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When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:3-6, 26:14). It was after Saul’s conversion to Jesus Christ that he became known as the Apostle Paul. Before Jesus made himself known to Paul, he thought he was doing everything right in his worship of God and his persecution and killing of the new followers of Jesus after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul thought he was on the right road as a well respected Pharisee within the community before Jesus made it clear to him that he was not.
Let’s take a look at what Jesus meant when he said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (or “pricks” as stated in the KJV). GotQuestions.org gives us this answer:
“It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” was a Greek proverb, but it was also familiar to the Jews and anyone who made a living in agriculture. An ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the oxen when plowing. The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the prick, and this would result in the prick being driven even further into its flesh. In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered. Thus, Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.”
Of the better-known Bible translations, the actual phrase “kick against the pricks” is found only in the King James Version. It is mentioned only twice, in Acts 9:5 and Acts 26:14. The apostle Paul (then known as Saul) was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians when he had a blinding encounter with Jesus. Luke records the event: “And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:14 KJV). Modern translations have changed the word pricks to goads. All translations except the KJV and NKJV, omit the phrase altogether from Acts 9:5.
The conversion of Saul is quite significant as it was the turning point in his life. Paul later wrote nearly half of the books of the New Testament.
Jesus took control of Paul and let him know his rebellion against God was a losing battle. Paul’s actions were as senseless as an ox kicking “against the goads.” Paul had passion and sincerity in his fight against Christianity, but he was not heading in the direction God wanted him to go. Jesus was going to goad (“direct” or “steer”) Paul in the right direction.
There is a powerful lesson in the ancient Greek proverb. We, too, find it hard to kick against the goads. Solomon wrote, “Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path” (Proverbs 15:10). When we choose to disobey God, we become like the rebellious ox—driving the goad deeper and deeper. “The way of the unfaithful is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). How much better to heed God’s voice, to listen to the pangs of conscience! By resisting God’s authority we are only punishing ourselves. (Quote source here.)
While Paul’s story has to do with his conversion experience, there are times in a believer’s life where we “kick against the goads” often unintentionally, too. Our passion and sincerity are very much real, and we think we are doing the right thing. And often this will happen in the “battles” we face in life. In America, we tend to be very independent which is part of what has made our country great. So it comes naturally to a lot of us that when a battle heats up in our lives, we want to fight against it with everything that we’ve got.
We often forget that God’s ways not our ways and, in fact, are far above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and that what He is doing in this world of ours we can’t even begin to understand or fathom. When we try to take on our battles ourselves, we really have no idea how big that battle may be in the total scheme of things from God’s viewpoint. For example, while we may rail against the current tide that our society has been swept up in over the past several decades, God is not the least bit surprised.
I think of the world that Daniel (in the Old Testament) lived in “after Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (who reigned 605-562 B.C.), besieged Jerusalem, and chose of Israel’s royal household noble men who were handsome and showed an aptitude for learning, to be trained in the ways of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:1-6); quote source here). Daniel was one of these young men. GotQuestions.org states the following about the life of Daniel under Babylonian captivity:
Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge,” and his three countrymen from Judea were chosen and given new names. Daniel became “Belteshazzar,” while Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah became “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” The Babylonians believed that, by giving them new names that were completely disassociated with their Hebrew roots, Daniel and his friends would become subservient to their new rulers and the culture they now lived in.
Daniel and his compatriots proved to be the wisest of all the trainees, and at the end of their training, they entered the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s first sign of faithfulness to God was when he and his countrymen rejected the rich food and wine from the king’s table, because they deemed it a defilement, and became vegetarians. As their health improved, they were permitted to continue with their chosen diet. In their education, the four men from Judah became knowledgeable in all Babylonian matters, and Daniel was given by God the ability to understand dreams and visions of all kinds (Daniel 1:17).
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar was troubled with a dream that he could neither remember nor interpret. His magicians and astrologers were unable to interpret a dream, much less to know what the dream was. The king decreed that all the wise men, including Daniel and his companions, must be put to death. However, after Daniel sought God in prayer, the mystery of the king’s dream was revealed to Daniel, and he was taken to the king to interpret it. Daniel immediately attributed his ability to interpret dreams to the one true God (Daniel 2:28). The key feature of the dream, as Daniel told it to the king, was that one day there will be a kingdom set up by God that will last forever, and that it will destroy all previous kingdoms known to man (Daniel 2:44-45). With this, Daniel was honored by King Nebuchadnezzar and placed in authority over all the wise men of Babylon. At Daniel’s request, his three countrymen were also placed in positions of authority as administrators of Babylon.
In time, King Nebuchadnezzar built a huge golden statue and decreed that all his people bow down and worship it at the given signal. His decree went on to say that whoever refused to bow down to it would be thrown into a blazing furnace (Daniel 3:6). Word reached the king that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not worshipping his gods or the statue, and so they were summoned to Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Faced with being thrown into a blazing furnace, the three faithfully announced that their God could rescue them from the fire, but even if He did not, they would not bow down to the image (vss. 16-18). The furnace was so hot, seven times its normal heat, that the king’s soldiers were killed while putting the three into it. Then Nebuchadnezzar saw that there were four men in the furnace, completely unbound and walking about and that the fourth figure looked like he was a son of a god (vs.25). When the king called them out of the furnace, he and his governors were amazed to find that not a single hair of their heads had been scorched, nor was there even the merest smell of fire about them.
King Nebuchadnezzar had a second dream, and, not for the first time, he acknowledged that Daniel had the spirit of his holy God within him and was able to interpret his dream (Daniel 4:9). Daniel’s interpretation of the dream was fulfilled, and, after a period of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his kingdom, and he praised and honored Daniel’s God as the most High (Daniel 4:34-37).
Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, became the new king, and during a banquet he ordered the gold and silver goblets that had been stolen from the holy temple in Jerusalem to be brought out for use. In response to the defilement of such holy items, Belshazzar sees a hand writing on the wall. Once again, his astrologers are unable to assist him in its translation, and so Daniel is called upon to interpret the writing (Daniel 5:13-16). As a reward for interpreting the writing, Daniel is promoted by King Belshazzar to the third highest position in the Babylonian kingdom (vs. 29). That night, as Daniel had prophesied, the king was slain in battle, and his kingdom was taken over by Cyrus the Great, and Darius the Mede was made king.
Under the new ruler, Daniel excelled in his duties as one of the administrators to such a degree that King Darius was contemplating making him head over all the kingdom (Daniel 6:1-3). This infuriated the other administrators so much that they looked for a way to bring Daniel down. They encouraged Darius to issue a decree forbidding his subjects from praying to any of their gods for the next thirty days. The penalty for disobeying was to be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel, however, continued to pray so openly to God that he could be seen at his bedroom window doing so. With much regret the king gave the order for Daniel to be thrown into the lions’ den, but not without a prayer that Daniel’s God would rescue him (Daniel 6:16). The next day when Daniel was found alive and well, he told the king that God had sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths and so he remained unharmed. This resulted in King Darius sending out a decree that all his subjects were to worship the God of Daniel. And Daniel continued to prosper throughout King Darius’ reign.
The lesson from the life of Daniel is that he exercised great integrity and, in doing so, received the respect and affection of the powerful rulers he served. However, his honesty and loyalty to his masters never led him to compromise his faith in the one true God. Rather than it being an obstacle to his success, Daniel’s continual devotion to God brought him the admiration of the unbelievers in his circle. When delivering his interpretations, he was quick to give God the credit for his ability to do so (Daniel 2:28).
Daniel’s integrity as a man of God gained him favor with the secular world, yet he refused to compromise his faith in God. Even under the intimidation of kings and rulers, Daniel remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Daniel also teaches us that, no matter who we are dealing with, no matter what their status is, we are to treat them with compassion. See how concerned he is when delivering the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream (Daniel 4:19). As Christians, we are called to obey the rulers and authorities that God has put in place, treating them with respect and compassion; however, as we see from Daniel’s example, obeying God’s law must always take precedence over obeying men.
