Amos was the earliest prophet whose words are preserved in the form of a book. He prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel somewhere between the years 760-750 B.C. Amos’ preaching took place during the mid-eighth century B. C., a few years before the prophet Hosea began his ministry.
The eighth century was a period during which a privileged few in Israel were enjoying unprecedented prosperity while most Israelites were facing dire poverty. Although Amos lived in Tekoa, a small village bordering the wilderness of Judah, his preaching to Israel provided a powerful prophetic witness for all ages because of his condemnation of the spiritual blindness of the Judean upper-class and their unjust exploitation of the poor.
Amos forged an explicit and unbreakable link between justice toward the neighbor and righteousness before God, a link that went back to the covenant at Sinai and to the ancient prophetic traditions of Israel. Amos’ ministry provides an eternal witness of God’s opposition to economic, political, and social injustice.
The words of Amos were adapted by Martin Luther King, Jr., whose famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. in August 1963 brought a new meaning to the words of Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).
Amos spoke to an oppressed society and his concern for the poor and the oppressed made him a prophet for all times. Amos is also a prophet for the twenty-first century, a time when the gap between rich and poor has never been greater.
The sources of oppression and injustice may look different today, but people’s concern for material prosperity reflects the days in which Amos lived. Amos’ message of God’s opposition to injustice, his criticism of the people’s worship of material things, and his witness of God’s special concern for the poor and oppressed, affirm that the worship of God in any age is worthless if social oppression and injustice are ignored.
Since justice and righteousness are the focus of Amos’ message, it is important to look at how the words justice and righteousness are used by the prophet. The words justice and righteousness are used together three times in two chapters of the book of Amos (Amos 5:7; 5:24; 6:12). The word justice is used once by itself (Amos 5:15).
“O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth” (Amos 5:7 RSV).
“Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:15 RSV).
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24 RSV).
“Do horses run upon rocks? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (Amos 6:12 RSV).
Wormwood was an extremely bitter plant. The word was used several times in Jeremiah and in Lamentations to describe the bitterness of the calamities that befell Judah at the time of their exile to Babylon (Jeremiah 9: 15; 23:15; Lamentation 3: 15, 19). The justice that Israel’s courts dispensed to the poor was nothing but bitterness.
The oppression and injustice Amos found in the Northern Kingdom was evidence that righteousness had been thrown to the ground as something worthless by those who were in power. Righteousness no longer had any meaning for the powerful people of Israel as a requirement of the worship of God.
To Amos, “hating evil and loving good” was a simple yet powerful statement of how to establish justice “in the gate.” In a very simple language, the prophet placed principles of true justice before a group of people who could argue about legal technicalities while tolerating bribery, corruption, and greed.
The gate of the city was fortified in order to protect the city from enemies and to serve as the place where the elders of the city would gather as a legal assembly to decide cases needing adjudication. The gate was the place where the local judiciary met to determine right and wrong in legal disputes, and therefore, to decide who was innocent or guilty.
Deuteronomy 25: 1 describes this process: “Suppose two persons have a dispute and enter into litigation, and the judges decide between them, declaring one to be in the right and the other to be in the wrong.” If the judges successfully declared where the right was, then justice had been
The decision of the court had a redemptive aspect for the parties involved in the litigation. The decision of the court was intended to vindicate the just party in a legal dispute. The decision was also intended to protect the social order by determining right and wrong and correcting the wrong. Thus, the decision of the court was particularly important in cases where the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien, people without power and influence, could not find redress in the community apart from the decision of the court.
When the words “justice” and “righteousness” are used in Amos, justice is the primary word since it appears first in the parallelism of the two words. Justice is the result of seeking or loving good, as in Amos 5:15. Justice is also the fruit or the result of righteousness as in Amos 6:12. Thus, according to Amos, righteousness is essential to the well-being of the community. Righteousness is essentially a relational rather than an absolute ethical idea. Righteousness has to do with the relationship between a person and God, and a relationship between members of the community. Righteousness is a relational concept; its meaning is determined by the particular social context in which it is used. Righteousness is a quality of life which is displayed by people who live up to the demands of the covenant. The righteous person does what is right to other persons involved in the relationship.
Amos proclaimed that Israel had violated the ancient traditions of Israel. The poor and oppressed were individuals who deserved the protection of the court and fair treatment by those in a position of dispensing legal decisions. The only way for this to become a reality in Israelite society was for justice to roll down like waters, and for righteousness to run like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).
Since its inception, the United States of America has struggled with developing a just criteria for immigrants seeking citizenship, particularly as it relates to people of color. The roots of this struggle lie in America’s arduous history as it relates to slavery. In 1776 as the American colonies were preparing to separate from Great Britain, Thomas Jefferson wrote what has become almost a sacred document for not only Americans but for oppressed people across the globe who seek freedom, justice and an opportunity to have a better life.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence he penned the prophetic words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the fathers of America signed it, they had no idea that they would be motivating marginalized people across the world, generation after generation to seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because even though the Declaration of Independence professed that all men were created equal in reality only white men were considered to be full citizens when America was born.
When America was born slaves had no rights and free people of color and women had few if any rights. Even after slavery ended people of African descent continued to experience discrimination and were denied full citizenship rights as a result of Jim Crow laws that were pervasive across the land. My former Gunnery Sergeant, Mike Phillips use to put it this way, because of the laws of the land and the hearts of the people, “If you were yellow you were mellow, if you were brown you might be able to stick around but if you were black you had to get back!”
Nevertheless, God is a God who loves the oppressed and He is the King of Justice. So the Holy Spirit empowered people like Rosa Parks, Medgar Evans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. who initiated, formed and led the civil rights movement, which dismantled legalized segregation in the 1960’s. Finally, descendants of African slaves had full citizenship rights in America. Police Accountability, AB953 law “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).
I love the story of Abraham. I mean everything from when he lied about who his wife was to protect his own hide, to the amazing promises God gave him. But there’s a story nestled in the Genesis account that paints a powerful picture – to miss it is to miss the core message of the Bible. You can find this story in Genesis Chapter 15, verses 1-21 (but I encourage you to read a few chapters before and after as well to get it in context). In a nutshell, God reiterated His promise to Abram (for the third time) then Abram asked for a sign. So God gave Him one. First God told Abram to cut some animals in half then He put Abram to sleep and talked to him about his future. Finally, God appeared as a smoking fire and passed between the pieces of the animals.
This section of Scripture describes a common practice in those days called ‘cutting a covenant.’ Basically, when two people wanted to make a pact, a deal, or a bargain with each other, they would cut some animals into pieces and lay them apart on the ground. A space was left between them forming a sort of aisle. Each party would then state their oath(s) aloud as they walked down the aisle. The meaning of the ritual was simple: ‘May I be cut into pieces like these animals if I don’t keep my promise(s) as I’ve stated in this agreement (covenant).’ Normally there were commitments made on both sides, but not in Genesis 15. Did you catch it?
THE COVENANT WAS BETWEEN GOD AND ABRAM (ABRAM’S DESCENDANTS ARE ALSO MENTIONED) BUT ONLY GOD MADE THE COMMITMENT OF DEATH IN CASE OF A BREACH OF CONTRACT.
The Old Testament is a collection of stories that teach spiritual truths. The writers of the Bible would often take a common practice in the Ancient world and turn it on its head in order to teach the God-followers of Israel something that set Him apart from the gods of the surrounding cultures. That’s why it can be so dangerous to take the Biblical texts and stories literally. That’s why we should not try to bring ancient practices into today’s world and live by them as if they were laws. The sole purpose of Scripture is to teach us what God is like.
The story of God walking through the torn carcasses of animals is a strange one no doubt. But it speaks one of the most beautiful truths in the Bible. God always keeps his promises. God didn’t need Abram to walk through the pieces or make a bargain with Him in order for God to keep His promise. Abram only needed to know that God always keeps his promises, period.
Let’s look more closely for a moment. In verses, 1-5 God restated His earlier promise to Abram that he was going to have a child. In verse 6 Abram simply took God at His word and God equated Abram’s faith with righteousness. It is good to operate on the light God has already given us – that is a big part of how we will be judged in terms of our actions in this life. So by all means, believe what God tells you. Belief a good thing. Our beliefs govern our actions. Now understand that Abram’s belief played absolutely no part in the covenant about to take place. In other words, nothing Abram did or believed in any way impacted the promise God made to him. This is important.
The land was a separate promise from the promise to give Abram children. The land represented God’s presence with the Israelites. But God’s promise in regards to the land extended way beyond establishing the Jews in Israel. Consider why God called Abraham in the first place:
I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (emphasis mine)
GENESIS 18:18, 22:18, AND 26:4 COMPRISE GOD’S PROMISE TO ALL MANKIND: THE WORLD RENEWED.
In other words, the land – and by implication, intimacy with God in a loving relationship – was not for the Jews alone. Not by a long shot.
GOD’S END GAME HAS BEEN ALWAYS GLOBAL.
On the heels of the promises regarding the land, note that we are not told that Abram believed God, but instead that Abram asked a question: “How will I know that it will one day be mine?” What a great question! Sounds like Abram was looking for proof because this time he did not believe God. Little did Abram know he was asking the one question that concerns all of humanity. How do we know that God has a plan to bless us, to renew us, and to renew the world?
I KNOW BECAUSE SOME 4000 YEARS AGO GOD CUT A COVENANT WITH ME.
No, that’s not a typo. Shadows and types and representatives, oh my! The Bible is full of them. Abram was my – your, our – representative in this covenant. Just like Adam represented all of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and Jesus is named the second Adam in his obedient suffering, so Abram was mankind’s representative, cutting the covenant of grace.
Now it is time to consider the location of this story within the greater historical context. Abram was an ancestor of Moses through whom the Law came. As a reminder, we are not told that Abram did anything to earn God’s promise. The covenant was purely an act of God’s grace. So, before the Law came, the covenant of grace was established. Think about it. If the covenant of grace had come after the Law, we would have reason to believe that there is something we must do for God to keep His end of the bargain. This story puts it out there on display: there is nothing for us to do (not even believe). Why? you ask. Because if we have a part now in keeping this covenant then Abram would have believed and walked through the pieces as our representative back then.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE IT TO BE A PART OF IT.
Genesis 15:10: As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram… God put Abram to sleep so that he would have nochance of walking through those pieces. Why? Because God knew something we must all understand:
None of us will ever be able to keep covenant with God (Romans 3). We can’t even keep covenant with each other or ourselves! If there was any covenant to be made with mankind, it had to be on God’s side only. Our works and beliefs have nothing to do with God’s love for His creation or His absolute and unwavering commitment to make all things new. God Almighty cut a covenant with Abram as my representative, and now there is nothing I can do that will ever make God love me more or less than He did in that moment when He walked through the pieces! But there was a little part in the story that for many years I somehow missed. I bet you who are reading this have already seen it because it is so obvious.
One day it hit me what the pieces of those animals really were:
THE BROKEN BODY OF JESUS.
When God walked through the pieces, He knew that we were going to make a sacrifice out of His Son!“This is My body, broken for you…” Who cut the animals up? Abram did – in my place. I did it, through Abram. We did it. We cut up the sacrifice – the Romans stood in for me, for you, for us, crucifying Jesus on a cross. His Son’s death at our hands was the price God paid – in grim, gory detail – to shout out to the cosmos that love trumps all, that there is nothing we can do – not even murder – that will ever stop His love for us.
I pray that you understand – really understand – that God has no expectations of you as regards relationship with Him. He initiated it, He accomplished it, He will finish it, in your life and mine – all for the love He feels for everything and everyone He has made. Now that is Amazing Grace.
There’s something you gotta see, journey with me
It’s approximately 30 A.D.
In the land of Israel- the city of Jerusalem
But on the outside, there’s screams and loud cries
Through faith, this scene can be seen without eyes
The mean shout lies and seems to sound wise
As we inch through the crowd, we need to be cautious
A Roman execution, men on three crosses
But all the focus is on the one in the center
The gate closes behind you- no one can enter
The sight you behold is so odd, you’re stunned
The man hanging on the cross is God the Son
12 noon, it’s pitch-black because the sunshine’s lacking
Your minds can’t fathom this divine transaction
As slowly the sound becomes mostly drowned
You realize that you’re standing on holy ground
So forever will I tell
In three hours, Christ suffered more than any sinner ever will in hell
It’s where we see Your holiness- at the cross
We see that You’re controlling this- at the cross
We see how You feel about sin- at the cross
Your unfathomable love for men- at the cross
It’s where we see Your sovereignty- at the cross
We see our idolatry- at the cross
We know that there’s a judgment day- from the cross
May we never take our eyes away- from the cross
We’re now in the realm of the sublime and profound
With God at the helm, it’s about to go down
The Father’s wrath precise will blast and slice
The priceless Master Christ as a sacrifice
Willingly, He’s under the curse
To be treated as if the Son was the worst scum of the earth
The scene is the craziest
Jesus being treated as if He is the shadiest atheist
How is it the Messiah is in the fiery pit
As if He was a wicked liar with twisted desires?
The One who’s sinless and just
Punished as if He was promiscuous and mischievous with vicious lust
The source of all godly pleasure
Tormented as if He was a foul investor or child molester
How could He be bruised like He was a goodie-two-shoes
who doesn’t think that she needs the good news?
He’s perfect in love and wisdom
But He’s suffering as if He constructed the corrupt justice system
We should mourn at the backdrop
Jesus torn like He’s on the corner with crack rock with porn on His laptop
What is this, kid? His gifts are infinite
But He’s hit with licks for religious hypocrites
He’s the Light, but being treated like
He’s the seedy type who likes to beat His wife
He’s treated like a rapist, treated like a slanderer
Treated like a racist or maybe a philanderer
Jesus being penalized like He had sin inside
Filled with inner pride while committing genocide
I could write for a billion years and still can’t name
All of the sins placed on the Lamb slain
But know this: the main thing the cross demonstrated
The glory and the holiness of God vindicate
Closing: When evangelist John Wesley was returning home from a service one night, he was robbed. The thief, however, found his victim to have only a little money and some Christian literature. As the bandit was leaving, Wesley called out, “Stop! I have something more to give you.” The surprised robber paused. “My friend,” said Wesley, “you may live to regret this sort of life. If you ever do, here’s something to remember: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin!'” The thief hurried away, and Wesley prayed that his words might bear fruit. Years later, Wesley was greeting people after a Sunday service when he was approached by a stranger. What a surprise to learn that this visitor, now a believer in Christ as a successful businessman, was the one who had robbed him years before! “I owe it all to you,” said the transformed man. “Oh no, my friend,” Wesley exclaimed, “not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin!”
Has the blood been applied to your life? Is your name written down in Heaven? Is your faith in Jesus and in Him alone?
They have taken crafty counsel against your people and consulted against your hidden ones…
This name is especially applicable to Israel because of the geographical position of their country. (Cf. Numbers 23:9, “The people shall dwell alone.”) They were away, off the beaten track of the nations, shut in, and, as it were, hidden, by the deserts on the east and south, the sea on the west, and the mountains on the north, from the rest of the world. But the expression in the text is applicable to all God’s people everywhere and always. They are his hidden ones. And we note concerning them –
I. THE FACT – THEY ARE HIDDEN.
1.Their physical life God often hides from those who would destroy it. Not always does he do this, but often, as Peter from Herod (Acts 12.; and cf. Obadiah’s hiding of the prophets, 1 Kings 18:4). And how often God has hidden his servants in wildernesses, glens, mountain heights, catacombs, etc.! The adversary would fain have destroyed them all, as the wolf the sheep; but they have not all been destroyed, the sheep yet outnumber the wolves.
2.Their spiritual life is ever a hidden one. For it resides not in themselves, but in another, as the life of the branches is in the vine (John 15.; Colossians 3:3). The principles that govern it are not known or understood or appreciated by the world. Its law of self-sacrifice, meekness, etc. Except by uncertain conjecture, the world knows nothing of its springs of action and its controlling motives. The practice of this life is also so different from the world’s life. It is meek, retiring, not loving notoriety; it pursues a lowly and unnoticed way; it has no eye for worldly pomp, no ear for worldly applause. It is not necessarily identified with any places, or seasons, or forms of worship, or order of men; but whilst generally using more or less of them, is independent of them all.
3.And this condition of God’s hidden ones is of their own choice. (Ruth 2:12; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 143:9.) They love to have it so. The hidden life is, in their esteem, the blessed, the secure, the eternal life.
4.It is God who hides them. (Cf. Psalm 31:20; John 10:28.) He does this by his providential care and by keeping them in his own love. And the majority of them he has hidden from men below in his own blessed presence in heaven. The Church on earth is a little flock indeed, not absolutely, but in comparison with the vast flock in the heavenly pastures, and there they are forever hidden from all the malice and might of men or of the devil.
II. WHAT THIS FACT IMPLIES.
1.Their preciousness in the sight of God. Things common and cheap we do not hide, or those for which we do not care. Jewels are hidden oftentimes, and God calls his hidden ones his jewels (Malachi 3:17). And how could they be other than precious, when we remember their cost! – “redeemed with the precious blood of Christ;” each one was bought with that price. And God deems them precious, also, for their own sakes. They can and will respond, ever more and more perfectly, to that love in the heart of God which, like all love, yearns for a response such as they only can give.
2.Their peril. God would not have hidden them as he has were they in no danger (see text). And how perpetually did our Lord bids us “watch and pray”! The world, the flesh, the devil, are ever bent on doing us harm. We are safe only as “our life is hidden with Christ in God”
3.Obscurity. The world knows us not, even as it knew him not. See how all but unbroken is the absolute silence of secular history as to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and as to the history of his Church, until its marvelous growth and supernatural power compelled its attention. And still, the fame, layout, and honor of the world are things which none of God’s hidden ones may seek (John 5:41, 44).
25-27 But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ, you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.
A common misconception about the church of Christ is that “The Church of Christ” is its name. It is not. The “church of Christ” is its description. The church of Christ is the church that belongs to Christ, that was established by Christ, that was built by Christ, and that was bought by Christ. It is not our church; it is His church, the Lord’s church. We are not voted into the church by men, and we do not join a church the way some might join a country club. Instead, God adds us to His church when we obey His gospel.
Ever addressed the topic: Gospel vs. doctrine?
Could not find this specific topic addressed. It is a current issue being debated locally. The progressive spirit insists that unity is only our faith in Christ, or that we all believe in Christ,(might as well say faith only), because in the next breath they say doctrine is another area, apart from our faith in Christ, some then add, after all, we cannot agree on doctrine”. Two folks added, “We have fellowship with those who believe in Jesus”. It was opened up to even those in denominations. I am afraid we have union, but not unity, as the importance of doctrine is diminished. Thanks.
Creating a distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine” is not new – it has been around for years. It is a theory espoused by those who, as you suggest, seek union in diversity. They do this by arguing for a false dichotomy, establishing their own rules and rejecting God’s teaching.
Does the scripture distinguish between “gospel” and “doctrine”? If it does, then we should adopt it. If it does not, then we should oppose it and withdraw from those who teach it. 2 Thess. 3:6. The theory that doctrine is one thing and gospel is another are found in early twentieth century Europe. J.A. Jungmann, a German Catholic theologian published his views in a text titled, The Good News and Our Proclamation of the Faith, (1936). Jungmann proposed what he called the “kerygmatic approach to preaching.” He made a hard distinction between gospel (Kerygma) and doctrine (Didache). Later that year British theologian, C.H. Dodd, published a book called, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, in which he urged that a firm distinction is made between gospel and doctrine.
The Bible does not support such a theory. In the Koine (Hellenistic Greek) language, in which the New Testament was written, the word gospel (Kerygma) means “good news” and is used to refer to the salvational aspects of Jesus. The word doctrine (Didache) means “teaching” or “discourse,” and has reference to the same salvational message as the gospel. Therefore, it is not unusual for the New Testament to speak of the gospel as that which must be obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8). If the gospel is only a set of facts — death, burial, and resurrection — it cannot be obeyed. One cannot obey facts!
Now some in the Lord’s church borrowed the “gospel versus doctrine” theory from Jungmann and Dodd to build a base on which to launch their speculation about open fellowship between the church and denominations. They call their opinion unity-in-diversity – a contradiction in terms. In this view, the gospel is separated from teaching, or doctrine, and supersedes it in importance. The adherents of unity-in-diversity stress that only the gospel is important since doctrine is a relative and elusive standard. Therefore, all believers (regardless of their denominational-church) are to achieve unity of faith by ignoring doctrine, but gospel must not be discarded.
The very definition of the word gospel, in the unity-in-diversity theory, was modified to exclude everything but the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In more recent literature this notion has been styled the Core Gospel. As a result of this historic shift in faith, some brethren (?) stress that the gospel can be preached only to the lost (i.e., the world), but doctrine may be preached only to the saved (i.e., the church).
In the Bible, the two words (gospel and doctrine) are intertwined. For instance, when Paul preached the resurrection (a part of the so-called core-gospel-triad) the Athenians called it doctrine (Acts 17:18-19). How ludicrous it would have been for Paul to respond to the sincere question of the Greek philosophers by saying he could not teach them doctrine because they were not yet Christians.
Servants of sin obeyed doctrine to be free from sin and become servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:17). If there is a difference in doctrine and gospel, and if only the gospel frees from sin, how could these unbelievers obey doctrine? There is nothing in the context of 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 antagonistic to doctrine. It is ridiculous to say Paul preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus without giving conditions of salvation. How could one understand how to respond to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ separate from specific teaching or doctrine? (See Romans 6:3-4 with v. 7.) On Pentecost Peter preached the resurrection of Christ, but also told people what commands to obey to be saved (Acts 2:31-38).
