Category Archives: Forgiveness

Let America Be America Again Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

 

Simply Sharing Jesus

Before He ascended to Heaven, Jesus gave His followers a basic command for what to do next. These words have served as “marching orders” for generations of Christians: 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:19–20 NKJV).

Many of us have taken these simple instructions, known as the Great Commission, and overcomplicated them. We’ve made sharing our faith an intimidating and daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be.

Whether you regularly share your faith with others or have always found reasons not to, this course is designed to get back to basics and ultimately help you simply share Jesus.

LAYING the GROUNDWORK

Maybe you’re afraid to share your faith because you don’t know what to say. Or maybe you’re sharing the Gospel, but you aren’t seeing any results; people aren’t committing their lives to Christ. Are you wondering if you’re doing something wrong?

Know your role

Remember this: You can’t open someone’s heart to the Gospel—only God can, by His Spirit. Our job isn’t to save people. It’s simply to point them to the Truth and let God do the rest.

The Apostle Paul wasn’t eloquent, but God used him because he depended on the Holy Spirit for guidance (see 1 Corinthians 2:1–5). God guided many others in the Bible who felt unqualified, like Moses and Jonah. Often, God does not call the equipped; He equips the called. As Christians, we are all called to share what Christ has done for us. The Great Commission makes that clear. The good news is that we don’t go into it alone. We have this encouragement from Jesus: 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11–12 English Standard Version (ESV)).

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 New King James Version (NKJV)

Christ Crucified

2 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the [a]testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of [b]human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Footnotes:

    1. 1 Corinthians 2:1 NU mystery
    2. 1 Corinthians 2:4 NU omits human

Know your opportunity

So who should you share this message of hope with? God has placed you in a unique position—your very own mission field! Have you ever heard the expression “Bloom where you’re planted”? That’s what God wants us to do with the Gospel—make the most of our circumstances and reflect His love to everyone around us. You don’t have to be a pastor or missionary to tell people about Jesus, either; just think of all the people around you in need of hope.

Keep your eyes open for people you can talk to and listen for ways you can connect the conversation to Christ. Catch up with a family member by phone or text. Use social media to encourage a friend. Let a co-worker know you are praying for him or her. Take dinner to a neighbor in need. Ask a cashier how his or her day is going and really listen. Be intentional about forming relationships with people around you.

Know your audience

As you share with people, remember who you’re talking to and use language they will understand. The words and phrases you often hear in church might seem like a foreign language to a non-Christian. Avoid clichés and stick with phrases you can explain using Bible verses. Try to keep it simple.

Your friends or loved ones may not tell you they don’t understand, so look for visual clues that say they’re confused. Feel free to ask if they understand what you’re saying.

WHAT do I DO?

Live a godly life.

The Bible teaches that we should “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” (1 Peter 3:15 NKJV). People seldom come to faith in Christ through arguments and debates. Instead, they are often won by discovering who Jesus Christ really is and the difference He can make in their lives.

One of the best ways to share your faith and point others to Jesus is to live a godly life. Show those close to you that you care—spend time with them, help meet their needs, and offer to listen when they have problems. You might not be able to answer all of their questions, but they can’t deny the reality of what Christ has done in your life. If you find this is hard to do, perhaps God is speaking to you about your own need to walk more closely with Him every day.

Also, make a habit of reading the Bible, praying, and going to church. These things should be done not for attention or for the sake of doing them, but to help you grow in your own faith. Your passion for Christ will help others see that there’s something different about you, and they’ll want to know what it is. You can also reflect Christ through kind words, patience, a gentle temperament, love, and respect. You can be evidence of God’s love to those around you.

Pray for open hearts and open doors.

The most important part of sharing your faith is to pray for those you interact with. If you can’t think of anyone who isn’t a Christian, pray for God to place someone in your life who needs Him. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer. As Billy Graham once said, “Prayer is crucial in evangelism: … No matter how logical our arguments or how fervent our appeals, our words will accomplish nothing unless God’s Spirit prepares the way.” Pray for the opportunity to share, the words to speak, and open hearts for those who hear.

Speak.

Living a godly life is essential for sharing our faith. But people need to hear the Gospel—to hear that God loves them, Christ died for them, and they can have eternal life.

Romans 10:13-14 New King James Version (NKJV)

13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Israel Rejects the Gospel

14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

When you share the Gospel, be ready to also share true stories of God’s power in your own life. No matter how ordinary your life may seem, you have a story to tell, and you never know what it can mean to someone until you share it. Jesus often talked in parables so people could better grasp God’s plans, instructions, and power. In the same way, you can use personal experiences and stories to relate to others and tell them about Christ.

Keep in mind that you may only have a few minutes. Try writing down your story—and focus on a few key points. Then practice telling it so it comes naturally. These questions may help you narrow telling it so it comes naturally. These questions may help you narrow your story down to three minutes or so:

• What was life like before you accepted Christ?

• How did you receive Christ?

What did you hear? How did you respond? Why did you choose to put your trust in Christ? Try to mention a Bible verse or two but be careful not to overwhelm your listener.

• How has life changed since you accepted Christ?

It’s OK if you stumbled or struggled in the past; in fact, your walk with Christ won’t be free from setbacks until you see Him face-to-face in heaven. The important thing is to be honest and relatable. Scripture is filled with stories of God’s people who stumbled along the way, and He still used them in powerful ways.

The GOSPEL in 4 SIMPLE STEPS

The Gospel itself isn’t complicated. When you are explaining the facts, it may help to draw it on paper for your friend. On the top of your page, draw a graphic of God on one side of a chasm and us on the other. As you draw, share Bible verses that explain how the separation took place. Show how the cross bridges the chasm between God and us and how we can cross the bridge through faith in Christ. Talk to your friend about these four simple truths:

1. God’s plan—peace and life.

God loves you and wants you to experience the peace and life He offers. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NKJV). He has a plan for you.

2. Our problem—separation from God.                        

By nature, we are all separated from God. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV). He is holy, but we are human and don’t measure up to His perfect standard. We are sinful, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NKJV).

3. God’s remedy—the cross.

God’s love bridges the separation between you and Him. When Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave, He paid the penalty for your sins. The Bible says, “‘He himself bore our sins’ in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by His wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24, NIV).

4. Our response—receive Christ.

You cross the bridge into God’s family when you accept Christ’s free gift of salvation. The Bible says, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 English Standard Version (ESV)).

To receive Christ, a person needs to do four things:

  • Admit that you are a sinner and you need the Savior.
  • Be willing to turn from your sins, and ask God to forgive you.
  • Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross and rose from the grave.
  • Invite Jesus Christ to come in and control your life through the Holy Spirit. Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (New International Version (NIV))

Here’s a prayer you can pray to receive Christ:

Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe He died for my sins and that You raised Him to life. I want Him to come into my heart and to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

FOLLOW-UP

If your friend sincerely prays, he or she now has a new life in Jesus Christ! You will want to share some Bible verses (such as 1 John 5:12–13) to give your friend assurance of his or her new standing before God.

1 John 5:12-13 New King James Version (NKJV)

12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

Finally, when you help a person in coming to faith in Christ, remember that this individual is a spiritual baby (1 Peter 2:2). In order to grow, an infant needs nurture and care. The same is true spiritually; encourage your friend to begin to read the Bible and pray regularly. Help him or her find a Bible-teaching church in order to have fellowship with other believers in Christ and continue to grow.

1 Peter 2:1-3 New King James Version (NKJV)

Our Inheritance Through Christ’s Blood

2 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow [a]thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

Footnotes:

    1. 1 Peter 2:2 NU adds up to salvation

The Salvation Poem

Jesus, You died upon a cross
And rose again to save the lost
Forgive me now of all my sin
Come be my Savior, Lord, and Friend
Change my life and make it new
And help me, Lord, to live for You

HO, HO, HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Or is It?

Nigeria - Left for DeadNigeria: Left for Dead
8 May 2015
Shot in the face and left for dead for refusing to deny Christ, Habila has made an incredible recovery. His love for his attackers is no less extraordinary. ‘My prayer is that they will know the truth and be saved,’ he says. ‘I love them.’

 

Below you are about to experience the truth concerning Christian persecution and martyrdom around the world including here in the U.S. This is not fiction, but fact from an organization that has supported martyrs and families of martyrs for almost 5 decades.

Voice of the Martyrs Australia was founded in 1969 and is part of a global partnership of independent missions started through the influence of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand.

Richard Wurmbrand was imprisoned and tortured by communist authorities in his native Romania for 14 years, including three years in solitary confinement. He envisioned a ministry that would focus on the persecuted church, raise a voice on its behalf and provide encouragement and assistance to persecuted Christians.