As a result of his devotion, Daniel not only found favor with those around him, but above all he found favor with God and was held in high esteem by Him (Daniel 9:20-23). Notice also in those verses what the angel Gabriel told Daniel about how swiftly the answer to his prayer was dispatched. This shows us how ready the Lord is to hear the prayers of His people. Daniel’s strength lay in his devotion to prayer and is a lesson for us all. It is not just in the bad times but on a daily basis that we must come to God in prayer. (Quote source here.)
As stated above, “Daniel’s integrity as a man of God gained him favor with the secular world, yet he refused to compromise his faith in God. Even under the intimidation of kings and rulers, Daniel remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Daniel also teaches us that, no matter who we are dealing with, no matter what their status is, we are to treat them with compassion. See how concerned he is when delivering the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream (Daniel 4:19). As Christians, we are called to obey the rulers and authorities that God has put in place, treating them with respect and compassion; however, as we see from Daniel’s example, obeying God’s law must always take precedence over obeying men.”
The seventy years of Babylonian captivity in which Daniel lived under was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 29:1-14; also see explanation regarding Daniel 9), who lived in the final days of the crumbling of the nation Israel (source here). “Daniel lived in Babylon throughout the entire 70 years of the Jewish captivity. He lived to see the fall of the Babylonian Empire and the sudden rise of the Medo-Persian Empire with its first ruler, Cyrus. One of Cyrus’ first acts was to issue a decree allowing the Jews to leave Babylon.” (Quote source here).
Daniel spent the bulk of his life living under Babylonian rule yet he did not compromise his faith and belief in God, but respected and served the rulers he had been placed under during his lifetime. While he was well aware of the prophecy of Jeremiah (as shown in Daniel 9), he did not try to change or “fight the system” in which he found himself living in but rather he stayed true to God in all of his dealings with others while serving under or with the other administrators and the king.
So how does that relate to us when we are fighting the battles that come our way? Instead of trying to “fight the system” (e.g., “kicking against the goads”), we need to trust God and not try to take matters into our own hands. He can and will guide us if we let go of trying to “steer that ship” on our own. That is not to say that we should compromise our beliefs, but rather depend on God to work it out in His way and His timing.
Several times in these past seven years since I lost my job in Houston I have found myself trying to fight this battle (in my case, long term unemployment and now added to it affordable housing) in my own power (e.g., via an extensive and massive job search for several years, and now adding the affordable housing search that has been ongoing for over two years now). And I have yet to secure either a job or affordable housing. Yet, every time I have needed guidance and trusted God to show me what to do in even the smallest decisions in my daily life, I have been amazed at how He has come through for me (not that I haven’t given Him both my job and my housing search but obviously He has His reasons for the delay). And He has met my needs even if not in the way I was hoping for yet.
Perhaps one of the greatest struggles we face in this life is that struggle between our will and God’s will. And often we don’t see or understand the real struggle going on until He shows us in ways only He can show us how we need to stop trying so hard and trust Him to work out His will in His timing and not just for what we want when we want it. We live in our own world (e.g., work, church, other responsibilities) most of the time but He is orchestrating the entire world, of which we are a small part. What we don’t understand (which often brings about our own efforts to try to “right a wrong” or change a particular unpleasant circumstance) is that what we are experiencing in our own personal battles is part of a much bigger picture that God has always had in mind since the beginning of time as stated in 2 Peter 3:8-9:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The bottom line is that it’s not about us and yet it is about us. It’s not about us and what we want… it’s about God and what He wants for us–which is that everyone would come to repentance. He places us in situations we can’t understand or fix on our own so that we learn to depend upon Him totally and not in ourselves or our own resources, and in the process He is using it in the lives of others to bring about their repentance, too. And that has always been God’s bottom line.
It’s not that our struggle isn’t real, but it is meant to bring us to total dependence on God and not on ourselves or how smart we think we are or how clever we think we can be in manipulating our circumstances to get what we want. And we all do that on a regular basis whether we realize it or not. And it is in our battles that He shows us our real need . . . and it’s Him, and nothing else.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding . . .
In all your ways acknowledge Him . . .
And He shall direct your path . . . . (Proverbs 3:5-6)
YouTube Video: “Beyond Me” by TobyMac:
Yesterday I found myself getting agitated by a situation I have no control over and it’s been going on for a very, very, very long time now (over seven years). What that essentially means is that I can’t do anything about it no matter how hard I’ve tried (and believe me when I say I have tried very, very, very hard for a very long time). And therein lies the problem. It is not a problem I can solve on my own as I didn’t start it in the first place–others did; and it does not just involve me. It involves those others, too. The details of my situation are not important for the purposes of this blog post. The lesson from it is what counts.
If you find yourself in a similar situation that you have no control over and you get agitated over it more times then you care to count but can’t do anything about it on your own, you know the feeling. And it is not an uncommon dilemma in which to find ourselves in today, either (and I’m not talking about my particular dilemma but situations that come into our lives that are out of our control to change).
In the midst of my agitation yesterday a couple of verses kept running over and over again in my mind. Those two verses are found in Psalm 37:7-8. Here are several versions of those two verses:
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil. (NIV)
Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him;
do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way,
by the man who carries out evil plans.
Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated—it can only bring harm. (HCSB)
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
do not fret—it only causes harm. (NKJV)
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. (ESV)
Quiet down before God,
be prayerful before him.
Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder,
who elbow their way to the top.
Don’t fret, don’t worry, don’t be agitated, cease from anger, and forsake wrath–it only leads to harm.
Yesterday, I read a billboard in plain sight while driving on a major interstate (I-4 near Orlando) in massive traffic that states in very large letters Jesus‘ words found Matthew 5:44 (also found in Luke 6:27-28):
Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
Those words are well known words that most people are aware of but rarely follow. Just turn on the TV and watch the media circus going on in this election year here in America as an example. That we all “want what we want when we want it” is not an uncommon theme today from coast-to-coast, and we don’t seem to mind bashing or destroying others in the process if it will get us what we want. Even the advertising on TV is often touting “It’s all about YOU” in their marketing schemes–most likely because it works. We often think about our own comfort first and foremost over the comfort of others.
Now before I go any further, I was not agitated when I woke up yesterday morning. In fact, I had not even planned to do what I ended up doing, but due to my current housing situation of living in hotels (which I have discussed previously and it has not yet been resolved), I felt the need to “do” something in order to try to change it (although I have done everything I can possibly think of to do to try to change my housing situation since I first found myself living in hotels back in the fall of 2014 when I went to Houston for three months).
I pay for my hotel rooms on a weekly basis, and at this particular hotel every Thursday morning I pay for another week in order to have a roof over my head. And, I always hope that this will be the week that I will finally figure out how to find more permanent and affordable housing and can leave hotel living far behind me. Since Thursday was only two days away as of yesterday morning when I woke up (and hence, I will have to pay yet another $285/week to keep that roof over my head once again tomorrow–Thursday–morning), I felt the need to try and DO something again before another Thursday morning showed up (although it hasn’t worked for months now but I’ve never been one to give up either).
So I did . . .
. . . and ended up with the same result I’ve had to endure for the past year and a half since I’ve been forced to live in hotels. And that is when the agitation set in. By the time I went to bed last night I could have beat the pillow to a pulp that is not mine on the bed that I don’t own in a room that costs way too much on a weekly basis to be forced to live in for so very long now. However, I don’t even beat pillows (mine or others) when I’m agitated; although, you can, perhaps, understand my frustration. Actually, maybe it doesn’t matter when I turn on the TV and see a billionaire verbally beating up on a millionaire (and vice versa) for the highest office in the America. That is not meant to be a disparaging comment about either candidate, but rather a sign of the times that we are living in today. However, it does makes one wonder what our priorities are here in America. There is a lot of division going on in America right now; almost more so, it seems, then back in the tumultuous 1960’s.
In three Gospel accounts, Jesus clearly stated that “a house (and kingdom) divided against itself cannot stand.” Whether it’s confined to family, friends, and assorted others fighting among themselves for whatever the reason (money is often a big reason), or a nation tearing itself apart at the seams, the end result is still the same . . . destruction. Here is what GotQuestions.org has to say on the subject:
There are three accounts in the Gospels in which Jesus states that a kingdom divided against itself is laid waste or a house divided cannot stand (Luke 11:17; Mark 3:25; Matthew 12:25). All three instances of this statement are spoken in response to the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan—a blasphemy that Jesus said would not be forgiven them.