Why does Paul write to the Roman Christians telling them that he is ready to preach the gospel to them if the gospel is not for the saved? Rom. 1:15. The Christian’s life is to be a life that is “becoming to the gospel.” Phil 1:27. If doctrine is for the church why did Paul not seek a life that becomes doctrine? Gospel and doctrine are not separate. Some have accepted a false distinction between gospel and doctrine to erect an unauthorized bridge of fellowship with the denominational world.
What is the church of Christ?
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised to build a church. In Acts 2:47, Luke tells us that people were being added to that church. Thus, we can conclude that Jesus built His church sometime between His promise in Matthew 16 and Luke’s statement in Acts 2. Indeed, a closer study of the events in Acts 2 reveals that the Lord’s church was established on that first day of Pentecost following the Lord’s resurrection when Peter preached the first gospel sermon. That church is the church of Christ.
Are those in the church of Christ the only people who are going to be saved? Of course they are! God adds people to His church when they are saved. If you are not in the Lord’s church, then you are not saved. If you are saved, then you are in the Lord’s church. To be saved outside of the church of Christ is to be saved outside of the body of Christ – and that can never happen. Jesus is not just a way to the Father; he is the way to the Father. As Jesus said in John 14:6, “ I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Thus, the real question is not what is the church of Christ, but is rather how do you become a part of the church of Christ? That question was asked in the first century as it is asked today, and the answer remains the same. We are saved and added to the Lord’s church when we obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the Apostle Paul, we are saved when our sins are washed away at our baptism.
There is one church of Christ. If you are a member of something else or something more or something less, then you are not serving God according to His plan or according to His will. He wants you to be a Christian and only a Christian, wearing only the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the head and the savior of the church, His body.
What Must I Do?
What must I do? That same question was asked in Acts 2:37 at the end of the very first gospel sermon ever preached. Before we look at Peter’s answer in verse 38, let’s look at some answers Peter did NOT give.
What must I do? John Calvin answers, “Nothing!” According to Calvin, there is nothing we must do and nothing we can do. Each of us has already been personally predestined to Heaven or Hell without regard to anything we do on Earth, and so, logically, according to Calvin, the only answer to the question in Acts 2:37 is “Nothing.” But that is NOT how Peter answered that question.
1 Peter 3:21
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What must I do? Many preachers today answer, “You must make Jesus the Lord of your life.” But that answer makes absolutely no sense then or now! Peter had just said in Acts 2:36 that “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Jesus was already Lord of their lives! Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, which means he is your Lord and your King whether or not you obey him or believe him. We obey Jesus because he is Lord and King – not to make him Lord and King.
What must I do? Many preachers today answer, “You must pray the sinner’s prayer and invite the Lord Jesus into your heart.” But no one in the Bible was ever told to do that. In fact, Paul prayed after he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), and yet Paul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always (Acts 10:2), and yet there remained something he still had to do after calling for Peter (Acts 10:6). If praying the sinner’s prayer was all that Paul and Cornelius needed to do, then why were Ananias and Peter needed?
What must I do? Listen as Peter answers that question: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38) That answer has not changed one bit in the intervening 2000 years. If your preacher is telling you something different, then you need a new preacher! “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16
PASSIONATE LIVING VS. FEAR
Sarah Ban Breathnach tells of a business trip her husband took to the beach, where she and her daughter enjoyed the mornings while he attended workshops. One afternoon it was announced that there would be elephant rides for the children in the hotel parking lot. Her daughter, Katie, was delirious with excitement. Sarah told her, “Life is always full of wonderful surprises if we’re open to them. Some mornings you get up not knowing what will happen, and you get to ride an elephant that day!” When they got home, there was an invitation for Sarah to join a group of journalists on a trip to Ireland. She was tired of traveling, and not really a spontaneous person, so she told them she would probably not go. Her husband, overhearing her, said, “So, you’re not going to ride the elephant?” She decided to go.
“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fear (Psalm 34:4).
Living passionately involves a lot of pressure and risk. I mean, what if you fall off the elephant? A writer named Ambrose Redmoon wrote: Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. You might be afraid of all kinds of things, but if one of your kids were in danger, you’d be fearless. Also, don’t you want to live believing that God is bigger than whatever you’re afraid of? You have to make a decision to stop letting fear win: stop holding on to your blanket of insecurity and anxiety. Show up with everything God has given you, and join the battle against whatever opposes the redeeming work of God in this world. Take yourself less seriously and God more seriously!
“I wish you’d take the brakes off and let me preach,”
Christ is king. But what kind of king is he? Is Christ the kind of king who will send children to die in wars? Is Christ the kind of king who will take advantage of us?
I certainly hope not! If we take the example of human rulers are just scale up, we find ourselves with a Christ who is abusive, selfish, cruel, and all-powerful. That’s not the kind of Savior I want.
So what kind of king is Jesus? What kind of king are we celebrating today?
Our king, Christ the King, is—in a word—unexpected. Christ the King is unexpected in his birth, unexpected in his life, unexpected in his death, and unexpected in his return.
Let me explain what I mean. Think of a human king. You’d expect him to be born in a palace, surrounded by nobles and guards and wealth, raised in the lap of luxury.
Our king was born into poverty, wrapped in rags, put to rest in a manger meant for hay.
Think again of a human king. You’d expect him to travel around with courtiers and attendants, or live in his castle, with advisors to help him manage his kingdom.
Our king traveled around with fishermen, foreigners, and women. Our king visited with the sick, the outcast, the desperate.
A human king would die in his bed; he’d be mourned publicly, buried in a place of honor. Or at least he would die heroically in a battle, struck down by an enemy.
Our king was brutally executed by the state, nailed to a cross. His body was laid in a spare tomb nearby, without ceremony.
What kind of king is Christ? The unexpected kind. The kind who defies every expectation, every assumption about what a king should be.
Which brings me back to this famous parable from Matthew 25. Did you notice what the sheep and the goats, the people on the king’s right and left, have in common? Both groups are surprised to learn that they encountered the king. The sheep say, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? When was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
The goats’ response is the same, except that they failed to act: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
Both groups are surprised. They had no idea they had encountered their king in the guise of someone hungry, or poor, or sick. They had no idea that they had seen their king in the face of a foreigner, an immigrant, a prisoner.
This king, our king, is unexpected. He was born, he lived, he died, in the most unexpected ways. His resurrection and ascension were certainly unexpected. And this parable teaches us that his return will also be unexpected. We might be waiting for the Son of Man to come in glory, surrounded by angels, sitting on a throne. But what we will discover—what the sheep and the goats in the parable discover—is that our king has already returned. We have already seen him. He’s the panhandler on the street corner. He’s the farmworker picking our crops. He’s alone in a hospital room with no one to visit him. He’s locked up in San Quentin. He’s a teenaged girl going into Planned Parenthood, an undocumented mother bringing her children across the border, a widow alone in her home.
What kind of king is Christ? Just look around. You’ll see him. Amen.
Baptism in the Bible
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
1 Corinthians 12:13
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
1 Peter 3:21
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.” ― Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
Michelle Jones served 20 years in prison for a heinous crime: murdering her 4-year-old son. During her two decades behind bars, Ms. Jones compiled a record of accomplishment that would be remarkable even for someone who had never been locked up. She published a scholarly article on the first prisons for women in the United States. She wrote a play that will open in December in an Indianapolis theater. She led a team of incarcerated women whose efforts won the Indiana Historical Society’s prize for best research project for 2016. Not best research project by prisoners. Best project. Period.
All of this helped Ms. Jones gain admission to N.Y.U.’s doctoral program in American studies, where she started last week. But Ms. Jones’s stunning record wasn’t good enough for top administrators at Harvard University, as this paper reported on Thursday. In a rare move, they overturned the history department’s admission recommendation and rejected Ms. Jones.
Ms. Jones’s remarkable story put me in mind of a similar one — that of Reginald Dwayne Betts, the Yale Law graduate whose initial application to the Connecticut bar was recently rejected. Mr. Betts, who was convicted of carjacking in 1996 when he was 16, went on to astonishing success after his release in 2005, including publishing three books, being admitted to a Ph.D. program and being accepted to all of the nation’s top law schools. Yet as he continues to pursue admission to the bar, it’s clear that what matters most is the crime he committed as a teenager.
Cases like that of Ms. Jones and Mr. Betts come at an inflection point in the nation’s history. After 50 years of prison building, more and more Americans are expressing doubts about the harsh policies that have made this country the world’s largest jailer. At the same time, some of the people who have spent serious time in our jails have such impressive resumes that they are penetrating the world of the elite. For so long, the world of “us” never touched the world of “them” in many corners of American society. Because of people like Michelle Jones, that is changing.
What will the gatekeepers of privilege do when confronted with gold-star applicants who have a criminal record? Harvard’s answer — you can never outlive your crime — is an affront to a first-rate candidate and brings shame on those responsible.
But Harvard’s rejection of Ms. Jones (and my university, Yale, rejected her as well, though the reasons remain unclear) is more than that. It reveals the truth about why mass punishment persists and the lie we are telling ourselves about the possibility of redemption.
Here’s the thing about harsh justice in America. More and more people criticize it, but most eagerly shift the blame for who is responsible. I saw this repeatedly in California, where I just spent a year living and teaching. I lost count of the number of conversations I had with colleagues and friends about criminal justice in which somebody bemoaned the state of affairs in “the Trump states.” I responded by bringing up the fact that California led the prison-building movement in the 1980s and ’90s, and would share stories about a visit to San Quentin prison, located just across the water from San Francisco, where I met dozens of men serving life sentences. Nobody from the Trump states put them there, or is keeping them there, I would say. That’s on California voters and their elected officials. That’s on you.
I suspect that the administrators and professors who helped block Ms. Jones’s admission are a lot like my friends in Connecticut and California. They consider themselves liberal, and they think mass incarceration is a problem. Somebody’s else’s problem. Blame the judges, prosecutors, legislators, police, probation officers, prison guards. Just not us.
But rejecting an overwhelmingly qualified candidate like Michelle Jones for no reason other than her criminal record sends a clear message from the bastion of liberalism on the banks of the Charles: If something is to be done to make America more just and merciful, somebody else is supposed to do it.
It also exposes the way that our unforgiving system of justice has touched all of our institutions. In court, judges tell people that their conviction carries a sentence of years, or probation. The truth is far more terrible. People convicted of crimes often become social outcasts for life, finding it difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a job, adopt children, access public benefits, serve on juries or vote.
As eager as I am to champion Ms. Jones’s cause, I do so with one crucial caveat. Michelle Jones and Reginald Dwayne Betts capture our attention because of their extraordinary accomplishments. As compelling as their stories are, we cannot let these exceptional people become the standard by which we judge somebody returning from prison. You shouldn’t need to win awards from a state historical society to gain admission to a Ph.D. program, and admission to the bar shouldn’t be reserved for those who write three books and obtain multiple degrees.
Mass incarceration and its never-ending human toll will be with us until we come to see that no crime justifies permanent civic death. N.Y.U.’s acceptance of Michelle Jones is an example of an institution leading the way toward a more forgiving nation. Harvard’s rejection of her shows just how far we still have to go.
“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; at the same time he must keep himself at that remove from us which assures our painlessly being able to confirm this belief about him. Put differently, he is advised to reciprocate naturally with an acceptance of himself and us, an acceptance of him that we have not quite extended to him in the first place. A PHANTOM ACCEPTANCE is thus allowed to provide the base for a PHANTOM NORMALCY.” ― Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity
“We care (about prison education), very simply, because (prisoners) get out. Almost everyone who is locked up now is going to be set free one day. If we treat prisoners like animals the whole time they are locked up, that’s what we’ll get when they’re back on the streets: wild, dangerous animals.” ― Christopher Zoukis, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons
Parole in the United States originated in the Elmira Reformatory in New York State in 1867 as an option for the early release of individuals for good behavior and a means to reduce institutional overcrowding. In the early twentieth century, it came to be viewed as a tool for intermediate sentencing in furtherance of the goal of rehabilitation. However, during the 1970s concerns regarding the integrity of indeterminate sentencing arose due to increasing crime rates, a lack of empirical knowledge regarding effective correctional interventions, insufficient allocation of resources for rehabilitative interventions, and the so-called war on drugs.
In addition, concerns were raised about inconsistent decision-making by paroling authorities that resulted in apparent unfairness and inequity in release decisions deemed arbitrary, capricious, racially biased, and resulted in unjustifiably disparate sentences. Also, studies in the 1970s (conducted by Martinson and Brody) found a paucity of convincing evidence that rehabilitation reduces recidivism.
During the 1980s incarceration came to be conceptualized as punishment (i.e., just deserts), and by the late 1980s and 1990s as a means of incapacitation and deterrence with far less concern for equity and proportionality in sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes, truth-in-sentencing, and mandatory sex offender registration laws were enacted.
Rehabilitation was discarded, often coupled with the reduction or elimination of discretionary parole release. This gets tough on crime stance resulted in an explosive growth in prison populations, rates of incarceration, and costs of construction and operation of prisons.Ironically, as sentencing models focused more and more on punishment and incapacitation, research was providing evidence of effective interventions for reducing recidivism along with the ineffectiveness of incarceration.
Along with the shift from rehabilitation to punishment, the mission of parole to support reintegration shifted to reflect the get tough on crime stance resulting in fewer releases prior to the expiration of sentences, holding individuals who were released for greater portions of their maximum sentences, and increasing rates of parole revocation and re-incarceration.
By the 1990s the United States incarcerated more persons per capita than any other country with over two million adults behind bars, amounting to an incarceration rate of about one in one hundred. At the onset of the twenty-first century, the criminal justice system faced a rising prison population serving longer terms along with significantly diminished resources for prison-based programming, increased parole and probation caseloads, and scarce resources for returning citizens. Corrections costs (nearly ninety percent of which are allocated to prisons) soared creating serious budgetary pressures and accounting for significant amounts of states’ general fund discretionary dollars. Growing numbers of returning citizens and serious fiscal crises facing many states gave rise to a burgeoning interest in reentry.
During the 1980s and 1990s, parole release and supervision focused primarily on enforcement and surveillance, using monitoring to stress compliance with conditions of release. Increasing rates of incarceration and release have resulted in increasing numbers of persons under community supervision posing significant challenges to parole/probation agencies as resources have not kept pace with these increases. By the turn of the century, parole revocation practices came under increasing scrutiny and efforts designed to reduce the rate of parole revocations, especially for technical violations, and promote the more effective reintegration of returning citizens have become a major focus. Studies show that individuals released on parole at the discretion of a releasing authority are more likely to successfully complete their parole term without re-incarceration than individuals released through a mandatory system.
The majority of returning citizens have not experienced successful community reentry.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), two-thirds (67.5%) of individuals released from prison are rearrested within three years more than half of whom are reincarcerated. Studies have shown that returning citizens are at highest risk for recidivism during the first six months after release when almost one-third (29.9%) are rearrested. Despite public perception that people on parole are more likely to commit crimes, the vast majority do not return to prison for a new offense. Seventy percent are re-incarcerated4 due to technical parole violations (e.g., missing appointments and not maintaining employment) rather than for the commission of new crimes.
Returning citizens are faced with significant challenges to successful reentry including reuniting with family and significant others, finding jobs and housing, and remaining substance-free while avoiding high-risk situations that can trigger relapse and recidivism. More individuals are released from longer terms of incarceration and are more are likely to have health or substance abuse problems which exacerbate these challenges. In addition, limited availability of jobs, housing, and social services in a community can adversely impact successful reintegration.
Fifty-five percent of adults involved in the criminal justice system have minor children and parents who are incarcerated can owe an average of more than $20,000.00 in child support debt at the time of release. There is now a substantive and growing research base of effective correctional practices that
promote successful reentry. Strategies that can significantly reduce recidivism have been identified, including prison and community-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), substance abuse treatment, relationship enhancement skills (e.g., motivational interviewing), vocational and educational programming, and community supervision that includes a case management focus along with rewards and sanctions and linkages with appropriate treatment and service
and support providers.
In sum, the large numbers of returning citizens, a significant proportion of whom are reincarcerated, concerns regarding community safety, state fiscal crises, and increasing correctional costs, as well as research on evidence-based correctional interventions, are now driving contemporary correctional practice. These have led to a shift in focus in correctional institutions from custody and control to preparing individuals for their release starting from admission and continuing throughout community supervision and beyond. Parole’s traditional emphasis on surveillance and enforcement of conditions (i.e., identifying violations and quickly revoking parole for noncompliance) is being replaced by a focus on transition and successful reintegration.
“Some of us aren’t meant to belong. Some of us have to turn the world upside down and shake the hell out of it until we make our own place in it.” ― Elizabeth Lowell, Remember Summer
God destroys the barriers that divide us. In Him, there are no insiders or outsiders.
God promised Abraham that his descendants would be His very own people! What a calling, what a privilege! They would represent the Lord before the world. Curiously, the mark of their uniqueness was circumcision. Every Jewish boy, on the 8th day following his birth, would be circumcised, physical mark on his body for life, signifying that he was part of the privileged people of God.
But, He did not set out to create an exclusive club. What did He say? That the descendants of Abraham were to be a blessing to the whole world, showing the world the one true God and his ways.
Human nature being what it is, the ancient children of Abraham closed their society and regarded the rest of the world contemptuously as the “uncircumcised.” They (not all, but most) assumed Gentiles were excluded from the promises of God.
TEXT- “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
The Jewish/Gentile controversy was the HOT BUTTON issue of the Church when Paul was writing. Many of the Jews who accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah, still thought of themselves as insiders because of their religious heritage. Many teachers insisted that Gentile Christians HAD to observe Jewish law – including circumcision, Sabbath observance, and kosher diet. Some of the early churches met together but did not take communion together, dividing between Jewish converts and Gentile converts, even for the holy meal.
Paul calls on them to see what Christ has done.
TEXT- “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Eph 2:22
It is possible you’re listening to me go on about this and wondering, “What does this have to do with me? That controversy is a non-issue here.” Ah, you’re right and you’re wrong. Discrimination, even in the church, is alive and well in 2017.
There are people who are ‘churched’ or who have absorbed a cultural worldview that they believe is Biblical, who are not at all shy to say that they are insiders with God. Because they are “good” they believe that God looks with favor on them and they perhaps jealously guard their church club.
Divorced? Not welcome.
Identifying yourself as a homosexual? Not welcome.
Struggling with pornography? Not welcome.
Have a promiscuous past? Not welcome.
Trying to reconcile your education that marginalized God with the authority of the Scripture? Not welcome.
Don’t understand the rituals or words used in church? Not welcome.
Other barriers are raised – too rich? Too poor? Too young, too old? Too many tattoos, hair too long, don’t like the right kind of music? Don’t have the ‘right’ theology?
Ill.- This week I met with some local pastors who minister in churches that are not evangelical.
Somehow our conversation drifted into a discussion of their interaction with some pastors from churches who are more conservative. It was both sad and funny to hear the stories of ignorance and bigotry that were visited on these pastors by those who did not consider them to be ‘real Christians.’
I am sad to say that I get this text from the position of the “circumcision” as an insider.
I grew up with the rituals, absorbed the values, learned the words, lived a life that was morally respectable. For the first 3 decades of my life, I was horribly certain about who was in the family of God and who was not. It’s a habit that dies hard. From time to time, I still find myself spiritually prideful, though much less these days than I once did. I repent, for I realize that my credentials gain me no favor with God. Only Christ does!
Perhaps you’re on the other side of the issue feeling very much the outsider. You may be convinced that because of something you’ve done, or something done to you, that because of who you are … God would never accept you.
TEXT “Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals and so made us equals. Through Him, we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:17-18, The Message)
So, what does any of this mean for our lives?
Three illustrations are used to show what is true who are ‘in Christ’ through faith.
TEXT “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
1. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – citizens of the kingdom of heaven!
Americans, for the most part, spend their entire life within the borders of one nation. American culture is dominant in the world so understanding of blessings may elude us.
I was privileged, many years ago, to spend a few weeks in India. I was among people whose languages I did not know, whose customs I did not understand, whose food was very different. It was a curious thing to be surrounded by people who communicated without me having the least clue of what they were saying. For all I knew, they could have been discussing ME. Physically, I stood 6″ taller than most of the people and my skin was darker by several shades.
When I arrived back in the US, I was glad to be able to communicate. When the customs agent spoke to me, I understood him. When he saw my passport, he waved me through. I was a citizen, with rights and privileges, not an alien who was here as a guest.
Sin made us aliens to God as our text has made plain. The divide could not be bridged by anything we did. God showed mercy! And, more wonderful, secured our citizenship at His expense, by giving His Son as the sacrifice.
When we accept Him, by faith, He grants us entry into the kingdom of God.
2. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – members of God’s family.
I love visitors in our home. But, common courtesy says that if you visit, you don’t go into the refrigerator and start to prepare something to eat without an invitation. If your stay is extended, you don’t just assume that a bedroom is ready for you.
But, when my kids come home, they can walk through the door without knocking, they can sit up to the dinner table without an invitation. They have household privileges!
In Christ, God is your Father and you have run of the house. In fact, you have rights of inheritance!
Eternal life is yours. Heaven is yours. The Father’s wealth is yours!
3. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – an integral part of God’s holy temple.
Paul says we are ‘temple,’ each of us a building block, all of us resting on the Cornerstone, Jesus.
When we come to Christ, we are invited to become part of His Church. We are no longer alone. We are given the privilege of working alongside others to accomplish things we could not even dream about on our own! We are, to change the metaphor, brought onto God’s team, equipped with spiritual gifts, given a place to belong, to serve, to find purpose.