In 1967, Richard wrote Tortured for Christ, a firsthand account of the brutality he and other Christians suffered under communism. It opened the eyes and hearts of Christians in Western countries who had never heard of the terrible persecution happening to believers living in communist nations. He wrote:

“The message I bring from the underground church is:
‘Don’t abandon us! Don’t forget us! Don’t write us off!
Give us the tools we need! We will pay the price for using them!’”

Richard’s call to ‘remember the persecuted’ led to the establishment of an international ministry to persecuted Christians.

Voice of the Martyrs

Voice of the Martyrs

Throughout the world today, millions of Christians are experiencing persecution for the sake of Christ. Pastors are imprisoned or killed for proclaiming the Gospel in their churches and villages. Young people flee for their lives when their families discover they have converted to Christianity. Believers are beaten, tortured, pursued.

They are falsely accused, threatened, abused, starved, maimed and harassed.

Their homes and churches are burnt down, their Bibles and Christian material confiscated, and their businesses destroyed.

They are expelled from school and college, fired from their jobs, treated as criminals and rebels, forbidden to evangelize, and forced to meet and worship in secret.

What is Christian Persecution?

Wherever Christians go, they experience opposition. But in certain countries, this persecution is particularly severe.

Government policy or practice in some nations prevents Christians from obtaining Bibles and meeting together. Anti-Christian laws lead to harassment or imprisonment of believers for their witness.

Christians in other areas are routinely persecuted by family, neighbours or rebel groups despite the protection the government provides.

In countries such as Colombia and Nigeria, civil wars and other conflicts result in Christians facing opposition for their faith.

Hinduism
Majority-Hindu nations enforce anti-conversion laws, attempting to force new Christians to revert to Hinduism. Evangelists who supposedly perform forced conversions to Christianity are prosecuted. Political groups wanting to establish a purely Hindu nation, such as in India or Nepal, sometimes use violent tactics to try to eradicate Christians from the area.

Communism
Communist governments want control. But they can’t control the rapid growth of Christianity in countries like Vietnam and China. Government restrictions make Christian life and ministry very difficult. Pastors and leaders are arrested, interrogated and imprisoned in an attempt to stop the Church.

Islam
According to more radical streams of Islam, apostasy (rejecting your religion) is a crime that demands the death penalty. When a Muslim converts from Islam to Christianity, they bring shame on their family. They are abandoning their heritage, their very identity. Muslim background believers often face harsh opposition from the government, their family and friends.

The Real Reason for Persecution

Persecution should not surprise us. Jesus tells us that persecution from the world is part of what it means to follow Him.

Jesus says: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. John 15:18, 20.

Paul writes to Timothy that “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12.

Just as Jesus went to the cross, He said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny
himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:34-35.

Christians in more hostile nations may live far from us, but as believers we know that we are one with them in Christ’s body. We cannot ignore their suffering. Voice of the Martyrs works to help, love and encourage persecuted Christians in partnership with the church in Australia.

Why are Christians persecuted?

Wherever Christians go, they experience opposition. But in certain countries, this persecution is particularly severe.

Government policy or practice in some nations prevents Christians from obtaining Bibles and meeting together. Anti-Christian laws lead to harassment or imprisonment of believers for their witness.

Christians in other areas are routinely persecuted by family, neighbours or rebel groups despite the protection the government provides.

In countries such as Colombia and Nigeria, civil wars and other conflicts result in Christians facing opposition for their faith.

Hinduism
Majority-Hindu nations enforce anti-conversion laws, attempting to force new Christians to revert to Hinduism. Evangelists who supposedly perform forced conversions to Christianity are prosecuted. Political groups wanting to establish a purely Hindu nation, such as in India or Nepal, sometimes use violent tactics to try to eradicate Christians from the area.

Communism
Communist governments want control. But they can’t control the rapid growth of Christianity in countries like Vietnam and China. Government restrictions make Christian life and ministry very difficult. Pastors and leaders are arrested, interrogated and imprisoned in an attempt to stop the Church.

Islam
According to more radical streams of Islam, apostasy (rejecting your religion) is a crime that demands the death penalty. When a Muslim converts from Islam to Christianity, they bring shame on their family. They are abandoning their heritage, their very identity. Muslim background believers often face harsh opposition from the government, their family and friends.

The Real Reason for Persecution

Persecution should not surprise us. Jesus tells us that persecution from the world is part of what it means to follow Him.

Jesus says: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. John 15:18, 20.

Paul writes to Timothy that “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12.

Just as Jesus went to the cross, He said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:34-35.

Christians in more hostile nations may live far from us, but as believers we know that we are one with them in Christ’s body. We cannot ignore their suffering. Voice of the Martyrs works to help, love and encourage persecuted Christians in partnership with the church in Australia.

GET INVOLVED

“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also” Hebrews 13:3.

The Lord’s command to remember those in prison is more than mental recollection – it is a call to prayer and action.

FIVE MAIN AIMS

Our Voice of the Martyrs ministry is based on Hebrews 13:3

1. To encourage and empower Christians to fulfil the Great Commission in areas of the world where they are persecuted for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. To provide practical relief and spiritual support to the families of Christian martyrs.
3. To equip persecuted Christians to love and win to Christ those who are opposed to the Gospel in their part of the world.
4. To undertake projects of encouragement, helping believers rebuild their lives and Christian witness in countries where they have formerly suffered oppression.
5. To promote the fellowship of all believers by informing the world of the faith and courage of persecuted Christians, thereby inspiring believers to a deeper level of commitment to Christ and involvement in His Great Commission.

For further information, contact VOM at or go to their website at: https://vom.com.au/

Contact Voice of the Martyrs Australia

Voice of the Martyrs Australia
PO Box 250
Lawson NSW 2783
p: 02 4759 7000
e: info@vom.com.au

In partnership with Christians throughout Australia, Voice of the Martyrs is working to meet the spiritual and material needs of persecuted Christians.

Get involved with us! Find out how you can keep informed, pray, and write to Christian prisoners in this section.

Subscribe Prayer Write to Prisoners Videos Invite a Speaker Volunteer Donate

Voice of the Martyrs

Who Needs God With Andy Stanley

Who Needs God Episode 1: “Atheist 2.0”

INTRODUCTION

Americans are migrating away from religion, particularly Christianity, at an unprecedented rate. Once upon a time, Americans believed religion offered solutions. Today, religion is viewed by many as the problem.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What kind of faith or religion was a part of your upbringing, if any? What has been your experience as an adult with what you were taught as a child to embrace?
  2. Do you agree with the idea that when we move away from something, we are in essence moving toward something else? If so, when it comes to faith, what do you feel  you are moving away from? And as a result, what do you feel you are moving toward?
  3. Andy stated that just because something is unsettling doesn’t mean it isn’t true. What about Christianity unsettles you the most? What about atheism unsettles you the  most?
  4. Do you believe the process of walking away from faith or religion is more personal or more intellectual? Explain.

BOTTOM LINE

Walking away from something moves us in the direction of something else.

Who Needs God Episode 2: “Gods of the No Testament”

INTRODUCTION

Typically, people who don’t believe in God don’t believe in a particular version of God. But what if they have the wrong version? What if you have the wrong version? If you’ve walked away from faith or religion, it could be that your version of god never existed in the first place.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Where did your view of God originate?
  2. Did you inherit any of the following “growing up gods”? If so, which one(s)?

        Bodyguard god: prevents bad things from happening

On-demand god: honors fair and selfless requests

Boyfriend god: makes its presence known

Guilt god: controls through guilt and fear

Anti-science god: forces trade of the undeniable for the unreliable

Gap god: becomes the explanation for the unexplainable

  1. If at any point in life you decided to walk away from faith or religion, would you say that any of these “growing up gods” contributed to that decision?
  2. To what extent do you associate religion with guilt?
  3. During this episode, Andy said the choice between God and science is a false alternative and that, “If everything were explained and explainable, it would not explain away God.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

BOTTOM LINE

Walking away from a god that never existed doesn’t mean there isn’t one that does.

Who Needs God Episode 3: “The Bible Told Me So”

INTRODUCTION

If the Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith, then as the Bible goes, so goes the legitimacy of Christianity. But what if the Bible shouldn’t hold that much weight in the debate? In this episode, Andy explains that Christianity doesn’t exist because of the Bible any more than you exist because of your birth certificate.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. In the stories you’ve heard from others about their decision to walk away from Christianity, or perhaps in your own story, what have been the reasons? Do any of those reasons  stem from what they’ve been told is true about God or the Bible?
  2. Describe one question or concern you have about something you’ve read or heard about in the Bible. Do you believe it must be resolved in order to further consider Christianity?
  3. How do you think 1st, 2nd, and 3rd century Christians managed to endure significant hardship and effect change in the political landscape of their time without access to a  Bible? What do you think inspired or compelled them forward?
  4. If debates about Christianity no longer centered around Is the Bible true? but shifted to Who is Jesus?, how might the conversation change?