Jesus’ argument to the Pharisees was logical: a kingdom that is at cross-purposes with itself will fall. Any household driven by infighting will tear itself apart. Jesus was obviously casting demons out of people. If Jesus was in league with Satan, or if Satan was somehow working through Jesus, it is unlikely that exorcisms would be a priority, because why would Satan cast himself out? Satan has more practical wisdom than to allow his demonic underlings to group themselves into warring factions.
By saying that a house divided cannot stand, Jesus is illustrating the fact that success relies on congruency. This is something we see in daily life all the time. Whether it is a machine, a sports team, a government party, or one’s own mind, things have to work together if anything is to be accomplished. The Bible says that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8), and Paul appeals to the churches that there be no divisions among the believers (1 Corinthians 1:10). In fact, churches should be unified in their purpose and judgment, avoiding people who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to sound doctrine (Romans 16:17). Christians are not to quarrel but to be unified around a common understanding of truth. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
God commands unity among believers because once conflict enters the midst of any assembly or entity, productivity and usefulness inevitably grind to a halt and the whole organization is weakened and becomes vulnerable to attack. As Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.”
A fruit of the Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:22). Christians are, as followers of the Prince of Peace, peaceful people (Matthew 5:9). We are called to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16) and, as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14). Jesus Christ is building His church (Matthew 16:18). His “house” will stand; “his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (Daniel 6:26). (Quote source here.)
“Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” We are called to live in harmony with one another, and as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with everyone. Personally, I don’t see that happening very much in our nation today or even among Christians regarding those they consider to be “the enemy.” Our real enemy is clearly stated in Ephesians 6:10-18 and my last blog post, “Penetrating the Darkness,” gives the details.
We live in a time now where lying has become second nature, especially if the person or people we are lying to don’t mean anything to us personally and/or lying to them is to our own benefit (or will line our own pockets). And too often it doesn’t seem to matter if the people doing the lying consider themselves to be Christian or not. It seems that any excuse will do if it will benefit us. And people can pretend to be “oh so helpful” when they are not (and it is intentional on their part to not be helpful, too). We live in deceptive times, but then they have always been with us.
James 4 addresses the core of the problem:
Pride Promotes Strife
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”
Humility Cures Worldliness
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands,you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Do Not Judge a Brother (or Sister)
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
Do Not Boast About Tomorrow
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. (NKJV)
At this point, I think I’ve written enough for now. At least give it some honest thought. . . .
Either we care, or we don’t care . . .
And both are very obvious . . .
To others . . . .
YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:
I think it is only fitting that on Friday the 13th (as in May 13, 2016) I should write a blog post on spiritual warfare. While almost everything we do in the Christian life has elements of this battle going on at any given time (through temptations and trials), the last time I wrote a blog post specifically on the topic of spiritual warfare was over four years ago on January 18, 2012, titled, “Regaining our Balance.”
I’m not sure anymore how seriously this topic is taken within Christian circles today because we are so focused on a “Positive Christianity” that you’d think we lived on a playground instead of a battlefield (see article titled, “16 Dangers of the Positive Christianity Movement,” by John Burton, published on October 6, 2014 in Charisma News). And we “nice” ourselves to death at our own peril. Yet, the Apostle Paul was very, very clear that we are in a spiritual battle all the days of our lives on this earth. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:10-18, these very words:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
The Message Bible states these same verses (Ephesians 6:10-18) as follows:
A Fight to the Finish
And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
Dr. Jack Hayford has written a book along with his daughter, Rebecca Hayford Bauer, on the topic of spiritual warfare titled, “Penetrating the Darkness: Discovering the Power of the Cross Against Unseen Evil,” (2011). Dr. Hayford is the founding pastor of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California, where he served as senior pastor for more than three decades. A prolific and best-selling writer, Pastor Hayford is the author (or co-author) of more than fifty books and has composed 500 hymns and choruses, including the internationally known and widely recorded “Majesty” (see Jack Hayford Ministries for more information). Currently, Dr. Hayford serves as Chancellor of The King’s University (formerly The King’s College and Seminary) in Los Angeles and Dallas, which he founded in 1997. (Quote source here.)
As Dr. Hayford notes at the beginning of Chapter 1 titled, “Rules of Engagement,” praying is at the top of the list of weapons we use when we are engaged in spiritual warfare–which is all of the time. He uses the term “Rules of Engagement” for his first chapter as it “is a military term that defines for commanders and troops when, where and how force will be used.” And he chose this term “to title this chapter, not only because we are setting a framework into place, but also to send a clarion call that when we pray, we are, indeed, engaged in spiritual warfare” (Quote source page 10).
Dr. Hayford continues by stating on pp. 10-11:
The clash of good and evil, of God and Satan, or the Kingdom of God and the powers of darkness is there–there in the Word of God. It is a battle over which some believes have puzzled themselves, saying, “Didn’t Jesus ‘win it all’ at the cross? He said, ‘It is finished.’” Bewildered by that, some have suggested that any mention of spiritual warfare trivializes the cross of Christ, but in fact, that is not the case.
- The epistles laud the cross and the blood of Christ as having completed salvation’s provision, but they also teach that a spiritual conflict is being engaged in “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).
- The blood of the cross is not only honored, but its power is testified to as the source of authority that equips believers to prevail in this present age-long battle against “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.” (Revelation 12:9).
- All prayer–petition, intercession, supplication and praiseful thanksgiving–is noted as “the weapons of our warfare,” as believers gird for the battle in spiritual armor and take up spiritual weaponry (See 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18).
It is vitally important that we understand, as Christians, that we are always engaged in this warfare. As Dr. Hayford notes at the end of this chapter (pp. 13-14):
In a very real sense, the words of the title of this book (“Penetrating the Darkness“) could appropriately be used to provide a subtitle for the Bible. All of the Word of God is a story–from the creation to the Consummation, from the chaotic darkness “upon the face of the deep” to the glories of the eternal city where forever “The Lamb is the Light thereof.”
Today, the Bible’s prophecies of the end times declare the challenge between, on the one hand, the increasing enterprises of vile and dark powers that corrupt humanity, and the inky blackness of hell’s demons surfacing for the final conflict (see 1 Timothy 4:2; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13; Revelation 9:1-21). On the other hand are those who answer Christ’s call as the Lord of the Church for us to overcome (see 1 John 5:4-5)!
The darkness is deepening–but the Word of God sounds a trumpet blast of faith-inspiring promise: Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds! It is the grace that flows from the cross and the grand that flowed to each of us who have met the Savior there. And it is also the same grace, filling and overflowing each of us who open to those overflowing “streams of living water,” that is available to every believer who will receive that full endowment of the Holy Spirit Jesus prophesied. It is the “river” that is provides power to live for Christ, to grow in the Word and prayer, and power to follow the Kingdom’s King–Jesus–as He leads us to “stand, therefore,” becoming equipped for battle.
In Chapter 2 titled, “The Gift of the Kingdom,” Dr. Hayford clearly explains the Kingdom of God, which was a constant theme Jesus preached about and was contained in the lessons He taught (p. 15):
He [Jesus] came proclaiming the power and presence of the Kingdom as the ‘entry’ of God’s will and rule, here to impact every situation. He applied Kingdom grace and power regarding every need or circumstance: health and healing, sin and forgiveness, human relationships, personal character, human failure, divine provision and His call for us to grow in Faith. His message at every point was to give hope. He came to bring “life abundantly”–life at a new dimension–both present and future. And He offered the gift of a Kingdom to all who would accept it–a dual offer of salvation, to birth us into the Kingdom, and the gift of partnership, to enable us as “citizens” to extend His Kingdom into all the world. So when He stood on the shores of Galilee, or taught on the Temple grounds in Jerusalem, He proclaimed His message with a sin-shattering, life-transforming possibility (pp. 15-16).