True teamwork is something awesome to see. The recent World Series was dominated, not by a couple of superstar players, but by the Houston Astros, who were a stellar team! Unlike Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers pitcher, Houston Astros pitcher, Brad Peacock, was good, but not a star yet. We saw a team effort and a team win.
And, what is the purpose of this temple? To be a place for ‘insiders’ to form a holy club, to be a fortress to shut out the wider world? To be a place of privilege for a few?
TEXT – “Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22, NLT)
God brings us together in His Church so that we will make Him, invisible, a visible Presence here on Earth!
Do you feel like God is far away because of your past or your messed-up present?
Too something – dysfunctional, broken, sin-scarred to be useful?
Or are you feeling self-satisfied because you think of yourself as one the good guys?
The fact – “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” the Words says.
We are all separate from God unless we humble ourselves to enter through the common door of access, through Jesus Christ. And when we are ‘in Christ’ we are invited to
Closing, He Lives: Who is He Preacher, Jesus, My King
Paul Tournier was a brilliant thinker and writer, and an influential Christian therapist during his time. Doctors from around the world traveled to his home in Switzerland to learn from him. He wrote, “It is a little embarrassing for students to come over and study my ‘techniques.’ They always go away disappointed, because all I do is accept people.”
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10)
A gospel song refers to a hill called Mount Calvary, but the Gospels never say, “Mount Calvary.” Some Bible versions translate the place where Jesus was crucified to be the Aramaic word Golgotha, meaning the Place of the Skull. Others translate it as the Latin word Calvary.Luke 23:33 says, “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left” (NKJV).
Jesus was crucified on Mount Calvary. According to John 19:20, it was near Jerusalem. Hebrews 13:11-13 (based on Leviticus 16:27) explained that, while the animal’s blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, most of the animal was burned outside the camp. Jesus likewise was crucified outside the city in a maelstrom of activities over a six-hour period, with everything focused on Him.
O How I love Jesus, Why? Because:
The Heavens declare the glory of God
And the firmament showeth His handiwork
No means of measure can define His limitless love
No far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply
No barriers can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing
Jesus was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of twenty-five events occurred between 9 AM and 3 PM. Among them were the public execution itself; the soldiers offering him vinegar laced with gall; two thieves being crucified either side of Jesus; darkness falling over the land for three hours; the temple veil being torn in two from top to bottom; an earthquake shaking the earth; soldiers piercing Christ’s side when they found him already dead; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus burying the corpse with seventy-five pounds of spices; women standing at a distance watching Him die, and in close proximity in the garden as the rich men buried Him.
What do you say he is Preacher:
He’s God’s Son
He’s the sinners’ Saviour
He’s the centerpiece of civilization
He stands alone in Himself
He’s the loftiest idea in literature
He’s the highest personality in philosophy
He’s the supreme problem in higher criticism
He’s the fundamental doctrine in true theology
He’s the cardinal necessity of spiritual religion
Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of ten decisions were made. Among them: Jesus refused the vinegar-wine; the soldiers divided His clothes; Pilate asked for the centurion’s guarantee that Christ had died; the women left the cross for home, where they prepared spices and observed the Sabbath.
Who is He Preacher:
He’s the miracle of the age
He’s the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him
He’s the only one able to supply all of our needs simultaneously
He supplies strength for the weak
He’s available for the tempted and the tried
He sympathizes and He saves
He guards and He guides
He heals the sick
He cleansed the lepers
He forgives sinners
Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of sixteen statements were made. Among them: Christ’s seven words; Pilate’s sign called him King of the Jews; the leaders and others mocked him for destroying the temple, but not saving himself; the thieves and soldiers abused him for what they perceived failures; the man who lifted a wine-soaked hyssop plant to Christ’s parched lips wanted to see if Elijah would come and remove him; the centurion called Jesus a son of the gods.
What does he do Preacher;
He discharges debtors
He delivers the captives
He defends the feeble
He blesses the young
He serves the unfortunate
He regards the aged
He rewards the diligent
And He beautifies the meek
Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where many conversations were held. The two recorded were the stirring dialogue between Jesus and the penitent thief and the rancorous dialogue between the priests and Pilate over the wording in Pilate’s sign nailed above Christ’s head.
Do you Know Him preacher?
My King is the key of knowledge
He’s the wellspring of wisdom
He’s the doorway of deliverance
He’s the pathway of peace
He’s the roadway of righteousness
He’s the highway of holiness
He’s the gateway of glory
He’s the master of the mighty
He’s the captain of the conquerors
He’s the head of the heroes
He’s the leader of the legislators
He’s the overseer of the overcomers
He’s the governor of governors
He’s the prince of princes
He’s the King of Kings
And He’s the Lord of Lords
That’s my King
Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where at least five requests were made. Among them: the leaders asked Jesus to prove Himself by coming off the cross; Jesus asked John to provide sanctuary for Mary; the priests asked Pilate to remove the bodies before sunset.
His office is manifold
His promise is sure
His life is matchless
His goodness is limitless
His mercy is everlasting
His love never changes
His word is enough
His grace is sufficient
His reign is righteous
His yoke is easy
and His burden is light
Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary wherein a sacrifice only He could make, He secured a victory only He could win.
I wish I could describe Him to you
I’m trying to tell you
The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him
Let alone a man explain Him
You can’t get Him out of your mind
You can’t get Him off of your hands
You can’t outlive Him
And you can’t live without Him
The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him
but they found out they couldn’t stop Him
Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him
The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree
And Herod couldn’t kill Him
Death couldn’t handle Him
And the grave couldn’t hold Him
That’s my King!
Become a child of the heavenly father.
Become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
Be joined to the great church of God.
He always has been
And He always will be
I’m talking about
He had no predecessor
and He’ll have no successor
There was nobody before Him
and there’ll be nobody after Him
You can’t impeach Him
and He’s not going to resign
The young woman was married and had two beautiful children, but one day as she was standing over the sink, washing dishes, she thought, ’There must be more to life than this.’
When her husband came home, he found a note she’d written and he began to weep. She would call him about once every week to check on the children, and he would always tell her of his great love for her and beg her to come home. She would always say no and hang up.
Finally, he hired a private investigator to find her. He went to the apartment where she was staying, nervously holding a spray of flowers in his hand as he stood at the door. He had rehearsed over and over what he would say and he finally got up the nerve to knock on the door.
She opened the door and he started to speak, but she suddenly began to weep and fell into his arms. She managed to say through her tears, “Let’s go home.”
Months after, when things were starting to heal, he finally asked her something that had been bothering him. “All those times I talked to you on the phone; I asked you to come back and you refused. Why did you come back now?”
“Before,” she started, tears in her eyes, “you were just telling me that you loved me. When you came, you showed me.”
The Bible tells us of God’s love, but Jesus came and showed God’s love.
Jesus proved God’s love by dying for us. Let’s examine the five specifics of God’s love.
First, we find that Jesus died in…
A Specific Place (There)
Jesus crucifixion didn’t happen just anywhere, it happened THERE. God’s plan was for His Son to die on a cross.
We do know what country this happened in. This event occurred in Israel. The name Israel can be interpreted as “God strives, God rules, God heals or Striving against God.” It is a picture of both Jacob, renamed Israel after his wrestling with God, and the nation Israel. They both struggled in their relationship with God.
But God made a specific promise that the entire world would be blessed through Israel. And God always keeps His promises.
It not only took place in Israel, but it also came about in Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Literally, Jerusalem means “The Place of Peace.” In over 2,000 years, it has known absolutely no peace. Wars have raged in, for and concerning Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Today, we still find a host of people fighting and struggling over a small place like Jerusalem. It won’t end until Christ returns to set things right!
Finally, we see that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem at a place called “Calvary.” Luke 23:33 uses the Latin word “Calvary” which means “The Skull.” Matthew 27:33,
Matthew 27:33-34The Message (MSG)
32-34 Along the way they came on a man from Cyrene named Simon and made him carry Jesus’ cross. Arriving at Golgotha, the place they call “Skull Hill,” they offered him a mild painkiller (a mixture of wine and myrrh), but when he tasted it he wouldn’t drink it.
Mark 15:22 and John 19:17, all use the Aramaic name “Golgotha” which means “The Skull.” Interestingly, the Greek word for skull is Kranion and is Cranium in English. By using Aramaic, Latin, and Greek on the placard pronouncing Jesus’ crime of being the King of the Jews, the entire world knows where the Son of God was crucified. We are certainly without excuse!
We know that Jesus not only died in a specific place but He died for and by the hands of…
A Specific People (They)
First, we find the Romans GUILTY of crucifying our savior. Pilate found no fault and yet had Him crucified. The Romans perfected the art of crucifixion. It was designed to be used for slaves, thieves, and common criminals.
We also know that the Jews crucified Jesus. The religious feared for their prestige, power, and positions. They hatched their scheme and delivered Jesus into the hands of the Romans. They are GUILTY of crucifying our Savior.
But the third party who is guilty is you and me! We are GUILTY because it was for our sin for which Jesus died. He who knew no sin became sin for us!
Not only are we responsible for His death, we are also beneficiaries from His death. He became sin and unrighteous in our place on the cross that we might have imputed upon us His righteousness and holiness. We receive mercy and grace when we deserved none!
We know He died in a specific place by a specific people but it caused…
A Specific Pain (Crucified)
The gospel writers never explained or described the crucifixion. The people in their day understood precisely what the cross was; it was an instrument of death! Jesus suffered more than death on the cross.
First, we notice He suffered the Rejection of His people. What made this so painful was that “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” Rejection is a devastating thing to experience. It is a betrayal to the soul.
We also find that Jesus suffered Humiliation. He died between common criminals. He should have been accepted as royalty. Here was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This was God Almighty in the flesh and He was humiliated among His creation. Glory! What a Savior!
Then we observe that Jesus suffered as our substitute! He took mine and your place on the cross. He took Barabbas’ place on the cross. He is our Substitutionary atonement! Wow, what a savior!
So, He suffered in a specific place by a specific people through a specific pain as…
A Specific Person (Him)
John the Baptist cried out regarding “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus was our sacrificial or paschal lamb. He was perfect without any blemish.
We also know that Jesus was “The Son of God.” Today he sits at the right hand of the Father and will return upon the cloud of glory! There is no greater Person than the Son of God who walked upon this earth. But He came to die for all sinners so “Whosoever will, let him come.”
But most of all we observe that Jesus is “The Promised Messiah.” Since Genesis 3:15, we find that God promised One who would come and deliver us from our sin.
But most of all, Jesus died for…
A Specific Purpose
Jesus didn’t come just to walk on this earth. He came with a purpose. He came to Sacrifice self! Since He is the blameless and sinless Son of God, only He can forgive us our sins. And because he is the blameless and sinless Son of Man, only He can pay the price for our sins.
But most of all He came to Save others! Jesus stated specifically in Luke 19:10, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus wants a relationship with you today and forever!
A man visited a home where there were five children. He was supposed to be a kind of “Godfather” to them and was trying to get involved with them on their level. He asked one of the little girls about her doll collection: “Which one is your favorite?” “Promise you won’t laugh if I tell you?” she answered. “No I won’t laugh,” he said. She went into the next room and brought back a doll that was the most tattered, dilapidated, worn-out doll he had ever seen — a real refugee from the trash heap. All the hair was missing, and the nose was broken off and an arm was cracked. He didn’t laugh, but he couldn’t cover his surprise. He said to her, “Why do you love this one the most?” The little girl replied, “Because she needs it most. If I didn’t love her, nobody would.”
Jesus said that God is like that. He loves us most when we need it most. He came to love us sacrificially because we are broken, tattered and worn-out! He loved us when nobody else would…or could. Glory! What a Savior!
Father, Adonai, Jesus, we are open now to hear a refreshing word of hope from You, your voice will be heard and we will move in courage and faith to face any suffering, any persecution, any work that you have for us to perform together. We hear your people crying and we know You are inclining your ear to this prayer, the world is dying, the condition & behavior that is ever before you is breaking our hearts as it is yours, but we are your people and we will go to the nations and generations to proclaim victory because our savior is seated on your right hand and has given us strength thru His finished work to change the world, father it won’t happen if we don’t participate with your powerful spirit. Fill us up and send us out Lord to reap the harvest of restoration of laws and unify us to stabilize the injustice in our world and communities.
I want to live a life poured out although I suffer to live
2 Corinthians 4:4-18 The Message (MSG)
3-4 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.
5-6 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
7-12 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!
13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
INTRODUCTION: One day the great artist Michelangelo was hammering and chiseling away at a great block of stone. It was a perfect and a huge block of marble and to the untrained eye, it appeared that Michelangelo was ruining it. Large pieces were falling to the ground as he chiseled at the stone. It is said that a horrified observer said, “Michelangelo, what are you doing? You are ruining a perfect piece of marble!” And Michelangelo replied, “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”
When God is developing us sometimes it feels like we are losing everything. It feels like our whole world is coming to pieces. That’s God chiseling. That’s God the Holy Spirit cutting away everything in our life that does not look like God. It is often a painful process. Sometimes it hurts. Jesus said the branches that do not bear fruit will be cast into the fire, but the branches that do bear fruit will be pruned that they might bear more fruit. Sometimes it hurts.
Have you ever started a ministry–maybe it was prayer, maybe it was teaching, maybe it was evangelism–and you began with such excitement and anticipation of God’s blessings and presence and power. Maybe you saw some initial success. Maybe your Sunday school class was growing. Maybe your prayer group was growing. Maybe your evangelism is successful. But then suddenly something happens that almost knocks the blocks out from under you. Suddenly there are some painful experiences in your life. Maybe you were team teaching and the other teacher bails out. Maybe someone in the prayer group stops coming and starts talking about you. Maybe the finances in your family start to shrink and things get tight. Maybe it seems like just as you start to do something for God, you start to invest yourself in the Lord’s work and things around you seem to be falling apart. And you start asking yourself, “What in the world is going on?” You start questioning whether or not you are in God’s will.
I’d like someone to show me where in the Bible it says that when you are in God’s will, everything will go smooth–no bumps in the road, no opposition from people or devils. Is that in the Bible? Because if it is, I haven’t been able to find it.
In fact, when you look at our text, you might come to the very opposite conclusion. In verse 5 Paul said, “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus. . . .” So they were doing the right thing, they were preaching, and they were saying the right thing, they were preaching Jesus, and they were seeing souls saved. But at the same time, Paul said, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. . .” He said, “the outward man perish. . .”
What did Paul know that we need to know? How is it that Paul and his ministry companions could keep on keeping on, when the more they did for God, the more they were persecuted by the enemy? When they tried to preach the message of hope he was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, hungry, and ultimately beheaded. Why didn’t Paul get mad at God? Why didn’t Paul throw in the towel and quit?
Paul didn’t quit because Paul knew that in the suffering of ministry something of an eternal nature was going on. The outward man perishes, but he did not quit, because the inward man, the spirit man was being renewed day by day. Every storm, every pain, every thorn in the flesh, every beating, every cold night in the dungeon with the executioner standing outside the cell, was merely a blow of the hammer and a pounding of the chisel as large pieces of Paul fell away and the image of Christ was being perfected in him. That’s why Paul could say, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings being made comfortable unto His death” (Phil. 3:10).
We want a quick fix. We want God to make it go away now! And we see some preachers who seem to be able to do it all without setbacks. But that may not be God’s plan for you. You may be asking for deliverance, while God’s plan for you is development. He may be purifying your faith in the fiery trials of life. He may be cutting away the outward man so that the inward man, the spiritual part of your being may breathe and grow to full maturity in the image and likeness of Christ.
I have, to be honest. When God starts cutting away big pieces of Aaron Pratt in order to let the image of Christ grow in me, I often cried out. I often look to heaven and said, “God what are you doing? Why are you allowing me to go through this? I’m doing the best that I can!” Two kids, serving lengthy sentences in prison, a divorce that wiped out everything tangible I had left to survive, two corporations were taken, and two kids dead one to sickle cell anemia, and the other to uterine cancer. I could go on and on, but this homily isn’t about me. it’s about the saving grace of my Lord and savior.
The Christian life is a paradox and sometimes it is difficult to grasp. The outward man has to perish so that the inward man can be renewed. The desires of the flesh have to be crucified in order to let the Spirit have control. Think about it. . .
You gotta die, in order to live.
You gotta lose, in order to gain.
You gotta give to get.
You gotta forgive, to be forgiven.
You gotta be empty before you can be full.
You gotta surrender, in order to win.
Before you can be exalted, you gotta be humbled.
You gotta be last before you can be first.
You gotta become the least so you can be the greatest.
You gotta be like a child, to have God’s power in you.
You gotta be happy about being a servant.
Rejoice when you’re persecuted.
You gotta appreciate problems.
Glory in tribulation.
Bless people that hate you.
Love somebody you’ve never seen.
Follow somebody that you’ve never heard.
Christianity’s a paradox, but it’s the only kind of life worth living.
God uses the issues and struggles and storms of life to perfect our faith. He sent the disciples into a storm. He sent them ahead alone while He stayed back to pray. Why did He do it? I believe He did it on purpose so that they could see in vivid and unforgettable fashion that when their strength was gone when they could do nothing in the flesh, they could look up and see that what was over their heads was under His feet. He came to them walking on the water so that in the midst of despair their faith could be developed.
He wanted them to know, and He wants us to know, that there will be times when we follow God out of Egypt only to run into the Red Sea with the enemy hot on our heals, but if we trust Him, He will deliver and our faith will grow.
We may stand for the truth and refuse to bow to the idols of the world, only to find ourselves being thrown into a fiery furnace, but if we are faithful He won’t let us go through the fire alone, the forth man will step into the fire with us and if we won’t bow to the pressures of life, neither will we burn.
We may be preaching the gospel one moment and find ourselves beaten and thrown into the prison the next, but there has never been a prison built that God could not open. He can open doors that no man can close.
I’m not saying that God will not deliver. He does and He will, but He moves on His time table. He has a plan for your spiritual development and that development may take you through some deserts. It may take you through some valleys. It may take you through some storms. What are you going to do? Are you going to quit? Are you going get mad and bitter at God? Or will you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
CONCLUSION: We are told to glory in infirmities, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, rejoice in suffering, rejoice when fiery trials come, be of good cheer in tribulation. Why, because we know that these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. We know that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” We are looking not on things as they are, not on things temporal, but we are looking ahead to things as they shall be, we are looking for things eternal.
We are God’s workmanship, we are His masterpiece and He is chipping away the stone, releasing the image of Christ in us. It was marred and masked by sin in the Garden of Eden, but God determined to fix the broken vessels and restore the image of God in us.
Exodus 1-10New International Version (NIV)
The Israelites Oppressed
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah;3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.
6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Being charitable towards others is a spiritual asset—one that can contribute to community building. Some might even maintain that it is impossible to build a sense of belonging and community without some form of charitable practice.
An illustration is the South African view of community referred to as “Ubuntu,” which is usually translated as, “I am because of who we are.” Retired Archbishop and social rights activist Desmond Tutu believes that Ubuntu is the very essence of what it is to be human:
“You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality—Ubuntu—you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
This value, or way of life—Ubuntu—suggests a way of thinking, seeing, and acting in the world that we live in now.
Tutu refers to being charitable as being someone with “generosity.” Whether you call it charity or generosity, each word translates to giving of one’s self for another, for the greater good of the community. This can be the giving of one’s time or finances, or something as simple as offering nonjudgmental and kind words.
Through charity or generosity of self, we create a deeper sense of community with each other. We begin to see ourselves as one—one community—connected with each other through Ubuntu. We begin to understand and to acknowledge, that we are interdependent in a respectful and supportive way.
As human beings, as a social clan, we have a need to live within supportive environments where we are nurtured and can thrive together, where there is a strong commitment to the well-being of the community as a whole. We are fundamentally designed to live this way. Being charitable towards one another is not just “a nice thing to do”; it is an imperative for our survival as humans, and for our well-being as a local and global community.
A WORKING DEFINITION OF “BEING CHARITABLE”
Based on your individual experiences, you may have your own meaning of the word charity or charitable behavior. The definition that we shall use for this post is that charitable behavior creates a feeling, which leads one to act voluntarily with kindness or goodwill towards another.
There are a number of synonyms or similar words to describe charity or charitable behavior that may be more comfortable for you; perhaps they resonate more with your values and beliefs. Here are a few based on Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions:
Altruism: “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of other’s feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness”
Benevolence: “disposition to do good: (a): an act of kindness, (b): a generous gift”
Compassion: “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.; sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”
Generosity: “the quality of being kind, understanding, and not selfish: the quality of being generous; especially: willingness to give money and other valuable things to others”
That said, what words or phrases you use to define charity are not as important as taking some form of action to support those who are in need.
In your community, one person may volunteer six hours a month of his time to a homeless shelter, serving meals cheerfully and making everyone smile. Another person may donate money to the same shelter, yet never enter its doors. Another may offer her knowledge and skills by teaching a class on literacy once a month to the shelter’s clientele. All of these are examples of charity and of charitable behavior.
There are many ways one can be charitable to others. There is no one right way, only your way—the way that feels right for you.
Four Aspects of Charity
More specifically, some ways to be charitable include:
Time: Giving of one’s time, however long or short that may be. Giving time is not so much about quantity, as it is about quality—about being present with another to support them in a “hands on” way. This might mean serving meals in that shelter, helping out during disaster relief, volunteering to drive seniors to appointments, baking dinner for a sick neighbor, or any number of activities that help you get to know those you are serving.