BOTTOM LINE

Christianity doesn’t exist because of the Bible; Christianity exists because of something that happened.

Who Needs God Episode 4: “The God of Jesus”

INTRODUCTION

It’s easy to get caught between doubt and despair when we’ve always assumed God to be bodyguard god, on-demand god, guilt god, etc. If God has lost his appeal because we’ve mixed him up with a gaggle of gods that don’t exist, then how can we know what God is really like?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What is your reaction to the conclusion that Christianity isn’t rooted in blind faith, but in observable evidence? Do you agree with Andy that Christianity never would have made it out of the first century otherwise?
  2. Given the evidence for the viability of Christianity as it’s been presented so far in the series, do you think what Jesus had to say about the nature of God is worth considering?
  3. God is Spirit. In your opinion, is it plausible that God as “spaceless, timeless, and immaterial” could be the “first cause” that science is looking for?
  4. God is Father. Is it difficult for you to view God as a perfect father? Why or why not? What is one thing in your life that could change if God became that personal to you?
  5. God is Love. Much like in Andy’s analogy of shade requiring sun in order to exist, do you agree that evil requires good? If so, does that help to explain how God, in his essence,  could be love, despite the existence of evil in the world? What are the holes in that  idea?

BOTTOM LINE

The God of Jesus is Spirit. The God of Jesus is Father. The God of Jesus is Love.

Who Needs God Episode 5: “In-Justice For All”

INTRODUCTION

We all want to rid the world of injustice. But we can only recognize injustice if we know what justice is to begin with. We don’t always agree about what is just. So, who gets to define justice?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. When have you seen injustice in your world? How did it influence the way you see God?
  2. Do you believe there is an objective standard of “dignity and justice for all”? If so, where do you believe it came from? Do you think it varies from one culture or society to the next?
  3. During the message, Andy said, “When we reject God because of injustice, we don’t solve injustice. We lose the definition.” Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  4. Is it easier to regard pain and suffering in the world as an argument against the existence of God or as a reminder of our need for God? Explain.
  5. Does it make sense why God provided a way to save humanity from its shortcomings instead of choosing to judge humanity for them? Are you glad that God went that route? Why or  why not?

BOTTOM LINE

When we reject God because of injustice in the world, we don’t solve injustice. We lose the definition.

Who Needs God Episode 6: “I Do”

INTRODUCTION

We all want to be masters of our own destinies. We all want to feel in control of our lives. The idea of autonomy is attractive; it makes life feel ordered and predictable. One of the biggest barriers to belief in God’s existence is that we don’t want to need God. But what if autonomy is an illusion?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Talk about a time when you admitted you were wrong about something. How difficult was it for you to change your mind? What happened to cause that change?
  2. “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” Be honest with yourself: how does this quote by Blaise Pascal  apply to your belief in or rejection of the existence of God?
  3. Assume for a moment that God does exist. What is your reaction to that notion, and how does it make you feel? As Andy describes in the episode, can you relate to feeling guilty,  accountable, or wrong?
  4. If unaccountable people make regretful decisions, to whom would you say you are ultimately accountable?
  5. What if the existence of God brings forgiveness, relationship, and truth? What is attractive or unattractive about each of those ideas?

BOTTOM LINE

Humility makes us wiser, smarter, and open to growth. Humility is the way forward.

The Way of the Cross

14-Carl-Heinrich-Bloch_The-Burial-of-Christ

“We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

We brought Jesus’ body to a tomb
and I arranged it there myself,
silently weeping, silently rejoicing.
I took one more look at my loving son,                and then walked out.
They closed the tomb
and before I left, I thought,
I knew this had to be…
it had to be for you!
I would wait in faith silently.

Yes, my Lord,
this had to be
because you loved me, and for no other reason.
All you ask is that I live a good life.
You never said such a life would be easy.
I am willing to leave sin behind
and live for you alone,
in my brothers and sisters.

___________________________________

At the cross her station keeping,                                                                                                stood the mournful mother weeping,                                                                                        Close to Jesus to the last.                                                                                                        Through her heart, is sorrow sharing,                                                                                           all His bitter anguish bearing.                                                                                                    Now at length the sword has passed.

The First Station:

 Jesus is condemned to death

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 14 Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And Pilate said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

15 But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with HimCrucify Him!”                            Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”                                                                       The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”

16 Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away.

John 19:14-16 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: Since we left the Garden last night, I’ve been accused by the scribes and elders. I’ve been brought before the High Priest in an illegal trial. I’ve been dragged to Herod’s palace. I’ve been mocked and spat upon by the soldiers. They want Me to die. Pilate had asked what to do with their king and the crowd answered ‘Crucify Him!’

Reader 2: Christ suffered for me. He gave me an example to follow, so I should do as He did. He did not sin, He never lied, people teased Him but He did not tease them in return.

Prayer: My Jesus, it was not Pilate, but my sins that condemned You to die. Help me to accept my own death at the time and in whatever way it comes.

O, how sad and sore distressed                                                                                                     was that mother, highly blessed,                                                                                                    of the sole Begotten One.

The Second Station:

Jesus takes up His cross.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 16 Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. The King on a Cross

17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha,

John 19:16-17 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: When he brought Me in front of the crowd, Pilate said: ‘Ecce Homo!’: ‘Look what you have done to this Man!’ But there seems to be another voice speaking as well. The voice seems to say: ‘Look what you have done to this man, to your God.’

Reader 2: Christ carried my sins in His body on the cross. He did this so that I might stop living for sin, and do what is right. I am healed because of His wounds.

Prayer: My beloved Jesus, I thank you for all the things You have planned for me until my death, even those things that will be hard for me. The road is narrow, but I know it leads to heaven and I know You will be with me, as You promised, until the end of time.

Christ above in torment hangs.                                                                                                     She beneath beholds the pangs                                                                                                       of her dying, glorious Son.

The Third Station:

Jesus falls the first time.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 51 And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.

52 But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”

Matthew 26:51-54 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: The cross beam is so heavy and painful. Am I so weak from the beatings I received, or is the burden too heavy for me to bear? As I stumble beneath its weight, do you think I might feel an urge to call out to you for help? But I do not call for help, because God’s love for humanity commanded this sacrifice. I obey Him because I, too, love you so dearly.

Reader 2: When I am punished for doing wrong, there is no reason to praise me for bearing the punishment. If  I suffer for doing good, and I am patient, that pleases God.

Prayer: My beloved Jesus, not the weight of the cross, but my sins made You suffer so much pain. And Your love for me gives You the strength to go on.

Is there one who would not weep,                                                                                    ‘whelmed in miseries so deep                                                                                                 Christ’s dear Mother to behold.

The Fourth Station:

Jesus meets His mother.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:34-35 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: I meet My mother along the way of the cross. I can tell from the look in her eyes that My cross has become her cross. My humiliation becomes her humiliation. Perhaps she remembers the words of Simeon when I was dedicated in the Temple according to the Law.

Reader 2: I see Mary in the midst of the Passion. She was closest to Jesus on earth. How often she must have gone over the events of His life in her thoughts. She felt what Jesus was feeling more than anyone else. It must have been like she was crucified with Him. How much she loves Jesus, and how much she must also love us to observe His pain and torment without protest. I look to her for help to grow closer to Jesus.

Prayer: My most loving Jesus, by the sorrow You experienced in this meeting, grant me the grace of a truly devoted love for Your most holy mother. Allow me to see You through her eyes of love.

Can the human heart refrain                                                                                                      from partaking in her pain–                                                                                                             in that mother’s pain untold?

The Fifth Station:

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 21 Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.

Mark 15:21 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: I am getting weaker and weaker, so Simon of Cyrene is pulled out of the crowd to help carry the cross because the soldiers were afraid I would not make it to Calvary. In the confusion, Simon of Cyrene appears at My side as if it were you.

Reader 2: When I see someone who needs help, even if I don’t know them, let me think about what Simon did. His family was rewarded because of what he did. His sons, Rufus and Alexander, knew what their father had done and they believed in Jesus. Later they became leaders in the church.

Prayer: My beloved Jesus, I will not refuse my cross. I will take it and thank You. Give me the strength and compassion to help others in their time of need and bring them to know about Your mercy.

Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,                                                                                                  she beheld her tender Child                                                                                                             all with bloody scourges rent.

The Sixth Station:

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink;I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: The steep, narrow streets are hot and dusty. The dust kicked up from the street gets in My eyes and nose. I can taste the dirt. But I keep going. A lady pushes past the soldiers and wipes My face with a cold wet towel.

Reader 2: There are times when I am afraid to reach out to others. I do nothing when I should act. I say nothing when I should speak. I need deeper and more courageous faith to trust that God is with me. In fact, Jesus leaves His image on every single act of love like He did for Veronica.

Prayer: My dear Jesus, Your face was lovely before You began this journey, but it no longer appears beautiful just as the beauty of my soul is soiled by my sins.

For the sins of His own nation                                                                                                      saw Him hang in desolation                                                                                                            till His Spirit forth He sent.

The Seventh Station:

Jesus falls the second time.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

Luke 23:35-37 New King James Version (NKJV)

All those who see Me ridicule Me;
They showed contempt with their mouth, they shake the head, saying,

“He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him;
Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.

Psalm 22:7-9 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: Since My first fall, I have met some–you, My mother, Simon, and Veronica–who have supported and comforted Me. In spite of their refreshing care, I stumble and the taunts of the crowd start again. But I get up and go on because I love you, and them, so dearly.

Reader 2: If God is with me, then no one can defeat me, no matter how much they tease and make fun of me. Even God’s own Son suffered for me.

Prayer: My most gentle Jesus, how many times You have forgiven me, how many times I have fallen again and begun again offended You? Give me grace so that in all my temptations, I will always turn to You. I love You Jesus with all my heart. I am sorry that I have offended You.

O sweet mother! fount of love,                                                                                                  touch my spirit from above                                                                                                        make my heart with yours accord.

The Eighth Station:

Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 27 And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. 28 But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.

Luke 23:27-28 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: I see you weeping for Me. Let Me ask you: Do you feel guilty or do you feel pity for Me? What I want is not these, but your heart, your mind, and your life. Show Me your love by loving others more than yourself.

Reader 2: Jesus stopped to comfort others even when He was suffering so much. Could I reach out to someome else even when I am hurting or in trouble? I feel sorry and selfish when I think of the way He loves. I need to pour out my love and be filled with His love.

Prayer: My Jesus, weighed down with sorrows, I weep for the sins which I have committed against You, because of the punishment which I deserve for them, but even more so because of the displeasure they have caused You who has loved me with infinite love.

Make me feel as you have felt                                                                                                    make my soul to glow and melt                                                                                                   with the love of Christ, my Lord.

The Ninth Station:

Jesus falls the third time.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”

39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.

40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:38-41 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: For the third time, I fall to the ground. My sweat, blood and tears blend with the dust of the earth just as they did last night in the Garden of Gethsemani. I know how weak human flesh can be. It takes all of My strength and will to go on, but I do because I love you so very much.

Reader 2: Who is this Who has fallen? I don’t expect God to act this way, but There is so much in Jesus’ life and teachings that is not as I expect God to be. He has chosen to go through it all for me!

Prayer: My Jesus, by the weakness You suffered going to Calvary, give me enough strength to ignore other people’s opinions and my own weaknesses which have led me away from Your friendship.

Holy mother, pierce me through,                                                                                                    in my heart each pain renew                                                                                                            of my Savior crucified.

The Tenth Station:

Jesus is stripped of his clothes.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. 24 They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says:

“They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.”

Therefore the soldiers did these things.

John 19:23-24 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: The soldiers ripped off the clothes they threw on Me after they beat Me at Pilate’s palace. All My wounds are torn open again. As I hang naked on the cross, little did they know that I was about to perform the greatest miracle of all time–the salvation of the world.

Reader 2: As Jesus is stripped of His clothes, I know I need to always be aware that I must keep my body and soul pure and clean. I must work to stay pure in my thoughts, words, and actions rather than give in to the world’s view of things which encourages vanity and giving in to all our desires no matter how sinful they may be.

Prayer: My innocent Jesus, by the torments You endured by being stripped of Your garments, help me to strip myself of my attachment toward the things of earth so that I may place all my love in You Who are most worthy of my love.

Let me share with you His pain,                                                                                                 Who for all our sins was slain,                                                                                                   Who for me in torments died.

The Eleventh Station:

Jesus is nailed to the cross.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 33 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. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father,forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots.

Luke 23:33-34 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: The nails piercing My hands and feet as I hang on the cross become My only means of support. Your hands support Me in this final hour when you reach out to help others and when you forgive those who have hurt you.

Reader 2: I can never doubt Jesus’ great love for me when I see Him crucified. I know He gave His life freely for my salvation. He forgave the soldiers even before they had finished their vile work, and even though they did not ask for it. How much more is He willing to forgive me when I am truly sorry for offending Him?

Prayer: My despised Jesus, nail my heart, mind, and soul to the cross. May I always be there to love You and never leave You again.

Let me mingle tears with thee                                                                                              mourning Him who mourned for me,                                                                                           all the days that I may live.

The Twelfth Station:

Jesus dies on the cross.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 33 Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

35 Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” 36 Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”

37 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and thus breathed His last.

38 Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and thus breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”

Mark 15:33-39 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: As I hang suspended between heaven and earth My eyes and mind clear for one final look at My creation. I see My Mother; whom I love with a special love. I see the disciple whom I love, I ask you take care of My mother. Recall how I said that anyone who does the will of My Father is mother, and brother, and sister to Me. I see each of you; I love you with an everlasting love. Remember that I love you even to My death on the cross.

Reader 2:  Do you remember to take some time each day to think about what Jesus did for you and to thank Him for His wonderful love? Take some time right now to speak to Jesus in your own words. Tell Him of your love for Him (pause for a few moments) . . . . . .

Prayer: My dying Jesus, I deserve, because of my sins, a terrible death, but Your death is my hope. May I die embracing Your cross, burning with love for You, no matter what it costs.

By the Cross with you to stay,                                                                                                     there with you to weep and pray,                                                                                                this I ask of you to give.

The Thirteenth Station:

Jesus is taken down from the cross.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 31 Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

John 19:31-40 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: I was roughly put on the cross. Now I am gently removed from it and placed, for one last time, in My mother’s arms. Perhaps she thinks of those times when she tenderly held Me as a Baby. Perhaps she thinks about the terrible work of the sins of mankind and of the Trinity’s infinite love for human beings.

Reader 2: If only I can learn to see all the good things about people while they are alive. I need to care for them and see that they are happy while they are alive.

Prayer: Jesus my Redeemer, since You died for me, allow me to love You, for I desire only You and nothing more.

Virgin of all virgins blest!                                                                                                          Listen to my fond request:                                                                                                              Let me share your grief divine.

The Fourteenth Station:

Jesus is laid in the tomb.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 57 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.

Matthew 27:57-60 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: At last My place of rest is reached. You have kindly wrapped My body in a cloth and placed it in Joseph’s tomb. But you know this is not the end of the story. I came to bring you hope, not despair.

So, Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond that glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

([(c) Mary Elizabeth Frye])

Reader 2: I cannot bury my hope in Jesus’ grave. No matter how hard things seem to be, they could not be more difficult than what Jesus faced in His life. Despite all His suffering, it came out all right–more than all right: He won the greatest victory ever!

Prayer: Oh, my buried Jesus, I am sad while You are in the tomb, but I know that You have left us with hope.

Christ, when You shall call me hence,                                                                                            be Your mother my defense,                                                                                                            be Your cross my victory.                                                                                                           While my body here decays,                                                                                                        may my soul Your goodness praise                                                                                              safe in heaven eternally.

_____________________________________

Death, be not proud, though the whole world fear you
Mighty and dreadful you may seem
but death, be not proud, for your pride has failed you
You will not kill me.

Though you may dwell in plague and poison,
you’re a slave to fate and desperate men;
So death, if your sleep be the gate to heaven,
Why your confidence—
when you will be no more?
You will be no more, you will be no more;
even death will die.

Death, be not proud.
Even death will die.

([(c) 2014 Audrey Assad])

Amen.

The Fifteenth Station:

The Resurrection.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 24 Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ”

And they remembered His words. Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.

Luke 24:1-9 New King James Version (NKJV)

Prayer: My risen Jesus, I know that You rose in glory on the third day. I beg You, by Your resurrection that I may rise gloriously to be united with You in heaven; to praise You and love You forever.

——————————————————————-

The Ideal Woman

Let us examine the portrait of an ideal woman designed by God and revealed some 3,000 years ago in Solomon’s book of Proverbs.

It seems that women are very much in the news these days:

  • Leading marches in order to demonstrate their political power and influence.
  • Standing up to and denouncing predators and abusers.
  • Championing the rights of woman to compete fairly in every area of business, politics, sports, entertainment, etc.

On the face of it, it would be hard to find fault with any of these individual initiatives and objectives. Women’s vote should be considered crucial by politicians and women should be judged on their skills and training and not their gender when it comes to employment and opportunity for advancement in any area of endeavor. And we, as a society, should never enable, ignore or defend predators or abusers, no matter how rich or famous or talented they are.

All these issues are logical and just but I can’t help but think that the ultimate goal of these and other movements headed up by women is to erase any difference there may exist between the sexes.