Continuing in the same chapter a few pages further (pp. 20-21), Dr. Hayford states:
As His redeemed, we are called beyond “being saved” to enter the school of discipleship with Jesus, first by opening to an empowering encounter with the Holy Spirit. That baptism with the Spirit includes the availability of diving power to assist us in our living, our growth, our praying, our worship, our labors, our–well, you name it! The Holy Spirit has come to glorify Christ–to cause the fullness of Jesus’ person and purpose to increase and graciously impact others around the beyond us where we live and for all that we pray (see Ephesians 3:16-19).
Further, when Kingdom truth about Kingdom rule is understood, not only does the beauty and wonder of Jesus’ call to our partnership become dynamic; the clarity of a sound understanding about our source of power and privilege in His name will not become muddled or muddied by pride, arrogance or any confusion about our authority as granted by God within His ultimate and unlimited sovereignty. We will find security as well as emboldened authority in Christ as the grandeur of God’s almightiness–His love, holiness, wisdom, power and grace is seen as ours in which to partner and to partake.
So come with me, and let us as redeemed sons and daughters, come with humility to learn His works and ways that now invite us to rule with Him through Christ and His cross.
A stunning proposition, wouldn’t you say?
In Chapter 3 titled, “Back to Basics,” Dr. Hayford writes about the foundation of prayer using the example of Jesus’ life and ministry and how He taught his disciples that the power of the Kingdom life flows through prayer (p. 31). He presents four “practicals” that should be a part of our daily devotional time: (1) Present yourself (pp. 34-36; (2) Present your heart (pp.36-38); (3) Present your day (pp. 38-40); and (4) Present your “reach” (influence) (pp. 40-46). And he ends this chapter with these words:
Keep pressing in! While you are learning, keep pressing forward, and never let the liar discourage your spirit. We can be tempted to think about daily prayer the same way that we do New Year’s resolutions. We get excited about the newness of what the Lord is working in our lives, and pray three days in a row. Then something comes up and we miss a day. If we miss two more days, we feel as though we are back down to zero again! It is as if we were scoring points and now we are behind. That is absolutely a lie of the devil. When we miss a day, all that happens is the we missed a day; it does not annul the days when we did pray.
Learning the habit o daily devotional prayer will take time. But it is step one in learning to penetrate the darkness through prayer. As growing disciples, we build that foundation of daily prayer. But there will also be times that the Lord calls us to deeper dimensions of prayer. Scripture talks about other kinds of prayer through which we can extend the light and life of His Kingdom (pp. 46-47).
It goes without saying that this blog post would be exceedingly lengthy if I continued to give a brief description of all eleven chapters. The remaining chapters are titled, (4) Intercession 101; (5) Intercession Practicum; (6) It’s Only by the Blood; (7) A Binding Contract; (8) Breaking Loose; (9) Engaging in Battle; (10) Invasion of Life; and (11) We Shall Do Valiantly. There are also two appendixes: Appendix A: A Prayer for Receiving Christ as Lord and Savior; and Appendix B: A Prayer for Inviting the Lord to Fill You with the Holy Spirit.
There is one more chapter, Chapter 9 titled “Engaging in Battle,” that I want to make mention of as it is so important for us in understanding our real enemy. Dr. Hayford opens up the chapter with the following story on pp. 141-142:
I really enjoy watching movies about our nation’s history, both documentaries and historical fiction. One time I was watching “The Patriot” and was struck by one particular scene. In case you have never seen this movie, it is set in the time period of the Revolutionary Way. The main character is a widower with seven children. Having fought in a previous conflict, he knows the horrors of war, and now his main goal is to keep his family out of the war. Thus he plays it safe and refuses to take a stand; he is now pledged to peace at any cost. His older sons are anxious to fight, anxious to engage the enemy, anxious to take the stand their father refuses to take. But though they argue and pressure him, he remains firm in his resolve: “I will not engage the enemy for the safety of my family.”
But the enemy comes and find him.
This man tries at one point to be humanitarian to some injured Colonial soldiers. Just then he turns around to see the Redcoats marching through his fields to his home. Enraged at his kindness to their enemy, the British soldiers shoot all the Colonial wounded, take the man’s oldest son captive and set fire to his home. In an instant, his life has changed, and he has no choice but to enter the battle.
Sometimes we do the same thing when it comes to our Adversary, the devil. We act as though if we play fair, the devil will leave us alone. But we need to come to grips with the fact that the devil is not just some little character that sits on our shoulders telling us to steal the cookie out of the cookie jar. He is vicious, relentless and completely committed to the destruction of humankind. Like the man in the movie, we can go about our lives and refuse to take a stand, but the point will arrive when the battle comes to us (pp. 141-142).
Yes, it will . . . when we aren’t expecting it the battle will come to us anyway. Dr. Hayford then goes on to explain how the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16 KJV)–The Message version words it this way: “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with” (p. 143). He then goes into the story of the prophet Elijah. Elijah faces many incredibly tough battles. Dr. Hayford states the following about Elijah (pp. 148-149):
The description of Elijah is one of a man who was subject to life’s passions as we are. He was not immune to depression, despair or despondency. I am sometimes convinced that Elijah was the kind of guy who woke up irritable some mornings. In fact, we could easily draw the conclusion that he woke up irritable every morning! Elijah even describes himself to the Lord as “very zealous” (1 Kings 19:10). The Hebrew word used there literally means “to envy, be jealous, be envious, be zealous.” Elijah was passionate about God, blunt in how he addressed people, and well, kind of quirky. We see a lot of these same attributes in John the Baptist, who, Scripture tells us, came in the spirit of Elijah. Bottom line–these guys did not give you the warm fuzzies.
When James [author of the “effectual fervent prayer” verse cited above and the Book of James in the New Testament] refers to this prophet, he makes clear that Elijah’s prayer of faith was not based upon superhuman transcendence of the flesh and its weaknesses. He did not walk around radiating imaginary holiness, robed in white and making wise and powerful utterances. He was a man subject to the same feelings and emotions that we experience. And it is this same “ordinary guy” who Scripture says prayed and no rain fell for three and a half years. When he prayed again, rain fell.
This is who James chooses to illustrate how effectual fervent prayer works. The New Testament application of this dramatic Old Testament story should come as no surprise to any of us. Living on this side of the cross, we sometimes forget we are living in the continuum of God’s workings. God has always been God; He has always been at work. As surely as Abraham looked ahead and rejoiced to see Jesus’ day (see John 8:56), we can look back and access the promise of God’s past workings. The Bible tells us that “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Every lesson and work of God that we see in His timeline of redemptive history can be applied to our own lives. The life of Elijah is just one example of the miracle workings of God that can be claimed by any of His children. It is Elijah’s story; it is James’ story; and it is designed to become my story, and your story, too.
Spiritual warfare is very, very real. We cannot take it lightly or think that we are immune to it. And don’t wait for the enemy to come and find you. But even if you do, remember who to turn to even in your darkest hours. . . .
Jesus Christ is the same . . .
Yesterday, today . . .
And forever . . . .
YouTube Video: “Backseat Driver” by TobyMac:
Yesterday I was at one of my favorite bookstores browsing through the bargain books section when I stumbled upon a little gift book titled “Whispers of Grace” (2013) by Ellie Claire. It is filled with short sayings by famous folks and Bible verses in various translations on the subject of grace. Since some of my blog posts tend to deal with tougher subjects (but not always), the subject of grace is of paramount importance to believers in Jesus Christ and one of great comfort to us. It is, after all, one of the cornerstones of our faith.
Biblically, grace is unmerited favor. It is God’s free action for the benefit of His people. It is different from justice and mercy. Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we do not deserve. In grace we get eternal life, something that, quite obviously, we do not deserve, but because of God’s love and kindness manifested in Jesus on the Cross, we receive the great blessing of redemption.
Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace rules out all human merit (Rom. 11:6). It is the product of God that is given by God because of who He is and not because of who we are. It is the means of our salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). We are no longer under the Law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). (See 1 Cor. 15:11, Rom. 5:2, 15-20, 2 Cor. 12:9, and 2 Cor. 9:8). (Quote source here.)