Essence: Giving of one’s personal energy and vitality. You may have some personal qualities in abundance and want to share them with others – enthusiasm, hope, grace, gratitude, patience, love – or you may want to increase these qualities in your own life. Each of these qualities brings energy to the space you share with someone when you are truly present with them. Examples: Hearing an exhausted young mother laugh; listening patiently while a man struggles to share his story of being out of work; offering encouragement to someone who feels disheartened. Your own energy and vitality shifts to being more positive and optimistic when you share your authentic self with another.
Talent: Giving of one’s skills and knowledge, such as teaching, gardening, cooking, knitting, or singing; or sharing wisdom from life experience. Everyone has gifts and talents that they are passionate about. These talents come easily and give you joy when you have a chance to express and share them.
Money: Giving of one’s financial resources to provide aid, food, shelter, or clothing; or making a donation to a local or global cause. The sum of money given is not as important as the spirit of the gift. You could start off by giving what you can afford, knowing that even spare change is helpful, and then increase the amount when you are ready, willing, and able to do so.
You may want to take the time to think about these four aspects of being charitable and evaluate which ones have the most meaning for you and where to begin. You may also want to reflect on these questions:
Do you have time, but limited funds to give; or do you have money, but limited time? What can do you for others with your time or money?
Is taking a more personal approach, one where you would work side by side with others, more appealing to you; or do you prefer a more hands-off approach—where you give openhandedly, but don’t need or want to meet the recipients of your generosity?
There is no right or wrong answer—your answer is your personal choice. Once you determine what is most important to you, then you may want to begin by writing down some thoughts and ideas that come to mind on how you want to express your unique way of giving. Include names of people or organizations you may wish to support. Being charitable doesn’t need to be complicated; a simple gesture can be meaningful to the receiver. Now you may be more ready to share yourself with others.
THE IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF BEING CHARITABLE
Being Charitable Enriches the Giver and the Receiver
There are rewards to being charitable, both for the giver and the receiver. Not only are you being helpful to those in need, you are developing positive character traits and behaviors in yourself. Charitable work allows you to see life from someone else’s perspective—their struggles and hardships, their triumphs and strengths. It is a privilege to be a witness to another’s life. And in being one, you gain appreciation and gratitude for your own life.
Martha is a manager whose young husband developed an aggressive, terminal cancer. She had her hands and heart full nursing him at home and caring for their two small children. Her co-workers organized themselves, and together they provided dinner every day, not for a month, but every day for six months. Martha’s co-workers were witness to her hardship and struggle, and they responded. They appreciated a need greater than their own. They were inspired to draw on the positive character traits and qualities that live within us all—caring, generosity, selflessness.
Martha’s story showcases how the act of charity in a workplace makes it a community. Because of her co-workers, Martha was able to concentrate on what was important during those precious few months before her husband’s passing.
Many nonprofit community organizations devote themselves to helping those who are suffering from hardship. They seek compassionate volunteers; they offer them the privilege of witnessing someone else’s life by lending a helping hand. By sharing what gifts they have to offer, volunteers receive a gift—they discover and nurture the best within themselves.
On its website, the U.S.-based nonprofit Share the Care states, “Whether you are a burned out caregiver or a novice caregiver, or a friend who wants to help, you can benefit from a system that lets everyone share responsibilities, creates a strong support network among the individual caregivers, and leads to making a profound difference in someone’s life.”
Similar to other website resources like CaringBridge and Lotsa Helping Hands, Share the Care’s mission is connecting caring citizens with citizens going through difficult times in their lives. They are creating small temporary communities of giving within the larger community.
When you give yourself the privilege of being a kind presence in someone else’s life, you will make a difference in theirs and learn a quiet appreciation and gratitude for your own.
Charitable Behavior and the Golden Rule
We all wish to be treated with respect and dignity, and to feel valued and listened to. In the spirit of charity, we would strive to do the same for others. One way to look at this principle is through the lens of reciprocity, known to many as the “Golden Rule,” which states, “Do to others as you wish done to you.” Here is an ethical code that instructs us to treat others the way we would want to be treated.
Although different cultures and faith traditions might have different words and language, all human cultures have a version of the Golden Rule. It advises us to treat our neighbors, families, and colleagues as we would wish to be treated and shows how we can all apply empathy, understanding, and right action as our moral guideposts.
Depending upon your age or upbringing, you might remember the Golden Rule (or something similar) being introduced into your school, as part of your family values, or as a faith-based principle. It is a universal ethic, with the power to cut across gender, culture, age, beliefs, and social-economic status.
Wisdom traditions, such as the Golden Rule, date far back in our collective history and are expressed in a multitude of societies – both as lay philosophies and as the vital cornerstone of the vast majority of faith traditions.
The Golden Rule in Different Faith Traditions
In alphabetical order, each reads:
Baha’i Faith: “Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.” Baha’u’llah Gleanings
Buddhism: “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5:18
Christianity: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Jesus, Matthew 7:12
Confucianism:” One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct ~ loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” Confucius Analects 15:23
Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517
Islam: “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith
Jainism: “One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” Mahavira, Sutrakritanga
Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest in commentary.” Hillel, Talmud; Shabbat 31a
Native Spirituality: “We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.” Chief Dan George
Sikhism: “I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.” Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1299
Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as our own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Lao Tzu, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218
Unitarianism: “We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” Unitarian principle
Zoroastrianism: “Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.” Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29
“Money is really worth no more than as it can be used to accomplish the Lord’s work. Life is worth as much as it is spent for the Lord’s service.”
― George Müller, The Autobiography of George Muller
“By this we believe….” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?” —John 16:30-31
Now we believe….” But Jesus asks, “Do you…? Indeed the hour is coming…that you…will leave Me alone” (John 16:31-32). Many Christian workers have left Jesus Christ alone and yet tried to serve Him out of a sense of duty, or because they sense a need as a result of their own discernment. The reason for this is actually the absence of the resurrection life of Jesus. Our soul has gotten out of intimate contact with God by leaning on our own religious understanding (see Proverbs 3:5-6). This is not deliberate sin and there is no punishment attached to it. But once a person realizes how he has hindered his understanding of Jesus Christ, and caused uncertainties, sorrows, and difficulties for himself, it is with shame and remorse that he has to return.
We need to rely on the resurrection life of Jesus on a much deeper level than we do now. We should get in the habit of continually seeking His counsel on everything, instead of making our own common sense decisions and then asking Him to bless them. He cannot bless them; it is not in His realm to do so, and those decisions are severed from reality. If we do something simply out of a sense of duty, we are trying to live up to a standard that competes with Jesus Christ. We become a prideful, arrogant person, thinking we know what to do in every situation. We have put our sense of duty on the throne of our life, instead of enthroning the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to “walk in the light” of our conscience or in the light of a sense of duty, but to “walk in the light as He is in the light…” (1 John 1:7). When we do something out of a sense of duty, it is easy to explain the reasons for our actions to others. But when we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation— just obedience. That is why a saint can be so easily ridiculed and misunderstood.
“Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him, and expect help from Him, He will never fail you.” ― George Müller
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
—Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
Taking time to inventory the great challenges God has delivered me through today has allowed me to get to know Him more intimately. Jesus loved all my hurt and misconceptions about my life away, He turned everything around. I looked in the mirror and saw His character today and for that I say,,. Thank you, Jesus…
That sounds good, doesn’t it? I’ve had enough “heavy stuff” in my life, and I want to enjoy freedom. When you are overloaded with the cares of life you need some help. Your mind needs rest from worrying, your emotions need rest from being upset, and your will needs a rest from stubbornness and rebellion. So you need to be humble enough to call out to God and say, “I need help!” Your beginning doesn’t have to dictate your ending. Get God involved in every area of your life and allow Him to lead you into “real rest.”
“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The early civilizations were well aware of the danger of pride and power and knew that this could destroy kings and empires if not held in check. And thus a philosophy was developed by the very wise Greco-Roman philosophers (lovers of truth) in order to help their rulers and themselves to be vigilant about their behavior, lest they destroy themselves by pride. And thus when any great general (be it an emperor-to-be, a war general, or any victor of a great battle) was honored by a great manifestation such as a triumphal entry into his city-state, a slave (a lowly of lowlies) would ride in the chariot with him and whisper in his ear that he should remember that he is not a god, but a mortal human being.
I think a better source than wiki might be a scholarly treatise aboutRoman triumphal marches by the historian Robert Payne in the book “Rome Triumphant: How the Empire Celebrated its Victories” Robert Payne, 1962, Barnes & Noble Books 1993. In the closing remarks of the book (pg 251), Payne remarks “…it was the anonymous slave standing behind the triumphator, whispering in his ear about the vanity of honours, who represents the greater triumph. The voice of the slave was the voice of humanity,never so desperate as when it passed unheard.– We do not know when the slave first rode in the triumphal chariot and held the golden crown over the conqueror’s head, or when he stepped down for the last time. We do not know whether the triumphator ever spoke to him in reply,or even glanced at him. He appears only briefly in the history of the triumph, and only once do we see him plain –on the Boscoreale cup,where he is depicted as a youth who seems to be filled with a sense of compassionate duty.”
You should be aware that this type of reminder of vigilance is still very meaningful and applied in many ways in modern life as a philosophical heir to the ancient traditition. The warning against pride and care to remember that life is a fleeting gift and should not be squandered on empty vanities that are really meaningless when considering the totality of life’s journey (the human actions of craving for power, riches, adulation, popularity) is just as important today as it was 2500 years ago. Instead of wasting time thinking that you are “God’s gift to humanity”, the reminder states, “try to live life as a good and simple, honest, kind and noble person (like the beautiful shaker hymn: “Tis a gift to be simple…”)
You might be aware of the yearly Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday in the beginning of the Lenten journey when people receive blessed ashes on their foreheads with the words “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return”. This is done not to depress people, but to remind them that true happiness of this life is totally dependant upon our own human goodness to be fantastically good people instead of selfish jerks.
Whenever a bishop (or cardinal) is elected to be a pope (a really tremendous honor in the Catholic Church), before the pope steps out into the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica to greet the City and the World and to be hailed as the new pontiff (Viva el Papa !) something really cool is done that is centuries old. A simple poor franciscan friar stands before the pope with a broom-like staff made with a pile of dry straw. The straw is lit and for a few seconds a huge flame bursts out, but is gone in a mere minute (a straw fire means an empty fleeting fanfare). (This is done three times) Each time the friar utters the words to the pope “sic transit gloria mundi) meaning “and thus passes the glory of this world”. This is of course a reminder that the great Roman pontiff (like the Roman generals and emperors) should remember that he is nothing more than a lowly servant and all the glory and power and wealth of this world is meaningless when compared to the true meaning of life : just be a very very good and kind and honest person – at the end of your life this will be the only measure of true meaning of the nobility and richness of one’s life.
Is it not cool how all of this applies to our lives today ?
Is good enough, good enough? Consider, if you will, that if 99.9 percent were good enough then
2 million documents would be lost by the IRS this year.
22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next 60 minutes.
1,314 telephone calls will be misdirected by telecommunications companies every minute.
2,488 books will be shipped with the wrong covers on them each day.
Over 5.5 million cases of soft drinks in the next year will be flat.
20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written each year.
12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.
Obviously, being good enough is not good enough for life in modern society. So why do we think that being good enough is good enough to get us into heaven? You’ve heard people ask, “If I try my best won’t God let me into heaven?” or “Doesn’t God just require me to be better than the average human?” or “Don’t I have to just live a good life to be a Christian?” or “How could a loving God send good people to hell?”
Martin Luther, the reformer, wrote, “The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has every plagued the mind of man is the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.” A Bible teacher used to say, “Man is incurably addicted to doing something for his own salvation.”
Let’s examine what the Bible has to say about being good enough.
I. God’s standard is perfection
In one sense, one can be good enough to get to heaven, but they would have to be perfect. God’s standard for entrance into heaven is perfection. On one occasion Jesus identified the two most outwardly religious groups of people in his day the Pharisees and the scribes and told his listening audience, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). On another occasion Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
God’s standard never falls short of complete righteousness and holiness. Anything less than perfection is sin. Think about heaven for a moment. Heaven is a place of the “no more’s” – no more tears, no more sadness, no more pain, no more sickness, no more death. All of those things are caused by sin. The “no more’s” don’t exist in heaven because sin does not exist in heaven. Heaven will be wonderful, not only because of what is present – God, but also because of what is absent – sin.
God’s standard of perfection is not arbitrary. God does not grade on the curve. He does not say, “Oh, you are close enough” or “You have tried really hard to live a good life.” God does not compare. “Well, Bill you are better than John so you are in and John is out, Betty, you are better than Sue, so come right on in.” That would be like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. So what if your jump thirty feet and set an Olympic record, you still splatter.
Now don’t get me wrong, for the most part we are all pretty good. I don’t suppose there are any rapists or murderers among us. If we were grading ourselves on goodness we would rank right up there pretty high on the scale. Let’s call ourselves Danny or Debbie Decent. From our perspective, we do everything right. We pay our taxes, pay our bills, pay attention to our family, and pay respect to our superiors. We are good people.
But God sees us differently. God sees what Danny and Debbie Decent choose to overlook. For as decent as we are walking through life, we make mistakes. For example, we stretch the truth. We might fudge, ever so slightly, on our expense report. We gossip about the new employee. From our perspective, these aren’t big deals. But our perspective does not matter. God’s does. And what God sees is a person wrapped in mistakes.
So let me ask you, is there any sin in your life? If so you are not perfect. You have not met God’s standard of perfection.
II. God’s solution is a pardon
Fortunately, there is good news. There is a solution, a remedy to our imperfection. God’s solution is a pardon found in Jesus Christ. Here’s how is works: “Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! . . . It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. . . . Our sins are taken care of for good” (Heb. 10:12-18 MSG). The apostle Paul described it this way: “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). When Jesus Christ, God’s Son, went to the cross he took our sins, our mistakes, our evil, and our unrighteousness. He was the ultimate sacrifice.
R.G. Lee, former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, was visiting Gordon’s Calvary at Jerusalem, possibly the site where Jesus was crucified. Lee told the Arab guide he wanted to walk to the top of the hill. At first the guide tried to discourage him, but when he saw that Lee was determined to go, he went along. Once on the crest, Lee removed his hat and stood with bowed head, greatly moved. “Sir,” asked the guide, “have you been here before?”
“Yes,” replied Lee, “2,000 years ago.”
And so have we. We were there because our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Now we must go there to find redemption, to find our pardon for our sin.
So, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to going to heaven, whether we are more like Hitler with our evil or more like Mother Teresa with our purity, our sins are no longer the issue. The issue is what we do about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s solution to our not measuring up to his standard. Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. Jesus now offers us a pardon, a release from our sin.
Think about it this way: if a criminal was handed a pardon that would release him from prison, the issue is no longer the crime but rather what he will do about the pardon. If he refuses he will remain in prison. The questions, why he is in prison?, and why is he not out of prison? have two different answers. He is in prison because he is convicted criminal. He is not out of prison because he refuse the pardon. Likewise, the answer to the question, why will a person be in hell? Is because he is a sinner, but the answer to the question, why will he not be in heaven? Is because he did not accept the pardon offered in Christ.
Let me see if a story will not help clarify this issue. Many years ago a young boy shot and killed a man while gambling. In those days, murderers were sentenced to hang. But the townspeople were so concerned for the young lad that they gathered a petition asking the judge to pardon the boy. Finally, the judge agreed but only on one condition. The judge would wear a clergyman’s robe and collar and carry the pardon between the pages of the Bible.
As the judge approached the boy’s cell, he could hear the young man cursing and swearing at him. “Get out of here, preacher, I don’t want what you have to offer.”
“But, son,” the judge replied, “You don’t understand.”
“I understand fine,” said the boy. “I don’t want what you have to offer.”
The dejected judge left the jail. Later the guard told the boy that it was the judge who was dressed like a minister. Between the pages of the Bible was an authorized, sealed pardon for his release.
When the day of execution arrived, just before they put a black sack over the boy’s head, they asked if he had anything to say.
He replied, “I am not dying because I killed a man. I am dying because I rejected the pardon.”
You see the issue is not your sin. The issue is what you will do with Jesus Christ. Our fault before God is not necessarily our sin – He made a remedy for that. Our fault before God is rejecting the pardon.
“Yea, but,” I can hear some people say. And then the question: How could a loving God send good people to hell? The question itself reveals a couple of misconceptions. First, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice, as when the judge honored the choice of the condemned boy who rejected the pardon. Hell is the ultimate expression of God’s highest regard for the dignity of man. He has never forced us to choose him, even when that means we would choose hell. As C. S. Lewis stated: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it.”
No, God does not “send” people to hell. Nor does he send “people” to hell any more than the judge sent the boy to be hung. That is the second misconception.
The word people is neutral, implying innocence. Nowhere does scripture teach that innocent people are condemned. People do not go to hell. Sinners do. The rebellious do. The self-centered do. The ones who reject God’s pardon do.
So how could a loving God send people to hell? He doesn’t. He simply honors the choice of sinners.
III. God’s salvation is through personal faith
So what must we do? We must, by faith, accept Jesus’ finished work on the cross as God’s only accepted way to enter heaven. God’s salvation is through personal faith in Jesus Christ. We must trust in what he has done for us.
Ten of the eleven world religions teach a salvation by good deeds. Christianity stands alone with its emphasis on faith rather than works for salvation. The Scriptures say, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift – we don’t work for it, we don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it. We simply trust God for what he has done through his son, Jesus Christ.
It is like a medicine. You can believe a certain medicine will help you, but until you trust it enough to take it, it won’t do anything for you. Faith is more than believing in God. It is trusting in him to the point of receiving Christ into your life.
Was there a time when you honestly realized that you were a sinner and admitted that to God? Do you truly understand that Christ took your place on the cross? Do you understand that the real issue is not your sin, but what you will do with Jesus Christ? Have you received Christ alone for your salvation?
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.
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.
“The Lord put it on my heart to talk to you”—“I did not hear back from that employer, God must not want me to have that job”—“That conversation went really well, God must have blessed it.”
Some people build their entire lives around statements such as these. Others think they should read God’s will into everything in their lives. For example, a man of this mindset has a flat tire during his commute to work. Afterward, he decides it was God’s will and tries to find the “hidden purpose” behind the event—when, in actuality, the man simply neglected to check the air pressure in his tires!
Should God be involved in where we plant a flower garden? Does He have an opinion on which auto mechanic we use for repairs? Is He directly involved in how we organize our home libraries? Or which pair of shoes we buy?
By using a number of verses in the Bible, we can begin to understand God’s role in our lives. The book of Colossians states, “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (1:17). In Hebrews 1:3, we find that He is “upholding all things by the word of His power.” God holds the universe together! Through the power of His Spirit, He makes certain that the laws of science are in motion—even keeping atoms from coming apart.
Without God, all physical life would cease. Realize what this means: each breath you take is only possible because the Creator is in control.
He also guides major events on Earth according to the Master Plan for mankind. Notice Daniel 2:21: “And He changes the times and the seasons: He removes kings, and sets up kings: He gives wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.”
God is certainly involved in the affairs of men, and especially His people. Yet thinking He orchestratesevery event in our lives is dangerous—and stems from an incorrect understanding of how God individually works with us.
The Smallest Matters
Jesus asked His disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father [knowing]. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear you not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).
If God keeps up with every sparrow, consider how much more attention He gives His people: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (II Chron. 16:9).
In addition, “The Eternal looks from heaven, beholding all mankind; from where He sits, He scans all who inhabit the world; He who alone made their minds, He notes all they do” (Psa. 33:15, Moffatt translation).
God is both all-powerful and all-knowing, and guides how events play out on Earth. Yet how much is He directly involved in individual lives?
Each of us is a free moral agent, meaning we are free to make decisions in our lives. God has invested in Christians by giving them an earnest, or down payment, of His Holy Spirit (II Cor. 1:22). He watches all we do to see what kind of “return” He will get on His investment—how much we are growing and overcoming.
This is where the towering law of cause and effect comes into play. As human beings, and especially as God’s people, we are to be responsible and circumspect, and exercise thought when making decisions.
Proverbs describes this principle: “He that handles a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusts in the LORD, happy is he” (16:20). A variation of this verse could be rendered this way, “He that handles a matter unwisely shall find bad”—meaning he will be forced to suffer the consequences of his actions. Good choices—causes—will render good effects. Bad choices, bad effects.
Throughout the day, you have hundreds of decisions that are yours to make—each an opportunity to grow in godly maturity, experience and wisdom. Note I Corinthians 6:2: “Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?”
While God is watching what you do, He will not directly interfere with the day-to-day routine of your life unless necessary. If we are sick, He will heal us on His timetable. If our lives are in peril, He will protect us through His angels. If we have a need, He will provide. But throughout all of these, we must do our part. We must maintain our health, not tempt God by putting ourselves in dangerous situations, and put forth maximum effort in all we do.
We should ask God to lead, guide and direct us throughout our lives. In order to gain more wisdom in how “to judge the smallest matters,” we must go to the source of wisdom—God.
What About Resistance?
When making important decisions, such as buying a home, a car, or seeking a job, we should always ask for God’s involvement and guidance.
Again, He does not plot every move in our lives. He allows us to make judgments and decisions on our own. The choices we make can change our circumstances and future. God will not always step in and cause us to make a different choice. He especially does not get directly involved in everyday, mundane decisions we make, such as the exact time we go to bed or what time we get up.
God does expect us, however, to be responsible and do our part. For example, if someone contacts a mortgage company when wanting to purchase a home and finds that they are unqualified for a loan, should this person give up? Should he conclude that God does not want him to buy a house?
