. How would you describe Joseph’s relationship with his brothers?
2. Could Joseph have prevented the jealousy of his brothers? Why or why not?
3. How would you describe his relationship with his father Jacob?
4. In verses 21-27 Reuben and Judah came to Joseph’s defense. Why would these two, of all the brothers, try to save Joseph?
5. How do you see God’s sovereign hand at work throughout this chapter?
6. How do you see God’s hand at work in your own life?
We are told in Genesis 37:3 that Jacob made Joseph a varicolored tunic. What was the significance of this tunic and what impact might that have had on his brothers?
How was God already developing Joseph’s gifts at the age of 17?
God “broke” Joseph by taking him out of comfortable circumstances
and stretching him. God often has to “break” us before He can use us.
How has God “broken” you? How did it “strengthen” you?
Are you willing to let God do whatever He needs to in your life to make you usable to Him? If not, why? Be honest with the Lord, and ask Him to make you willing, trusting His loving and sovereign hand in your life.
DAY 2: Joseph’s Early Life in Egypt
Chapter 38 seems like an “interruption” to our story of Joseph in Egypt, but it is a narrative of what took place back in Canaan during this time, especially concerning the life of Judah. We pick up our narrative of Joseph in Chapter 39.
1. The king’s cupbearer and baker offended him, resulting in their being thrown into prison with Joseph. What do you learn about Joseph from the way he responded to them in prison?
2. The rest of the chapter tells of their dreams, Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams, and how the interpretations were later fulfilled. In Genesis 40:14-15 and 20-23, how was life once again “unfair” to Joseph?
Genesis 41:1-8 tells us of Pharaoh’s dream and his inability to find someone able to interpret it. In verses 9-14, the cupbearer finally remembers Joseph and his interpretation of their dreams in prison, and Pharaoh called for Joseph to come and interpret his dream. Joseph interpreted the king’s dreams, which foretold of the coming seven years of great abundance in Egypt (41:29) and the following seven years of famine (41:29). Joseph proceeded to tell Pharaoh what should be done (41:32-37).
3. Why did Pharaoh place Joseph in charge of Egypt (41:38-45)?
4. How old was Joseph at this point (41:46)?
5. How had God worked in Joseph’s life during his captivity (see 40:8 and 41:16)?
6. How can you keep a proper perspective when you know you have been “wronged” by others and you are paying the unjustified consequences?
Who are some other people in the Bible who had “delays” in their lives?
There is no mistake in where God has you.
Allow Him to use you where you are.
How are you allowing God to use you right where you are?
There is often a delay before seeing God work through us.
Delays are a necessary time of spiritual preparation.
How do you see God’s hand in the “delays” in your life?
Josephs’ life teaches us that disappointments are vital to spiritual growth
because they demand faith and resting all hope upon God.
V. Raymond Edman wrote, “Delay never thwarts God’s purposes;
it only polishes His instrument.”1
1. Jacob sent his sons, with the exception of Benjamin, to Egypt to buy grain during the famine. When his brothers came before Joseph, why didn’t he just tell them who he was and why do you think he recognized them but they did not recognize him?
2. Why do you think Joseph responded to his brothers in the way he did?
3. Describe what his brothers were feeling in verses 21-23?
In Genesis 42:29-38, the brothers returned to Canaan to retrieve their younger brother Benjamin, having left Simeon back in Egypt. Jacob first refused to let them take Benjamin, but after all the grain was eaten, he sent his sons back to Egypt with Benjamin (43:1-15). When Joseph saw Benjamin, he responded with emotion (43:16-34). In Genesis 44, Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan and played a little trickery on them. He “threatened” to keep Benjamin as his slave, and Judah pleaded with him to keep him instead of Benjamin. This brings us to Chapter 45, when Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers.
4. What was Joseph’s perspective on what his brothers had done to him when he was seventeen?
5. What emotions were his brothers most likely experiencing when they realized this was indeed Joseph?
6. How do you view painful or hurtful events in your life? How have hurtful events molded your life?
7. How is one able to gain the type of perspective that Joseph had about his life?
Read the entirety of Genesis 42-45. Trace Joseph’s actions throughout these chapters toward his brothers. Why did he do what he did?
We must trust God with our emotions when we are
face to face with those who have hurt us deeply.
Is there someone who has wounded you deeply? How have you handled it? Can you trust God’s sovereign hand in the midst of it?
Is there someone you need to forgive?