When I was a young girl (which was several decades ago), one of the first acronyms I learned in church was grace (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense), and it has always stuck with me. And one of the classic Bible verses on grace is found in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
GotQuestions?org gives us a longer definition of grace:
The gospel message is the good news of God’s grace, so it is important to know what grace is and to constantly seek to get a better view of what grace does in our lives.
Grace is an essential part of God’s character. Grace is closely related to God’s benevolence, love, and mercy. Grace can be variously defined as “God’s favor toward the unworthy” or “God’s benevolence on the undeserving.” In His grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us abundantly, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve to be treated so well or dealt with so generously.
To fully understand grace, we need to consider who we were without Christ and who we become with Christ. We were born in sin (Psalm 51:5), and we were guilty of breaking God’s holy laws (Romans 3:9–20, 23; 1 John 1:8–10). We were enemies of God (Romans 5:6, 10; 8:7; Colossians 1:21), deserving of death (Romans 6:23a). We were unrighteous (Romans 3:10) and without means of justifying ourselves (Romans 3:20). Spiritually, we were destitute, blind, unclean, and dead. Our souls were in peril of everlasting punishment.
But then came grace. God extended His favor to us. Grace is what saves us (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is the essence of the gospel (Acts 20:24). Grace gives us victory over sin (James 4:6). Grace gives us “eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Paul repeatedly identified grace as the basis of his calling as an apostle (Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Ephesians 3:2, 7). Jesus Christ is the embodiment of grace, coupled with truth (John 1:14).
The Bible repeatedly calls grace a “gift” (e.g., Ephesians 4:7). This is an important analogy because it teaches us some key things about grace:
First, anyone who has ever received a gift understands that a gift is much different from a loan, which requires repayment or return by the recipient. The fact that grace is a gift means that nothing is owed in return.
Second, there is no cost to the person who receives a gift. A gift is free to the recipient, although it is not free to the giver, who bears the expense. The gift of salvation costs us sinners nothing. But the price of such an extravagant gift came at a great cost for our Lord Jesus, who died in our place.
Third, once a gift has been given, ownership of the gift has transferred and it is now ours to keep. There is a permanence in a gift that does not exist with loans or advances. When a gift changes hands, the giver permanently relinquishes all rights to renege or take back the gift in future. God’s grace is ours forever.
Fourth, in the giving of a gift, the giver voluntarily forfeits something he owns, willingly losing what belongs to him so that the recipient will profit from it. The giver becomes poorer so the recipient can become richer. This generous and voluntary exchange from the giver to the recipient is visible in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Finally, the Bible teaches that grace is completely unmerited. The gift and the act of giving have nothing at all to do with our merit or innate quality (Romans 4:4; 11:5–6; 2 Timothy 1:9–10). In fact, the Bible says quite clearly that we don’t deserve God’s salvation. Romans 5:8–10 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”
Grace does not stop once we are saved; God is gracious to us for the rest of our lives, working within and upon us. The Bible encourages us with many additional benefits that grace secures for every believer:
• Grace wins for us a new relationship of intimacy with God (Exodus 33:17).
• Grace helps us in our every need (Hebrews 4:16).
Grace is actively and continually working in the lives of God’s people. Paul credited the success of his ministry not to his own substantial labors but to “the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Grace is the ongoing, benevolent act of God working in us, without which we can do nothing (John 15:5). Grace is greater than our sin (Romans 5:20), more abundant than we expect (1 Timothy 1:14), and too wonderful for words (2 Corinthians 9:15).
As the recipients of God’s grace, Christians are to be gracious to others. Grace is given to us to serve others and to exercise our spiritual gifts for the building up of the church (Romans 12:6; Ephesians 3:2, 7; 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10). (Quote source here.)
And all of that is Good News! Grace is God’s unmerited gift to us . . . and not because of anything we have done, but because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. We cannot work our way to God on our own merit by anything that we have done. The gift of grace comes through the sacrifice of Jesus to those of us who believe in him.
Getting back to the gift book I mentioned at the beginning of this post, “Whispers of Grace,” it contains 61 sections on the subject of grace each with it’s own title starting with “The Tune of Grace” and ending with “Passionate Love.” Each section contains a variety of approximately six to seven quotes on the subject title in that particular section. Here are four sections I’ve selected from the book to give you an idea of what the rest of the sections are like. The first section is titled, “Strong Refuge” (pp. 48-49):
We know that [God] give us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty. ~Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)
Why would God promise a refuge unless He knew we would need a place to hide once in a while? ~Neva Coyle
The LORD is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him. ~Nahum 1:7 NLT
If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer–His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable. ~John Newton (1725-1807)
Jesus Christ is no security against storms, but He is perfect security in storms. He has never promised you an easy passage, only a safe landing. ~L.B. Cowman (1870-1960)
Do not take over much thought for tomorrow. God, who has led you safely on so far, will lead you on to the end. Be altogether at rest in the loving holy confidence which you ought to have in His heavenly Providence. ~Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
You are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with Your praise and with Your glory all day long. ~Psalm 71:7-8 NASB
This next section is titled, “The Source” (pp. 68-69):
He is the Source. Of everything. Strength for your day. Wisdom for your task. Comfort for your soul. Grace for your battle. Provision for each need. Understanding for each failure. Assistance for every encounter. ~Jack Hayford
We are forgiven and righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice; therefore we are pleasing to God in spite of our failures. Christ alone is the source of our forgiveness, freedom, joy, and purpose. ~Robert S. McGee
The very life of God, epitomized in the love of God, originates only and always with Him. ~W. Phillip Keller (1920-1997)
For he satisfies the thirsty and fells the hungry with good things. ~Psalm 107:9 NLT
He is the God who made the world and everything in it…. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth…. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us. ~Acts 17:24, 26-27 NLT
We must drink deeply from the very Source the deep calm and peace of interior quietude and refreshment of God, allowing the pure water of diving grace to flow plentifully and unceasingly from the Source itself. ~Mother Teresa (1910-1997)
You are never alone. In your heart of hearts, in the place where no two people are ever alike, Christ is waiting for you. And what you never dared hope for springs to life. ~Brother Roger of Taize (1915-2005)
And here is another section entitled, “Encountering God” (pp. 108-109):
We encounter God in the ordinariness of life, not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences, but in our simple presence in life. ~Brennan Manning (1934-2013)
God is with us in the midst of our daily, routine lives. In the middle of cleaning the house or driving somewhere in the pickup…. Often it’s in the middle of the most mundane task that He lets us know He is there with us. We realize, then, that there can be no “ordinary” moments for people who live their lives with Jesus. ~Michael Card
This is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. ~I John 3:24 NIV
Do you believe that God is near? He wants you to. He wants you to know that He is in the midst of your world. Wherever you are as you read these words, He is present. In your car. On the plane. In your office, your bedroom, your den. He’s near. And He is more than near. He is active. ~Max Lucado
Much of what is sacred is hidden in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives. To see something of the sacred in those moments takes slowing down so we can live our lives more reflectively. ~Ken Gire
If each moment is sacred–a time and place where we encounter God–life itself is sacred. ~Jean M. Blomquist
And I’ll finish up this post with the last section in the book titled, “Passionate Love” (pp. 126-127):
The highest act of love is the giving of the best gift, and, if necessary, at the greatest cost, to theleast deserving. That’s what God did. At the loss of His Son’s life to the totally undeserving, God gave the best gift–the display of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. ~John Piper
It may seem strange to think that God wants to spend time with us, but… think about it. If God went to all the trouble to come to earth, to live the life that He did, to die for us, then there’s got to be a hunger and a passion behind that. We think of prayer as an “ought to,” but in reality it is a response to God’s passionate love for us. We need to refocus on the fact that God is waiting for us to show up and be with Him and that our presence truly touches Him. ~Henry Cloud
When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. ~Titus 3:4-8 NIV
God loves you! He wants you to know Him, and He is sufficient for your every need. ~Anne Graham Lotz
You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. ~Isaiah 25:1 NASB
On the back cover is the following statement:
When we stop to listen, we can hear whispers of God’s grace all around us. Sighs of His love softly speak to our hearts, assuring us that He is with us in all things, at all times. His grace is a never-ending blessing to be shared.
So let’s share it! I’ll end this post with a quote from Charles Colson (1931-2012) on page 12:
It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. . .