The same conditions exist for any similar situation. Should a person give up trying to buy a car simply because the first dealership rejected his application?
Certainly not. He should go to a number of dealerships in search of one who will finance a vehicle.
Cause and effect are at work in such situations. There could be a problem with the person’s credit, something that he would need to correct before any dealership would sell him a car. At that point, it is his responsibility to correct that issue and begin trying again.
If a person is looking for a job, should he quit looking after the first several rejections? Of course not! He should continue for as long as it takes, applying both perseverance and resourcefulness.
How can we build character if we do not put forth maximum effort in all we do?
If we encounter resistance in any given situation, it does not necessarily mean God is saying, “No.” Life is a series of challenges that we must overcome. We are in a lifetime of training and enduring for a greater purpose. We should be overcoming these problematic situations that occur in our lives every day.
It is unnecessary to overanalyze every situation and confrontation we encounter by asking: “Is this God’s will?” “Is this from God?” Instead, we should simply ask in faith for God’s overall guidance, and know that He will deliver.
Notice Luke 11: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened” (vs. 9-10).
Stay in contact with God, maintain a humble attitude, and He will respond to your needs.
While seeking to do God’s will in everything, some fall into the trap of mentioning God or Jesus in virtually every sentence of their conversations. Others seem to be always saying “God willing” after every sentence: “I am going to the store later, God willing.” “We should sit down and have a cup of coffee sometime, God willing.” Or “God willing, I am going to put up a new deck in the spring.”
At their core, these actions are a form of self-righteousness and vanity. While such people think they are being humble by always involving God in their lives, they are actually drawing attention to their own “righteousness.”
This thinking breaks the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).
One of the definitions of vain is “to no useful purpose.” When God’s name is constantly used in casual conversation, it is being taken in vain.
The person who constantly mentions God in conversation is in effect saying, “See how godly I am?” or “See how religious I am?” By attempting to include God in everything he does, such a person is actuallydiminishing God’s role in events.
These attitudes stem from the fact that human nature is given to extremes. If a Christian is not circumspect, he can take things too far and “go overboard.” While we should seek God’s will and talk to brethren about spiritual matters, we must be careful not to go too far.
Christians are to let their moderation be known to all men (Phil. 4:5). God wants us to be balanced in our thinking. We should never be seen as odd, weird, strange or syrupy—since this is how manmade religions look.
We should reflect a sound, balanced way of thinking in all we say and do: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7).
Time and Chance
There is another element at work in our lives, which Ecclesiastes 9:11 sums up as “time and chance.” While many of our problems, whether small or great, are caused by our weaknesses or irresponsibility, other mishaps and bad events can occur due to no fault of our own.
Under such circumstances, many people will immediately peg the blame on Satan, not realizing it was mere “time and chance.” Influenced by human nature, people love to blame bad things that happen, or even sinful actions, on what they deem as Satan’s direct involvement.
Just as God does not orchestrate every event in our lives, Satan is not behind every bad occurrence.
Consider. Would we conclude that if a person slips and injures himself tripping on a toy his child left on the floor that Satan is behind the event? No!
In the same way, we cannot blame the devil for situations we bring upon ourselves, or mere time and chance. While Satan fulfills the role of “tempter” (Matt. 4:3), God has limited him so he cannot force us to sin. Rather, the devil relies on situations, circumstances and human nature to tempt people to sin. He may cause circumstances or situations to lead us to compromise our beliefs, but the choice to sin or not to sin is ours alone.
Avoid the dangerous thinking of blaming Satan after a sin is committed. When people make Satan out to be the “bad guy” when they sinned, they are no longer growing and overcoming. Instead, they have taken on the childish attitude of “the devil made me do it”—in an attempt to deflect blame from themselves.
This excuse is as old as the Garden of Eden, when Eve said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13). Yet it was Eve’s decision to make, and the consequences (vs. 16) fell on her, not just Satan!
On the contrary, we are to be sober and vigilant because Satan is like a roaring lion, walking about seeking whom he may devour (I Pet. 5:8). He is constantly looking for weaknesses in our character, andwill take advantage of those flaws through temptation or deceit.
Yet God promises He will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). If we allow God to fight our battles and deal with the problems we encounter each day, we will not have to fear Satan’s snares, as they will have no power over us.
In the end, Satan will interfere in our lives only to the extent we allow—and that God allows (Job 1:12,2:6). We can unknowingly nurture Satan’s involvement by failing to resist him in actions and thoughts. This is done through pride, vanity, rebellion and disobedience. Instead, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jms. 4:7).
You can resist the devil by obeying God, submitting to His laws and government, and asking Him for help every day in prayer.
We should not place too much emphasis on Satan’s influence in our lives, especially in every small thing that seems bad or wrong. At the same time, we should certainly be aware of his tactics. Our main focus should be on matching the attitude found in Psalm 119: “O how love I Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (vs. 97).
Our thoughts should be centered on God and the Work He is doing—not on the devil.
Seeing God’s Power
God cares about everything that happens to us. He is concerned about every problem we have to confront, whether small or great. No problem is too small or too big for Him. We do not have to face any problem alone. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psa. 34:19).
God also commands us to cast our cares upon Him (I Pet. 5:7). His power is available to us whenever we need it. It is by His power our prayers are answered, but we must do our part to seek wisdom and counsel, as well as implement the seven laws of success in our lives. You may want to review our booklet The Laws to Success.
While God does not orchestrate each and every event in our lives, He does want to be involved in all we do. We should not “see God” in everything, but we should see God’s power at work as we grow and overcome in this life.
Take advantage of the great privilege offered to those begotten by God to be a part of His Family. Share every aspect of your life with God, and you will see His mighty power. You will experience what moved David to say, “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusts in Him” (Psa. 34:3-4, 8).
When you do your part, God allows you to tap into His infinite power and wisdom, which then helps you make decisions—large and small. “Great is our LORD, and of great power: His understanding is infinite” (Psa. 147:5).
Treat each day as a training ground as you qualify to rule in God’s soon-coming kingdom. Consider this awesome fact as you make decisions and judgments each day. If you do, you will properly SEE God working in your life!
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.
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).
Black has never been more beautiful, witnessed by this collection featuring accomplished dark skinned-women from all walks of life. In ‘Dark Girls, ‘ celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o, Pauletta Washington, Cicely Tyson, Judge Mablean, Brandi and Karli Harvey, and 20 other outstanding women share intimate insights into what their dark skin means to them.
Colorism is a persistent problem for people of color in the USA. Colorism, or skin color stratification, is a process that privileges light-skinned people of color over dark in areas such as income, education, housing, and the marriage market. This post describes the experiences of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans with regard to skin color. Research demonstrates that light-skinned people have clear advantages in these areas, even when controlling for other background variables. However, dark-skinned people of color are typically regarded as more ethnically authentic or legitimate than light-skinned people. Colorism is directly related to the larger system of racism in the USA and around the world. The color complex is also exported around the globe, in part through US media images, and helps to sustain the multibillion-dollar skin bleaching and cosmetic surgery industries
Racial discrimination is a pervasive problem in the USA. African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and other people of color are routinely denied access to resources and fair competition for jobs and schooling. Despite this pattern of exclusion, people of color have made great progress in combating persistent discrimination in housing, the labor market, and education. However, hidden within the process of racial discrimination is the often overlooked issue of colorism. Colorism is the process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of color over their dark-skinned counterparts (Hunter 2005). Colorism is concerned with actual skin tone, as opposed to racial or ethnic identity. This is an important distinction because race is a social concept, not significantly tied to biology (Hirschman 2004). Lighter-skinned people of color enjoy substantial privileges that are still unattainable to their darker-skinned brothers and sisters. In fact, light-skinned people earn more money, complete more years of schooling, live in better neighborhoods, and marry higher-status people than darker-skinned people of the same race or ethnicity.
How does colorism operate? Systems of racial discrimination operate on at least two levels: race and color. The first system of discrimination is the level of racial category, (i.e. black, Asian, Latino, etc.). Regardless of physical appearance, African Americans of all skin tones are subject to certain kinds of discrimination, denigration, and second-class citizenship, simply because they are African American. Racism in this form is systemic and has both ideological and material consequences. The second system of discrimination, what I am calling colorism, is at the level of skin tone: darker skin or lighter skin. Although all blacks experience discrimination as blacks, the intensity of that discrimination, the frequency, and the outcomes of that discrimination will differ dramatically by skin tone. Darker-skinned African Americans may earn less money that lighter-skinned African Americans, although both earn less than whites. These two systems of discrimination (race and color) work in concert. The two systems are distinct, but inextricably connected. For example, a light-skinned Mexican American may still experience racism, despite her light skin, and a dark-skinned Mexican American may experience racism and colorism simultaneously. Racism is a larger, systemic, social process and colorism is one manifestation of it. Although many people believe that colorism is strictly a ‘black or Latino problem’, colorism is actually practiced by whites and people of color alike. Given the opportunity, many people will hire a light-skinned person before a dark-skinned person of the same race, or choose to marry a lighter-skinned woman rather than a darker-skinned woman. Many people are unaware of their preferences for lighter skin because that dominant aesthetic is so deeply ingrained in our culture. In the USA, for example, we are bombarded with images of white and light skin and Anglo facial features. White beauty is the standard and the idea.
Historical origins of colorism Colorism has roots in the European colonial project (Jordan 1968), plantation life for enslaved African Americans (Stevenson 1996), and the early class hierarchies of Asia. Despite its disparate roots, today, colorism in the USA is broadly maintained by a system of white racism. The maintenance of white supremacy (aesthetic, ideological, and material) is predicated on the notion that dark skin represents savagery, irrationality, ugliness, and inferiority. White skin, and, thus, whiteness itself, is defined by the opposite: civility, rationality, beauty, and superiority. These contrasting definitions are the foundation for colorism. Colorism for Latinos and African Americans has its roots in European colonialism and slavery in the Americas. Both systems operated as forms of white domination that rewarded those who emulated whiteness culturally, ideologically, economically, and even aesthetically. Light-skinned people received privileges and resources that were otherwise unattainable to their darker-skinned counterparts. White elites ruling the colonies maintained white superiority and domination by enlisting the assistance of the ‘colonial elite’, often a small light-skinned class of colonized people (Fanon 1967). Although Mexico experienced a high degree of racial miscegenation, the color-caste system was firmly in place. Light-skinned Spaniards culled the most power and resources, while darker-skinned Indians were routinely oppressed, dispossessed of their land, and rendered powerless in the early colony. Vestiges of this history are still visible today in Mexico’s color-class system.
There is more in comparison to the various race of people, but for the sake of starting this conversation I will post again in a two to three part series.
My wife and I were in a pickle two years ago, in a very negative environment and it was very toxic. Our number one goal was to get out of that mind-set and place. We are now ready to heal and get on with our life, to start anew. Yet there are no positives just yet to build on. It takes tenacity and strength to move past a negative stage in life, and we’ve successfully done so. And we are very proud about ourselves.
Where does one begin with nothing at all? A common question many of us ask ourselves is this – How do I get from where I am to where I want to be if there is nothing to build on in the first place?
For example, you want to start a business, but you have no experience in business development. You want to shift to a different career field, but you don’t have knowledge in the area. You want to be the top in what you do but you have no know-how. You want to let go of your past and start on a new journey, but there is nothing for you to start off with. It’s like a catch 22 situation. Like a potter who needs his tools and clay, you can’t create something if there is nothing. And if you can’t create something, you can’t get anything.
Everyone Starts From Nothing
The first thing I want to point out is that everyone starts from nothing. Rich people, poor people, successful people, non-successful people, top achievers, non-achievers – all these people start from a place where they had nothing. Forget about family background, because these aren’t determinants of success – there are as many successful people in this world from poor families as there are from rich families. Let’s focus on one’s personal achievements and knowledge, because these are arguably what one uses to build future success. Let’s take a look at Phillip Buchanon.
Phillip Buchanon is sharing what it’s truly like to become rich — and targeted — in the NFL.
I don’t want to do anything and everything. I want to be a brand that, every time I leverage my name, I want people to feel sure that it’s going to be something good – so whether it be my movies, my perfume, my restaurant, my musical, it’ll be good work, good food and good everything.
Buchanon, a former first-round NFL Draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, played nine years in the NFL and experienced it all; family turning on him, friends stealing from him, and even a robbery that nearly took his life.
But Buchanon survived, and decided that he wants to help the next NFL rookies, who will hopefully avoid all the pitfalls.
This week, Buchanon released his first book, “New Money: Staying Rich“, an in-depth, and at times very scary account of what it’s like to be a professional athlete. Buchanon discusses everything that comes with life in the NFL, and most importantly, what it’s like dealing with the pressures of family members and friends who think that just because you made it big, they did, too.
“When I got to the NFL, I was all dollars and no sense,” “I want to make sure the next generation of athletes doesn’t make the same mistakes.”
The book is the latest venture for Buchanon, who also wrote a comic book on the same subject, and who is continuing to do whatever he can to educate a younger generation. As a matter of fact, he thinks more people in similar situations should also write books.
“I encourage everyone to do stuff like this,” he said. “More people who’ve had success in all fields should be writing these kinds of books.”
Here is Buchanon, discussing how his relationship changed with his mother, once he made it big:
Soon after the draft, she told me that I owed her a million dollars for raising me for the past 18 years. Well, that was news to me. If my mother taught me anything, it’s that this is the most desperate demand that a parent can make on a child. The covenant of having a child is simply that you give your child everything possible, and they owe you nothing beyond a normal amount of love and respect. There is no financial arrangement. If you get old and infirm, and your kids are around to help you out at that point, then you’re lucky. It’s not written in the social contract. The mothers and fathers of the world have been rearing their kids for generations — in every culture imaginable — and it’s a one-way street when it comes to money. If they pay you back someday, and you really are going through hard times, then that’s just a bonus, a gratuity for being a great mother or father.
My mother had said my debt to her was a million dollars before, but this time she was more serious than ever. If you do the math, one million dollars divided by 18 years of raising me was approximately $55,555.55 a year in restitution. Except, at age 17 I decided to move out of my mom’s house, choosing to live with a close friend and his father because I no longer felt secure in my own home. Why, you ask? Because my mother let people come in and out of our house and take what they wanted. So technically, even if we went by her logic, I only owed her $944,444.44 for her services over 17 years.
Is it petty that I’m knocking a year off her calculation? The fact that I have written this paragraph enrages me, merely because I’m entertaining the thought that her argument had any logic at all. Maybe if I had become super rich, I could have written the check and been done with it. But, like blackmail, there is never any end, is there?
Please do not think I’m being ungrateful or cheap. I had already followed the unwritten rule of any NFL New Money Millionaire: I bought my mother a house. I also advised her to sell the old one I grew up in when I put a new roof over her head, but my mother had other plans. Instead of selling my childhood home, she decided to rent it to my aunt. So I had to finance my mother, the budding landlord. Only this wasn’t an investment. It was an encumbrance, because I didn’t share in my mother’s profit-making scheme. For the next seven years, I continued to make mortgage and maintenance payments on both homes.
I learned from this expensive lesson that big-ticket purchases for family members, such as houses and cars, should be evaluated with the following questions in mind: If you were unable to make payments for these purchases, would that particular family member be able to make the payments? Twenty years from now, who will be paying the upkeep on the house? You or your family member?
hen there’s the respect part of the equation. Are these family members respecting the gifts you give? For years, my mother left the lights on in the house without a thought as to how much I paid for electricity. This is a corollary of an old cliche that I’ve heard many times, that your kids won’t turn out the lights when leaving a room until they grow up and have to pay their own utility bills. It used to refer to kids, but in my case it fit right in as applicable to my family of Adult Abusers.
Anger built up inside me as my mother collected rent from our old house and never offered a cent to offset the expenses. It got to a point that I had to kick her boyfriend out. She accused me of messing up her life. What she didn’t see was that her boyfriend was pimping her and me out. He wasn’t bringing anything to the table, just taking.
When I told my mother she would have to take care of the maintenance after I paid off the mortgage on her house, she told me she would not be able to afford the upkeep on a house that big. In fact, she made it seem like it was my fault for picking out a house that big. In part, she was right. I bought her a house with my luxury taste and no real wisdom behind it. It was an uneducated purchase. Many NFL players choose a wiser route: they buy a reasonably sized home, pay for it in cash, keep it in their name, but gift it to their mother.
I tried giving my mother that option the second time around. I offered to buy her a comfortable house in my name for her to live in. This way she wouldn’t have to take out any loans or put my little sister and brothers in a situation where the roof over their heads could be taken away. She’d move out of the house that was too big for her and into this new one. Instead, she opted for $15,000 cash. She told me that if the new house didn’t have space for two living room sets, she didn’t want it.
Here’s what she really meant: She did not want to be embarrassed by downsizing from the home I’d originally bought for her. She was stubborn (a trait I get from her) and decided to take the cash despite my advice. I told her that if I gave her the $15,000, not to come calling when she got into trouble. Needless to say, she ended up calling. And, what’s worse, she lost the house.
I found it ironic that my mother thought she could manage my finances better than I could, yet she could not provide proof of making any money from the schemes she had set up. One day I let my anger get the better of me and asked her, “If you’re so smart, why haven’t you put together a plan to make money off of the money that you are saving from the expenses you aren’t paying?” The year I became a New Money Millionaire, I took every expense off of her hands except for food and fun money. This led her to challenge me to a money-making contest. “Oh, so you think you Phillip f*****g Buchanon? Since you think you’re smarter than your mother, we’re going to have a competition,” she said. “You give me a certain amount of money and you budget yourself a certain amount, and we will see who makes the most money from it.” I laughed, giving her credit for another attempt (a creative one at that), but she tried to fool me again. She even played upon my weaknesses because she knew that I rarely turned down a competition. Of course, I never went for this little scheme because I knew there was no way I could win. My mother would never win either because she’d simply go through the cash in a hurry. Then she’d need another clever idea to get another check. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.
I eventually learned how to deal with the numerous “family emergencies.” Early on, I found myself in too many situations where some relative would come to me and claim they needed something fixed. So I’d write them a check; of course, the problem never got fixed. The check, however, always got cashed. By trying to fix a problem, I created an additional one for myself.
I finally learned how to cope with this type of request. I paid the bills directly to the company or handyman doing the work. It was amazing to see how my family responded when I told them I would take care of it. They tried to lay the heaviest guilt number on me. I can still hear their muttering tones with tinges of disgust: “Nah, man, I’m cool. Forget about it.” This response meant they knew I was on to what they were up to. I had caught them red-handed, committing an act of adult abuse.
It took hundreds of thousands of dollars, far more than the cost of an Ivy League education, to learn this lesson. I can at least attribute it to my mother. It’s true; mothers have a way of making you learn the most important lessons in life.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.
The text begins with a command—it’s the only command in the text and therefore probably the main point. Verse 15a: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Everything else in the text is an argument, or incentive, for why we should not love the world.
Love for the World Pushes Out Love for the Father
The first incentive John gives is that “if any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (verse 15b). In other words the reason you shouldn’t love the world is that you can’t love the world and God at the same time. Love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world.
As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). So don’t love the world, because that would put you in the class with the God-haters whether you think you are or not. “If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.” That’s the first reason John gives not to love the world.
Then in verse 16 comes the support and explanation of that first argument. The reason love for the world pushes out love for God is that “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” Leave out those three phrases in the middle of verse 16 and it would read like this: The reason love for the world excludes love for God is that all that is in the world is not of God. In other words it’s just empty talk to say that you love God if you love what is not of God.
John could have rested his case at the end of verse 16. Don’t love the world because love for the world can’t coexist with love for God. But he doesn’t rest his case here. He adds two more arguments—two more incentives not to love the world.
The World Is Passing Away and Its Lusts
First, in verse 17a he says, “And the world passes away, and the lust of it.” Nobody buys stock in a company that is sure to go bankrupt. Nobody sets up house in a sinking ship. No reasonable person would lay up treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, would they? The world is passing away! To set your heart on it is only asking for heartache and misery in the end.
That’s not all: not only is the world passing away, but also the lusts of it. If you share the desires of the world, you will pass away. You will not only lose your treasure. You will lose your life. If you love the world, it will pass away and take you with it. “The world passes away and the lust of it.”
If You Do the Will of the Father, You Will Live Forever
Second, in verse 17b John says, “But he who does the will of God abides for ever.” The opposite of loving the world is not only loving the Father (verse 15), but also doing the will of the Father (verse 17). And that connection is not hard to understand. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John said in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” So loving the Father in verse 15 and doing the will of God in verse 17 are not really separate things.
If you love God, you will love what he wills. It is empty talk to say I love God but I don’t love what God loves. So John is saying in verse 17, “If you love the world, you will perish with the world, but if you don’t love the world but love God, you will do his will and live with him for ever.”
One Commandment and Three Arguments
In summary, then, the text contains one commandment and three arguments, or incentives. The commandment is, “Don’t love the world or the things in the world.” The first incentive is that if you love the world, you don’t love God. The second incentive is that if you love the world, you will perish with the world. And the third incentive is that if you love God instead of the world, you will live with God forever.
Let’s meditate for a few moments on these final two incentives and especially how they relate to saving faith.
Saving Faith and Love for God
We have been well taught that we are saved by FAITH! “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31). But we have not been as well taught what saving faith is. For example, how often do we discuss the relationship between trusting Christ and loving Christ. Can you trust him savingly and not love him? Evidently John doesn’t think so, because the issue in this text is whether you love God or love the world, and the result is whether you die with the world or have eternal life with God. But John knows that eternal life comes through faith.