DAY 5: Joseph’s Last Days
In Genesis 46-47 Jacob moved his family to Egypt. God once again spoke to him, encouraging him to not be afraid to go to Egypt and reminding him of His promise to make him a great nation (Gen. 46:1-4). Genesis 48-49 records Jacob’s final days. Today we look at Joseph’s last days after his father Jacob died.
What was Joseph trying to convey to his family in verse 24?
Why would he want his bones carried back to Canaan?
God is in control even when it seems that your world is
spinning madly out of control.
Is there something going on in your life today that is hard for you to understand? Take it to the Lord and trust His hand.
God uses even the negative motives of others to bring about His perfect purpose.
Meditate on Genesis 50:20. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Joseph had a divine purpose. His life was not always easy and was filled with ups and downs. Yet Joseph found favor with God and he allowed God to use him wherever he went. Where does God want to use you? What is His divine purpose for your life? Are you focused on Him, or are you focused on your circumstances and the situation in which you find yourself? Let God use you to accomplish His divine purpose through you.
The church is God’s hospital. It has always been full of people on the mend. Jesus himself made a point of inviting the lame, the blind, and the possessed to be healed and to accompany him in his ministry, an invitation often spurned by those who thought they were fine as is. We should not be surprised, then, that the depressed populate not only secular hospitals and clinics, but our churches as well. Yet depression remains both familiar and mysterious to pastors and lay church leaders, not to mention to those who share a pew with depressed persons.
Virtually everyone has experienced a “down” day, often for no clear reason. We might say we “woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” are “out of sorts,” or just “in a funk.” Such polite references are commonplace in America. Yet as familiar as melancholic periods are to us, the depths of a severe depression remain a mystery. We may grasp in part the distress of King David: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10). But most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, “I am forgotten by them as though I were dead” (v.12). Severe depression is often beyond description. And when such deep and painful feelings cannot be explained, they cut to the heart of one’s spiritual being.
Humans are intricately complex creatures. When things go wrong in us, they do so in myriad and nuanced ways. If churches want to effectively minister to the whole of fallen humanity, they must reckon with this complexity. Depression indicates that something is amiss. But what? And what should churches be doing about it?
What is depression?
First we need to clarify what we are talking about. In order to distinguish severe or “major depression” from everyday blues, the American Psychiatric Association offers the following diagnostic criteria:
Major depression is diagnosed when an adult exhibits one or both of two core symptoms (depressed mood and lack of interest), along with four or more of the following symptoms, for at least two weeks: feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions; fatigue; psychomotor agitation (cannot sit still) or retardation (just sitting around); insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much); significant decrease or increase in weight or appetite; and recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation.
This clinical definition is sterile, however, and fails to capture the unique quality of the severely depressed person’s suffering.
Deep depression is embodied emotional suffering. It is not simply a state of mind or a negative view of life but something that affects our physical being as well. Signs of a severe episode of depression include unfounded negative evaluations of friends, family, and oneself, emotional “pain,” physical problems such as lethargy, difficulty getting one’s thoughts together, and virtually no interest in one’s surroundings. Though most of us know at least an acquaintance who has committed suicide, this tragic act baffles us perhaps as much as it pains us. “I just don’t understand,” we say. The irony is that survivors of serious suicide attempts frequently reflect on those attempts with a similar attitude: “I have no idea what came over me.” The pain and mental dysfunction of major depression are that deep.
How big is the problem?
However we choose to define depression, both its frequency and its disruption of normal life are staggering. The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years. In the United States, 5 to 10 percent of adults currently experience the symptoms of major depression (as previously defined), and up to 25 percent meet the diagnostic criteria during their lifetime, making it one of the most common conditions treated by primary care physicians. At any given time, around 15 percent of American adults are taking antidepressant medications.
Studies of religious groups, from Orthodox Jews to evangelical Christians, reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression varies across religious groups or between those who attend religious services and those who do not. So in a typical congregation of 200 adults, 50 attendees will experience depression at some point, and at least 30 are currently taking antidepressants.
How do we explain these numbers? In part, they result from a two-pronged shift in cultural attitudes about depression. Groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and pharmaceutical companies have aggressively promoted the view that depression is not a character flaw but a biological problem (a disease) in need of a biological solution (a drug). The efforts to medicalize depression have helped to remove the stigma attached to it and convince the public that it’s not something to hide. Consequently, depression has come out of the closet.