God doesn’t want our success . . .
He wants us . . . .
YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” by Chris Tomlin:
Back in April 2012 I wrote a blog post that was dedicated to an old friend of mine who, at that time, I had not communicated with for several years. That post was titled, “You Think About That.” My friend is a former pastor of many years, a professor emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, a radio broadcaster, and founder of Key Life Network. He is also the author of numerous books, of which I wrote a blog post on August 5, 2012, on his last book published titled, “Three Free Sins.”
Well, he’s been at it again. . . . His name is Dr. Steve Brown (but don’t call him doctor; call him Steve), and his latest book it titled, “Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart.” Sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It is quite a delightful book. Here is one of the many endorsements on his book:
“Talk about crafty. Under the guise of exploring that scariest of topics, human motivation, Steve Brown has hidden a remarkably wide-ranging, uncommonly funny, and psychologically penetrating masterclass of practical theology. What’s more, he’s jam-packed it with the kind of stories you can only accumulate from a lifetime of full-blooded ministry, rooting the Good News right where it belongs–behind the masks we all wear. Here’s a not-so-hidden, kicker-free agenda for anyone interested in understanding themselves, loving other people, or knowing God. Digest this book, post-haste.”
~David Zahl, Editor, “The Mockingbird Blog”; author of “A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock n Roll” (2014).
Yep, we all wear masks . . . every single one of us. And we all have hidden agendas, too. In the “Introduction” to the book on page 2, Steve writes:
Dr. House (of television fame) often says, “Everybody lies.” That may be truer than any of us would like to admit. But when one gets as old as I am, one lies less and, more important for the purpose of this book, one doesn’t feel as constrained to wear so many masks. It may or may not be true that everybody lies, but everybody wears a mask, everybody has an agenda, and almost everybody you know is different than you think. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 2.)
In Chapter 1 titled “Halloween Horror,” Steve defines four questions (listed on page 6) as a starting point:
- What is a hidden agenda and why is it hidden?
- What are masks and why do we wear them?
- How do those masks and agendas hurt us and those we love?
- Why are we so afraid that people will discover our agendas and look behind our masks?
Before I go any further, you have to read the book to get the full impact, the humor, and the years of experience in dealing with others including himself to really appreciate what this book is truly offering to the reader. There is no way I can do justice to it in a blog post. For the purposes of this post, I will give a very brief description of how Steve defines hidden agendas and the masks we wear (re: the first two questions above). He goes much further with each by giving personal examples from his lifetime of experiences. So let’s start with the first question:
What is a hidden agenda and why it is hidden?
An “agenda” is a plan designed to accomplish, change, fix, destroy, remedy, reward, punish, promote, or hinder. In other words, an agenda is what we do to get from where we are to where we want to be–from here to there. Further, a hidden agenda is either hidden intentionally to accomplish what we desire, or hidden unintentionally because we don’t even know we have an agenda in the first place. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 8.)
And here’s the second question:
What are masks and why do we wear them?
Masks are designed to hide, conceal, or disguise the reality behind them. In other words, the masks are created to further an agenda. Like any agenda, the masks are sometimes intentional, but more often than not, the wearers are unaware of their masks.
Someone has said that the definition of “diplomacy” is saying “Nice dog . . . nice dog” until you get a stick. The “nice dog” part is the mask. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 10.)
In Chapter 2, “Ugly in a Nudist Colony” (you need to read the intro paragraph to understand the title–and I’m not going to give it away in this blog post, either), Steve, who is Presbyterian, describes a time a number of years ago when he was attending presbytery (e.g., a group of church pastors and leaders who live in a defined geographical area) where some of the younger leaders announced they were pretty much done with the meetings that were so “boring, anal, and so often ‘the noise of solemn assemblies'” (quote source page 24). One of the young leaders announced, “We need each other, and from now on, we are going to be different. We’re going to devote presbytery meetings to caring for and loving each other instead of just church business. And this morning we are going to begin by confession our sins to one another. I’ll start.” Here’s the rest of the story:
Then to the shock and surprise of everybody there, that leader confessed a very embarrassing and particularly humiliating sin to the presbytery. “Now,” he said, “it’s your turn.”
There was a long pause and then, to my surprise, members of the presbytery stood up and one by one confessed their sins. Those weren’t the “deep and dark” sins over which Christians crucify other Christians, but is was a good and freeing beginning.
I [Steve] was sitting in the back of the auditorium when all of this happened. As the confession progressed, I noticed that the presbytery members kept turning around and looking at me. I had been a seminary professor to many of them and it was apparent to me that they could hardly wait to get some dirt on the old guy.
So finally I stood up. It grew so quiet that you could hear a flea burp. In my kind and pastoral way I said, “Are you crazy?” I’m not confession my sins to this bunch. You aren’t safe! So forget it.” Then I sat down, only to quickly stand back up again and say, “Well, I suppose that is a sort of confession.”
Everybody laughed because we all knew that, while confession was good for the soul and good for the church, inappropriate confession was quite dangerous.
We live in a time when secrets are hard to keep. With social media, cameras on every corner, YouTube, email hackers, and viral tweets, town gossips have pretty much been put out of business–or maybe now they have a much bigger platform. If you don’t want everyone to know what you say, write, and do, don’t say it, don’t write it, and don’t do it. It will come back to bite you. Just ask those whose lives were destroyed by an online revelation, a Google search, or a camera about which they were unaware.
Until the church, the world, and our communities become safe places, a wise man or woman will be careful about an inappropriate authenticity that is more akin to stripping than honesty. So before we “get down” to our discussion of masks and how they hurt us and those we love, let me remind you of some things that are very important. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” pp. 25-26.)
Now if you think I’m going to give you the rest, you’re crazy . . . buy the book!!!
This post would be hopelessly long if I gave you snippets from each of the fourteen chapters. I wish I could, but it’s all in the book. Okay, okay—here are two more examples. . . .
In a section titled, “What is Really Important,” in Chapter 6 titled, “Dead Men (and Women) Do Tell Tales,” Steve writes:
Do you remember the story Jesus told about the farmer whose farm was incredibly successful (Luke 12)? The farmer was smoking a cigar on the back porch and planning how to deal with his new found wealth. He was going to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, and then he was going to kick back and enjoy his retirement. He fantasized about booze, parties and fun. God said to the man, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).
It is said that after the North had taken Richmond during the Civil War, there were literally wagonloads of Confederate money hauled away. Some of the soldiers who had become bored with it all got together and played a poker game. They played the game with worthless Confederate money, often playing for thousands of dollars a hand. What was important about their poker game? Nothing. Nothing at all.
In our culture we are playing, as it were, a lot of poker games with phony, worthless money. Mark Twain once told a group of wealthy business people that they would one day meet someone who didn’t have a dime yet was happy. “Then,” he said, “You’ll know that you’ve paid too much for your whistle.”
The world lies to us all the time. I actually believed the commercial pushing the hair growth product. They lied. So did those who said that fame, money, and being more religious would make everything okay. I’ve had a modicum of all three and those folks lied to me, too. I thought that if I ate properly, exercised regularly, and stayed away from products bad for my body, I would live a long and healthy life. Instead, I found out that I was just like a ship going down with nothing to throw overboard. They lied. And it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me. In that reminder, I was able to “consider myself dead.”
All of my life I wanted to be a mega-church pastor. I always served relatively small churches until eventually God told me I didn’t have to be a pastor anymore. Not too long ago a member of the pulpit committee of a very large church asked me to consider becoming their pastor. I told him he was crazy, but he said, “Steve, at least pray about it.” I did.
“Lord,” I prayed, “you know I’ve always wanted that kind of church. Think of the impact I could make for you and the lives I could touch…to say nothing of the money I could make. I would tithe that money and you would get far more then you’re getting from me now.”
At that moment, God took the blinders off and reminded me of that day in my study when my life came apart. He showed me a picture of angry Christians at a congregational meeting. He showed me the graves beside which I wept and the suicides I had cleaned up. He reminded me of the sleepless night when a drunk called at 3 o’clock in the morning and the times I stayed up worrying about the direction of the church.