John says in 5:13, “I write this to you who BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” So eternal life does depend on believing in the Christ. But what is this “believing”? If we are courteous, and let John speak for himself, his letter fills out what he means. When he says that not loving the world but loving God so much that we do his will is what leads to eternal life, we learn that saving faith and love for God are inseparable. Both are the path to eternal life because they are the same path.
In John 5:42–44 Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders who do not believe on him with these words, “I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me . . . How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” In other words the reason they do not receive or believe on Jesus is that they do not love God. They love the world—the glory of men—not the glory of God. So Jesus taught his apostles that where there is no love for God, there can be no saving faith. (See John 3:18–19.)
One Way of Salvation
That’s why John, when he comes to write his letter, can take “love for God” and “trust in Christ”, and treat them as one way of salvation. Look how he does this in 5:3–4. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” In other words it is our love for God that overcomes the obstacles of disobedience and makes the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden. “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20). Love for God makes his service a joy and overcomes the forces of disobedience.
But then look at verse 4. Here he says the same thing but speaks of faith instead of love. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” It is FAITH that overcomes the world—it is faith that conquers disobedience and renders the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden.
What shall we say, then, concerning love for God and faith in Christ? The path of victory that overcomes the world and leads to eternal life is the one path of faith toward Christ and love for God. Saving faith is part of love for God and love for God is part of saving faith. There are not two ways to heaven. There is one narrow way—the way of faith which loves God and the way of love which trusts God.
Paul and James in Agreement
This is why not only John but also Paul and James hold out the promises of life only to those who love God:
Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”
1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived . . . God has prepared for those who love him.”
James 2:5, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?” (See 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12.)
So you can see what John is trying to do for us in verse 17 of our text. He is trying to show us that loving the Father and freeing ourselves from the love of the world is not optional. It is not icing on the cake of saving faith. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. It is number one on life’s agenda. Nothing in all the world is more important than experiencing love for God in your heart. This is the first and great commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Matthew 22:36–40).
Two Possibilities If You Don’t Feel Much Love for God
Perhaps even as I say this, some of you are saying, “I don’t feel very much love for God right now.” There are two possible reasons for that.
1. You Are Not Born Again
One is the possibility that you are not born again. It is possible that you are a cultural Christian or a hereditary Christian. You may have developed patterns of religious talk and behavior because it is socially advantageous or because your parents or peers talked and acted this way. But you may never have experienced a deep change in your nature by the power of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to a stream of new love for God.
Henry Martyn, the brilliant missionary and translator of the last century, looked at his conversion four years afterward and said, “The work is real. I can no more doubt it than I can my own existence. The whole current of my desires is altered, I am walking quite another way, though I am incessantly stumbling in that way.”
So it could be that this has never happened to you and that your religion is all outward form and not inner experience of love for God. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, “In the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” In other words we may expect that there will be numerous religious church-goers who know nothing of the new birth and genuine heartfelt love for God.
If you are among that number you should direct your heart to Christ and seek him earnestly in his Word. Peter said that we are born again through the living and abiding Word of God. So if you want to be born again, you should pour over the Word of God. You should cry to Christ that he open your eyes to know the Father (Matthew 11:27). You should plead with God to take out your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh that you might love God with all your heart and all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:6). You should forsake all known sins and give yourself to all the means of grace until the light dawns in your heart and Christ shines so bright in his power and love that he is irresistibly attractive and you fall in worship and love before him. And do not quit the pursuit until you have been born into new life. “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.”
2. Your Love Has Grown Cool and Weak
The other possibility is that you have indeed been born again, but that your love for God has simply grown cool and weak. You’ve tasted what it means to have a heart for God. You can recall how once you felt that to know him was better than anything the world could offer. But this morning the wick is smoldering and the reed is bruised.
The prescription for your ailment is not much different than the prescription for seeking new birth in the first place. The same Spirit that begets life, also nourishes life. The same Word that ignites the fire of love, also rekindles love. The same Christ who once brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light, can take away the long dark night of your soul. So yield yourself to the Holy Spirit. Immerse yourself in the Word of God. Cry out to Christ for a new vision of the glory of his grace. Don’t be content with lukewarmness. Pursue a new passion for Christ.
And whichever of these groups you are in—or if you are here full of love to God this morning—let the remaining admonitions of this text stir you up to count everything as rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.
Love for God and Love for the World Cannot Coexist
According to verse 15 in our text, if your love for God is cool this morning it’s because love for the world has begun to take over your heart and choke your love for God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot coexist. And every heart loves something. The very essence of our nature is desire. There is nobody in this room who doesn’t want something. At the center of our heart is a spring of longing. But that’s an awkward image isn’t it? A longing is a craving, a desire, a want, a need. But these aren’t very well described as a spring. A spring of needs is a contradiction in terms. Springs bubble up; needs suck in. A longing is more like a drain—or a vacuum. At the center of our heart is a sucking drain—like at the bottom of a swimming pool. We are endlessly thirsty. But we can’t suck water and air at the same time.
If you try to satisfy your longing by sucking in the air of the world, you will not be able to drink the water of heaven. And eventually your motor will burn up because you were made to pump the water of God not the air of the world.
The “World” We Are Not to Love
But now what is this “world” that we are not to love? Verse 16 says it is characterized by three things: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The word for “life” does not refer to the state of being alive but rather to the things in the world that make life possible. For example, in 3:17 it is translated “goods”—”Any one who has this world’s GOODS and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Jesus uses the word in Mark 12:44 when he says that the poor widow in the temple “put in everything that she had, her whole LIVING.”
So the phrase “pride of life” means pride in what you possess—the things you have. Now we can see how the three descriptions of the world relate to each other. The first two—lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes—refer to desires for what we don’t have. And the third—the pride of life—refers to the pride in what we do have. The world is driven by these two things: passion for pleasure and pride in possessions.
And the passion for pleasure is described in two ways because there are two large classes of pleasure—physical and aesthetic. There is the lust of the flesh—bodily pleasures; and the lust of the eyes—aesthetic and intellectual pleasures. John is not naïve. He knows that the world is not limited to Hennepin Avenue.
There is the lust of the gutter and the lust of the gourmet. There is the lust for hard rock and the lust for high Rachmaninoff. There is the lust of Penthouse and the lust of Picasso. There is the lust of the Orpheum and the lust of the Ordway. This book ends with the ringing command: “Little children, KEEP YOURSELVES FROM IDOLS!”—whether they are crude or whether they are cultured.
Anything in this world that is not God can rob your heart of the love of God. Anything that is not God can draw your heart away from God. If you don’t have it, it can fill you with passion to get it. If you get it, it can fill you with pride that you’ve got it.
But against the pride of life the apostle says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though it were not a gift . . . Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1:31). So let there be no boasting in possessions. They are all gods.
And against the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes the psalmist says, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.” Therefore let us desire nothing but God. Possess nothing but God; pursue nothing but God.
What Shall We Do with Our Desires?
But someone will ask, “Should I not desire dinner? Should I not desire a job? Should I not desire a spouse? Should I not desire the child in my womb? Should I not desire a healthy body or a good night’s rest or the morning sun or a great book or an evening with friends?”
And the answer is no—unless it is a desire for GOD! Do you desire dinner because you desire God? Do you want a job because in it you will discover God and love God? Do you long for a spouse because you are hungry for God and hope to see him and love him in your partner? Do you desire the child and the healthy body and the good night’s rest and the morning sun and the great book and the evening with friends for God’s sake? Do you have an eye for God in everything you desire? (See Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31.)
St. Augustine captured the heart of our text when he prayed to the Father and said, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.”
Therefore, brothers and sisters, do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. But if the love of the Father is in you, if you love God with all your heart, then every room you enter will be a temple of love to God, all your work will be a sacrifice of love to God, every meal will be a banquet of love with God, every song will be an overture of love to God.
And if there is any desire of the flesh or any desire of the eyes that is not also a desire for God, then we will put it out of our lives, so that we can say with John and with the psalmist,
Whom have I in heaven but thee,
and on earth there is nothing
that I desire besides thee.
Have you ever walked out of a church service in a daze? You know the message was good, but you don’t know what it was about. You tried to understand what the preacher was getting at, but you’re not quite sure. You look at your Bible, look at the preacher, look back at your Bible and are a little confused. He didn’t help you understand what God was saying.
Could any of this uncertainty be because you knew the preacher before he excepted his calling? Maybe it has everything to do with how you and the preacher willfully participated in sin together before the pastor or preacher was regenerated into a vessel of honor. Maybe it’s because of the taste morsels of gossip coming from those trusted friends that have an ought against him. I went to preach a “YOUTH” day service at such a church on Sunday and the rejection of the adults prompted me to search scripture to try and gain some leverage on this matter. I always want to improve my level of maturity in Christ.
To reject someone is to refuse to accept them. For example, if a man applied for a job with a company and they decide to not accept his application then they have rejected him.
The word rejection means that someone is either in the process of being rejected (not accepted) or has already been rejected.
Most people want to be liked so it is difficult when we are not accepted. This rejection may be because of the way we look, our personality or our behavior. To be rejected is an unpleasant thing to be cast on to you. It can be extremely hurtful.
Rejection by those close to you
Rejection from those close to you can be extremely painful because we trust these people more than others.
Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”
Mark Ch.6:4 NIV
Jesus says in this verse that a worker for God (prophet) is never honored in his hometown. But this didn’t slow down his work for God, as this work was far more important than being respected or honored by others. If family, neighbors or friends don’t respect your work for God then don’t let this rejection stop you from serving God.
Overcoming rejection through teamwork
When the disciples travelled through the countryside, they did it in pairs. As individuals they probably could have reached more areas of the country but Christ didn’t want this. He decided that as a pair they could encourage and strengthen each other, especially when they were facing rejection. When we are facing rejection we can get strength from God but he also encourages us to meet our needs by teamwork with others.
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians Ch.3: 9 NIV
Serving Christ requires us to work with others – as a team.
Overcoming rejection by drawing close to God
Christ gave an example of complete trust in God.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly. 1 Peter Ch.2:23
The example of Christ was one of absolute non-resistance to evil and complete trust in God. He could have avoided all his trials (Matthew 26:53), but he knew that the path of salvation lay through suffering and death, and like a good shepherd , he led the way. He overcame the rejection by others by putting complete trust in God.
Rejection of others
We are told by Paul to not reject others but rather accept each other.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans Ch.15:7
Accept other believers and don’t reject them on the basis of some trivial matter.
Rejection by God?
God promises never to leave or forsake us.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews Ch.13:5 NIV
God confirmed to Israel that we had not left them:
For the LORD will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. Psalm 94:14 NIV
Paul made a similar point to the first century believers:
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel:
Romans Ch.11:1-2 NIV
Even though Israel had rejected their Messiah and had refused to listen to Paul’s preaching, God’s promises were still relevant. If it is true for the Israelites then how much more so for the believer! God will never leave us or forsake us, providing we do not leave him.
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Hebrews Ch.12:5-6
Silence – Rejection by God?
Job suffered a lot in his life. He was especially upset because God was silent and gave no reasons for his suffering. Job misinterpreted this silence as meaning that God was rejecting him. This apparent rejection by God bothered Job even more than any suffering he was going through.
“Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you: withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors. Job Ch.13: 20 – 21 NIV
Job didn’t want God to “withdraw your hand far from me”, in other words, reject him. God’s silence does not mean he has rejected us. Sometimes we will intervene in our lives in unseen ways.
Rejection of God
Sometimes, through our actions and thoughts we can make the mistake of rejecting God. This can be done in a number of ways:
Sometimes selfishness can lead us to rejecting God. The Israelites did this:
You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ “
So here is a case showing the people’s arrogant attitude toward God. They basically rejected God saying “It is foolish to worship God and obey him. What good does it do to obey his laws, and to sorrow and mourn for our sins ? From now on, as far as we are concerned, Blessed are the arrogant, for those who do evil shall prosper, and those who dare God to punish them shall get off scot-free”.
So, we can see from these verses that selfishness is a rejection of God and all that he represents. Is that the same with us sometimes? Do we sometimes ask “what good does serving God do for me?”. If we do then our focus is selfish. Our real question should be “What good does serving God do for God?”
Trusting our own judgement more than God’s judgement
There are many people in this world who ignore the evidence of God’s existence. The Bible tells us that these people are foolish.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.Psalm 14:1
There are others who are wicked because they refuse to live by God’s commandments. We become like these people when we rely more on ourself than on God.
Trusting other humans more than God
Some people put church leaders or other people before God.
This has happened in the past as well. For example in the time Of Samuel. The true king of Israel was God. However, the nation of Israel wanted another king.
Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the LORD at Mizpah and said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, ‘No, set a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.” 1 Samuel Ch.10: 17-19 NIV
Israel rejected God by asking for a human being instead of God as their guide and leader. If we look at history we can see that men and women have continually rejected God. This practice continues even today. We need to look at our lives and decide what is our highest priority. If we push God aside and treat someone or something else as being more important then we are rejecting God. There are many examples in the Bible for us to learn from and they all teach one thing – God should be foremost in our life.
Not taking up God’s offer of salvation
God loved us so much they he gave us his only begotten son. Jesus perfect life, his truthful words and his sacrifice of love are designed so that we sit up and take notice and follow the example of Jesus. If we do this we are taking up God’s offer of salvation.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone [cornerstone]; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Matthew Ch.21:42 NIV
However, if we ignore God’s gracious gift of his son, then we rejecting God himself.
As we might expect, the people whom God condemns are those who do not recognise their need and who are unwilling to submit to God and His word. Such were the Pharisees:
They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Matthew Ch.23:4
Such men are self-righteous and have lost their sense of dependence upon God. They may be divided into three classes:
Those who ignore God’s word completely, who are willingly ignorant:
Like the people who lived in the days of Noah, they refuse to heed the warnings given by those who preach the way of righteousness. They deliberately choose to remain in darkness. Noah had certainly preached to his contemporaries, but when the flood came “they knew not”. They knew all right; they had heard the message, after a fashion. But inasmuch as they did not want to know, their ears had been shut to Noah’s saving message. The disciples were told to “shake the dust off their feet” when leaving the houses of such people.
Those who deliberately distort it or reject God’s word:
The Lord refers to blasphemers against the Holy Spirit, for whom there is no forgiveness. These are “false prophets” who present a distorted gospel and invite men to believe in a hope founded upon the quicksand of human reasoning.
Those whose lives do not sincerely attempt to reflect God’s word:
They are hypocrites, who act out a part when it serves their purposes; their piety is based upon self-interest. The Lord has a stern warning for those who hear the word of God but either ignore its directions, or manipulate its teaching to suit themselves:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew Ch.7:21
It is evident that although God’s love for man was such that He willingly provided His Son to give his life for our sakes, the very lengths to which He went are a vivid reminder that God does not tolerate disobedience. It is not in man’s interests that He should do so: God wants us to be obedient to His commands, because He knows that this is to our eternal advantage.
Facing tragedy, or life storms of any kind, can be extremely difficult. But in the midst of heartache and pain, you can find the hope and courage to go on. With God’s help, the help of caring family members and friends, and the encouragement found in the Bible and other resources, you will receive the necessary strength to overcome.
You may be thinking, I don’t know how I could ever get through this. Or you may be battling powerful feelings of despair, suffering, confusion, fear, worry, and even anger. These are all normal responses to tragedy.
But as difficult as this life storm may be, you are not alone. God is with you always. He loves you, and cares about what is going on in your life. He hears your cries and sees your pain. Moreover, He understands.
The Bible says, “And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God … For since He himself has now been through suffering … He knows what it is like when we suffer … and He is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB). Whatever we endure, His care is certain, His love is unfailing, and His promises are secure.
You Are Not Alone
For he himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5c)
On the morning of October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States faced their worst nightmare … “Superstorm Sandy.” This post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds and its unusual merge with a frontal system affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, leaving death, injuries, and utter destruction in its wake. Families everywhere, especially in hard hit New Jersey and New York, were jolted out of normalcy and the comfort and security of the homes and communities they once knew. They were thrust suddenly and unwillingly into the darkness and despair of loss.
If you and your family have ever been affected by a natural disaster like this, you may feel as if you’ve been abandoned by God. However, if trouble has hit your life in some other disaster or form of tragedy—the death of a loved one, a dreaded medical diagnosis, the loss of home and property, or the loss of your job, you are experiencing your own superstorm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and wonder how you can possibly survive the loss. In times like these, you can feel very much alone.
But you are not alone. In the midst of unspeakable sorrow, God is with you. Even if you do not feel Him near, God is there. He promises to never leave you alone. Therefore, wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after the storm, never losing sight of you, or your suffering. Even as you ponder how you will begin picking up the pieces of your life, God is there … loving you beyond understanding, holding you up, and making a way where it seems there is no way. Reach out for Him today. He is a very present help in times of trouble (see Psalm 46:1).
Taking back your life …
Psalm 139:7-10 says, “I can never be lost to Your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, Your strength will support me” (TLB). What assurance can you find in these verses of Scripture when you are feeling as if God has forgotten you?
In Psalm 23, David pictures the Lord as the Great Shepherd who provides for and protects His sheep (His children). In verse 4, he says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” A shepherd uses his rod to protect his sheep (by using it to beat off wild beasts), and he uses his staff to guide them. What comfort can you find in knowing that God will protect and guide you during this difficult time?
In addition to needing God’s presence in our lives, we also need each other. Talk with your family or friends about the way you are feeling, so that you can share one another’s burdens, and not feel so alone in your suffering.
Conformity involves developing attitudes, opinions, and behaviors to match the attitudes of a specific group. Most people conform to the standard values,also called norms, of many groups without stress and often without even knowing that they are doing so. By itself conformity is neither good nor bad.
Some degree of conformity is necessary for societies to function. For example, when you stop at a red light, you are conforming to the law and to the general agreement that for the good and safety of society, a red light means stop. You stop, even though most of the time there is not a police officer on the scene to enforce the law.
Different societies and different organizations put higher or lower values on conformity. The United States is often said to have been settled by non-conformists. Many of the early colonists were people who did not fit in, for religious, philosophical, economic, or social reasons, with the expectations of society in their native countries. They sought a place to live where the levelof conformity and norms of society were more comfortable for them. In the United States often some degree of non-conformity is still admired today. The ideal of the “rugged individualist” who does things his or her own way is partof American culture.
Other societies put a higher value on fitting in or conforming. There is a Japanese proverb that roughly translates into the saying, “The nail that sticksup gets hammered down,” meaning that it is better not to stand out in a group but to conform. Military organizations are an example of a group that expects a high level of conformity in the behavior of their members and punishes those who do not conform.
All people balance the need to conform and fit in with the need to express their individuality throughout their lives. Some research into birth order suggests that the oldest child in a family is more likely to conform, while laterchildren are more likely to become non-conformists. However, these studies are open to different interpretations and, although interesting, should not beconsidered conclusively true.
Young children tend to be the least aware of the group and society values andare the least influenced by the need to conform. However, with more social interactions and more awareness of others, the need to conform grows. Pre-teens and teenagers face many issues related to conformity. They are pulled between the desire to be seen as individuals of unique value and the desire to belong to a group where they feel secure and accepted. The result is that oftenteens reject conforming to family or general society values, while conformingrigidly to the norms or values of their peer group. An example of this phenomenon is seen when young people join gangs. In joining the gang they are rejecting the community’s way of dressing and behaving. Yet to belong to the gang, they must conform to the gang’s own style of dress, behavior, and speech.
Conformity is tied closely to the issue of peer pressure. Although people feel peer pressure their entire lives, young people who are seeking to define themselves are generally most influenced by the values and attitudes of their peers. Adolescents often encourage friends to do or try things that they themselves are doing in order to fit into to a group. The encouragement can be positive (studying hard to get good grades) or negative (drinking beer after thefootball game).
Deciding how much and which group’s values to conform to are one of the majorstresses of adolescence. Trying to conform to the behaviors of a group thatgo against one’s own beliefs in order to be accepted creates a great deal ofinternal conflict and sometimes external conflict with family members and friends from an earlier time. Defining oneself as an individual and developing aconstant value system forces young people to confront issues of conformity and non-conformity. This is a major challenge of adolescence.
Many studies of young people show that if a person’s friends engage in a behavior – everything from cigarette smoking to drinking alcohol to shoplifting to sexual activity – an adolescent is highly likely to conform to his or her friends’ behaviors and try these activities. The alternative is for the youngperson to seek different friends with values more in line with his own. Often, however, the desire to be part of a group and the fear of social isolationmakes it more appealing to change behaviors than to seek other friends.
Attitudes toward conformity are of particular interest in community health, where conformity may influence the willingness of people to engage in activities such as illicit drug use or high-risk sexual activities, or prompt them toavoid drug rehabilitation programs.
The tendency to conform to a group’s values is of interest to outreach workers because social networks may provide a link to reaching and influencing thebehavior of a wide range of people involved in drug abuse and high-risk sexual activity. If key members of a group accept messages about how to change behavior to reduce risky activities such as needle sharing, drinking and driving, and unsafe sexual behavior, other group members often follow their lead andchange their behavior also.
Although society tends to focus on teenagers’ needs to conform and follow fads, and many parents worry about how the desire to conform will influence thedecisions their children must make, issues surrounding conformity continue into adult life. They may be as trivial as choosing the proper clothes to wearto the office so as not to stand out or as serious as choosing whether to have one’s children vaccinated against diseases. Finding a rational balance between belonging and being an individual is a challenge for everyone. Many people who feel as if this area of their lives is out of balance benefit from seeking professional counseling to help them find a level of conformity that is more comfortable for them.
“Christians know what they believe, but they don’t know why they believe.”
It’s become such a truism, Paul Little titled his books after it — almost fifty years ago. But “How do I know this is true?” is one of the best and most important questions students can ask about their faith.
For those students who have been steeped in Christian culture, it is far too easy to know what you’ve “caught” rather than what’s been “taught.” But both the caught and taught should be subject to serious examination by those wanting to take their faith seriously.
All of these are significant questions that have reasonable, scholarly, and detailed answers.
As adults, we can help our children and their friends wrestle through these important questions by wrestling through them ourselves.
Our experience with thousands of young people each year reveals that they are either eager for answers or they’ve made up their mind. Often, they’ve made up their mind — not because of reason or logic — because they want to live a lifestyle that is counter to what Christianity teaches is best for them. Discerning why a student is struggling with the truth of Christ establishes an important baseline.
There’s no magic bullet for a young person who is struggling with whether Christianity is true. However, for a teen seeking truth, there are many fantastic resources available. Whether they have already made up their minds or are honestly searching for answers, we’re certain that all the evidence leads to Christianity!
Let this be an encouragement to you and a challenge as a parent: Create a culture in your home of asking questions about the authenticity of Christianity. Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know,” but don’t leave it there! Follow that statement with “…but let’s seek out the answer, together.”
Remember, you aren’t walking alone, and you won’t find yourself without resources in this journey. We can’t answer all the questions your kids are asking in this short post, but we can give you a few easy-to-use resources if you desire to plunge into this topic. Start the conversation with us by contacting us on any of our social media sites.
My desire to jump into a new line of work seemed perfectly obvious and natural to me because I wasn’t changing my strongest, underlying interest: Why do we humans do such unexpected and often irrational things?
“You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” ~C. S. Lewis
Change means reinvention. Each time a major shift happens in our lives—leaving a job or a relationship, moving, losing a loved one—we have to take control of who we will become or risk never reaching our full potential.
I’ve reinvented myself several times in my life. Most adults have.
But what I always forget is that we have to choose reinvention. Each time I’ve done it, I’ve forged my new path deliberately and with foresight.
When I’ve waited for my future to find me, I’ve waited in vain, lost in confusion and sadness, or I’ve gotten tangled up in a situation I didn’t want.
One morning, after struggling for months with grief and loss, I woke up and realized that I was having so much trouble moving forward partly because I had no idea what it was that I wanted to move toward. I was thinking about my past, but not what I wanted for my future.
That morning, I woke with a vision: a crowd of people from the life I needed to leave behind with the sun rising opposite them and me standing between the two, the sun beating down on my face.
In the vision, I decided, finally, to turn from the group and walk toward the sun, my new life.
That vision told me what I needed to hear—that I had to take control of my future instead of letting my pain choose for me.
1.Create a vision for your future.
Sit quietly, close your eyes, and imagine the people, places, or situations that you need to leave behind. Now, imagine the future that you want, whether it’s simply a feeling, a group of people, or a situation such as a wonderful new job.
Imagine how it will feel to be in that new place. Allow the picture to shape your future, the warm emotions began to appear on your face.
Stand for a moment and silently voice your appreciation for everything that came before. Once you’ve thanked the past, turn your focus toward God, and with compassion and gratitude, imagine yourself walking away from the past and into the future.
2. Write about your reinvention.
Imagine a scene from it or write about how you’d like it to play out. Where are you living? What do you do in the mornings, afternoon, and evenings? Who are your friends? What do you spend your days doing?
Continue writing for as long as this exercise feels invigorating and exciting. Write scenes, dialogues, lists, and plans. Make the future come alive. Write about how it will feel to be there. Keep your writing somewhere where you will look at it occasionally. Feel free to add to it.
3.Surround yourself with visual reminders of the life you’d like to create.
If it’s a new job in a particular field, put objects or images from that field someplace where you’ll see them every day. If it’s a home, find a picture of a house that you love and put it near your front door. It can be anything that reminds you of what you’re moving toward.
4. Now that you have a vision of your future, break it up into workable tasks.
What do you need to do, every day, to create that vision? Look for work? Meet new people? Search for a place to live in your chosen town? Make it specific. Make a list of everything you need to do and a schedule for when you’ll do it. Then do it and commit to keep doing it, one day at a time.
5.Every day, go back to that vision of you walking toward your future.
Every morning or evening, close your eyes and see yourself walking into the rising sun, toward your dreams, and reconnect with why you’re moving toward this new possibility.
Reinvention is neither easy nor always smooth. Often, we encounter resistance. We don’t want to let go, even of things that cause us pain or that are obviously already out of our grasp. We often struggle with limiting beliefs or stories about ourselves that hold us back from trying new things.
But there is one way to keep your compass pointed to this new life, even in the midst of any resistance or struggles you may encounter on your path.
Each time you find yourself slipping into old habits—isolating yourself, making excuses not to look for work, procrastinating on a task that might help you advance in your career—don’t bother wondering why you’re doing it or beating yourself up.
Just ask yourself this: “What can I do in this moment to keep moving forward?”
Then, no matter what you feel in the moment—lonely, self-critical, tired, lazy, or disappointed—do something to maintain momentum, even if it’s one small thing. There’s an old adage that says that true courage isn’t about not feeling fear; it’s about feeling fear and acting anyway.
Choose courage instead of letting your fear choose your future for you.
I’m currently reading Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; it’s provocative in terms of making me think about the way I think – and is making me think about ways that I might “reinvent” myself (which, like Madonna with varying degrees of success, I try to do regularly. Ha!). I’d suggest picking that up, if you’re interested in the way our brains work, and how we might rethink how we process information and make decisions – and so, identify how to reboot, reinvent and re-examine our biases and assumptions about the world. How we make decisions and choices is critical to how you decide to reinvent yourself.
I never knew how much you meant to me until we started to encounter hard times in life. We have been through everything together from hunger to sickness, incarceration and drug addiction to riotous living for self gratification. We have been homeless and on top of the world. We have been in sheer darkness together as well as in the marvelous light. I thank God for a wonderful blessing and that is what you are to me.
I got up early this morning and put the coffee on
It was a beautiful morning, a Sunday morning dawn
I made the coffee, two cups, one for me and one for you
I brought them back to our bed but to awake you I could not do
I placed the two cups on the table next to our bed
You did not know that laid back down at the foot of the bed
I watched as you laid there asleep and so peaceful
I watched you thinking to my self and God that you are so beautiful
I watched as you dreamed, the movement of your eyes and often a little smile
You looked amazing there so beautiful , you never knew I was there all the while
I watched the sun light flicker on your beautiful face
I watched you lay there, for me a beautiful place
I then Got up and placed hot water on towels in the tub
I had planed you a Sunday morning massage, a good rub
I finally awoke you about an hour after I had awaken
You never knew the time that I had taken
Time to admire your beauty, your peace as you did sleep
Truly loving each minute and building a memory to keep
I gave you your coffee in bed
“Oh, that’s Cold”, was what you said
You had no idea what I had been doing up all that time
I could not wake you and admired as you slept, so peaceful and fine
I brought more coffee and this time it was hot
I was sorry it was cold, I should have thought
I took off your night shirt, you yet knew my plans
I placed a hot towel on your back, rubbed it in with my hands
Next was a hot oil massage rubbed in with love
Something that I must do for my angel sent from above
You often say, “You don’t have to do this”
Trust me when I say if I did not it is something I would miss
It gives me the ability to express my love in a gentle and caring way
Something that I want to do for you each day
It gives me a chance to touch your body so soft and so beautiful
Something that I want to do, it is called being thoughtful
I know that you are at times in great pain, I am here for you
I hope you know that I would take the pain from you, I love you true
If my touch through a massage brings you relief and pleasure
Please let me do that for you, it means more to me than you can measure
You know that I pray, God is listening from up above
I pray that you know that I do these things out of love
I am your husband true and devoted to love and to care for you
You are my everything, my love, my life, my world, please know this is true
As your husband I am to honor and respect you and ensure that no harm comes to you
A husband should be willing to give his life for his wife, I will give my life for you in all that I do
What is on my mind at this very moment is the notification that once again I have made the Honor Roll in school at Argosy University. I by the grace of God have worked so hard for three and a half years and in August 2015 will be graduating with my Bachelor’s in Psychology on my way to occupying a position as a Substance Abuse Counselor/ Clinical Psychologist. Who would have ever thought that the dirty streets and dark places of Perris, Ca. would see me here where I am today…Never Ever Doubt the power of God. Argosy University GPA 3.37
Seven more months and my wife will graduate with honor with her degree in psychology as her major and minor in substance abuse. Congratulations wife, who would have ever thought we would be moving with God in this way after such a rocky start in life. I love you and your determination to move with purpose and submission to the will of God for your life. He is truly building a temple of honor and love in you. Let Him complete His work because His glory upon you is refining His image in my life and countless others we have no knowledge of. I also thank God for the community of individuals He blessed us with to get to this monumental moment in time.
Someone shared with me her observation about two bosses. One is loved but not feared by his subordinates. Because they love their boss but don’t respect his authority, they don’t follow his guidelines. The other boss is both feared and loved by those who serve under him, and their good behavior shows it.
The Lord desires that His people both fear and love Him too. Today’s Bible passage, Deuteronomy 10, says that keeping God’s guidelines involves both. In verse 12, we are told “to fear the Lord your God” and “to love Him.”
To “fear” the Lord God is to give Him the highest respect. For the believer, it is not a matter of feeling intimidated by Him or His character. But out of respect for His person and authority, we walk in all His ways and keep His commandments. Out of “love,” we serve Him with all our heart and with all our soul—rather than merely out of duty (v.12).
Love flows out of our deep gratitude for His love for us, rather than out of our likes and dislikes. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our fear and love for God enable us to walk willingly in obedience to God’s law.
Lord, You are holy and Your thoughts are much higher than mine. I bow before You. Thank You for salvation in Jesus. I love You and want to obey You with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.
If we fear and love God, we will obey Him.
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, Deuteronomy 10:12-17
We are here most plainly directed in our duty to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves.
1. We are here taught our duty to God, both in the dispositions and affections of our souls and in the actions of our lives, our principles and our practices. (1.) We must fear the Lord our God, v. 12, and again v. 20. We must adore his majesty, acknowledge his authority, stand in awe of his power, and dread his wrath. This is gospel duty, Rev. 14:6, 7. (2.) We must love him, be well pleased that he is, desire that he may be ours, and delight in the contemplation of him and in communion with him. Fear him as a great God, and our Lord, love him as a good God, and our Father and benefactor. (3.) We must walk in his ways, that is, the ways which he has appointed us to walk in. The whole course of our conversation must be conformable to his holy will. (4.) We must serve him (v. 20), serve him with all our heart and soul (v. 12), devote ourselves to his honour, put ourselves under his government, and lay out ourselves to advance all the interests of his kingdom among men. And we must be hearty and zealous in his service, engage and employ our inward man in his work, and what we do for him we must do cheerfully and with a good will. (5.) We must keep his commandments and his statutes, v. 13. Having given up ourselves to his service, we must make his revealed will our rule in every thing, perform all he prescribes, forbear all the forbids, firmly believing that all the statutes he commands us are for our good. Besides the reward of obedience, which will be our unspeakable gain, there are true honour and pleasure in obedience. It is really for our present good to be meek and humble, chaste and sober, just and charitable, patient and contented; these make us easy, and safe, and pleasant, and truly great. (6.) We must give honour to God, in swearing by his name (v. 20); so give him the honour of his omniscience, his sovereignty, his justice, as well as of his necessary existence. Swear by his name, and not by the name of any creature, or false god, whenever an oath for confirmation is called for. (7.) To him we must cleave, v. 20. Having chosen him for our God, we must faithfully and constantly abide with him and never forsake him. Cleave to him as one we love and delight in, trust and confide in, and from whom we have great expectations.
2. We are here taught our duty to our neighbour (v. 19): Love the stranger; and, if the stranger, much more our brethren, as ourselves. If the Israelites that were such a peculiar people, so particularly distinguished from all people, must be kind to strangers, much more must we, that are not enclosed in such a pale; we must have a tender concern for all that share with us in the human nature, and as we have opportunity; (that is, according to their necessities and our abilities) we must do good to all men. Two arguments are here urged to enforce this duty:—(1.) God’s common providence, which extends itself to all nations of men, they being all made of one blood. God loveth the stranger (v. 18), that is, he gives to all life, and breath, and all things, even to those that are Gentiles, and strangers to the commonwealth of Israel and to Israel’s God. He knows those perfectly whom we know nothing of. He gives food and raiment even to those to whom he has not shown his word and statutes. God’s common gifts to mankind oblige us to honour all men. Or the expression denotes the particular care which Providence takes of strangers in distress, which we ought to praise him for (Ps. 146:9, The Lord preserveth the strangers), and to imitate him, to serve him, and concur with him therein, being forward to make ourselves instruments in his hand of kindness to strangers. (2.) The afflicted condition which the Israelites themselves had been in, when they were strangers in Egypt. Those that have themselves been in distress, and have found mercy with God, should sympathize most feelingly with those that are in the like distress and be ready to show kindness to them. The people of the Jews, notwithstanding these repeated commands given them to be kind to strangers, conceived a rooted antipathy to the Gentiles, whom they looked upon with the utmost disdain, which made them envy the grace of God and the gospel of Christ, and this brought a final ruin upon themselves.
3. We are here taught our duty to ourselves (v. 16): Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts. that is, “Cast away from you all corrupt affections and inclinations, which hinder you from fearing and loving God. Mortify the flesh with the lusts of it. Away with all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, which obstruct the free course of the word of God to your hearts. Rest not in the circumcision of the body, which was only the sign, but be circumcised in heart, which is the thing signified.” See Rom. 2:29. The command of Christ goes further than this, and obliges us not only to cut off the foreskin of the heart, which may easily be spared, but to cut off the right hand and to pluck out the right eye that is an offence to us; the more spiritual the dispensation is the more spiritual we are obliged to be, and to go the closer in mortifying sin. And be no more stiff-necked, as they had been hitherto, ch. 9:24. “Be not any longer obstinate against divine commands and corrections, but ready to comply with the will of God in both.” The circumcision of the heart makes it ready to yield to God, and draw in his yoke.
II. We are here most pathetically persuaded to our duty. Let but reason rule us, and religion will.
1. Consider the greatness and glory of God, and therefore fear him, and from that principle serve and obey him. What is it that is thought to make a man great, but great honour, power, and possessions? Think then how great the Lord our God is, and greatly to be feared. (1.) He has great honour, a name above every name. He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, v. 17. Angels are called gods, so are magistrates, and the Gentiles had gods many, and lords many, the creatures of their own fancy; but God is infinitely above all these nominal deities. What an absurdity would it be for them to worship other gods when the God to whom they had sworn allegiance was the God of gods! (2.) He has great power. He is a mighty God and terrible (v. 17), who regardeth not persons. He has the power of a conqueror, and so he is terrible to those that resist him and rebel against him. He has the power of a judge, and so he is just to all those that appeal to him or appear before him. And it is as much the greatness and honour of a judge to be impartial in his justice, without respect to persons or bribes, as it is to a general to be terrible to the enemy. Our God is both. (3.) He has great possessions. Heaven and earth are his (v. 14), and all the hosts and stars of both. Therefore he is able to bear us out in his service, and to make up the losses we sustain in discharging our duty to him. And yet therefore he has no need of us, nor any thing we have or can do; we are undone without him, but he is happy without us, which makes the condescensions of his grace, in accepting us and our services, truly admirable. Heaven and earth are his possession, and yet the Lord’s portion is his people.
2. Consider the goodness and grace of God, and therefore love him, and from that principle serve and obey him. His goodness is his glory as much as his greatness. (1.) He is good to all. Whomsoever he finds miserable, to them he will be found merciful: He executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow, v. 18. It is his honour to help the helpless, and to succour those that most need relief and that men are apt to do injury to, or at least to put a light upon. See Ps. 68:4, 5; 146:7, 9. (2.) But truly God is good to Israel in a special obligations to him: “He is they praise, and he is thy God, v. 21. Therefore love him and serve him, because of the relation wherein he stands to thee. He is thy God, a God in covenant with thee, and as such he is thy praise,” that is [1.] “He puts honour upon thee; he is the God in whom, all the day long, thou mayest boast that thou knowest him, and art known of him. If he is thy God, he is thy glory.” [2.] “He expects honour from thee. He is thy praise,” that is “he is the God whom thou art bound to praise; if he has not praise from thee, whence may he expect it?” He inhabits the praises of Israel. Consider, First, The gracious choice he made of Israel, v. 15. “He had a delight in thy fathers, and therefore chose their seed.” Not that there was any thing in them to merit his favour, or to recommend them to it, but so it seemed good in his eyes. He would be kind to them, though he had no need of them. Secondly, The great things he had done for Israel, v. 21, 22. He reminds them not only of what they had heard with their ears, and which their fathers had told them of, but of what they had seen with their eyes, and which they must tell their children of, particularly that within a few generations seventy souls (for they were no more when Jacob went down into Egypt) increased to a great nation, as the stars of heaven for multitude. And the more they were in number the more praise and service God expected from them; yet it proved, as in the old world, that when they began to multiply they corrupted themselves.
The famous preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon on Philippians, said, quote, “False doctrine makes joy in the Lord impossible.” How would you articulate this connection between orthodoxy and joy? How does false doctrine make joy in the Lord impossible?
The key in that phrase, I think, is “in the Lord,” “joy in the Lord.” False doctrine can make you very happy. If you don’t believe in hell you might feel happier. If you don’t believe that you have to not sleep around on the weekend and cheat on your wife and you might have some brief surges of pleasure. But when he says false doctrine makes joy in the Lord impossible, he is articulating something really important, namely that the only joy that glorifies God is joy that is based on a true view of God. If you have happiness because you see God a way he is not, you might have happiness based on your doctrine. But your doctrine will be false and therefore God would not be honored by your happiness. You are like a person who is just thrilled. He is watching his favorite football team and he just crossed the goal line. Yea. Yea. He is cheering his lungs out and he realizes he ran the wrong way. He crossed the wrong goal line. He didn’t make six points, he lost. So that cheering isn’t honoring to the team, it is making a fool out of the team. False doctrine presents God or his ways as they are not, and if we are happy by what God is not then he is not honored by our happiness. Right doctrine is a way of showing God as He is so that our joy can be in what is. Then our joy is an honor to God.
When I say that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, it presumes that the God in whom we are satisfied is the true God, and that false views of God will prevent joy in the true God. I don’t know whether he had it in mind or whether you have it in mind when you asked the question, but clearly if you have a wrong view of salvation you lose your joy forever. That is what was happening in the book of Galatians. The Galatians and the Pharisees knew God, and Jesus says, “You are children of hell and you are going there because your view of how to relate to God is upside down. You think that God is impressed by your works for him and that you can put him in your debt.” And you can’t. That is a hellish doctrine and Paul says that those who bring a gospel like that are cursed.. So all happiness vanishes, and that is probably what ultimately Marty Lloyd-Jones meant.
So it seems that built into this is some level of distrust toward our own affections.
That is a very good point. I have been criticized sometimes for being a Christian hedonist because historic hedonism has often meant that pleasure becomes the criterion of what is right. That has never, ever been what I have meant by Hedonism. All I mean by Christian Hedonism is that you are living to maximize your pleasure forever. That is biblically why it is right to pursue your happiness. But, yes, we must be suspicious of making our pleasures the criteria of what is right, holy, good or true. Rather, it’s the other way around. The Bible decides what is true and then we labor to submit our heart to that so that we can find happiness in the truth, not determine what is true by what makes us happy.
My motivation for writing this blog is twofold: First, there is a slow apostasy that is creeping in to many so-called Christian denominations. Many groups that claim the name of Christ are advocating anti-Christian principles. Second, it seems that the majority of Christians are not adequately trained nor sufficiently motivated to carry out the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “(Matt. 28:19-20). To carry out this commission, Christians need to be disciples and disciple-makers. It means knowing basic Christian doctrine, knowing the Bible, and being able to defend the Christian faith.
I’m not saying that every Christian has to be seminary trained, memorize the New Testament, and stand on street corners shouting about Jesus. I am talking about the basic knowledge of God’s word as well as the basics of evangelism and doctrine that helps to lead us to do what Jesus charged us to do: make disciples.
Apostasy means to fall away from the truth. To the degree that Christians adopt the ideas of the world above scripture they are committing apostasy. The world wants us to let things be, to adopt a policy of tolerance about other religions and ideas in contradiction to Scripture, and let the culture simply continue on its way towards increasing immorality and irreverence. Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and to do this means we have to be prepared and Bible-focused in a world that is hostile to Christianity. Carrying out the Great Commission means that we have to be praying, studying, tithing, learning, being trained, being active, supporting the church, supporting missionaries, etc. Some churches do this. Others do not. But, all should be evangelistic–not for church membership or church growth but for making people followers of Jesus.
The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is the charge of Jesus to believers, to every believer, to be disciple makers. It is not aimed at just the pastor and the missionary. It is aimed at everyone in the church. But, perhaps you feel that you are not called to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist–that just isn’t your calling. That’s okay. But, are you praying for those who are pastors, missionaries, and evangelists? Are you supporting them in your tithes? Are you using whatever gifts that you have in support of the church so that the Great Commission can be carried out by those God anoints to minister in whatever capacity it is?
The Great Commission is a commission of love given to us by the God of love. It is what Jesus asked us to do. People are going to hell. Jesus wants us to help as many as possible find salvation in Him. He wants us to beHis disciples and then make others into disciples as well. This is what He wants. Is this happening in your life and church? Are you contributing in some way to the building of the body of Christ, or do you only go to church and take in. If this is all you are doing, then you need to make some changes.