Some critics argue that along with the disease view of depression comes a lowered diagnostic threshold. Professors Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield argue in The Loss of Sadness (Oxford, 2007) that psychiatrists no longer provide room for their clients’ sadness or life’s usual ups and downs, labeling even normal mood fluctuations “depression.” (Everyday conversation reflects this assumption. When asked how we are doing, we commonly answer “great” or at least “good.” If we reveal that we’re “fine”—or worse, just “okay”—people tend to assume something is wrong and begin probing.)
Critics like Horwitz and Wakefield are half right. It is true that the mental health community has lowered the threshold for recognizing depression. Yet when we trace depression in the United States over the past 20 years using fixed criteria—the very research I do—we still see a significant increase in frequency. So although the numbers may be inflated, and this bump unquestionably serves the profit margins of pharmaceutical companies, we nevertheless have a substantial, documented increase to try to explain.
Our society has reaped considerable benefit from casting a wide net and assuming that everything caught is a disease. We now are more attuned to depression’s burden of emotional suffering, better understand biological factors, and have medications that address those factors. We should be thankful for these significant gains.
Yet redefining depression broadly as a disease has some untoward consequences. This model rightly acknowledges the biological aspect of human nature and how it can become disordered. But it fails to consider other dimensions at play. For example, the disease model ignores social environments as possible contributors to depression, viewing depressed persons as isolated individuals with a strong boundary between their bodies and everything outside. Depressed persons are reduced to broken bodies and brains that need fixing.
Browse any major psychiatric journal and you will read that our genes are the first cause of depression. Given certain environmental challenges, depression emerges. This is true, but it does not go far enough. Most have heard that depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance (such as a deficit in serotonin). Though the biological aspect of depression is more complex than a simple chemical imbalance, depression is nonetheless associated with poor regulation of the chemical messengers in our brains. This is why certain medications can relieve symptoms of moderate to severe depression. But this is not a new biological development; our bodies have not changed significantly over the past 100 years.
We also know that distorted thoughts contribute to depression. Those who are depressed do not evaluate themselves accurately (i.e., I am not as good as others). They fear that their selves are disintegrating (i.e., I am falling apart). They depreciate their value to others (i.e., I am of very little benefit to my family). And they believe they do not have control over their bodies (i.e., I just cannot make myself eat). Aaron Beck, the father of the most popular psychotherapy today, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), proposes that depression derives in large part from these cognitive distortions. Depression is relieved by bringing the distorted views more in line with reality. Evidence supports Beck’s contention, though not in all cases.
But cognitive behavioral therapies have been criticized for focusing on the person as such and ignoring the context of the person within society. Psychotherapist Robert Fancher believes the CBT approach “devalues those attributes of mind most likely both to create culture and to take us beyond the status quo—imagination, passion, and the courageous, painful process of bringing new ways of thinking and living to birth. It amounts to an endorsement of the middlebrow life under the authority of ‘good mental health.’ ” To put it more simply, cognitive therapy tends to reinforce the social norm, focusing almost exclusively on assisting the individual to adapt to the environment.
We now know much more about the neuroscience and cognitive patterns associated with depression, and have found fairly effective biological and therapeutic treatments. But we still do not have an answer to the pressing question behind this virtual epidemic: Why now? In order to get at this question, we must look beyond biological and psychological factors.
Things fall apart
“Life’s tough,” said one of my professors of medicine, and I knew what he meant. A young intern, I was seeking empathy after surviving a night on call without a wink of sleep. I had forgotten to look up a reference he had recommended the day before. He wanted the reference, not an excuse. But life was busy, chaotic, and demanding, and I was having trouble holding everything together.
Everyday life in 21st-century American society can be tough. The constant pressure of negotiating increasingly complex and sometimes harsh social realities takes a toll. Depression is in part a withdrawal by the weary into an inner world, an attempt to create a protective cocoon against real-world demands. Whatever personal factors contribute to an individual’s depression, the broader epidemic suggests that living in disordered social conditions makes things worse.
But when compared with preceding generations of Americans, we are, on the whole, healthier, safer, better off financially, and more educated. So where is the disorder?