I wrote the man on the pulpit committee. “I did as you requested,” I wrote in handwriting so shaky I could hardly read it. “I prayed and God said I was crazy to even pray about it. I will, however, be praying for you guys as you seek the right pastor for your church.”
The reminder was from the Holy Spirit. When he reminded me about the importance (or lack of it) of serving a mega-church, I repented (i.e., agreed with God) and it was a part of the process of considering myself dead.
Considering yourself dead is also to discover . . .
What Is Going to Last
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus . . . and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:13-15). In other words, a lot of things aren’t going to last, but Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever [Hebrews 13:8], and when you die only that will remain. In the great love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul wrote that three things would last–faith, hope, and love–and then he pointed out that love was the greatest of the three. Not only that, Paul wrote his friends in Philippi that the Holy Spirit would remind them of what will last and what won’t. I have a friend who says that everybody ought to be a part of something that will last longer then they do. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” pp. 83-86.)
The last snippet will come from Chapter 12 titled, “A New Kind of Family.” Steve writes:
Jesus said that we should be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) In chapter 2 [you’ll need to get the book!] I quote my late mentor when he said that the inappropriate and reckless ripping off of a mask was the kiss of death for friendship. He’s right. In fact, let me suggest that you read that second chapter again and remember what I taught you. You have to be very careful to whom and in front of whom you take off your mask, as well as the timing of that removal. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If we’re willing to reveal who we are in the little pieces and to admit our hidden agendas in small places, it will become addictive. And it will become contagious.
I have a friend, a famous pastor (you would know his name) who was disgraced, with a great number of people bearing witness to the way they were shamed and demeaned by him. I’ve stayed in touch with him even though some friends have told me I shouldn’t. At any rate, one friend told me that he was glad I was and then said, “What he really needs is someone to hug him.” In order to do that, I have to be real to him about who I am. I hate that but I’ve been watching and waiting, and this just came along.
We’ve all heard a lot about “creating opportunities” to be witnesses for Christ. Forget it. You don’t have to create opportunities. Just walk around in your new shoes and try to be sensitive to the opportunities God has given you to be real, to cut slack, and to set aside your hidden agendas. The people you touch will amaze you.
Just don’t duck. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 177.)
There are a total of fourteen chapters in the book, and at the end of each chapter Steve gives us several questions to digest regarding the chapter’s topic, which makes the book an excellent source for individual or group study. The many stories in his book are captivating, as is his sense of humor. It is, in fact . . .
Vintage Steve Brown . . .
And I can guarantee . . .
You will not be disappointed. . . .
Ordering information (Available May 16, 2016–it can be pre-ordered now if you’re reading this post before that date):
YouTube Video: “True Colors” (1986) by Cyndi Lauper:
Social media has changed the definition of friendship in our culture. Actually, the definition of genuine friendship hasn’t change but social media has made it much more shallow, transitory, and sometimes, meaningless. A person can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook and not even know most of them, other then what they post or as a casual acquaintance. And who can keep up with the posts of a thousand friends?
A quote often expressed about friendship that we hear a lot is stated in it’s longer form by Sarah Ockler:
“In your entire life, you can probably count your true friends on one hand. Maybe even on one finger. Those are the friends you need to cherish, and I wouldn’t trade one of them for a hundred of the other kind. I’d rather be completely alone than with a bunch of people who aren’t real; people who are just passing time.” (Quote source here.)
At the end of an article titled, “Why You Can Count Your True Friends on One Hand,” published on HuffPost Blog (2011) by Elizabeth Kesses (“BritChick Paris”) she makes this statement at the end of her article:
“Friendship has to be an exchange. It cannot be a one way street, that’s self sacrifice. As someone recently told me “if someone wants to be a part of your life they will make the effort to be in it, so don’t reserve a place in your heart for someone who doesn’t make the effort to stay.” (Quote source here.)
A Biblical definition of true friendship is found at CompellingTruth.org:
Friendships can be among the most rewarding and the most frustrating relationships in our lives. From Old to New Testament, the Bible is full of friendship stories and advice. We are told that friends love at all times (Proverbs 17:17), only wound us in ways that are trustworthy (i.e., tough love; Proverbs 27:6), are more loyal than family at times (Proverbs 18:24), provide mutual edification (Proverbs 27:17), can impart wisdom (Proverbs 13:20), and they may even sacrifice themselves for us (John 15:13).
David and Jonathan are well-known for their close friendship. First Samuel 18:1-5 talks about the knitting of the two men’s souls. Jonathan gave his robe and armor to David, essentially honoring David above himself and stripping himself of his kingly position (Jonathan’s father was King Saul). Later Jonathan stood up for David to his father (1 Samuel 19:1-7). Jonathan risked his life for his friend (1 Samuel 20). God used the friendship to preserve David for the throne. David, too, had deep loyalty to Jonathan. Second Samuel 1:17-27 is David’s lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. Even though Saul had been an enemy to David, the new king sought out someone from Saul’s family that he might show him kindness for the sake of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:1-13; 21:7). David’s sense of loyalty to Jonathan and his gratefulness for their friendship outweighed the enmity between Saul and David.
Embedded in instructions regarding the Church is some advice about friendship. Paul told believers to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, at peace with one another, loving, and thankful (Colossians 3:13-15). Friends also teach one another and worship God together (Colossians 3:16).
The truest friend is Jesus. John 15:12-15 says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Friends are like-minded. They love one another with sacrificial love. They share with one another from the heart. Friends know each other well and promote one another’s welfare. We are blessed to have been adopted into the family of God and to have been made friends of Jesus. In return, we are called to be good friends to one another.
According to the Bible, true friendship is characterized by love. The Proverbs, the example of David and Jonathan, instructions to the Church, and, ultimately, Jesus’ example depict true friendship. A true friend loves, gives wise counsel, remains loyal, forgives, and promotes the other’s welfare. (Quote source here.)
“Friendships can be among the most rewarding and the most frustrating relationships in our lives.” And who among us hasn’t experienced that truth in our own relationships with others to include family members and relatives. True friends watch out for each other, care about each other, and are willing to sacrifice their own time and comfort and resources to help each other. And that kind of friendship is hard to find. In fact, it’s actually quite rare, just as the quotes at the beginning of this post state.
One of the verses cited in the statement above is Proverbs 18:24 which states: “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The NLT states that verse as follows: “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” It is interesting to note what that verse is saying when it states that “a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” GotQuestions.org gives the meaning behind that statement:
Proverbs 18:24 teaches, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, / but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Given the fact that we normally think of blood being thicker than water, this proverb is rather jarring: there are ways that a friend can be more faithful than a brother.
The ESV translates the first line of the proverb this way: “A man of many companions may come to ruin.” In any translation the emphasis is on the plurality of friends. A person with many friends may still run into problems. A large number of friends does not equal help in the time of need. Many popular celebrities have faced this dilemma—they can have thousands of fans, yet fame is fickle, and the fans quickly disappear during difficult times. Our era of social media promotes many superficial connections who are called “friends,” but there are few true friends. Even the most connected can be lonely.
In contrast, the second line of this antithetical proverb tells us, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The concept of friendship is a strong one in Proverbs, and the word friend is used nine other times in the book. Wisdom is called a friend (7:4), a friend loves at all times (17:17), a poor man is deserted by his friend (19:4), everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts (19:6), a person with gracious speech has the king as his friend (22:11), faithful are the wounds of a friend (27:6), the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel (27:9), and do not forsake your friend and father’s friend (27:10).
From these verses, we see there are two kinds of “friends.” There is the friend who exists because you have something to offer (such as a material gift or popularity-by-association), and there is a friend who exists due to genuine love and friendship. Proverbs 18:4 offers a contrast between these two types of friends. You can amass as many friends of the first type as you want but still come to ruin; however, even one friend of the second type is a great advantage.
The genuine or authentic friend is someone who sticks closer than a brother. In other words, he or she can be counted on. This friend is steadfast; he or she will be there for you even more so than a family member. Brotherhood is one of the strongest relationships we know. A friend who sticks closer than a brother is a trustworthy friend, indeed.