I would go one step further and suggest that there may be some that are hoping that the women’s movement will ultimately lead to a society where women dominate men. I have no idea of exactly how this would work but I am fairly confident that if dominance is the goal, women will eventually be guilted of the same kind of cruel and unjust actions that abusive men have made who sought the same kind of power.

In today’s society it seems that men are encouraged to become more like women and women are demanding to be treated more like men. In addition to this, young people are told that they can explore every shade of gender identity until they find a sexual personification that they feel comfortable with. And we wonder why, according to Psychology Today, the suicide rate among young adults (millennials) has tripled since the 1950’s. And suicide is the second most cause of death among college students.

In answer to this worrying trend and confusion over what is male and female the Bible makes a clear and defining statement: “God created man in His own image, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). There are only two sexes, they are different and they are meant to be different. As the French say concerning men and women, “vivre la différence!” (long live the difference).

Since I began this lesson referring mainly to women, I’d like to focus on the female gender in defining some of the important characteristics that defines, not just a women, but what defines a Godly women. You see, there is nothing wrong with a women who desires political and economic opportunity, and refuses to be victimized by some abuser. These are all well and good – it’s just that these goals belong to the world and are appreciated only here below.

What I desire for women is that they aim higher, for goals that are above, that belong to the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of darkness here below. For this reason, I’d like to share with you the portrait of an ideal woman designed by God and revealed some 3,000 years ago in Solomon’s book of Proverbs. In this passage, Solomon indicates some of the qualities possessed by the ideal women who is pleasing to God.

Description of an Ideal Woman – Proverbs 31:10-31

At the end of the book of Proverbs there is a beautiful acrostic poem extolling the virtues of the ideal woman. Acrostic poems are those where each line of poetry begins with subsequent letters of the alphabet. In this poem the writer begins his description by saying one thing about the virtuous woman – She is rare.

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

Not every woman is like this, he says; just like not every piece of jewelry is precious – pearls are precious because they are rare and hard to find (all jewelry shines but not all are valuable).

A virtuous woman (inner strength) is hard to find, even harder to find than precious Jewels.

What makes her so valuable? – vs.11-12

11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

The writer summarizes her value in describing her relationship to her husband – she is trustworthy. The author tells us that the innate quality that this woman possesses is her trustworthiness. Not just to her husband but as an essential quality that she has as a person (with or without a husband, she is trustworthy).

When you have found a woman like this, you have found a precious stone.

Outward Signs of Inward Qualities – vs. 13-24

In the following verses the author goes on to describe the outward signs that reveal that precious inward quality of trustworthiness.

 She is a good manager and hard worker

13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.

The author gives several examples of her hard work and good management.

  • 13 – Cheerful in her work. She doesn’t complain or see her work as a burden.
  • 14 – She uses imagination in preparing food and is a wise shopper, careful with her money.
  • 15 – Manages her responsibilities well in her home. She is “on top” of the situation concerning her affairs.
  • 16; 24 – She has good business sense and knows how to turn a profit. Without sacrificing her home, she is able to use her business talents to the advantage of her home. She doesn’t ruin her home with outside work She builds it up.
  • 17-19 – She is not afraid of hard work and does not waste her time at home. This is a woman who knows the difference between leisure and laziness. She demonstrates that a well-managed home is a profitable enterprise. She understands that “time” is “money” even for the woman who is at home and uses her time at home profitably. A well-managed home is like a second income.
  • 21-23 – By her work at home she contributes to her family’s and her husband’s reputation in the community. Her children are clean, well fed and mannered, as is her husband and this is a reflection of their home, of which she is the manager.

If marriage is a partnership the woman that the author describes here is a good partner to have. So in describing the outward signs that point to the inward quality of the ideal woman the author begins by describing the things that make her a good manger and hard worker.

Good Character and Reputation – vs. 25-27

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.

The second outward sign that reveals this trustworthiness is her good character and reputation within her community. Says 4 things about her character:

  • 25 – Kind and generous. James tells us that benevolence to the poor and homeless is the sign of true piety (James 1: 27). She is truly a spiritual woman with a Godly character. She has confidence. She is not afraid of the future (near or far) because her faith and good works cover her with honor and power. She is a person who is at ease in her conscience because her heart and hands are busy doing what is right. She is not guilt ridden or depressed because she is busy giving herself away to others she loves.
  • 26 – She is wise. Her tongue is not for gossip but rather for edification. This is one of my own mother’s qualities and one I have also found in my wife. Both never use their words to destroy always to build others up beginning with myself and our children and then others. This is wisdom from above and the woman of the poem demonstrates that she has this.
  • 27 – She is concerned, but her first and primary concern is her home and family. It is not that she isn’t concerned with the problems of her society (She does help the poor etc.) but the concerns of her home are first. When we take care of our own home first there are usually less problems in the world. She is aware of the needs of her family and the community and concerned about fulfilling them using all of her skills and qualities refined through years of service and practice.

Paul says in I Corinthians 11:3 that the man is the head of woman and consequently the head of the home but Lemuel, the writer of this material, balances out this picture by showing us that the woman is the heart of the home. When the head and the heart are in union with Christ as the Lord of the home, what a wonderful place that home is.

The Rewards of the Ideal Woman – vs. 28-31

In the last few verses the author describes the rewards awaiting such a person and clear signs that she is a virtuous woman. She has this trustworthiness demonstrated by Good stewardship of her home and a Godly character and these bring her rewards:

  1. Her family praises her

28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”

Her children are thankful that they have a mother like her – what a reward for a mother, grateful children. Her husband sees her as the best of all women. Suggest his absolute fidelity and devotion.

  1. Her community praises her

Her neighbors, friends and community see her as a woman of value and character.

In the end the author summarizes the true essence of the value of this person.

30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.

Her motivating factors are not beauty or charm (social acclaim) She is a person that fears (respects /obeys) the Lord – this is what motivates her. Her desire to work well, to serve others, to develop a good character are inspired by her basic faith and desire to obey God, who wants all of his daughters to become women of value.

Summary

Notice some of the things that were not mentioned here:

  1. Her looks (skin, hair, weight, height, figure)
  2. Her independence (Not even a question for her)
  3. Her knowledge / education

These were not mentioned not because they are not in themselves important but rather because they did not make her more valuable one way or another.

Notice however what was mentioned as important:

  1. Her work concerning her responsibility towards her husband, family, community (N.T. times = church)
  2. Her attitude of kindness and wisdom
  3. Her confidence and lack of guilt
  4. Her reward of praise from the three groups that she serves: Family / Community

And of course God Himself praises her because she serves Him and He wrote this poem in her honor.

Exhortation

We have extremes in recognizing woman in or society. Either we have a day that honors only those women that have children (Mother’s Day) or the various organizations that promote those women who see themselves as feminists.

I want to encourage those women who work hard in raising children but I want to include all those women who are striving to become women of valor in our society, regardless of their status. – and who are these women in our day?

Women who are resisting the pressure from the Media and society to work only on the outward beauty but through patient obedience to Jesus Christ are creating a beautiful inward person.

Women who, in a thousand ways, every day serve their husbands and / or families, church and school and community and do so with a smile, sincerity and diligence.

Women whose strongest desire is not to be free and independent but rather desire to be useful, kind, and generous to those who are in need.

Women who are keeping themselves pure and ready for the return of Jesus Christ.

For these women, whether they are married or widowed or single; with or without children – I pray that God will bless you as true women of valor. I also pray that as the precious jewels that you are, you will shine forth among all others and receive the reward of praise that you so richly deserve.

Invitation

For those women who want to become the virtuous women spoken of here:

First step is to give your life to Jesus in repentance and baptism. In so doing you become pure again, no matter what you’ve done and special in Gods sight.

If you’ve gone away from Him and not been the kind of woman God wants you to be, repent and come back to him for forgiveness and restoration.

Proverbs 31 Woman (3).jpg

Giving Thanks for Every Name of God

It’s easier for me to be thankful for some of God’s names and attributes more than others. It’s effortless for me to rejoice in God’s attributes of love and faithfulness. I savor His forgiveness and provision. It’s easy for me to be thankful He is my Savior and Healer.

However, I don’t delight as easily in some of God’s other characteristics. How can I understand a God whose nature is incomprehensible? Where is the joy in descriptions of God the Father as a Consuming Fire and Jesus as a Man of Sorrows? And I struggle to be thankful that God is a holy and jealous God.

All That He Is

But being selective about which names and attributes we praise God for produces a problem. In effect, we create our own god by worshiping the attributes we want Him to have instead of worshiping all that He is.

For example, some focus only on God’s characteristics of love and mercy. They don’t want to think about His holiness, righteousness, and judgment. Problem is, they end up with an anything-goes god who tolerates sin.

Others may focus on God’s holiness and judgment to the exclusion of all His other characteristics. They create a fire-and-brimstone god who is unloving, unmerciful, and uncompassionate.

God is love and He is holy. He is merciful and He is just. He is righteous and He is compassionate. He is all these things and more. To truly know Him, we must learn all that He is—not just a few characteristics that appeal to who we want Him to be.

Think of the facets of a diamond that combine to reflect its brilliance. The names and attributes of God combine in a similar way to reveal the transcendence of His nature and the glory of His ways.

So, let’s spend a few minutes addressing several names and attributes that don’t seem to generate as much of our attention . . .

“I AM”

I decided to look in my Bible for every place where God says “I AM.” Before I show you what I found, I want to warn you that it’s a long and impressive list. If you’re like me, you have a tendency to gloss over information when it comes to you in bulk, but let me encourage you to take your time. Read and re-read. Think about all the things God says about himself with the simple introduction, “I AM.”

I AM . . . your shield (Gen. 15:1-3).
I AM . . . God Almighty (Gen. 17:135:11).
I AM . . . compassionate (Ex. 22:27).
I AM . . . holy (Lev. 11:44).
I AM . . . your portion and your inheritance (Num. 18:20).
I AM . . . your salvation (Ps. 35:3).
I AM . . . with you (Isa. 41:1043:5Jer. 1:19,15:20Hag. 1:132:4Matt. 28:20).
I AM . . . the Lord, besides me there is no salvation (Isa. 43:11).
I AM . . . the first and the last (Isa. 44:6Rev. 1:17).
I AM . . . he who comforts (Isa. 5:12).
I AM . . . merciful (Jer. 3:12).
I AM . . . a father (Jer. 31:9).
I AM . . . their inheritance (Ezek. 44:28).
I AM . . . gentle and lowly of heart (Matt. 11:29).
I AM . . . the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Matt. 22:32).
I AM . . . the Christ (Mark 14:61-63).
I AM . . . the bread of life (John 6:48).
I AM . . . the light of the world (John 8:12).
I AM . . . not of this world (John 8:24).
I AM . . . the Good Shepherd (John 10:1).
I AM . . . the door (John 10:9).
I AM . . . the son of God (John 10:36).
I AM . . . the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).
I AM . . . teacher and lord (John 13:13).
I AM . . . the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:1).
I AM . . . the true vine (John 15:1).
I AM . . . the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8).
I AM . . . alive forevermore (Rev. 1:18).
I AM . . . coming soon (Rev. 3:11).
I AM . . . the bright morning star (Rev. 22:16).
I AM . . . the LORD your God (this one is stated so many times throughout the Bible that I lost count).

An impressive list, isn’t it?

God called Moses to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh release God’s people from slavery. Moses wrestles with the idea of such a monumental task and finally asks, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13).

Before Moses goes to the most powerful man in the world, he wants to know the name of the God who sends him. Seems reasonable to me.

God answers Moses’ question this way, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).

Then, He repeats Himself, but doesn’t offer Moses much clarity.

“And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you'” (Ex. 3:14).

There isn’t an English teacher in the world that wouldn’t mark all over that sentence with her red pen.

Imagine the same sentence in a different context. You are introduced to a new visitor at church. You say, “Hi, my name is Erin. What’s your name?”

“I am . . . ” is their reply.

I am who? I am what? Simply leaving it at “I am” seems like bad grammar and bad manners.

But that’s what God said when Moses asked His name.

“I AM WHO I AM.” “I AM has sent me.”

Don’t you imagine that Moses was perched on the very edge of his seat? Waiting for more information. He knew he would be pressed by Pharaoh and by the people he was called to free for more information. I am who? I am what? But “I AM” seemed to be all the information God was going to give at that moment.

Fortunately for all of us, it’s not all He ever said on the subject.

So why didn’t God just dictate it to Moses so that Moses could pass it along to Pharaoh?

Why leave the dots unconnected?

Because we learn the names of God best when we see for ourselves who He is, not when we simply hear about Him.

The answer to Moses’ question, “What is his name?” would be given to Pharaoh soon enough. The purpose of the plagues God sent upon Egypt was to put the power and character of God on full display.

Sooner or later, we all mumble Moses’ question under our breath, “Who are you, God?” We follow it up with “How will you prove who you are in my life?” We’ve got the benefit of a hard copy of His answer in the Word. From Genesis to Revelation the Lord speaks often of who He is. But the proof is also in the pudding, isn’t it? If you will take a minute to reflect on your own life you will see that His descriptions of Himself are spot on. I know He’s been everything on that list in my own life (compassionate, salvation, merciful . . . ) Who has He been in yours?

Certainly, the qualities of God are vast and impressive, but they become even more so when we get serious about who we really are.

Who are you?

It’s a simple question that almost always has a complex answer. If I asked you, “Who are you?” I bet you’d start with the good stuff (we all do). You might tell me about your beautiful family or your great job or all the ways you volunteer in your church or community. We like to polish our identity up to a high shine, but that’s not the whole story is it?

David has a way of writing with a brand of brutal honesty that I am drawn to in the Psalms. He finishes the sentence I am . . . in a way that checks my spirit. Here’s what he wrote.

I am . . . fleeting (Ps. 39:4).
I am . . . poor and needy (Ps. 86:1109:22).
I am . . . languishing (Ps. 6:2).
I am . . . lonely and afflicted (Ps. 25:16).
I am . . . afraid (Ps. 56:3).
I am . . . afflicted and in pain (Ps. 69:29).
I am . . . helpless (Ps. 88:15).

Are you ready for a confession? I am all of those things, too. As important as my life seems to me, the Bible describes it like a vapor (James 4:14). That’s what David meant when he called himself “fleeting.” I often find myself needy, lonely, afraid, and in pain, just like David did. I am helpless in the face of most of the problems I face. I can’t change my own heart, mold myself into Christ’s image, or keep all that scares me at bay.

While the news about who we are at our core is bad, the news about who God is couldn’t get any better.

And that’s not the worst of it. In Psalm 51:4, David described a personal attribute that I’d like to gloss over.

I am a sinner

Paul answered the “I am . . .” question by describing himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Some days it feels like I’m giving him a run for his money.

When we line the reality of who we are with the beauty of who God is, our heart can choose from one of two options.

  1. We can wilt under the weight of our failings, and settle in with the feeling that we will never measure up.
  2. We can let the beauty of the gospel—that a God so big and powerful and good would extend grace and love toward us despite the fact that we are so desperately undeserving—make up for our slack. We can spend our days in gratitude instead of defeat because God is big, and we are small, and He loves us anyway.

From time to time it does us good to peel back the good stuff of who we are and smell the gunk underneath. But don’t dwell there. While the news about who we are at our core is bad, the news about who God is even better.

In light of what God’s done for you, how would you finish the sentence “I am . . .”?

Leave a comment below.

Race, The Cross, & Christianity

This afternoon, my wife and I watched the moving The Help staring Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, and Emma Stone as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan.

Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter (Emma_Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives — and a Mississippi town — upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. When she arrives home, she finds that her nanny and family’s maid Constantine Jefferson (played by Cicely Tyson) is gone. Skeeter sees the chance of writing a book about the relationship of the black maids with the Southern society for an editor from New York. First, she convinces Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) to open her heart to her; then Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is unfairly fired by the arrogant Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is a leader in the racist high society, and Minny decides to tell her stories after finding a job with the outcast Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain). Soon eleven other maids accept to be interviewed by Skeeter that also tells the truth about Constantine. When the book “The Help” is released, Jackson’s high society will never be the same.

Barak Obama, in his new preface to his older book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, quotes William Faulkner to show that history is never dead. He describes the difference between the time the book was written and the time he was writing the new preface.

The book was published in 1995, “against a backdrop of Silicon Valley and a booming stock market; the collapse of the Berlin Wall; Mandela – in slow, sturdy steps – emerging from prison to lead a country, the signing of peace accords in Oslo.” He observed that there was a rising global optimism as writers announced the end of our fractured history, “the ascendance of free markets, and liberal democracy, the replacement of old hatreds and wars between nations with virtual communities and battles for market shares.”

“And then,” he says, “on September 11, 2001, the world fractures.”

“History returned that day with a vengeance; … in fact, as Faulkner reminds us, the past is never dead and buried – it isn’t even past. This collective history, this past, directly touches our own.”

The United States has been treating evidence of racism, prejudice, and discrimination, and not the causes, since the Civil War. Slavery; “separate but equal”; segregated pools, buses, trains and water fountains; workplace and housing discrimination; and other forms of bias and animosity have served as painful barometers of the nation’s racial health. They have been, however, treated like the pain that accompanies a broken leg. The effort was to treat or reduce the agonizing symptoms of the break rather than fix it.

In our faltering efforts to deal with race in this country, a great deal of time is devoted to responding to symptoms rather than root causes. That may help explain why racism, prejudice, and discrimination keeps being repeated.

The Bible has much to say on racial intolerance in both testaments. The good Samaritan story of Luke 10:25-27 was an attempt by Jesus to expose the wrongful attitude of racial intolerance that existed between the Jews & Samaritans during the time of Jesus. In Matt 28:19 Jesus told his followers to go out and make disciples of all nations and this would include all people groups. Jesus never said to only make disciples of some people groups, he said Òall nations. Also, Paul in Galatians 3:28 condemned racial intolerance in the church. Racial discrimination should not be a part of the true regenerated Christian.

The first thing to understand is that there is only one race—the human race. Caucasians, Africans, Asians, Indians, Arabs, and Jews are not different races. Rather, they are different ethnicities of the human race. All human beings have the same physical characteristics (with minor variations, of course). More importantly, all human beings are equally created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to lay down His life for us (John 3:16). The “world” obviously includes all ethnic groups. God does not show partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9), and neither should we. James 2:4 describes those who discriminate as “judges with evil thoughts.” Instead, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8). In the Old Testament, God divided humanity into two “racial” groups: Jews and Gentiles. God’s intent was for the Jews to be a kingdom of priests, ministering to the Gentile nations. Instead, for the most part, the Jews became proud of their status and despised the Gentiles. Jesus Christ put an end to this, destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16). All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are affronts to the work of Christ on the cross.

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NKJV)

Christ Our Peace

 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). If God is impartial and loves us with impartiality, then we need to love others with that same high standard. Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of His brothers, we do to Him. If we treat a person with contempt, we are mistreating a person created in God’s image; we are hurting somebody whom God loves and for whom Jesus died. Racism, in varying forms and to various degrees, has been a plague on humanity for thousands of years. Brothers and sisters of all ethnicities, this should not be. Victims of racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 declares, “32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Racists may not deserve your forgiveness, but we deserved God’s forgiveness far less. Those who practice racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to stop and repent. “13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:13). May Galatians 3:28 be completely realized, “28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Unfortunately, humanity has twisted the Bible to try to justify human fears and prejudices. Some consider the “curse of Ham” to be an excuse to hate those of African descent. Others insist that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death and deserve our ridicule. Both views are patently false. The Bible tells us that God’s judgment is not based on appearances but what is on the inside (1 Samuel 16:7), and those who do judge according to appearances do so with evil intent (James 2:4). Instead, we are to treat one another with love (James 2:8), regardless of ethnicity (Acts 10:34-35) and social standing (James 2:1-5). Christian love negates all prejudice, and the Bible condemns racism.

A new year will be upon us soon. What will it take to put our racism, prejudices, and discrimination aside and unite as ONE in Christ Jesus?

Ring of Truth

The Greatest Gift

God is a giver, not a taker. Throughout Scripture, we find evidence of His great generosity towards His creation. From the beginning of time as we know it, when He called forth Creation — when He gave existence to things that had never before existed — we can see the true heart of God. He literally gave of Himself to make each one of us. 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 (NKJV))

The very nature of God is to give, to create, and to bless His creation. Unfortunately, many of us are so self-absorbed and greedy for gain that we do not even have the eyes to see the countless gifts that God has already worked into our lives. Yet, God wants us to be givers too. He created us to be like Him – to pour of ourselves into other people, and to reciprocate His love for us. God created us with the power to be able to give back to Him! When I really stop and think about this, it truly amazes me – that God – the sum of ALL good things, who holds ALL power and authority, would humble Himself in this way.

He didn’t make himself entirely independent of His creation, or set Himself up as a mere casual observer of humankind, though He certainly had the power to do so. Instead, He allowed Himself to love us to the point where our returned love would be a blessing to Him. Each one of us, little and insignificant as we are, has been given the profound gift of the ability to bring joy to the heart of God. It is extremely humbling to me, when I stop and consider that God has thus set the laws of His creation into motion. That the One who is Love personified, would actually be blessed by the love that I could offer Him. This is the greatest gift of all, and it is given to every human being who has ever lived or will live–the ability to give of ourselves to God and to each other. Without this gift, life would be very empty indeed.

Bible Says Christmas Is Time of Blessing

In the mad rush of the holiday season, the true meaning of giving is often forgotten. What is meant to be a time of blessing and joy becomes instead, a time of stress and depression. Recently, as I was praying for the church and the nations of the world, a great sorrow began to rise up inside of me. God has placed so many gifts within His church. Each member of the Body of Christ has been given strategic giftings and a unique place that none other can fulfill in quite the same way. Yet, so many are not moving into their rightful place. They are afraid to use their gifts, or they think their gifts are insignificant. Many are secretly hurt and angry at God because they feel they haven’t been given anything remarkable. They mistake God’s anointing and talent in certain individuals as a sign of God’s approval of those people, and they assume their “lack” is a sign that God doesn’t love them as much as He loves others…that God is somehow “prouder” of other people than He is of them. Because of this fear and resentment, they are crippled in taking their proper place in God’s kingdom, falling short of the gift they were created to be.

Others are busily using their gifts, and by their own efforts are successful in the eyes of the world. Maybe they have a thriving ministry. Maybe they are making good money. Maybe they have the respect and admiration of those around them. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that their actions are a blessing to the heart of God, or that they are even obeying what God has told them to do. Ecclesiastes 4:4 (NKJV) says, 4 Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. Many are so busy creating their own kingdoms, that the kingdom of God suffers a great lack. Their pride and busy occupations have blocked the measure of their true worth in God’s kingdom.

Who will fill these missing places in the body of Christ? Even now as we go about our daily lives, all creation groans in frustration, waiting for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19-22). There is so much work to be done, and so few who are willing to do it. John 4:35-36 (NKJV) says, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.” God intends both the sower and the reaper to share the same joy of the harvest. There should be no competition among God’s faithful servants, no jostling each other for the “prime” positions, no envy or personal ambition. If we truly love the Lord, our only goal should be to bless Him, to serve Him, and to advance His kingdom.

As I was praying, I saw a vision of the Lord, manifested in the person of someone I love very much. In the vision, I saw this person laying in bed, exhausted after a hard day’s work. The Lord said to me “What do you think she would like right now? How could you bless her?” I could instantly see that a cup of hot tea and a home-cooked meal would be just as much, if not more of a blessing to her than whatever big, distant work I could conjure up to show her my love. Immediately, I could see what God was trying to show me. We are created like Him. If we appreciate a “small” gift given in love more than the fanfare of a “big” gift given in insincerity, how much more does God?

As the vision continued, I could see Jesus sitting alone by a road with people running up and down it. They were all very busy. Some were stopping and chatting with Him for a moment here and there, but as I overheard their conversations, they were mostly to inform Jesus of what they wanted from Him, or what they were going to do for Him. One man in particular ran up to him. “Oh, Jesus, I’m so excited,” he cried. “I’m off to tell the world all about you!” Quickly he ran off before Jesus could say anything at all. My heart broke, as I saw Him there, sitting by Himself. Yes, He wanted to bless those people with things beyond their wildest imagination. Yes, He wanted them to find fulfillment in serving Him. But what He really wanted most of all was for those people to come and sit with Him and talk awhile…to hold His hand and look deep into His eyes…to share their dreams and sorrows, and to hear His joys and sorrows…to let Him simply give His love to them. In all their mad rush to give and get, they missed the greatest treasure of all, sitting right in front of them.

So much of what we do for God is with mixed motives for our own personal fulfillment. We all want to have a purpose and reason for living. We all hope that if we were to die tomorrow, we would leave a legacy of some kind behind us. Yet for most of us, this becomes the end to which we live. Sadly, when we make anything other than God our reason for living, that thing will become an idol in our lives. Even if it is a good thing, like a ministry or a mate, it can still never fulfill us because it wasn’t designed to. It simply can’t! It doesn’t even have the ability to fulfill. In fact, those idols will begin to work against us, and cause us to suffer spiritual barrenness. They will put us on a treadmill until we become broken-hearted and exhausted trying to keep it all alive. On the other hand, if we receive them simply as the gifts they are and continue to love God first in our lives, we will be given the ability to enjoy them, for this too is a gift. Ecclesiastes. 3:13 (NKJV) says, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. The key is simply to: 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  (Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)).

When all is said and done, only those things which were done “as unto the Lord” will count for anything. In God’s eyes, there are no “big” or “small” things done for His Kingdom. All He asks of us is to obey Him in what He tells us to do. Let us follow through and obey Him, whether His commands seem great or small. After all, it is Jesus we are talking about here! The One who left His home in glory to bleed and die a humiliating, painful death for each one of us. The One who made himself vulnerable to us, by giving us the ability to bless him or hurt him. As we obey Him, we bring such joy to His heart! Then His joy, which is a strength to the spirit of man, becomes our joy as well. God is not impressed, nor is He blessed by the best of our works done in self. He is only impressed by the attitude of our hearts.

As we look around the world this holiday season, let us stop and consider Whose birthday we are celebrating. Let us not forget to offer sincere thanks to our precious, precious Lord for His many blessings in our lives. And let us show our thankfulness by our actions! Let us offer the same mercy that God has given us to those around us. Let us press deeper into the heart of God, that we may have something to offer this world besides the same old cycle of greed, pride and rebellion. Let us not be ashamed to become the servant of all, showing our love for God by laying down our rights, our plans, our time and money for the sake of others. Let us demonstrate our love to God by giving Him the very things we are afraid to lay down, trusting that He has the best plan for our lives and would never use or abuse us. Let us truly fulfill the greatest commandment, which is to 27 So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’[a] and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27(NKJV)). Each of us is destined to make a profound difference in the world. Let us not fall short of our destinies! Let us give the greatest Christmas gift that we have been afforded to give; one that we can give year-round – to bless the heart of God!

If you do not know God the way you want to, you can receive the gift of knowing Him right now. Simply pray to Him from your heart and ask him to forgive you for your sins and turning your back on Him. Romans 10:9 (NKJV): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  Ask Him to come into your life and make you a new person, born of His spirit. You can give to Him a gift He considers more dear than anything else in the world – yourself. In return, you will receive eternal life with Him, which begins the moment you are born again. May God bless each of you richly as you seek to give unto Him your all.

If you just prayed to ask God into your heart, or you would like to know more about becoming a Christian, please visit the link on becoming born againhttp://bibleresources.org/how-to-be-born-again/.

 

I Resolve to Believe You

“But you LOOK good” “You just want attention”
“But you don’t LOOK sick”

resolve-to-believe-sherri-connellAnother year is about to dawn and of course I need to make at least one resolution. The good news is that I know I can keep this one. I resolve to believe you! I resolve to listen and acknowledge the pain and illness you live with daily even though your symptoms might be invisible.

For me, the opposite of believing is prejudice. Prejudice defined by Dictionary.com is “an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.” How many times have we been frustrated and impatient as we wait for the person in the cross walk at the store? They seem to walk so slow and we are in a hurry. Why can’t they speed it up? Maybe they are in chronic pain or have a myriad of other illnesses or injuries that we cannot see. I say that we sure err on the side of caution and belief first, not be suspicious and prejudice.

Or maybe we have seen the person park in a designated Accessible Parking Spot and they exit their car and proceed to the shop or office without using a cane or wheelchair and with no noticeable signs of injury or disability. Many of us have seen the notes left on windshields of people just like this person. The notes are full of anger and mistrust. One example is in the article by Phil Mutz. “A Disabled Veteran Responds to a Nasty Note Left on His Windshield.” Here is another story with the same subject “Note shames mother for using disability parking spot,” by Victoria Sanchez of KUSA. And one more example was written by Parker Lee of the Independent Journal Someone Left a ‘Faker’ Note by Her Handicapped Tag. Here’s What They Didn’t Know About Her.”

People would question, stare and scream at my wife, Donna, for parking in “Handicap” parking spaces. Even though she has lived with overwhelming pain, fatigue and neurological symptoms of Ankylosing spondylitis and since the symptoms are not noticeable, people tend to jump to judging her first. Because of her struggles with people understanding her disabilities, Donna thought the phrase, “invisible disabilities” aptly described the debilitating illness, pain and injury she battles along with millions of others around the world.

The Invisible Disabilities Association was launched 20 years ago, in 1996. One of their first pamphlets was Don’t Judge by Appearances , addressing the issue of misunderstandings surrounding disabled parking. The last few sentences in the pamphlet are crucial “Therefore, if a person is displaying a license to park in an accessible parking space, try offering a hand, instead of a visual judgment. After all…the people you are graciously intending to defend, may be standing right in front of you!”

Yet disabled parking is only one example of the disbelief people have of those living with illness and pain. Oftentimes the person living with illness and pain is misjudged because of their appearance. Sherri Connell (picture above) was a model, actress and pageant winner before she became sick. She still looks stunning and people tend to disregard when she tells them about the bone crushing pain, fatigue and brain fog she deals with daily. Her and her husband, Wayne Connell, wrote the book, But You LOOK Good: How to Encourage and Understand People Living with Illness and Pain because people for some reason think their loved ones who look good can’t possibly be sick or at least not as sick as they contend they are.

Creator of the Spoon Theory, well known author and blogger Christine Miserandino has dealt with this issue as well.  The following is from her website, ButYouDontLookSick.com. “From the age of fifteen, Christine Miserandino has been diagnosed with a myriad of illnesses from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to Epstein Barr, and finally, many years later to a determination of Lupus. As though battling a shopping list of symptoms, Christine has consistently been told, by both well-wishers and doctors alike, But you don’t look sick.” as if that was some kind of compensation for being chronically ill. Many times, being pretty or not sickly looking, made it harder to validate an illness you cannot see.”

Even super model and actress, Yolanda Foster has encountered the mistrust of not only strangers, but friends and co-workers as well in regards to her diagnosis of Lyme Disease. The following is from the article “’Is this even real?’ Lisa Rinna suggests Yolanda Foster may be faking Lyme disease on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” in the DailyMail.com.

“Yolanda Foster has been suffering from Lyme disease, but Lisa Rinna on Tuesday’s episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills showed her skepticism.

Lisa, 52, suggested to Kyle Richards and Lisa Vanderpump that the former model might be faking the symptoms for attention.

The former Days of Our Lives actress grew sniffy about Yolanda’s social media output.

‘I feel that Yolanda’s posts on Instagram can be confusing, because one minute she’s in a hospital bed with needles in her arm and the next she’s on a yacht looking like she’s having a great time,’ said Lisa.

The Melrose Place actress then read a description of Munchausen syndrome or ‘factitious disorder’ – where people feign illness to gain attention or sympathy.”

The belief that people living daily with illness and pain really just “want attention” is not the truth in most cases. The problem is that disability and pain usually brings abandonment and isolation, not attention. If someone was seeking attention, having an illness or injury would not be the best way to go about it. The loneliness of illness and pain is very real.

I think of IDA Ambassador and award winning, singer songwriter Mandy Harvey. Even though Mandy is profoundly deaf, her voice is clear and beautiful. As a singer, she is often mistrusted because of her deafness. Some people can’t believe that she can sing so incredibly well and not hear what she is singing herself. Wayne Connell has been on radio interviews with Mandy and can understand why people think the way they do. How can she respond to the interviewer so quickly, she must hear something? Actually, Mandy uses a very cool piece of technology on her phone called Clear Captions. Anytime she is on her phone, the words spoken by the caller are typed on her screen by an individual with Clear Captions and Mandy then responds to the caption. Actually, it is quite exhausting for her to read and respond verbally so quickly. Mandy also reads lips very well.

Just because we may not understand an illness or disability, doesn’t mean we need to disbelieve people living with them. Kara O’Daniel is also someone who has felt the sting of misunderstandings regarding her disability.  Kara’s brother Kyle writes the following about her.

“My twin sister, Kara, hasn’t had the easiest go at things over the last 24 years. She has gone through a lot and handled it all with patience and grace. Through all her struggles she has always found a way to be there for others and help as many people as she can.

Her most recent endeavor is a result of this selfless habit; she is starting a career as a motivational speaker, sharing her story with those who need to hear it the most. What is this story, you ask? Well.

It’s a story of 39 surgeries, endless struggles with Spina Bifida, and countless inspiration for all those who are fortunate enough to have Kara as part of their lives.

HER goal is to share her story and advice with those who are in similar situations; to those like her who have struggled through so many times.”

Kara also shared with Wayne Connell her journey with Spina Bifida and how it has been difficult because of the misunderstandings surrounding it. Kara is able to walk because of numerous surgeries and therefore people often don’t believe her. They think that all people with Spina Bifida must be in a wheel chair. This same misunderstanding impacts people with MS. Being in a wheelchair is not always indicative of someone’s disability or even the severity of their disability. Using a wheel chair is because someone is unable to walk, maybe for the moment or maybe all of the time.

I resolve to believe you this year. Let’s believe people first. Let’s not play armchair doctor and think we know. Let’s listen and acknowledge and learn from the people who know best, those who live daily with pain and illness and disability. They are the true experts. Let’s not judge people by how they appear or don’t appear. I love the quote from IDA Advisory Board Member, Peter Strople: “When in Doubt, Love.” Let’s love and encourage and believe people living with illness and pain. Life is struggle enough for them. Let’s not make it worse by our words and prejudice.

Join me this year and every year to resolve TO BELIEVE. Let’s all envision a world where people living with illness, pain and disability will be Invisible No More!