The truth is, these barometers don’t tell the whole story. In the workplace, many of us sit in comfortable surroundings compared with those of our ancestors, who fought cold, wind, and rain. Yet we feel as much uncertainty as they did and much less control over our work. Our jobs are not secure, and due to specialization, many of us do not have the flexibility to move easily and quickly from one job to another. We work long hours, often with a sense of being “behind,” and do not recognize boundaries between work and non-work. (Is the office Christmas party work or recreation?) We compare ourselves with other colleagues when comparisons are fruitless, or find ourselves being compared unfairly. When we come up short, we feel the burden of unrealistic expectations we have placed on ourselves or have received from others. We are given responsibilities with little authority and even fewer resources, and feel we have no control over job expectations or even how we use our work time. Many of us are subject to sometimes dehumanizing corporate or economic systems not of our own making and seemingly beyond our influence. We feel small, insignificant, and expendable.
Some Americans find their everyday reality so tough that they try to escape it via substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, petty theft, or embezzlement. Consider substance abuse. Nearly 15 percent of Americans will struggle with alcoholism in their lifetimes, and over 10 million Americans are actively using illicit substances. Among those who are dependent on opiates such as heroin or prescription pain relievers, depression rates may be as high as 50 percent. Though depression can lead to increased substance use, the much more common path is for substance use, often begun as an escape from the pressures of life, to lead to serious episodes of depression. At that point a vicious cycle ensues, as depression leads to increased substance use, and substance use to worsening depression.
While most of us have daily contact with many people, our generation is nevertheless a lonely crowd. In his classic Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putman suggests that America’s stock of “social capital”—networks among individuals and the reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them—has declined substantially over the past few decades. We are less likely to vote, give blood, play cards, join in league bowling, or have friends or neighbors over for dinner. Perhaps some of these opportunities to build social networks have been replaced with others, such as soccer games or Facebook. Yet we are increasingly disconnected from family, neighbors, and friends.
And the nature of the relationships we do have is changing. Many have become what British sociologist Anthony Giddens labels “pure relationships”—”pure” in that they are detached from any social context, external structure, or security. There is no covenant, community, or being to orient the relationship or provide ongoing assurance, direction, and support. All of this must be generated by the relationship itself, which exacts a heavy burden. We can never relax in pure relationships because there is no pledge of fidelity or constancy on which to rest. We must “maintain” these relationships ourselves. Over time, constant vigilance and sustained insecurity often lead to frustration, anxiety, and weariness. These relationships are just too hard to keep up.
Complex societies built on interdependence require trust, yet this precious public resource continues to decline as society becomes even more complex. “Who can you believe these days?” has become a familiar refrain. Reality, we are told, has become little more than the shared worldview of small communities. In response, some encourage us to accept all views, but this leaves us disoriented. Others suggest we cling tenaciously to our views and mistrust anything new, leaving us isolated and alienated. From this double bind, the leap to a symptom of severe depression—paranoia—is not that far. The depressed lose confidence not only in themselves, but also in those around them.
Finally, no symptom is more central to depression than the loss of hope. And if last year’s election cycle revealed anything, it was that hope is at a premium in American society. Fear of catastrophe—due to terrorists, financial collapse, or ecological disaster—haunts our times. Some busy themselves with survival strategies, withdrawing from communal concerns to personal preoccupations. Many more, uncertain about the future, anxiously gorge themselves on our culture’s smorgasbord of instantly gratifying diversions.
Opportunity for the church
Uncertainty, insignificance, and powerlessness. Destructive, self-indulgent escape. Loneliness and isolation. Fear and distrust. Loss of hope. Retreat. Although hasty and incomplete, this sketch of the early-21st-century American cultural mood picks up dark details masked by indices of societal well-being. It also reminds us that to focus exclusively on the individual in our efforts to understand the depression epidemic is to miss the forest for the trees.
When used wisely, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy can restore stability to individuals so that they can better negotiate everyday challenges. For those in the thick of paralyzing depression, the effects of medicine and CBT might even prompt gratitude for common grace. And they should give thanks. Yet neither of these approaches provides much help in understanding or addressing the more fundamental and intractable problems of which the depression epidemic is a symptom. These approaches provide needed relief, but not answers or prevention.
The medical models come up short because they can only go as far as their understanding of the subject of the problem will take them. And both slight their subject: human beings. Cultural institutions and authorities may sometimes treat human beings as if we are nothing but brains in bodies, but this does not make it so. For those with eyes to see, the depression epidemic is in part a witness to the complexity of human nature. In particular, it reminds us that we are social and spiritual (as well as physical) creatures, and that a fallen society’s afflictions are often inscribed on the bodies of its members. We have misjudged humanity if we expect our bodies to be impervious to social travail. (“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground,” Luke 22:44.)
In fact, sometimes an episode of what looks like depression does not indicate that the human organism is malfunctioning, but is instead being true to her spiritual-social-physical nature. Embodied emotional pain can be an appropriate response to suffering in a world gone wrong. The author of Lamentations must have felt such pain as he gazed upon the destruction of Jerusalem around 588 B.C. “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city” (Lam. 2:11). Christians are called to weep with those who weep, and should welcome emotional pain that results from empathy and draws us alongside the afflicted. If we have grown numb to the pain and suffering around us, we have lost our humanity.
Christian teaching about sin and its reverberating effects frees the church from surprise about the disordered state of human affairs. We can acknowledge the effects of sin both within and without. We can look at wrecked reality squarely in the eye and call it what it is.
And thanks be to God, who raised the One who entered fully into our condition, breaking the power of sin, death, and hell, that we not only can name wrecked reality, but also lean into it on the promise that Christ is making all things new.
Those who bear the marks of despair on their bodies need a community that bears the world’s only sure hope in its body. They need communities that rehearse this hope again and again and delight in their shared foretaste of God’s promised world to come. They need to see that this great promise, secured by Christ’s resurrection, compels us to work amidst the wreckage in hope. In so doing, the church provides her depressed members with a plausible hope and a tangible reminder of the message they most need to hear: This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ as embodied in his church is the last word.
We are submitting our request to partner with several agencies this month to assist outreach for this specific populous of individuals. There are several resource that we are willing to carry the torch and advertise and link others with to expose the options that are available. If you are a non-profit or church that has veterans and teens with challenges please consider attending this event.
In order to effectively approach homelessness, a community needs a clear, deliberate, and comprehensive strategy. In The Ten Essentials, the Alliance outlines the ten components necessary in a successful plan to end homelessness. The Ten Essentials covers the most important strategies for success: prevention, re-housing options, access to housing and services, and efficient use of data, among others.
Devise a plan of action. The Alliance’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is a good place to start – a comprehensive, systematic approach to addressing the different facets of homelessness. While planning, it is important to have representatives and input from all the groups affected by this social issue: government officials, business leaders, community activists, and the like. Every solution starts with a plan.
Before moving forward, it’s imperative to fully understand the problem. With homelessness, that can be a tall order, as the social problem is influenced by the economy, geography, transportation, and a host of other elements. Luckily, most communities conduct a biannual point in time census and have a Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS), required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HMIS collects data about those who interact with the homeless assistance system, and this information can be helpful in understanding the homeless population better and addressing their specific needs.
As with most things, the most economical and efficient way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Consider enacting programs and policies that will do just that. Many existing social programs connect vulnerable populations with emergency services, temporary cash assistance, and case management. Consider ways to integrate with these existing systems or adopt your own.
Many people who fall into homelessness do so after release from state-run institutions, including jail and the foster care system. Still others come to homelessness from mental health programs and other medical care facilities. By creating a clear path to housing from those institutions—in the form of case management, access to services, or housing assistance programs—we can reduce the role that state-run institutions play in creating homelessness.
An important role in ending homelessness is outreach to people experiencing homelessness. A key ingredient to this outreach is the ability to connect the homeless population to housing and services. When considering outreach efforts, it’s important to understand that many people living on the streets exhibit mental illness, substance addiction, and other negative behavior patterns. As such, it’s important to consider low-demand housing that does not mandate sobriety or treatment.
A successful homeless assistance program not only works to end homelessness, but minimizes the length of stay in shelter and reduces repeat homeless episodes. In order to do this, assistance programs must align resources to ensure that families and individuals have access to the services necessary to achieve independence as quickly as possible. This often requires immediate access to housing, home-based case management, and incentives embedded into the homeless assistance system to promote these outcomes.
Navigating the housing market, especially on behalf of clients with lower incomes and higher needs, is a difficult task. A successful homeless assistance program has housing staff that help with just that. Housing locators search local housing markets and build relationships with landlords. Successful program components include incentives to landlords to rent to homeless households, creative uses of housing vouchers and subsidies to help homeless individuals and families afford their rental unit, and links to resources to help clients maintain their housing.
Services are actually more accessible than they sound – many of them already exist in the community. By and large, homeless individuals can access mainstream programs, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and other existing federal assistance programs. Connecting families and individuals exiting homelessness to these programs is imperative to ensuring their continued independence.
At its root, homelessness is the result of the inability to afford and maintain housing. Remember that any plan to end homelessness must incorporate an investment in creating affordable housing. This includes supportive housing, which is permanent housing coupled with supportive services. This is often used for the chronically homeless population – that is, people experiencing long-term or repeated homelessness who also have mental or physical disabilities.
In order to maintain housing, people exiting homelessness must have income. Cash assistance programs are available through federal and state government, and career-based employment services can help formerly homeless people build the skills necessary to increase their income. Mainstream services, including the Workforce Investment Act, should be used for this purpose.
On June 25, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective (SAFE) Justice Act (H.R. 2944). This bill is massive, a whopping 144 pages long, and touches almost every single part of the federal criminal justice system, from trial to sentencing to life after release. This legislation would limit the application of federal drug mandatory minimum sentences to only the most high-level crime organizers and kingpins. Judges would have more flexibility to sentence people below mandatory minimum drug and gun possession offenses when the person has a minor record or the crime was driven by addiction or mental illness. It would also allow for federal prisoners to earn time off their sentences for good behavior and completing rehabilitative programming.
The best part: many of these reforms would be retroactive, affecting people who are already in prison, and reducing prison overcrowding and high prison costs for taxpayers.
Lawmakers know the criminal justice system is flawed from top to bottom. They recognize the injustice, and many speak out about it. But we want them to do more than talk, we want them to vote to change the system. They need to hear from you, their constituents.Tell your U.S. Representative to support the SAFE Justice Act today. The more members of Congress who support the bill, the more likely it is that we’ll get them to act on it this year!
Thanks for your support of our work and for telling Congress it’s time for action!
WASHINGTON – A Detroit man sentenced to life in prison on drug offenses in 1999 is among nearly four dozen federal inmates who had their sentences commuted today by President Barack Obama as being too harsh.
Patrick Roberts, 65, is currently incarcerated in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., according to corrections records, and has lost several previous attempts to have his sentence reduced.
Federal court documents say he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine and marijuana and was sentenced to life imprisonment, under rules which were in place at the time, because of his four prior drug convictions.
Obama today commuted the sentences of 46 federal prisoners convicted on drug charges, ordering their terms to end Nov. 10 of this year. Roberts’ was the only one from Michigan.
The president has issued nearly 90 commutations in all during his two terms in office, most of them to nonviolent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under old sentencing rules which, had the crimes been committed today, would have resulted in shorter sentences.
The president sent each prisoner a letter confirming the commutation and asking each to make the most of the opportunity he or she was being given.
In a video message, Obama explained his decision, saying the inmates “were not hardened criminals but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years.”
“Their punishments didn’t fit the crime,” Obama said in the message.
“I’ve made clear to them that re-entering society is going to require responsibility on their part and hard work and smarter choices,” the president continued. “But I believe that at it’s heart, America’s a nation of second chances and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”
Administration officials said they expect Obama will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term in January 2017. On Tuesday, the president was also expected to discuss, in an address to the NAACP, ways of bringing “greater fairness to our criminal justice system while keeping our communities safe,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a blog post.
In a statement from the U.S. Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said today’s commutations grew out of Obama’s request a year ago that the agency develop criteria for identifying prisoners who were nonviolent, low-level offenders who received overly harsh sentences.
“The President’s decision to commute the sentences of 46 more individuals today is another sign of our commitment to correcting these inequities,” she said.
April 7th 2015 :
President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 convicted federal prisoners Tuesday, shortening their sentences for drug-related crimes.
Eight of the prisoners who will have their sentences reduced were serving life sentences. All but one of the 22 will be released on July 28.
The White House said Obama made the move in order to grant to older prisoners the same leniency that would be given to people convicted of the same crimes today.
“Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. “Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years—in some cases more than a decade—longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.”
In issuing the commutations Tuesday, Obama has more than doubled the number he’s granted in his presidency. Before Tuesday, he had issued just 21 and denied 7,378 commutations in his more than six years. It was the most commutations issued by a president in a single day since President Clinton issued 150 pardons and 40 commutations on his last day in office.
And it could represent the crest of a new wave of commutations that could come in Obama’s last two years in office. Last year, the Justice Department announced a new clemency initiative to try to encourage more low-level drug offenders to apply to have their sentences reduced. That resulted in a record 6,561 applications in the last fiscal year, at least two of which were granted commutations Tuesday, according to the Justice Department.