In America, too many Christians are comfortable with their lives, their DVR’s, their remote control TV’s, their air conditioned cars, retirement funds, and their polished preachers. Our comfort is important to us. But, it can lure us into a casual relationship with God because all our earthly needs are met. Such casualness destroys the urgency–the intimacy of dependence upon God that excites and motivates the believer into action when God miraculously and continuously provides our needs. I also believe that many pastors are failing to do what the Bible says to do: equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). I suspect far too many pastors are more concerned about not offending their own congregations with the whole gospel than spreading its truth lest people go find another church to be comfortable in. Growing in Christ means to become mature and daily pick up your cross to follow Jesus. The pastor is not there to baby-sit Christians. He is not there to simply comfort them and to make them feel warm and cozy, nor is he there to reflect the current social trends and morays of the secular environment. He is there to equip the saints, to call them to repentance and holiness, to present God’s word, to train them up to be more like Jesus (Eph. 4:12), and to help them mature in Christ so that they can become a people of action as well as a people of love.
The gospel is not only about being born again but is also about picking up your cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23), about prayer, about supporting Christians who teach, about bearing one another’s burdens, about defending the faith, about standing up for righteousness, and much more. For too many Christians, picking up the cross and following Jesus is too much to ask. But it is, however, easy to drop a check in the offering plate and think that they’ve done their part as a Christian. This is nothing more than buying a way out of their responsibilities.
Is this too harsh?
If you think I am being too harsh, let me say that I know that there are many Christians who take their faith seriously, are learning and applying God’s word, and doing what they can to expand God’s kingdom whether it be by praying, tithing, witnesses, teaching, church work, or living godly lives. Likewise, I know that there are many pastors who labor to equip their congregations and who lovingly work to shepherd them with all sincerity and obedience to Christ. For you all, I praise God for His miraculous work in you.
Pastors have a huge job before them. They are to preach God’s word, teach the congregation, counsel, model godliness, and equip the saints. This is difficult to do, especially when secularism is slowly making inroads into the hearts and minds of Christians. Regarding moral issues, Christians, statistically, are in bad shape. According to Barna Research online, of those claiming to be born again, only 23% believe abortion should be illegal; 34% believe homosexuality is alright; 36% believe that a man and a woman living together is okay; 37% says profanity is acceptable; only 20% believe it is wrong to get drunk, etc. This is truly sad and dangerous. Oh sure, you may say they are not ‘real’ Christians. I hope you’re right. But, the statistics are real, and those who are truly born again should be out there fighting against abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., as well as praying for and seeking revival in Christian churches.
People are going to hell. The enemy is making converts to false gospels in the cults, false world religions, humanistic principles in schools, and moral relativism in society. Christians are not supposed to be keepers of the aquarium. They are supposed to be fishers of men. Christians are supposed to confront the world in a wise and loving fashion. This is what the Bible says to do; and to accomplish this, the Christians need a truly Christian Worldview with the desire to spread the gospel everywhere.
The Christian Church needs to wake Up!
Christianity is under an ever increasing attack. Here in America, laws are being passed to reduce and remove our religious freedoms. Prayer has been removed from schools, the 10 Commandments removed from courtrooms. Movies and TV routinely portray Christians as ignorant bigots. Universities constantly attack the absolutes of Christianity and some even promote Eastern Mysticism, witchcraft, relativism, and a homosexual agenda by having representatives of these lies come in and teach! Secular society as a whole is imposing its moral agenda upon all people, the church included, and it is working! Christians are starting to listen to the false teaching of a fallen world and recanting on biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, of Jesus being theonly way, of moral absolutes, and of their being a Day of Judgment with the unsaved going to hell. This is the sign of apostasy within the church!
Again, let me add that not all Christians are apathetic and worldly. There are many churches with godly pastors who are teaching all of God’s word. There are many churches out there with members who are learning God’s word, who are making converts, and who are standing up for righteousness. It is because of people like them that the gospel is spreading throughout the world. There are more Christians alive now than ever before. But, there are also more Muslims now than ever before–more Mormons, more Jehovah’s Witnesses, more atheists, etc., than ever before. Let’s not give up nor become discouraged. Let’s support one another in prayer. Let’s study to show ourselves approved to God. Let’s tithe properly. Let’s witness. Let’s take risks for Jesus. Let’s do what He asks of us.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB).
Three positions abound today on the question of whether Christ is the only way to salvation. All three can be detected by how each answers these two fundamental questions: First, Is Jesus the only Savior? More fully: Is the sinless life of Christ and his atoning death and resurrection the only means by which the penalty of sin is paid and the power of sin defeated? Second, Is faith in Christ necessary to be saved? More fully: Is conscious knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection for sin and explicit faith in Christ necessary for anyone to become a recipient of the benefits of Christ’s atoning work and so be saved?
Pluralism answers both questions, ‘No.’ The pluralist (e.g., John Hick) believes that there are many paths to God, Jesus being only one of them. Since salvation can come through other religions and religious leaders, it surely follows that people do not have to believe in Christ to be saved.
Inclusivism answers the first question, ‘Yes,’ and the second question, ‘No.’ To the inclusivist (e.g., Clark Pinnock), although Jesus has accomplished the work necessary to bring us back to God, nonetheless, people can be saved by responding positively to God’s revelation in creation and perhaps in aspects of their own religions. So, even though Christ is the only Savior, people do not have to know about or believe in Christ to be saved.
Exclusivism answers both questions, ‘Yes.’ The exclusivist (e.g., Ron Nash, John Piper, Bruce Ware) believes that Scripture affirms both truths, first, that Jesus alone has accomplished the atoning work necessary to save sinners, and second, that knowledge of and faith in Christ is necessary for anyone to be saved. The remainder of this article offers a brief summary of some of the main support for these two claims.
Jesus is the Only Savior
Why think that Jesus is the only Savior? Of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.
1. Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. Why does this matter? Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus’ conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. Christ must be both God and man to atone for sin (see below), but for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
2. Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:1; Philippians 2:5; 1 Timothy 2:5), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. Man he must be, but a mere man simply could not make this infinite payment for sin. But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
3. Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 2:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 9:13; 1 Peter 2:21), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. This prefigured the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. But no one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
4. Christ alone died a penal, substitutionary death (Isaiah 53:4; Romans 3:21; 2 Corinthians 2:21; Galatians 3:10), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And because Christ lived a sinless life, he did not deserve to die. Rather, the cause of his death was owing to the fact that the Father imputed to him our sin. The death that he died was in our place. No one else in the history of the world has died because he bore the sin of others and not as the judgment for his own sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
5. Christ alone rose from the dead triumphant over sin (Acts 2:22; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:16), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The Bible indicates that a few people, other than Christ, have been raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17; John 11:38), but only Christ has been raised from the dead never to die again, having triumphed over sin. The wages of sin is death, and the greatest power of sin is death. So, Christ’s resurrection from the dead demonstrates that his atoning death for sin accomplished both the full payment of sin’s penalty and full victory over sin’s greatest power. No one else in the history of the world has been raised from the dead triumphant over sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
Conclusion: Christ alone qualifies as Savior, and Christ alone is Savior. Jesus’ own words could not be clearer: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And the Apostle Peter confirms, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These claims are true of no one else in the history of the world. Indeed, Jesus alone is Savior.
Faith in Christ is Necessary to be Saved
Why think that faith in Christ is necessary to be saved? The teaching of the apostles is clear, that the content of the gospel now (since the coming of Christ) focuses directly upon the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, and that by faith in Christ one is forgiven of his sin and granted eternal life. Consider the following passages that support the conviction that people are saved only as they know and trust in Christ as their Savior.
1. Jesus’ own teaching shows that the nations need to hear and repent to be saved (Luke 24:44). Jesus commands that “repentance and forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The people Jesus here describes are currently both unrepentant and unforgiven. To be forgiven they must repent. But to repent they must hear the proclamation of Christ’s work in his name. And this is true for all the nations, including Jews who haven’t trusted Christ. Jesus does not envision the “nations” as already having saving revelation available to them. Rather, believers must proclaim the message of Christ to all the nations for people in those nations to be saved.
2. Paul teaches that even pious Jews, and everyone else, must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Romans 10:1). Paul’s heart’s desire and prayer is for the salvation of his fellow Jews. Even though they have a zeal for God, they do not know that God’s righteousness comes only through faith in Christ. So these Jews, even though pious, are not saved. Whoever will call upon the name of Christ (see Romans 10:9along with Romans 10:13) will be saved. But this requires that someone tell them. And this requires that those are sent. Missions, then, is necessary, since people must hear the gospel of Christ to be saved.
3. Cornelius’s story demonstrates that even pious Gentiles must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Acts 10:1, Acts 10:38; Acts 11:13; Acts 15:7). Far from being saved before Peter came to him, as some think, Cornelius was a pious (Acts 10:2) Gentile who needed to hear of Christ, and believe in Christ, to be saved. When Peter reports about the conversion of the Gentiles, he declares that only when he preached did Cornelius hear the message he needed to hear by which he would “be saved” (Acts 11:14; cf. Acts 15:8). Despite his piety, Cornelius needed to hear the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to be saved.
Conclusion: Jesus is the only Savior, and people must know and believe in Christ to be saved. May we honor Christ and the gospel, and manifest our faithfulness to God’s word, by upholding these twin truths and living in a manner that demonstrates our commitment to them.
In March of 2014, I began my visitation to three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:
It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.
Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”
Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”
Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).
You’ve seen the statistics. If you’re in ministry, you’ve probably witnessed the problem firsthand. The Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are leaving the church in droves, and staying away. Approximately 70 percent of those raised in the church disengage from it in their 20s. One-third of Americans under 30 now claim “no religion.”
There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S.—and approximately the same number of suggestions for how to bring them back to church. But most of the proposals I’ve heard fall into two camps.
The first goes something like this: The church needs to be more hip and relevant. Drop stodgy traditions. Play louder music. Hire pastors with tattoos and fauxhawks. Few come right out and advocate for this approach. But from pastoral search committees to denominational gatherings to popular conferences, a quest for relevance drives the agenda.
Others demand more fundamental change. They insist the church soften its positions on key doctrines and social issues. Our culture is secularizing. Let’s get with the times in order to attract the younger generation, they say. We must abandon supernatural beliefs and restrictive moral teachings. Christianity must “change or die.”
I think both approaches are flawed.
Chasing coolness won’t work. In my experience, churches that try to be cool end up with a pathetic facsimile of what was cool about 10 years ago. And if you’ve got a congregation of businessmen and soccer moms, donning a hip veneer will only make you laughable to the younger generation.
The second tack is worse. Not only will we end up compromising core beliefs, we will shrink our churches as well. The advocates of this approach seem to have missed what happened to mainline liberal churches over the last few decades. Adopting liberal theologies and culturally acceptable beliefs has drastically reduced their numbers while more theologically conservative churches grew.
There is no one silver bullet for bringing Millennials back to church. But here are a few actions to help us reach the next generation more effectively.
Adopt a Different Tone
As the culture has grown more secular, many Christians have struggled to adjust. The church once had pride of place in North American society. Now it seems we’re increasingly getting pushed to the margins. Christian morality is no longer assumed and our beliefs are suddenly considered strange.
This loss of cultural capital has caused many to shout louder in hopes of regaining influence. But adopting a shrill, combative tone only exacerbates the problem. It’s the surest way to alienate outsiders, especially Millennials. Author and historian John Dickson urges Christians to move from a posture of “admonition to mission.” Dickson lives in Australia, a decidedly post-Christian country. In our increasingly secular culture, it’s a lesson we need to take to heart. Let’s stop being shocked when our unbelieving neighbors fail to act like Christians and take a more winsome tone when we communicate the gospel.
Foster Intergenerational Relationships
I’ve read virtually all of the books on Millennials and the church, and I’ve adopted my own thoughts about Generation Ex (Read Generation Ex -Christians by Drew Dyck). If there’s one lesson to take away from this corpus of literature, it’s this: inter-generational relationships are crucial. The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
We’re surprised when even our most ardent young people walk away, but we shouldn’t be. If they didn’t have relationships with older Christians in the congregation, in all likelihood, they’re gone. When they age out of youth group, they age out of the church. Churches must find ways to pair older Christians with teens and to engage Millennials outside the church (many of whom are starving for mentors). This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve seen my own kids abandon their faith and cultural teaching to the point of going to prison for life and living contrary life styles. My going to prison and losing their respect I feel contributed to their posture now, but I am going to worship and believe God for their return.
The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
Present a Bigger God
Many evangelical churches present a one-sided vision of God. We love talking about God’s love, but not his holiness. We stress his immanence, but not his transcendence. How does this affect Millennials? I like the way Millennial blogger Stephen Altrogge puts it in Untamable God.
Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?
Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well.
I’ll be talking more on this topic at http://www.yelp.com/biz/world-conquerors-church-oakland on Febuary 20th-22. Pray for our travel and a deeper dive into how churches can convey a compelling vision of God for Millennials, as well as the whole congregation.
In an attempt to improve ourselves and our calling to perform ministry May & I have embarked upon volunteering three days a week at a local church/substance abuse center. We are also performing phase 2 of peer-counseling to enhance our adapting skills to the mission we have been called to perform in our community. Association with many groups has opened our eyes to Social Psychology and how it is used to fashion and shape peoples behavior.
We have ceased to think theologically about the ministry. Instead, we characterize it almost exclusively in functional or institutional terms. There are at least two reasons for this shift in emphasis. On the one hand there are the new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures, and on the other the requests of parishioners, the denominational programs, and the culture of the local community.
How is it that so many people started saying “Awesome!”, or started wearing Uggs?
These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice.
Psychologists are studying how social norms, the often-unspoken rules of a group, shape not just our behavior but also our attitudes. Social norms influence even those preferences considered private, such as what music we like or what policies we support or even what beliefs we entertain as it relates to denominational choices of churchs. Interventions that take advantage of already-existing group pressures, the thinking goes, should be able to shift attitudes and change behaviors at less cost in effort and resources.
Norms serve a basic human social function, helping us distinguish who is in the group and who is an outsider. Behaving in ways the group considers appropriate is a way of demonstrating to others, and to oneself, that one belongs to the group.
But surprisingly little is known about how attitudinal norms are established in groups. Why do some people in a group become trendsetters when it comes to ideas and objects?
“The questions are among the most challenging” in the field, said H. Peyton Young, a professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Dr. Young studies how norms influence economic behavior. “It’s definitely a big open research area where there’s a certain amount of dispute.”
One question is whether there is always a leader that sets or changes the norm, or whether norm change occurs organically over time, even in the absence of a strong leader.
What is Christian Counseling?
Christian counseling focuses on intertwining the disciplines of faith and psychology to provide an approach to mental and emotional health that pulls from biblical teachings. Practitioners of this style of counseling incorporate religious scripture and teachings to guide you through challenging life issues. When facing turbulent life events, incorporating and strengthening your faith may be the missing piece in finding proper treatment.
Origins of Christian Counseling
Rooted deep within biblical accounts, this form of therapy places an emphasis on fundamental values and beliefs that comprise the framework of modern Christianity. Ministers, Reverends, and other religious figures must seek licensed training and accreditation to provide this service to you, much like a secular clinician. In 1968, Christian counselors officially formed the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation to provide a model for current and future counselors. These counselors are bound not only to religious code, but secular standards of ethical practice as well.
Social psychology is “the study of the ways in which the imagined, implied or actual presence of others affects our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As an African American growing up in Washington D.C. (at the time one of most diverse cities in America), My first brush with social psychology was on my neighborhood streets. “On my block alone, there were nine different nationalities represented. “I was used to growing up with all sorts of different kids, dealing with cultural conflicts, celebrating everyone’s different holidays and special occasions—that was the norm for me.”
When I was in third grade, My mom took us to a multiethnic church comprising four equally proportioned groups: African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and whites. There, I listened to songs and prayers in languages far beyond English. We also had racial slurs hurled at us in a local church’s Vacation Bible School. These and other experiences piqued my interest early on about fundamental questions of social psychology, such as, “Why don’t groups get along?” and “Why do they perceive each other inaccurately?”
Much has been written about various aspects of pastoral theology, but there is a remarkable scarcity of literature that explores the theological issues that lie behind it. The doyen of modern pastoral methods, Seward Hiltner, has said:
Most American ministers—scholars though they may be—are functionalists at heart… . We think and feel or work our way into even the most recondite of theoretical matters only by first exploring them in relation to our functions of ministry.
Much of modern pastoral psychology is an abandonment to this American pragmatism. It is an aping of American scholarship as it demonstrates its pragmatic motivation. There seems to be a disdain for a careful study of the biblical view of the ministry.
Such is the minister’s dilemma. He is faced on the one hand with the traditional biblical definitions (though often poorly developed and frequently caricatured) and on the other with the set of functional expectations by which his service is judged. In addition he is strongly influenced by the attractiveness of new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures. Therefore he faces basic ambiguities in performing his task.
The minister serving in today’s secular culture is also confronted with an eroded image of the pastor. He is no longer the most educated man in the community or the one who elicits the mental image of a paragon of virtue. One is more likely to think about Elmer Gantry(Elmer Gantry is a novel written by Sinclair Lewis in 1926 that satirically represents aspects of the religious activity of America within fundamentalist and evangelistic circles and the attitudes of the 1920s public toward it) or to recognize that a recent Gallup poll showed that only eight percent of the population recommended the role of the clergyman as the preferred profession, far behind the doctor, engineer-builder.
Today , May and I are diligently looking for the reconciling benefits of social psychology, working with groups to raise our awareness of their social mis-perceptions and bringing conflicting groups together to find ways to collaborate. We are reading( Disunity in Christ) Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, is helping churches and faith-based groups transcend deep-seated divisions. it explores how social psychology reveals fragmentation in the body of Christ. Filled with many personal stories, the book highlights, among other things, how differences become divisions, and how the prevailing marketing culture feeds unhealthy competition between groups.
“The cognitive processes that drive categorization are most powerful when they are hidden from sight we have found this to be true within various church communities we frequent. “Once individuals become consciously aware of these processes . . . the processes begin to lose their power.” May and I had the opportunity to witness another facet of cognitive processes helping groups to recognize those assumptions. It was practiced while working with a Young Life group in a, low-income, mostly African American neighborhood in Riverside Ca., after noticing the divisive ways that the group (8 to 10 African American girls) talked about Somali girls at their school. The facilitator began asking the girls questions that helped them see their assumptions. “When you give people the opportunity to see how others misperceive them, “it makes them more interested in seeing how they misperceive others.”
More Than ‘Unity Events’
As May and I launched our campaign to perform outreach we scheduled several meetings to obtain buy in from various denominations. The joint venture began well, we had gained support to utilize one pastors 501c3 to obtain the needed resources and another pastor support to allow us the use of his church to process the recipients. “The joint venture began well but soon ended quite poorly, leaving behind a trail of distrust, negative emotions, and bruised egos.”
We shifted our focus of work with the pastors to explore what happened:
After hearing each pastor’s side of the story, it became clear to me that . . . each pastor had very different ideals about what a leader does and does not do, and each pastor projected his ideals onto the other pastor and negatively evaluated him based on criteria that pertained to those ideals. Essentially, each pastor gave the other a failing grade on leadership because they had very different criteria for evaluating leadership.
By working with us, the pastors uncovered their differing concepts of leadership and how that had led to misunderstanding and failed collaboration.
These are the ten books we plan to read along with an intense daily devotional for 2015.
Cleveland’s work awakens us to the language we use, particularly the ways in which we draw boundaries between us and them. “We must take active steps to expand our category of us, “so that they are now included in us. We’ve learned that the mere act of categorizing Christian groups into smaller, homogeneous groups leads us to devalue, misperceive, and distance ourselves from them.”
Once a divide goes up between groups, they tend to exaggerate each other’s differences—and cause further division in the body of Christ. Churches, “tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Christianity has been turned into a marketplace in which you can make money off your brand.” Pastors and churches are pressured to distinguish themselves from others, as we compete for the loyalty of members and seemingly scarce resources. We need a theology, deeply rooted in our essential unity in Christ that acts and speaks accordingly, seeking commonality and emphasizing shared characteristics between groups.
Instead of deepening the chasms between groups, we need sustained conversation. I would like to go one one step further, noting that one-time cross-cultural unity events are “not the way to go.” Although well-intentioned, such events tend to squeeze minority groups into the majority culture. Rather, healing and witness to unity in Christ comes from the long, messy work of naming issues of power and privilege. What we need are “long-term, ongoing partnerships that are proximal and mutually engaging.”
Alongside sustained conversations, we need ministries on which our groups can collaborate. I recall how many churches in Washington D.C. ran VBS programs with the exact same curriculum at different times. “It’s our empire approach to doing church,” that fuels such redundant behavior. I also maintain that it’s better for a church to pick a single church of a differing social group (race, ethnicity, or even political inclination) and to deeply partner with that church rather than to host sporadic events with many churches. My experience has shown that churches who immerse themselves in this kind of cross-cultural partnerships never regret it. “Yes, it’s hard,” “but it’s so much richer.”
The call to follow Jesus, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us, is a costly one. The way of Christ is undoubtedly difficult as we lose ourselves, but as we follow in it, we find the abundant shared riches of God’s kingdom. Cleveland’s work rouses us from the patterns of speech and action that we mindlessly fall into within the confines of a homogenous social group. It points us toward healing: the healing of the church, the healing of our neighborhoods, and ultimately the healing of our own fragmented souls. May we have the courage to follow her lead.