A wonderful biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship is what existed between David and Jonathan. They became fast friends following the battle in which David killed Goliath. Despite the many hardships both men faced, they remained faithful to one another as friends and protected one another from harm. Jonathan even risked his life interceding for David before King Saul, who sought to kill David. After Jonathan’s death, David wrote a lament for his friend: “Jonathan lies slain on your heights. / I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; / you were very dear to me” (2 Samuel 1:25–26). Their friendship was stronger than David’s relationship with any of his own brothers.
Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34), and He has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus is truly the Friend who sticks closer than a brother, and blessed are those who have Him as their Friend (see John 15:14). (Quote source here.)
There is another type of friendship that, too often, Christians tend to get tripped up over, and it is the topic of a book I recently read titled, “Forbidden Friendships: Retaking the Biblical Gift of Male-Female Friendships” (2015, 2nd ed) by Joshua D. Jones. A statement regarding the book on Amazon.com states the following:
“Forbidden Friendships” presents the case for why Christian men and women need to engage one another in deep friendship and how to do so. Contrary to what some have taught, having close friends of the opposite gender is healthy, Biblical and important for spiritual growth. But divisions are in the Church. In the name of integrity, walls now exist that keep us from meaningful brother-sister friendship in Christ. While personal boundaries can be healthy, these generalized divisions are not Biblical nor these rules in line with Church History at its best. Contrary to their promises, we are not safer from sexual immorality by adhering to them – we are more at risk. In this 2nd edition – 1st edition entitled ‘Can Christian Men and Women be Friends?’ – Jones has refined and added more material for greater clarity and impact. Chapter subjects include: mixed friendships in Church history, practical and pastoral issues, ’emotional adultery’, Freud, Scripture survey and one on friendships in heaven. (Quote source here.)
Jones states his main reason for writing the book in his introduction titled, “Why This?” on pp. 4-5:
. . . there has been a growing relational chasm within the church that seeks to keep men and women from engaging in genuine friendship. This separation has been parading under the banner of integrity and it has become unhealthy. Not all agree with the new boundaries which keep men and women apart. But those who disagree often fear to raise their own objections.
This is important. We are supposed to be “the family of God,” yet the familial brother-sister, father-daughter, mother-son relationships which should be an outworking of the gospel are weak or missing. The experience of my Scandinavian wife and I is that this problem is greater in the USA (my place of origin) than in Britain or Europe; but it is an issue throughout the whole of the West.
My story? Well, in spite of having had a wonderful spiritual mother in my teen years, I later received strict discipleship when I was a bit older on the necessity to have lots of boundaries between men and women in order to maintain purity. A few events happened which caused me to revisit this part of my discipleship in the light of Scripture. These included helping celibate Christians who struggled with SSA (same-sex attraction) and having a board review during which time my pastoral work with young men was commended but I was also described as being “too distant and inaccessible” to women. It was a critique I do not believe Jesus would have ever received.
In addition to my cherished wife, I now have women near me whom I consider to be friends in the truest sense. If you are one, please know that my appreciation for you is much richer than my pen is able to describe. You are uneclipsable sisters who support me, my marriage, my ministry and you help me in ways that no male friend ever could. Thank you. (Taken from the Introduction titled, “Why This?” on pp. 4-5.)
From my own experiences as a single professional woman who is now in my 60’s, I found that once I entered adulthood back in my late teens that the emphasis from the church was that I find a suitable Christian man to marry, but to have genuine friendships with men other then seeking a mate was frowned upon, and indeed, suspect. And this dichotomy has always been there in church settings. Of course, there have been times (more than I care to remember) that because I was older and still not married, that some church folks thought (or assumed) I had other leanings (as in being a lesbian, which I am not). This assumption started soon after I reached the ripe old age of 30 and was still single. This tendency by the church to judge others who, for whatever reason, have never married and are well past the usual age of marriage (at least first marriages) of 18-30, has been a major frustration for me, and, I suspect, others who are Christian and have never been married, too.
But back to Jones’ book . . . . There are eight chapters in the book starting with an introduction titled, “Why This?” The eight chapters are titled, “Deceived by Integrity,” “Why Be Friends?”, “When Sex isn’t Enough,” “Lessons from the Past,” “Does the Bible Promote Sin?”, “Examining Emotional Adultery,” “Questions and Objections,” and “Now . . . And Not Yet.” It also includes two appendixes at the end titled, “Facebook Reactions” and “On Being Gay and SSA.”
My focus for the purpose of this blog post is on Chapter 2, “Why Be Friends?” In this chapter Jones discusses six primary reasons for establishing friendships between men and women. He starts off by stating that friendship in general (even same gender friendships) are suffering, and states the following after a brief discussion on what he states is “the dismal state of same gender friendships” (p. 23):
If we are so impoverished in the area of homosociality (same gender friendship), why bother advocating for heterosociality (mixed gender friendship)? After all, in many evangelical circles these relationships are now frowned upon and those who engage in them often have their integrity questioned. And–to be honest–we admit that at times unanticipated romantic feelings can come into play and have to be dealt with. With all of the potential challenges mixed friendships may invite from without and within, are they really worth it?
Here are six reasons why they are:
These six reasons are listed below:
(1) For healing, joy and growth (pp. 23-26)
Jones cites a survey where women were asked to what it was they most enjoyed about their friendships with men as opposed to their friendships with women, and the top three answers were: (1) Levity and a sense of joking and humor not as easily found among women, (2) a sense of “big brother” or familial protection, and (3) insight as to how men really think (p. 25)
Men were asked a similar question regarding their friendships with woman as opposed to their friendships with other men, and they stated that their friendships with women enabled them to talk more deeply then they tend to do in their friendships with other men (p. 25).
Jones also states on p. 26:
The fact that we enjoy a different dynamic in our friendships with men then we do in our friendships with women is not–contrary to pseudo-Freudian thought–a fruit of our repressed sex drive. God created us to enjoy one another, gender differences and all. This helps us grow. We receive things from spiritual mothers and sisters which we do not receive from spiritual fathers and brothers.
(2) To help us resist temptation (pp. 26-31)
It goes without saying that this is probably one of the biggest reasons given to avoid mixed gender friendships. However, as Jones states on pp. 26-27:
Today’s “integrity” rules create distance between men and women. They promise us that if we adhere to them, we will walk in sexual purity and affair proof our marriages. But these rules lie.
The reality that mixed friendships can help us resist sexual temptation may sound counter-intuitive at first, but it is true. We have physical needs as human beings: water, air, food, shelter, love, encouragement, etc. We also have social and physiological needs. Many needs are same-gender in nature. As men we need fathers and brothers to initiate us and affirm us into the world of men. Women also have similar needs, especially in connecting with maternal figures.
But in addition to same-gender needs, we also have legitimate opposite gender needs. It may be a woman hungry for a father figure she never had. It may be a young man in need of nurture which an older, spiritual mother may be able to give. It may be a sense of sibling-like validation or affirmation which may strengthen and encourage you in a different way that if it came from a person of the same gender. When these needs are not met in healthy ways we are more prone to seek fulfillment in unhealthy ones.
Well, it goes without saying that this blog is quite long already so let me list the last four reasons with a very brief sentence on each one:
(3) To strengthen our marriages (pp. 31-33) (Without fear of threat or jealousy becoming involved)
(4) Because we are commanded to be friends (pp. 33-35) (Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”)
(5) To show the power of the Cross (pp. 35-38) (“The Cross of Jesus breaks down the curse of sin and makes reconciliation between genders possible”–p. 36).
(6) Release of Ministry (p. 39) (Receiving encouraging words from the opposite gender)
What I have provided above is merely a fraction of the information contained in this chapter and, of course, the rest of the book, but I hope it has whet your appetite to learn more. The book is available for purchase at Amazon.com at this link (click here).
When considering friendships of any kind, perhaps the most vital passage in the Bible, which is most often quoted at wedding ceremonies but is true of all friendships and relationships, is found in 1 Corinthian 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. . . .
So whatever you wish that others . . .
Would do to you . . .
Do also to them . . . . (Matthew 7:12, ESV)
YouTube Video: “Friends” (Friends Are Friends Forever) by Michael W. Smith: