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This picture says it all . . .
YouTube Video: “Call It Grace” by Unspoken:
Photo credit: Photo by Sara (me)
Since its inception, my blog has been specifically related to Christian topics as I come from a Christian worldview (see my blog post on the topic of worldviews titled, “Worldviews,” at this link). A worldview is not something one can just turn off or turn on like a faucet. It permeates everything a person does and everything they believe, and everyone operates on the basis of what they believe regardless of whether or not it has a religious component.
That is not to say, from time to time, that I haven’t written a blog post where Christianity is not mentioned or isn’t the focal point. Take, for example, a blog post I published back on February 18, 2012 titled, “A Heartfelt Thanks to Andy Rooney.” Andy Rooney died on Nov. 4, 2011 at the age of 92 just three weeks after retiring after his 1097th appearance on the TV show, “60 Minutes.” He was an American radio and television writer who was best known for his weekly broadcast “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney,” a part of the CBS News program 60 Minutes from 1978 to 2011.
In his 1999 book, “Sincerely, Andy Rooney,” he [Rooney] included a final section called “Faith in Reason.” In it he reprints a thorough letter about his agnosticism and free-thought views. Sample quotes:
“I don’t differentiate much, except in degree, between people who believe in religion from those who believe in astrology, magic or the supernatural.”
“We all ought to understand we’re on our own. Believing in Santa Claus doesn’t do kids any harm for a few years but it isn’t smart for them to continue waiting all their lives for him to come down the chimney with something wonderful. Santa Claus and God are cousins.”
“I just wish this social institution [religion] wasn’t based on what appears to me to be a monumental hoax built on an accumulation of customs and myths directed toward proving something that isn’t true.”
“Christians talk as though goodness was their idea but good behavior doesn’t have any religious origin. Our prisons are filled with the devout.”
“I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does.” (Quote source here.)
I liked Andy Rooney for his upfront honesty even if I disagreed with his set of beliefs and some of the things he said or wrote. And the fact that he was agnostic doesn’t change my feelings about him (although, obviously, I never knew him personally). Sometimes I think that if I had not believed in Jesus Christ since I was a very young child (and I never “outgrew” it as is often the case with childhood conversions), being an agnostic might be appealing to me if I had no other particular belief system as the church isn’t always a friendly place. It’s sort of like his last quote above where he stated, “I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does.”
Fortunately, believing in Jesus Christ doesn’t have a “nice” factor attached to believing in him. Kind? Yes, but being “nice” doesn’t prove anything, especially when it comes to religious beliefs. Yes, it’s nice to be nice to everyone, but a lot is hidden behind the facade of “being nice.” There is a socially acceptable type of “being nice” (as in being pleasant) and we all recognize it when it happens, but our “niceness” doesn’t prove anything and often covers a lot that we won’t say but actually feel. Passive/aggressive behavior is often hidden behind a facade of “niceness” (see article titled, “10 Things Passive-Aggressive People Say,” at this link.) Hidden agendas are also hiding behind nice, compliant words, actions and facial expressions.
It might have helped if Andy Rooney had described what he thought “being nicer to each other” really meant. I think we all know, but that kind of genuine “nice” is becoming rather scarce, and it seems as if kids aren’t even being raised today to know what being genuinely “nice” is all about. I’m not even sure their parents know what it is all about, either. On the surface, there is a whole lot of “niceness” going on that isn’t sincere, so if religious belief depended on niceness, it doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
Here’s a definition of what being genuinely “nice” should looks and act like. It comes from Paul in Philippians 2:3-4 (NLT): “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” In today’s world we don’t experience that very often (at least that comes off as being genuine). We live in a “you scratch my back and I”ll scratch yours” world. We almost always expect something in return if we do someone a favor. Rare is the person who isn’t looking out for themselves first (even though most people won’t admit that openly), and this attitude permeates the religious world, too. Actions really do speak louder than words.
Religion as Andy Rooney describes it in his statement above, (e.g., “I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does”) reminds me of the religious folks Jesus was always running up against in his day (the Pharisees, et al). In an article titled, “Jesus Challenges the Pharisees,” by Jerry Bridges (1929-2016), author, speaker, and former staff member at The Navigators, he stated:
The Pharisees were the ultimate religious people among the Jews during Christ’s life on earth. Determined not to break any of God’s laws, they had, over time, devised an intricate system of oral tradition to keep them from breaking the Mosaic law. One would think with such a desire to obey God that they would have recognized the perfect obedience of Jesus and affirmed and followed Him. And yet, as demonstrated by the events recorded in Matthew 12:1–37, they were His most bitter and implacable opponents. Why was this so?
The essential problem lay in their different understanding of the nature of God. For the Pharisees, God is primarily one who makes demands. For them, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a set of rules that must be kept at all costs. For Jesus, as well as the Old Testament believers, God is primarily “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8).
Also for the Pharisees, God looked only at their external compliance with the law of God. For Jesus, God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). That is why, for example, Jesus would equate the lustful look, which actually expresses the desire of the heart, with the actual committing of adultery (Matt. 5:27–28).
The most proximate cause of the Pharisees’ antagonism toward Jesus, however, lay in His ignoring of their hundreds of elaborate but petty rules that they had devised for interpreting the law of God. Not only did they devise these hundreds of man-made rules, but they had also elevated them to the level of Scripture, so that to break one of their rules was to violate the law of God itself. And yet these rules not only obscured the true intent of God’s law, but also, in some cases, actually violated it (see Mark 7:9–13).
What really got the Pharisees upset with Jesus was the way He ignored their trivial and burdensome rules for keeping the Sabbath. In Matthew 12 verses 1–8, the Pharisees objected to the disciples of Jesus plucking and eating heads of grain as they walked through the grain fields on a Sabbath. According to their oral tradition, plucking the heads of grain and eating them was work — a violation of the Sabbath.
Almost immediately afterward, on that same Sabbath day, Jesus entered their synagogue where there was a man with a withered hand. Now, eager to again accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (vv. 9–14). Before healing the man, Jesus answers their question by asking which of them, if his sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, would not lift it out. If, then, it is lawful to relieve the misery of a sheep on the Sabbath, how much more is it lawful to relieve the misery of a fellow human being who is more valuable than a sheep?
In both instances — that of the disciples eating the grain and of Jesus healing the man’s withered hand — the scriptural principle that Jesus applies is God’s Word that “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (v. 7).
Apparently, not long after the Sabbath episodes, Jesus healed a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute (Matt. 12:22). Not having a Sabbath violation charge to bring against Jesus, the Pharisees now resorted to the slanderous charge that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons (that is, Satan himself). Since Jesus cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 28), their slanderous charge was actually blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a sin that Jesus said would never be forgiven. Commentators differ on exactly what this sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is. As a result, some people have become afraid that they have committed “the unpardonable sin.” However, it is safe to say that no one who is afraid that he or she has committed that sin has, in fact, committed it. The evidence from the text itself indicates that this blasphemy committed by the Pharisees can only come from a heart that is totally and implacably hardened against God. Obviously, a person with a sensitive heart could not commit that sin.
Since all Scripture is profitable for us, there is a present-day lesson for us to learn from Jesus’ clash with the Pharisees. We need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to the Scriptures. Some convictions that we hold dearly may be derived more from our particular Christian culture than derived from Scripture, and we need to learn to discern the differences. It is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture. So much judgmentalism among Christians today occurs because we do this. But that is basically what the Pharisees were doing. So, let’s be careful that we are not modern-day Pharisees. (Quote source here.)
Most people attending church on a regular basis probably don’t think of themselves as being in the same category as the Pharisees, but as Dr. Bridges stated above, we need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to Scripture and expect others to follow them. Having spent years in church settings, it’s a fact that there are many “unwritten rules” that we expect others to follow to be considered “Christian” that aren’t biblical but are a part of Christian culture. Again, as Dr. Bridges stated above, it is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture and judge others accordingly, as that is exactly what the Pharisees were doing. A genuine sign of being Christian is our love for others, not our judgment of others.
When I was in high school, the students who came from well-to-do families with intact homes and manicured lawns ran the show, and they determined who could or could not be a part of their clique. The rest of us who were not as fortunate as they were had no choice in the matter of being accepted by them or not. They looked down on the rest of us since we didn’t measure up to their set of standards. The church can too easily become just like those students who judged others according to their family background and economic and social status.
It may well be in the calculus of evil that the only character faring worse than a Nazi is the Pharisee. These were the original black hats. In each of the gospel accounts they are the no-accounts, the very foil of Jesus Himself. We, because we are sinners just like them, ascribe to the Pharisees every conceivable sin that we think ourselves not guilty of. We may have to confess to this sin or that, but at least, we tell ourselves, we aren’t like those guys. In our scapegoating narrative we think that when Jesus showed up the Pharisees hated Him for the simple reason that He was good and they evil. He walked down the street, and they hissed and sputtered. He healed a puppy and they kicked it.
The truth is that the Pharisees did hate Jesus, and He rightly isn’t known for showing them a great deal of grace. He called them out for their hypocrisy. He exposed their inner tombs. But the hatred they felt for Him wasn’t mere sour grapes at His approval rating, nor was it as principled as mere evil versus good. It was rather more craven. They hated Jesus not because He called them names, but because He threatened their security, prestige and income. He was going to ruin everything they had worked so hard for, and getting everybody killed. (Quote source and the rest of the article can be read at this link.)
Enough said . . . . I’ll end this post with the words from Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice . . .
And to love kindness . . .
And to walk humbly . . .
With your God . . . .
YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:
Many people in America consider themselves to be Christians but what does that really mean? Do they consider themselves to be a Christian because they go to church every Sunday, or because their parents were/are Christians, or because they think they live a fairly good life or follow the rules, or because America had been known around the world as being a Christian nation? Perhaps some people join a church to elevate their standing in their local community, especially if they are seeking a political office or to get ahead in the business world. But what does it really mean to be a Christian?
Yesterday as I was browsing through the bookshelves at a Goodwill store, I found a paperback book titled, “Not a Fan,” that was first published in 2011 (and recently revised and updated in 2016) by Kyle Idleman, Teaching Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The book is written in a style to relate to a younger audience but the message is relevant for anyone. On the back cover of the 2011 edition is the following statement:
Are you a fan or a follower? The dictionary defines a fan as “an enthusiastic admirer.” Fans want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires sacrifice. Fans may be fine with repeating a prayer, attending church on the weekend, and slapping a Jesus fish on their bumpers. But is that really the extent of the relationship Jesus wants?
Jesus was never interested in having admirers. It’s not fans he is looking for.
“Not a Fan” challenges you to consider what it really means to call yourself a Christian. With a direct frankness that you’re not likely to hear in Sunday school class, Kyle invites you to take an honest look at your relationship with Jesus. His call to follow may seem radical to us, but Jesus desires it for every believer. (Quote source here.)
The following is taken from a section titled, “Selling Jesus,” in Chapter 2 titled, “A Decision or a Commitment,” pp. 35-36:
Have you ever been flipping through the channels late at night and come across an annoying infomercial telling you how to get rich quick? An obnoxious spokesperson is looking into the camera and asking questions like, “Would you like to make more money? How would you like to only fly first class? Any interest in retiring early? How would you like to never worry about finances again?” And then you’re asked, “Does that sound like something you might be interested in?” Then the Billy Mays wannabe goes on to explain that all this can be your for free. You don’t even have to pay shipping and handling.
How do you respond to that? How can you say no? It costs you nothing and offers you everything. And I wonder if some well-intentioned preachers may have missed their calling as late-night infomercial salesmen. Because many people heard a gospel presentation that went something like this: “How would you like to live forever? Would you like to have your sins forgiven and have a fresh start? Do you want to spend eternity in paradise instead of burning in hell?” Some take it even further . . . “Would you like to live a prosperous life? Are you ready to claim the health and wealth God has in store for you? Does that sound like something you might be interested in?” And while some people rolled their eyes and changed the channel, a lot of fans signed up.
They ordered a gospel that cost them nothing and offered them everything.
So in case someone let it out or forgot to mention it when they explained what it meant to be a Christian, let me be clear: There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no salvation without surrender. There is no life without death. There is no believing without committing.
At a church where I am a pastor, someone sent an email asking to be removed from the church membership. The stated reason for leaving read as follows: “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.”
Note: at this point Kyle contacts the person who gave that reason for leaving in the next two paragraphs in the book (not included here), and the guy, after a lengthy explanation, ends up stating the following:
“Well. whenever I listen to one of the messages [by Kyle] I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.”
Kyle continues with the following: But do you hear what he is saying? He’s saying–“I believe in Jesus, I’m a big fan, but don’t ask me to follow. I don’t mind coming to church on the weekends. I pray before meals. I’ll even slap a Jesus fish on my bumper. But I don’t want Jesus to interfere with my life.” When Jesus defines the relationship he wants with us he makes it clear that being a fan who believes without making a commitment to follow isn’t an option. (Quote source: “Not a Fan,” 2011 edition, pp. 35-36.)
In Chapter 3 titled, “Knowledge About Him or Intimacy with Him,” I had to smile (from my own experience) when I read about Kyle’s childhood growing up in a Christian home on pp. 45-46:
I was born into a Christian home and rarely missed a weekend of church. From before I can remember I could quote the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16, and the 23rd Psalm. When I was around five years old I threw a fit because my mom was making me wear a tie to church. She was trying to understand why I was so upset, and through my tears I explained, “If I wear a tie they might make me preach!” By the age of thirteen I felt pressure to have the “Baptist blow-dry” hairstyle that my father was somewhat a legend for perfecting. I would regularly model the latest “witness wear.” My collection was impressive: God’s Gym; Jesus, The Real Thing; This blood’s for you . . . I had them all. When I was in junior high I even had a picture of Jesus hanging on my wall right next to the poster of Michael Jordan. In some ways that is a visual example of how I would define my relationship with Jesus at the time. I was a fan of Jesus, like I was a fan of Mike. I had memorized his records and knew his stats, but I did not know him.
If you would have confronted me on being just a fan of Jesus and not a completely committed follower I would have defended myself by trying challenge you to a “sword drill.” That’s where you see who can turn to a Scripture reference the fastest. I would point to my impressive record whenever I competed in a “quote off.” A “quote off” is similar to a “dance off” except you quote Bible verses. I think it would be safe to say that what Ben Stiller is to dance offs I am to quote offs. As I grew older I would have pointed to the religious traditions I followed and the moral code I observed as evidence that I was a follower of Jesus. I would have filled you in on the fact that I don’t drink, I would have let you know that I’ve never said a cuss word, at least not loud enough to be heard. In fact, my friends and I were such committed followers, we made up Christian cuss words.
If you really had pushed me I would have had to break out the Spiritual Leadership Award I won at a Christian basketball camp. I may have pulled out the ribbon I won for getting runner-up for camper of the week at church camp. I would have also explained that I got ripped off because the kid who got first place was the son of the dean of the camp, or, as I like to call him, a cheating S.O.D. Instead of describing a relationship where I truly knew Jesus, I would have told you what I knew about Jesus. But when there is knowledge without intimacy, you’re really no more than a fan. (Quote source: “Not a Fan,” 2011 ed., pp. 45-46).
Wow, reading how he grew up takes me back to my own childhood days in church and summer Bible camp. I’m still laughing as his picture is so accurate! And what he said is true–most folks growing up in church get lot of Bible knowledge and learning about Jesus (which is good, so I’m not saying it is bad) with a whole lot of rules to follow, too, but learning about having in intimate relationship with Jesus? Well, not so much. . . . But like Kyle, if you had asked me if I was a genuine follower of Jesus back then, I could have shown you badges and ribbons I earned (mostly for Scripture memory), etc. But Kyle is right; it does not replace an intimate relationship with Jesus, and without that, it means nothing at all.
Too often we also get into “rule following” as a measuring stick of how “committed” we (or others) are as Christians. In Chapter 5 titled, “Following Jesus or Following the Rules,” Kyle opens the chapter with the following story on pp. 69-72:
Do you remember the story of Matt Emmons? He was one shot away from claiming victory in the 2004 Olympics. He was competing in the 50-meter three-position rifle event. He didn’t even need a bull’s eye to win. His final shot merely needed to be on target. Normally, the shot he made would have received a score of 8.1, more than enough for the gold metal. But in what was described as “an extremely rare mistake in elite competition,” Emmons fired at the wrong target. Standing in lane two, he fired at the target in lane three. His score for a good shot at the wrong target: 0. Instead of a medal, Emmons ended up in eighth place.
That’s a picture of what happens to a lot of fans. If you asked them, “Are you a fan or a follower?” they would confidently respond “follower.” It’s not a question of their effort or desire. They are following hard. Here is the problem; it’s not Jesus they are following. Without realizing it, they are aiming at the wrong target. Instead of following Jesus they are following religious rules and rituals. They have confused the targets.
In Matthew 23, Jesus tries to get the attention of a group of fans known as the religious leaders. If you were trying to determine who were the fans and who were the followers in Jesus’ day, it would be likely that these religious leaders would quickly be identified as the followers. They had a mastery of the Scriptures and were considered expert theologians. They were especially known for their strict observance of the law. They would have received high scores for their religious rule keeping, but that’s not the target Jesus was most concerned about. Following the rules kept them focused on the outside, but who they were on the inside is what Jesus paid attention to. And the problem with these religious leaders is that, like many fans, who they were on the outside didn’t match up with what was on the inside. In this chapter Jesus preaches one of his last sermons here on earth and it’s directed right at these religious leaders. He doesn’t hold anything back. If you grew up thinking of Jesus as a Mr. Rogers of Nazareth who was always smiling, winking at people, and wearing a sweater vest, the tone Jesus takes with these religious leaders may surprise you. The name of the sermon we’re going to study is not “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” This sermon is traditionally called “The Seven Woes.”
The word “woe” is an onomatopoeia–a word where the definition comes from its sound. The word “woe” is both an expression of grief and a curse. Seven times in his sermon Jesus says, “Woe to you…” Each “Woe” is followed by a scathing rebuke. This isn’t a warning by Jesus. He’s isn’t cautioning the religious leaders. He isn’t offering them counsel or advice. Jesus is going to strongly opposed these religious leaders because he doesn’t want people to confuse following the rules with following him. His indictments against these religious leaders should serve as a warning to those fans who consider themselves followers because of their religious rule keeping and Christian credentials.
These spiritual leaders Jesus is addressing in Matthew 23 made up a religious ruling body of 72 men called the Sanhedrin. Within the Sanhedrin there were two different groups called the Sadducees and the Pharisees. These two groups did not get along. When interpreting Scripture the Sadducees were very liberal, and the Pharisees were quite conservative. The Sadducees served the roles of Chief Priests and Elders. If you were a Sadducee, it meant you were born into that position. There were, of course, other requirements, but it had to be part of your heritage. But to be a part of the Pharisees it didn’t depend on the family you were born into; it was your hard work. Becoming a Pharisee required an incredible amount of textual study and theological training. And what I’ve noticed is that many fans fit into one of these two camps.
Some fans are like the Sadducees. Their faith was something they were born with. It was never really something they chose. Maybe when you were born your parents handed you a mask, and you grew up acting like Christians act, talking how Christians talked, listening to the music Christians listened to; but you never fell in love with Jesus. Your faith has always been more about honoring your heritage than surrendering your heart.
On the other hand, some fans are like the Pharisees. They would measure their faith by their hard work at learning and following the law. Their intellectual knowledge and behavior compliance was the target they were aiming at. But even though they were saying the right things and doing the right things, it wasn’t a reflection of who they really were. You may say the right things and do the right things, but that’s not enough for Jesus. He wants all of you.
I was waiting in an aisle of the grocery store when the cover of “People” magazine caught my eye. It was a picture of the famous tennis player, Andre Agassi. For years he was one of the top players in the world. He turned pro when he was sixteen and won eight Grand Slams over the span of his twenty-year career. The headline said “My Secret Life.” I picked it up and began to read. The article was about his new autobiography “Open.” It turns out he doesn’t really like tennis. He never did. In fact, he hated it during his growing up years and through most of his career. He writes: “My dad decided before I was born that I would be the number one player in the world.” In the article he describes a practice session at age seven: “My arm feels like it’s about to fall off. I ask, ‘How much longer Pops?’ No answer. I get an idea. Accidentally, on purpose I hit a ball high over the fence. I catch it on the rim of the racket so it sounds like a misfire. My father sees the ball leave the court and curses. He stomps out of the yard. I now have four and a half minutes to catch my breath.” Maybe the most telling sentence in that article was this one. Agassi says, “I never chose this life.” On the outside you would never guess his heart wasn’t in it. He’s put in countless hours of practice. He’s battled for championships. He was really good at what he did. But he was wearing a mask. Because he never chose it. it was never his. As a result there was no love.
And this describes many fans that I know. You look really good. You have this part down. You know what to say, and what not to say. You can pray the prayers and you can sing the songs. But you never chose it. It was just handed down to you. Or you’re going through the motions, putting on an impressive performance but it isn’t real. Your heart is not in it. (Quote source, “Not a Fan,” 2011 ed., pp. 69-72.)
So . . . fan or follower? Is our heart really in it or are we just wearing a mask and doing it out of sense of obligation? Right before Matthew 23, Jesus made the following statement in Matthew 22:36-40, when a Pharisee asked him this question:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The mark of a genuine follower of Jesus as stated in the words of Jesus is found in John 13:35 . . .
By this everyone will know . . .
That you are my disciples . . .
If you love one another . . . .
YouTube Video: “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” by Jars of Clay:
The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar and it is a very joyous celebration of victory for the Jews over their enemies. On our Western calendar, this year Purim falls on February 28th (starting at sundown) and ends on March 1th (at nightfall). Here is a brief description of Purim from Wikipedia.com:
Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester מגילת אסתר in Hebrew).
According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing. (Quote source here.)
Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holds a lavish party, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city Shushan. Ahasuerus orders the queen Vashti to display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Worried all women will learn from this, Ahasuerus removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent across the empire that men should be the ruler of their households and should speak their own native tongue. Ahasuerus then orders all beautiful young girls to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is the orphan Esther, whose Jewish name is Hadassah. After the death of her parents, she is being fostered by her cousin Mordecai. She finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new queen. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded.
Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver (which the King declines to accept and rather allows him to execute his plan on principle), and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar. On that day, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property. When Mordecai finds out about the plans he and all Jews mourn and fast. Mordecai informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King. She is afraid to break the law and go to the King unsummoned. This action would incur the death penalty. Mordecai tells her that she must. She orders Mordecai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her which shows that she is not to be punished. She invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and consults with his friends. At his wife’s suggestion, he builds a gallows for Mordecai.
That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai has not received any recognition for saving the king’s life. Just then, Haman appears, to ask the King to hang Mordecai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the king is referring to is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse, while a herald calls: “See how the king honours a man he wishes to reward!” To his horror and surprise, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai. After leading Mordecai’s parade, he returns in mourning to his wife and friends, who suggest his downfall has begun.
Immediately after, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The king comes back in at this moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, but the king allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, 500 attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan, followed by a Jewish slaughter of 75,000 Persians, although they took no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordecai assuming a prominent position in his court (quote source here).
The story of Esther is truly one of the most inspiring stories in the Old Testament, and while the name of God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, God is all over every page and circumstance that happens in this book. It is about a courageous young Jewish woman and her relative, Mordecai, whose faith and courage remained unwavering in the midst of a plot to destroy all of the Jewish people in Persia. And the plot was not only foiled, but the man behind the plot fell victim to the very plans that he laid out for the destruction of Mordecai.
The Fast of Esther is a dawn-to-nightfall fast held on the day before the jolly holiday of Purim. It commemorates the fasting of our ancestors in response to the dramatic chain of events that occurred during their exile in the Persian empire. These events are recorded in the Book of Esther, and the salvation that came about at that time is celebrated on the holiday of Purim. (Click here to find out what times the Fast of Esther starts and ends in your location.)
This year the Fast of Esther is held on February 28, and Purim is celebrated from the evening of February 28 through March 1 (March 1-2 in Jerusalem). While the fast is generally celebrated on the day before Purim, when Purim is on Sunday, the fast is moved from Shabbat to the preceding Thursday.
The Fast of Esther, or Ta’anit Esther, is not one of the four public fasts that was ordained by the prophets. Consequently, we are more lenient in its observance, particularly when it comes to pregnant women, nursing mothers and others who are weak.
Click here for basic fast-day information.
Fasting is associated with some pivotal moments in the Purim narrative. One such moment is when Esther approached King Ahasuerus without permission in an effort to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. Before she went to the king, she fasted for three days, and asked that all the Jews fast as well.
Another dramatic turnaround occurred on Adar 13 (the default date for the Fast of Esther), the date that Haman had set aside for killing the Jews. Instead the Jewish people soundly trounced their enemies. This triumph was accomplished while the Jews were fasting, as they prayed to G‑d that they be successful.
Regarding the actual celebration of Purim, in a March 2017 article titled, “5 Thing to Know About Purim–The Most Fun Jewish Holiday,” by Constance Gibbs, Features Writer at NYDailyNews.com, she writes:
Purim is one of the most fun holidays celebrated by the Jewish people, but is often under recognized.
Purim (held on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar — usually March or April) commemorates the day Esther, Queen of Persia, saved the Jewish people from execution by Haman, the advisor to the Persian king. Esther bravely exposed her previously hidden Jewish heritage to her husband the king and asked him to save her people, which he did.
A little bit of Mardi Gras, Easter, and Halloween all rolled into one, these are some of the traditions that make the holiday so fun.
There’s lots of food and drink
Many Jewish holidays incorporate stricter rules, which could include mandatory fasting, but Purim is much more relaxed. There is only a minor fast the day before Purim, which commemorates the three days Esther fasted before approaching the king. Then, the holiday itself is known for a party atmosphere, with big feasts where you can eat and get drunk (within reason, but it is encouraged).
Speaking of food, one of the best treats for Purim are hamantaschen: triangle-shaped cookie pastries with fruit or savory filling. The treat is said to look like Haman’s tri-cornered hat or his ears (“oznei Haman” in Hebrew). Sweet hamantaschen are most popular, with poppy seed, chocolate, date, apricot, or apple filling, but some bakeries (like Bread’s Bakery) are getting into savory fillings, like eggplant, mushroom, or different meats and cheeses.
There’s fun heckling
During the synagogue service, the “megillah,” or scroll, of Esther is read aloud, telling the story of Esther and Haman. Because the book says Haman’s name was “blotted out,” everyone in the synagogue stamps their feet, yells, and heckles using “graggers” (ratchet noisemakers) all 54 times his name is read in the story.
There are baskets of candy
A Purim tradition is to send out baskets of food and drink (“shalach manot”/”mishloach manot”) to family and to the poor. They look kind of like Easter baskets because they are to be filled with food that is ready to eat — pastries, wine, candy, chips, and other snack foods certainly count.
There are carnivals
On Purim, there are often carnivals, with revelers dressing up, dancing and having parades. Kids have tons of fun at these events, doing crafts, making Purim baskets, playing games and making noise-makers. Carnival attendees enjoy showing off their costumes; anything from Biblical characters like Moses or Esther and Haman to more traditionally secular costumes like you’d see at Halloween (and maybe even a few hamantaschen) are worn. (Quote source here.)
In a second article published literally two hours ago titled, “Purim 2008: Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Jewish Holiday (It Known as the Jewish Mardi Gras),” by Kashmira Gander, Lifestyle Writer at TheIndependent.com, she adds the following information (some of which has been mentioned above):
Jewish people across the world are gathering today to mark the end of Purim, which celebrates an attempt by an ancient Persian King to wipe out the Jewish population 2,500 years ago.
Here are five things you may not have known about the colourful festival.
It celebrates the bravery of a young woman called Esther
The story follows Esther, who was chosen to be the wife and Queen of King Ahasuerus (believed to be Xerxes I) of Persia.
When the King’s adviser, Haman, persuades him to kill all the Jews in the empire, Queen Esther’s cousin and adopted father, Mordecai, calls on her to use her influence to stop the bloody plan.
The tale is told in the Book of Esther, known as the Megillah, and ends with Haman’s hanging and the Jewish people being saved.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish Calendar which usually coincides with March.
Making a racket at the synagogue is encouraged
As part of celebrations, Jewish people gather at the synagogue where the story of Esther is recited and the atmosphere is rowdy.
While it is read, listeners are encouraged to use noisemakers called graggers and to boo, hiss and stamp their feet when Haman’s name is mentioned in an attempt to drown it out.
Some congregations also shout “Long live Mordecai, cursed be Haman, blessed be Esther” or “May the name of the wicked rot!”
It’s known as Jewish Mardi Gras
Purim has a carnival-like atmosphere, with people either wearing their best Sabbath clothing or fancy dress – with King Xerxes, Vashti, Queen Esther, Mordecai and Haman among the most popular costumes.
Rabbi Gadi Levy, director of adult education at Portland Kollel in the US state of Oregon, told the Oregonian newspaper that the costumes symbolise how God is hidden in all our lives.
“Throughout the year we wear a mask,“ Levy said.
“Our facial expressions cover who we really are, our society covers who we really are. On Purim we’re trying to break that. You put on the mask and the inner self is able to explode,” he explained.
Observers also perform plays and parodies of Esther’s story, hold costume contests, and give money to the poor.
The term itself refers to the lottery system that Haman used to decide that the massacre would be on, which fell on the 14th day of Adar.
On a leap year, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it always falls one month before Passover.
On the eve of Purim, Jews do not eat or drink from dawn until dusk to remember Esther’s three-day fast in preparation to meet the King.
However, during the festival friends give each other foods and a feast known as the Purim se’udah is held. Adults are obliged to drink until they do not “know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’”.
While there is no set main meal, triangular biscuits called hamantaschen – which translated to Haman’s pockets – filled with fruit marmalade or poppy seeds are served to observers.
In Israel, Purim baskets containing an assortment of sweets, cookies, bagels, wine, nuts and fruit are sold. (Quote source here.)
I hope this information has sufficiently put you in the mood to enjoy a fun Purim celebration this year! And if you need more, just listen to the YouTube video below to put you in a festive mood! I’ll end this post with the words from Esther 9:28: These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews . . .
Nor should the memory . . .
Of these days die out . . .
Among their descendants . . . .
YouTube Video: “Happy Purim” video to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams:
Most Christians at one time or another experience what is often called “the silence of God.” It seems as if God is deaf to our prayers and petitions or in our circumstances that we are hoping will change but don’t . . . or at least they don’t change in our timing or in the way we had hoped and prayed for them to change. But before I start on the topic of God’s silence, I first want to explain what it means to hear “the voice of God” since I never know who might be reading these blog posts, and an explanation might be needed for clarification.
This question has been asked by countless people throughout the ages. Samuel heard the voice of God, but did not recognize it until he was instructed by Eli (1 Samuel 3:1–10). Gideon had a physical revelation from God, and he still doubted what he had heard to the point of asking for a sign, not once, but three times (Judges 6:17–22,36–40). When we are listening for God’s voice, how can we know that He is the one speaking? First of all, we have something that Gideon and Samuel did not. We have the complete Bible, the inspired Word of God, to read, study, and meditate on. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). When we have a question about a certain topic or decision in our lives, we should see what the Bible has to say about it. God will never lead us contrary to what He has taught in His Word (Titus 1:2).
To hear God’s voice we must belong to God. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Those who hear God’s voice are those who belong to Him—those who have been saved by His grace through faith in the Lord Jesus. These are the sheep who hear and recognize His voice, because they know Him as their Shepherd. If we are to recognize God’s voice, we must belong to Him.
We hear His voice when we spend time in Bible study and quiet contemplation of His Word. The more time we spend intimately with God and His Word, the easier it is to recognize His voice and His leading in our lives. Employees at a bank are trained to recognize counterfeits by studying genuine money so closely that it is easy to spot a fake. We should be so familiar with God’s Word that when someone speaks error to us, it is clear that it is not of God.
While God could speak audibly to people today, He speaks primarily through His written Word. Sometimes God’s leading can come through the Holy Spirit, through our consciences, through circumstances, and through the exhortations of other people. By comparing what we hear to the truth of Scripture, we can learn to recognize God’s voice. (Quote source here.)
Personally, I can say that I have never heard an “audible” (as in “out loud”) voice of God. As stated in the last paragraph above, God speaks primarily through his written Word (the Bible), and God’s leading can come through the Holy Spirit (see “Who is the Holy Spirit?” at GotQuestions.org at this link), through our consciences, through our circumstances, and through the exhortations of other people.
God is not limited in the ways He chooses to communicate with us. For example, God communicates to everyone (believers and nonbelievers alike) through nature and His creation (see article titled, “What Does it Mean that God Communicates Through Creation?” at Christianity.com this link); and God can communicate through dreams and visions (see “Does God Reveal Things Through Dreams and Visions?” at BillyGraham.org at this link–however, as stated in this article:
God may communicate through dreams or visions even today, but we need to carefully check any such guidance we receive with Scripture and godly counsel to be sure it is from the Lord. Anything which contradicts Scripture is not from God. Our minds and even Satan are capable of producing great deception in such subjective areas. (Quote source here.)
So it would appear that even when we think God is silent at times in our lives, He really isn’t silent. So in another question asked on GotQuestion.org, “Why are there times when God seems silent/absent in a believer’s life?” here is their answer:
In answering this question, one is reminded of Elijah and his flight from Jezebel. Elijah was a man of God whom God used to do some mighty things. However, when word reached him that Jezebel had threatened his life, he ran (1 Kings 19). Elijah prayed to the LORD and in effect complained about how he was being treated: “And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10). The LORD’S answer to Elijah is thrilling: “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12).
We see in this passage of Scripture that what Elijah thought was not true. Elijah thought God was silent and that he was the only one left. God was not only “not silent,” but He had an army waiting in the wings so that Elijah was not alone: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).
In our walk as born-again believers, it may seem that God is silent, but God is never silent. What looks like silence and inactivity to us is God allowing us the opportunity to listen to “the still small voice” and to see the provisions that He has made for us by faith. God is involved in every area of a believer’s life–the very hairs on our heads are numbered (Mark 10:30; Luke 12:7). However, there are times when we have to walk in obedience to the light that God has given us before He sheds more light on our path, because in this age of grace God speaks to us through His Word.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:8-11).
Therefore, when God seems silent to us as born-again believers, it may mean that we have stopped listening to His voice, we have allowed the cares of this world to plug our spiritual ears, or we have neglected His Word. God does not speak to us today in signs, wonders, fire or wind, His Spirit speaks to us through the Word, and in that Word we have the “words of life.” (Quote source here.)
Back in 1990, Dr. Henry Blackaby, Southern Baptist pastor and founder of Blackaby Ministries International, and Claude King, discipleship specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources, wrote a book that became extraordinarily popular worldwide. That book is titled, “Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God.” It was revised in 2008 and included seven new chapters and an additional author, Richard Blackaby, Dr. Blackaby’s son and president of Blackaby Ministries International. In “Experiencing God” (2008 edition), Dr. Blackaby writes about his own experience with “the silences of God” on pp. 180-182:
I went through a lengthy time when God was silent. You probably have had the experience, too. I had been praying for many days, and there seemed to be complete silence from God. I senses heaven was closed, and I didn’t understand what was happening. Some people told me that if God was not responding to my prayers there must be unconfessed sin in my life. Some one gave me a “sin checklist” to work through. Wanting to make sure I was right with God, I prayed through the list, but the silence persisted.
My problem was much like Job’s. You’ll recall that his counselors said his problems were due to sin. But Job felt he and God were on the right terms. Job did not know all God was doing during that time, but for sure, his advisors were wrong. There was another reason for what was happening.
The only thing I knew to do was go back to God. I believe God, who loves me, will let me know what is going on in my life when and if I need to know. So I prayed, “Heavenly Father, I don’t understand this silence. You are going to have to tell me what You’re doing in my life.” And in time, He did–from His Word! This became one of the most meaningful experiences in my life.
I did not go searching frantically throughout the Bible for an answer. I continued my daily reading of the Word. I believed that as I read the Bible, the Spirit of God would help me understand what God was doing in my life.
One morning, I was reading the story of the death of Lazarus (see John 11:1-45). Keep in mind that John says Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. But having received word that Lazarus was mortally ill, Jesus delayed going to him. In the meantime, Lazarus died. Mary and Martha had asked Jesus to come help their brother [Lazarus], but all the way through the final sickness and death of Lazarus, Jesus did not come. They received no response from the One who claimed to love Lazarus!
Mary and Martha went through the entire funeral process for their beloved brother. They prepared his body and sealed him in a tomb. Still, they experienced silence from God. Only then did Jesus tell His disciples it was time to go to Lazarus.
When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days. Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). As I read her words during my “silent period,” the Spirit of God began to help me understand something. It seemed as if Jesus said to Mary and Martha:
You are exactly right. If I had come when you asked, your brother would not have died. You know that I could have healed him because you have see Me heal people many times. If I had come when you asked Me to, I would have healed him. but you would have never experienced any more about Me than you already know. I knew you were ready for a greater revelation of Me than you have yet known. I wanted you to see that I am the resurrection and the life. My refusal and My silence were no rejection. They were an opportunity for Me to disclose to you more of Me than you have ever known.
When that began to dawn on me, I almost jumped out of my chair. I said, “That’s what’s happening in my life! That’s what ‘s happened. The silence of God means He is ready to bring into my life a greater revelation of Himself than I have ever known.” I immediately changed my attitude. With great anticipation, I began to watch for what new revelation God would teach me about Himself. I then had some incredible opportunities happen in my life that I might have missed without that kind of readiness and anticipation.
When there is silence from God now, I still pray through my sin checklist. If there is unconfessed sin, I confess and make it right. If, after that, there is still silence, I prepare for a new experience with God. Sometimes God is silent as He prepares you for a deeper understanding of Himself. Whenever silence comes, continue doing the last thing God told you and watch and wait for a fresh encounter with Him.
When you do not hear from God, you can respond in one of two ways. You can become discouraged and suffer guilt and self-condemnation. Or you can expect that God is about to bring you into a deeper knowledge of Him. The response you choose will make all the different in how you experience God.
Prayer is not a religious activity. It is a relationship to a Person, a two-way communication with holy, Almighty God. When you pray, you enter the throne room of heaven–the nerve center of the universe. You do not have to enter prayer alone. Christ and the Holy Spirit are intercessors with you. the Holy Spirit helps you know what to pray and how to pray. He guides your praying according to the will of God because He already knows what God wants to give you or to do in your life. His job is to guide your praying in that direction.
Often the Holy Spirit will use Scripture to reveal truth, but truth is no a concept. Truth is a Person. When the Holy Spirit reveals truth, you adjust your life to God and obey Him. Your prayer life is one of the best indications of the health of your love relationship with the Father. (Quote source, “Experiencing God” (2008 edition), pp. 180-182.)
In one last article titled, “When God Seems Silent: 5 Practical Things You Can Do When God Seems Silent,” by Jessica Wicks on CRU.org, she includes this statement from Oswald Chambers (1874-1917):
“When you cannot hear God,” says Oswald Chambers in “My Utmost For His Highest,” “you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible — with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.” (Quote source here.)
Sometimes silence really is golden . . . . I’ll end this post with a well known verse found in Psalm 46:10:
Be still, and know that I am God . . .
I will be exalted among the nations . . .
I will be exalted in the earth . . . .
YouTube Video: “Let God Be God,” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:
Why is it that we so often look to ourselves or to friends first to find a solution to a problem or situation before we turn to God and seek His help? Over the past several decades we’ve been fed so much “self-help” advice in our culture (and even through our churches) that we practically spew it out in our sleep. Here’s a sample of what it entails: “Concepts and terms originating in self-help culture and Twelve-Step culture, such as recovery, dysfunctional families, and codependency have become firmly integrated in mainstream language” (quote source here). However, self-help concepts and Biblical principles are often at odds with each another, but they have become enmeshed in today’s church culture, and too often “self-help” concepts trump biblical principles.
On several occasions, I have discussed my current housing situation that I honestly don’t know how to resolve at this point in time (re: living in a hotel while trying to find low income housing for almost four years now on a very low income) with a Christian friend of mine who always answers with the same advice. The advice I get from my friend is that I am “not a victim” (and I’ve never said I was a victim nor have I ever used the term in reference to myself; however, it is frequently used in the “self-help” culture language), and my friend also said that I could make any changes I wanted to make regarding my housing situation if I really wanted to change my situation bad enough (which is another “self-help” concept implying that I don’t want to change my situation). I humorously told my friend to send me lots of money and I could resolve my housing situation immediately. Not once has this friend ever mentioned seeking God’s help in my housing search (however, I do seek God’s help all the time).
The details of my housing search for the past almost four years can pretty much be summed up in my most recent experience at a senior apartment complex I inquired about regarding an ad I found stating low income apartments were available at their complex. When I arrived to inquire about their low income apartments, I was told that there were no low income apartments available nor would there be for at least a year, and they already had a waiting list started if I wanted to place my name on it. When I asked to be placed on the waiting list I was told that a $250 deposit had to be paid upfront in order to be placed on their waiting list. Also, there was no guarantee that I’d secure an apartment in the foreseeable future, so I declined. My housing search has been a never-ending cycle of going nowhere fast.
For a Christian (or anyone seeking the God found in the Bible), it is paramount that we seek God’s help first in every area of our lives and not just in the tough situations. And fortunately, the Bible doesn’t take a “self-help” approach to situations we find ourselves in that we can’t help ourselves get out of on our own. In fact, Proverbs 3:5-6 states the following:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
And that’s the antithesis of “self-help.” So let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about God’s help and provision because we sure aren’t going to find it from the culture-at-large.
When you put your faith in Christ, God commissions himself to protect, provide, and care for you (Philippians 4:19). God always provides for his children, though often it is not in the way we expect or hope.
The challenge is for us to see his provision and care, even when it is different than we expect. Because God is God, his ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). But he graciously gives us insight into what he is doing in the Scriptures.
John Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, but you may be aware of three of them.” Over and over again, Jesus’s disciples missed what he was doing right in front of them. They missed the point of the miracles. They missed the lessons. Which should give us hope for our own lack of clarity today. Here are four important encouragements about how God provides and cares for you.
1. God May Provide Differently Than We Expect
The Israelites escaped captivity in Egypt only to face the challenges of the desert. One of the biggest challenges for such a large group of nomads was enough food to eat. Over and over again God provided supernaturally for his people. If God could provide for many thousands of Israelites in the middle of a desert, he can surely provide for you and your family’s needs. One of the precious testimonies of Scripture is, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25).
But even with God’s supernatural provision, the Israelites still complained and grumbled in the desert. They longed for the food they left behind in Egypt. God was literally providing bread from heaven — enough for each day — but they wanted his provision a different way. They wanted it their own way.
This lesson has spoken to me over the years. Ask God to provide for you in whatever way he deems fit. Don’t grumble against God’s supernatural, unexpected ways.
Maybe you are at a job and doing work different than what you had expected or hoped for. Don’t always wish for something different. Don’t constantly dream about being somewhere else, doing something else. Be present. Give your all to your current job, and always be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This doesn’t mean you can’t move towards the job of your dreams, but it might inspire the faith to stop complaining about the way God has provided for you in the current moment, and instead invest yourself fully wherever you are.
2. God Provides More of Himself
Our greatest need is for more of God, and this is something he gladly gives us. [Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount]:
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11)
Scripture tells us to make the pursuit of God the primary function of our lives. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
John Piper has asked, “What is the deepest root of your joy? What God gives to you? Or what God is to you?” God graciously guides us into a greater realization that our ultimate need is for more of his word, more of his ways—more of him.
3. God’s Ultimate Provision Has Already Been Given in the Gospel
We ask God for many things, but the greatest thing we could ever receive from him has already been given. What God has given us in the gospel is light-years ahead of every other provision and care we could ever seek from him. When we trust in Christ, we have decisively secured for us every ultimately good thing from him. It’s just a matter of time.
James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Every truly good thing in our lives comes straight from the Father. The ultimate good he provided us, through whom much of the other good things come to us, is Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate treasure.
4. God Provides Finally in Eternity
Hebrews 11 gives us two different perspectives on God’s provision and care for us. Some, by faith, came through this life victorious, while others lost their lives. Both are commended for their mighty faith.
God does not always provide and care for us in ways we might expect in this life. The Bible does not promise this. Peter, James, John, and Paul gave their very lives for the gospel. They viewed the gospel as a treasure not to be lost at any cost. They suffered gladly because they had something in the gospel that had far more worth.
This life is fleeting. This life is fragile. This life is but a vapor’s breath. The next life, the age to come, is where all God’s provision and care for us will ultimately make sense and come together as a whole.
We may not receive healing in this life, but we will receive perfect healing in eternity. We may not see answers to our greatest prayers in this life, but we will receive fully in eternity. Some days God’s provision and care may seem distant, but it will be ever-present in eternity. We long for our world to stop raging and be at peace, but ultimate peace will only come in eternity.
Our hearts ache under the pressures of this life, but it is only because we were made for another world. We are sojourners and aliens on this earth. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). (Quote source here.)
The following article is a personal account of God’s provision titled, “Divine Provision–God’s Way or Mine?” by Dr. Jolene Erlacher, wife and mother, author of “Millennials in Ministry,” speaker, college instructor, and founder of Leading Tomorrow:
My husband and I had been married two-and-a-half years. During that time, we had been separated for 18 months due to military training and a deployment. We had also experienced two interstate moves, finished a doctoral dissertation and a Master’s thesis, bought a house, and had a job transition. Our hearts felt taxed by the separations, change, and stress. Now, eight-months pregnant with twins, we learned that my husband was most likely losing his job. He had confronted an unethical situation in his unit and was being punished. The stress of the past several years began to engulf me and in my tired state, I did not have the energy to fight back.
We prayed. No, actually, we begged God with tears and anguish to save my husband’s job. After all, he had done the right thing. He had sought to honor God and others and now he was experiencing injustice. We were about to welcome two little people into our family. It was not the ideal time to be without an income. Worry plagued my waking and sleeping hours. I felt it like a dark cloud, sapping the joy out of life. Despite the many times I had seen God’s hand at work in my life, I felt doubt. Would God prove faithful? Would He provide? Friends and family tried to encourage me that God was in control and His ways are best, but there was no solution acceptable to me other than God rescuing my husband’s career.
The weeks passed; our babies were born. We had two beautiful, healthy girls. My life became a haze of sleeping for 60-90 minutes between feedings and diaper changes. As my husband came home from work each day, I barely had the energy to hear the latest update. Hope for his career faded daily. Finally, when the girls were two-months-old, he came home from work with the boxes containing his belongings. He hung up the uniform he had worn for almost 18 years. At first, it seemed surreal. My definition of God’s faithfulness and provision could not bear the weight of our reality. I had a choice. Would I cling to my view that God should have rescued my husband’s job, or would I just let go and trust? I had to let go.
My husband began applying for other jobs. As we waited, we spent our days holding babies, talking, reading, praying, watching movies, and sleeping. Peace, even joy, began to seep back into our hearts and minds. Even as every potential job opportunity seemed to slipped away, we recognized and appreciated the gift of time together, something we had longed for in the first months of our marriage. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Our spending habits changed, our savings grew thin. Still we waited. I watched as my husband fell in love with our daughters. I grew to appreciate the help with two little ones. We worked on writing and home improvement projects. Then, after five months of unemployment, we received the call. Funding had been approved for a civilian job at my husband’s old headquarters. The department head, knowing his skills, was requesting him for the position. They were going to bypass the interview process. If he wanted the job, it was his.
God had provided. It was not my way or in my timing. No, indeed, my way would have deprived us of quality family time. It would have robbed my husband of an invaluable opportunity to bond with his infant daughters. My definition of God’s provision would have left my husband in a stressful job, rather than giving him time to recover from a discouraging season and placing him in a role where he is fulfilled and appreciated. My definition of God’s provision needed redefining. The girls just turned one. As I reflect on this past year, I am grateful for the gift of learning once again that God’s ways ARE higher than mine. The truth of Psalm 37 is alive; our God does provide for His children… in His own and perfect ways. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with a verse I quoted above from Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding . . .
In all your ways submit to him . . .
And he will make . . .
Your paths straight . . . .
YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:
I must be slipping as I didn’t write a Valentine’s Day blog post for this year. I wrote one last year (sort of) titled, “High Hopes,” and I’ve written several previous to last year’s post so I guess I didn’t feel the need to write a new one this year. In 2016 for Valentine’s Day I published a blog post titled, “Love Is In the Air,” and it was a repeat from the previous year (2015) which was titled “What Love Does,” along with “Love Sweet Love” published that same year. And then in 2014 I published “The Power of Love,” which included that great Huey Lewis and the News song by the same title. I also wrote a couple of Valentine’s Day posts in 2013 and one in 2012.
Actually, it was intentional this year that I decided not to write a blog post for Valentine’s Day. Waiting for a “Knight in Shining Armor” (or even rusted armor at this point in time) to show up is just getting to be old beyond words (and he probably rode off with a woman more than half my age years ago), so who wants to write about that? And as I wrote in “The Power of Love” back in 2014, the expression of love almost defies definition anyway, but we know what it feels like when it happens to us, right? Right? And it can be disguised as something as shallow as lust, or as the ultimate sacrifice as in laying down one’s life for their friends or their country. It can also be tossed around tritely, as in “I just love my new car,” or, in my case, “I just love dark chocolate,” or it can be deeply felt, as in love for a parent, spouse, children or close friends and even pets.
Ah yes . . . this thing called love . . . .
In an article published in 2014 on Huffington Post titled, “What is Love? A Philosophy of Love,” by Adrian Catron, natural philosopher, alchemist, visual artist, photographer, industrial design engineer, and writer, he states the following about love:
Don’t let the word love define your LOVE
Love is the most powerful emotion a human being can experience. The strange thing is, that almost nobody knows what love is. Why is it so difficult to find love? That is easy to understand, if you know that the word “love” is not the same as one’s feeling of love.
The word “love” is used and abused for the expression of different sets of feelings.
The word love is used as an expression of affection towards someone else (I love you) but it also expresses pleasure (I love chocolate). To make it a little more complicated, the word “love” also expresses a human virtue that is based on compassion, affection and kindness. This is a state of being that has nothing to do with something or someone outside yourself. This is the purest form of Love.
The ancient Greek used seven words to define the different states of love:
Storge: natural affection, the love you share with your family.
Philia: the love that you have for friends.
Eros: sexual and erotic desire kind of love (positive or negative)
Agape: this is unconditional love, or divine love
Ludus: this is playful love, like childish love or flirting.
Pragma: long standing love; the love in a married couple.
Philautia: the love of the self (negative or positive)
These are seven different kind of feelings. The love you feel for your partner is not the same as the love you feel for your mother. Even the love for your partner changes in time. You feel different emotions for different situations and people.
But still, we use the same word. It is easy to understand that a confusion is easily made while communicating. I can say “I love you” to two different people (and mean it), but I am actually feeling [love] in a different way [with each]. . . . (Quote source and entire article available at this link.)
In another article published in November 2017 in Psychology Today titled, “What is Love?” by Armin Zadeh, MD, Ph.D. MPH, Director of Cardiac Computed Tomography and Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and author of the book, “The Forgotten Art of Love” (2017), Dr. Zadeh answer that question as follows:
Looking at human affairs, many of us are saddened by the fact that there is a lot of misery in the world: suffering, deception, and destruction. Some feel that things are getting worse, the world is more divided than ever. On the other hand, we are encouraged by the many acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and love that also goes around.
Indeed, almost everybody wants to live happily and peacefully, and almost everybody wants loving relationships—even those folks we perceive as hostile. The natural question then is, why do we so often fail?
It’s not news to anybody that the answer to happy living is love. Love is the key to any life and the key to happiness. During the holiday season, we suffer with George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” until he realizes that it is love that matters more than anything in the world. The movie is among the most popular because it rings true—love indeed is the universal answer to any misery or divisiveness. The very next moment, however, we turn our attention again to pursuits of short-term gratification and/or other self-directed matters.
The curious thing about love is that despite its indisputable importance to our lives, we spend comparatively little time trying to understand it. We all have a certain concept of love—but do we question or probe it? Instead, we spend most of our lives acquiring skills and knowledge which we believe facilitates us navigating to a “successful” life but have nothing to do with love.
If we come to understand why love is so essential to us—and conversely, why neglecting to focus our attention on love is detrimental—maybe we will be more motivated to re-center our priorities. We may ask ourselves: What is love anyway? Do we have any influence on love? Is it part of our biology? Is it part of spirituality? Is it both? What is it that makes us love somebody? What makes us not love somebody?
In his 1956 book “The Art of Loving”, psychologist Erich Fromm challenged the notion that love is this phenomenon which serendipitously occurs without our control. Fromm believed it is a common mistake to confuse the intense feelings we experience when we fall in love at the beginning of romantic relationships with actual love. The passionate, obsessive period which we so crave because of all its excitement may be part of a romantic relationship but not of love itself –it is just a phase and it won’t last.
Recent studies in neuroscience allow us to clearly differentiate between the early “falling-in-love” phase compared to the long-term “in love” period by detecting distinct activities in our blood and brain. Researchers studied people who just fell in love compared to those in long term relationships. They could show the pattern of blood levels changing over time. MRI studies of the brain corroborate these findings; revealing activities in distinct brain areas during each phase.
The “falling-in-love” phase invariably ends after 2-4 years, it is just nature’s way to jump start a relationship. If we think this is love we will inevitably be disappointed. Indeed, there is a peak in the incidence of relationship break ups after 2-4 years.
In contrast, love is a lasting, committed state, which requires our active involvement. In “The Forgotten Art of Love,” I define love as the “urge and the continuous effort for the happiness and well being of somebody” which expresses that, while love involves powerful feelings, a critical component of it is commitment.
This “active” commitment aspect in the process of loving is actually the key to success. Unfortunately, however, it is the facet most often neglected, probably because it takes ongoing effort. It would be much easier if reality was such that love is this beautiful emotion that we just to have to be lucky to get to be passive recipients of. The inconvenient truth, however, is that love is no exception to any other great achievement in life, we have to work for it. At the same time, there is a silver—even golden—lining: We actually have a lot of control on how much love we have in our lives—an empowering concept.
If we recognize the nature of “falling in love” as being a distinct passing phase, we won’t be disappointed once the obsessive feelings fade a after a while. Instead, we will be prepared to move to the next phase in the relationship, which can be equally or even more powerful but, in contrast to the falling in love phase, requires our effort to sustain it. This is why I agree with characterizing love as an art—requiring skills and devotion. (Quote source here.)
The Bible has a great deal to say about love. In fact, the Bible says that “love is of God” and “God is love” (1 John 4:7–8); in other words, love is a fundamental characteristic of who God is. Everything God does is impelled and influenced by His love.
The Bible uses several different words for “love” in the Hebrew and Greek, interchanging them depending on context. Some of these words mean “affectionate love”; others indicate “friendship”; and still others, “erotic, sexual love.” There is also a distinct word for the type of love that God displays. In the Greek, this word is agape, and it refers to a benevolent and charitable love that seeks the best for the loved one.
The Bible gives many examples of love: the caring provision of Boaz for Ruth; the deep friendship of David and Jonathan; the poetic, passionate love of Solomon and the Shulamite; the enduring commitment of Hosea to Gomer; the fatherly love of Paul for Timothy and John for the church; and, of course, the sacrificial, saving love of Christ for the elect.
Agape–the benevolent, selfless love that God shows–is mentioned often in the New Testament, including in the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. There, love’s characteristics are listed: love is patient and kind; love doesn’t envy, boast, or dishonor others; love is not proud or self-seeking; love is not easily angered, doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, and doesn’t delight in evil; rather, love rejoices with the truth; love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres; love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4–8). Of the greatest of God’s gifts, faith, hope, and love, “the greatest . . . is love” (verse 13).
The Bible says that God was motivated by love to save the world (John 3:16). God’s love is best seen in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf (1 John 4:9). And God’s love does not require us to be “worthy” to receive it; His love is truly benevolent and gracious: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The Bible says that, since true love is part of God’s nature, God is the source of love. He is the initiator of a loving relationship with us. Any love we have for God is simply a response to His sacrificial love for us: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Our human understanding of love is flawed, weak, and incomplete, but the more we look at Jesus, the better we understand true love.
The Bible says that God’s love for us in Christ has resulted in our being brought into His family: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Just as the father in the parable showed love to his prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32), so our Heavenly Father receives us with joy when we come to Him in faith. He makes us “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV).
The Bible says that we are to love others the way that God loves us. We are to love the family of God (1 Peter 2:17). We are to love our enemies—that is, we are to actively seek what is best for them (Matthew 5:44). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). As we show benevolent, selfless love, we reflect God’s love to a lost and dying world. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
The Bible says that our love for God is related to our obedience of Him: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3; cf. John 14:15). We serve God out of love for Him. And God’s love for us enables us to obey Him freely, without the burden of guilt or the fear of punishment.
First John 4:18 says that “perfect love drives out fear” (this is again the word “agape”). The dismissal of the fear of condemnation is one of the main functions of God’s love. The person without Christ is under judgment and has plenty to fear (John 3:18), but once a person is in Christ, the fear of judgment is gone. Part of understanding the love of God is knowing that God’s judgment fell on Jesus at the cross so we can be spared. Jesus described Himself as the Savior: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). The very next verse reminds us that the only person who must fear judgment is the one who rejects Jesus Christ.
The Bible says that nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38–39). God’s love does not wax and wane; it is not a fickle, emotional sensation. God’s love for sinners is why Christ died on the cross. God’s love for those who trust in Christ is why He holds them in His hand and promises never to let them go (John 10:29). (Quote source here.)
Well, I guess ended up writing a Valentine’s Day blog post for this year after all . . . on the day after Valentine’s Day. Of course, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 has the last word on love: 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 . . . .
YouTube Video: “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News:
There are many blessings given throughout the Bible in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. One of my favorite blessings is found in Psalm 20:1-5:
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
A blessing, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “the act or words of one that blesses,” or “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.” In an article titled, “What Does It Really Mean to Be #Blessed?” by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, freelance writer and a regular contributor to Desiring God (she blogs at danceintherain.com), she writes the following:
Feeling blessed is in vogue.
A quick look at Facebook and Twitter shows how many people today feel #blessed. In our social-media world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble.
College scholarship? #Blessed. Unexpected raise? #Blessed. Wonderful family? #Blessed.
As Christians we use that term too, of course. We pray God will bless our family. We attribute our undeserved gifts to “God’s blessings.” We talk about ministries being blessed. But what does it really mean? How should we understand the blessing of God?
The Good Life
For believers, is the blessed life synonymous with the successful life? Is it the Christian version of the good life? A loving marriage, obedient children, a vibrant ministry, a healthy body, a successful career, trusted friends, financial abundance — if these are the characteristics of a blessed life, then having all of them should translate into an extraordinarily blessed life.
But does it? If someone had all those things, would they be extraordinarily blessed?
Rather than turning to God, they might feel self-sufficient and proud. Perhaps a bit smug and self-righteous. After all, their hard work would be yielding good fruit.
Moreover, they wouldn’t need to cry out to God for deliverance; everything would already be perfect. They wouldn’t need to trust God; they could trust in themselves. They wouldn’t need God to fill them; they would already be satisfied.
God’s Richest Blessings
My desire for God is greatly fueled by my need. And it is in the areas of loss where I feel my need most intensely. Unmet desires keep me on my knees. Deepen my prayer life. Make me ransack the Bible for God’s promises.
Earthly blessings are temporary; they can all be taken away. Job’s blessings all disappeared in one fateful day. I, too, had a comfortable life that was stripped away within a span of weeks. My marriage dissolved. My children rebelled. My health spiraled downward. My family fell apart. My dreams were shattered.
And yet, in the midst of those painful events, I experienced God’s richest blessings. A stronger faith than I had experienced before. A deeper love than I had ever known. A more intimate walk than I could explain. My trials grounded my faith in ways that prosperity and abundance never could.
While my trials were not blessings in themselves, they were channels for them. As Laura Story asks in her song, “Blessings,” “What if your blessings come through rain drops? What if trials of this life—the rain, the storms, the hardest nights—are your mercies in disguise?”
This revolutionary idea of blessing is also firmly established in Scripture.
The Common Thread
One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connect blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–4,10–11)
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” (James 1:12)
There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus.
According to the Key Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added).
What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.
Pain and loss transform us. While they sometimes unravel us, they can also push us to a deeper life with God than we ever thought possible. They make us rest in God alone. Not what we can do or achieve for him. And not what he can do or achieve for us.
In pain and loss, we long for Presence. We long to know that God is for us and with us and in us. Great families, financial wealth, and good health are all wonderful gifts we can thank God for, but they are not his greatest blessings. They may make us delight, not in God, but in his gifts.
God’s greatest blessing always rests in God himself. When we have that, we are truly #blessed. (Quote source here.)
This next article on the subject of blessings is titled, “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying,” by Scott Dannemiller, writer, blogger, worship leader and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church. He writes the blog The Accidental Missionary, where this post first appeared. Here is that post:
I was on the phone with a good friend the other day. After covering important topics, like disparaging each other’s mothers and retelling semi-factual tales from our college days, our conversation turned to the mundane.
“So, how’s work going?” he asked.
For those of you who don’t know, I make money by teaching leadership skills and helping people learn to get along in corporate America. My wife says it’s all a clever disguise so I can get up in front of large groups and tell stories.
I plead the fifth.
I answered my buddy’s question with,
“Definitely feeling blessed. Last year was the best year yet for my business. And it looks like this year will be just as busy.”
The words rolled off my tongue without a second thought. Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or placing my usual lunch order at McDonald’s.
But it was a lie.
Now, before you start taking up a collection for the “Feed the Dannemillers” fund, allow me to explain. Based on last year’s quest to go twelve months without buying anything, you may have the impression that our family is subsisting on Ramen noodles and free chips and salsa at the local Mexican restaurant. Not to worry, we are not in dire straits.
Last year was the best year yet for my business.
Things are looking busy in 2014 [the year this post was originally published].
But that is not a blessing.
I’ve noticed a trend among Christians, myself included, and it troubles me. Our rote response to material windfalls is to call ourselves blessed. Like the “amen” at the end of a prayer.
“This new car is such a blessing.”
“Finally closed on the house. Feeling blessed.”
“Just got back from a mission trip. Realizing how blessed we are here in this country.”
On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn’t that the right thing to do?
As I reflected on my “feeling blessed” comment, two thoughts came to mind. I realize I’m splitting hairs here, creating an argument over semantics. But bear with me, because I believe it is critically important. It’s one of those things we can’t see because it’s so culturally engrained that it has become normal.
But it has to stop. And here’s why.
First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can’t help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M’s to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it’s for our own good. But positive reinforcement?
God is not a behavioral psychologist.
Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day. You read that right. Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day.
During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor.
The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture.
I’ll take door number three, please.
If we’re looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly (Matthew 5: 1-12).
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him,
2 And He began to teach them, saying:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I have a sneaking suspicion verses 12a, 12b, and 12c were omitted from the text. That’s where the disciples responded by saying:
12a Waitest thou for one second, Lord. What about “blessed art thou comfortable,” or 12b “blessed art thou which havest good jobs, a modest house in the suburbs, and a yearly vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast?”
12c And Jesus said unto them, “Apologies, my brothers, but those did not maketh the cut.”
So there it is. Written in red. Plain as day. Even still, we ignore it all when we hijack the word “blessed” to make it fit neatly into our modern American ideals, creating a cosmic lottery where every sincere prayer buys us another scratch-off ticket. In the process, we stand the risk of alienating those we are hoping to bring to the faith.
And we have to stop playing that game.
The truth is, I have no idea why I was born where I was or why I have the opportunity I have. It’s beyond comprehension. But I certainly don’t believe God has chosen me above others because of the veracity of my prayers or the depth of my faith. Still, if I take advantage of the opportunities set before me, a comfortable life may come my way. It’s not guaranteed. But if it does happen, I don’t believe Jesus will call me blessed.
He will call me “burdened.”
He will ask,
“What will you do with it?”
“Will you use it for yourself?”
“Will you use it to help?”
“Will you hold it close for comfort?”
“Will you share it?”
So many hard choices. So few easy answers.
So my prayer today is that I understand my true blessing. It’s not my house. Or my job. Or my standard of living.
My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. Within all of us.
And for this blessing, may our response always be,
“Use me.” (Quote source here.)
The first article above mentioned a song titled “Blessings” (YouTube video below) by Laura Story, singer/songwriter and senior worship leader at Perimeter Church in Atlanta, that became a massive #1 hit and a Grammy Award-winning song after it came out in 2011 (source here). Information on the background of this song is available at this link. On her biography page (at laurastorymusic.com) she states:
“We have this picture all the way through the Scriptures of all these great leaders in this process of surrendering everything. What the Lord is asking them is not, ‘You need to hold on tighter. You need to manage this better.’ What the Lord asks us is to surrender,” she offers, “It’s about learning to live with open hands, learning to live life in this constant state of saying, ‘Lord, my life is Yours. My time is Yours. My resources are Yours. All of this is Yours. Do what You will’”….
“We never get to a point where we can do life apart from complete and total daily dependence on Jesus,” Story admits. “The irony is the less control we have, the more peace we have and the more, I would even say, success and joy we find. It’s a contrary picture to what the world tells us, but it’s gaining through letting go”…. (Quote source and complete biography is available at this link.)
Gaining through letting go . . . . I’ll end this blog post on the subject of blessings with the blessing found in the picture at the beginning of this post from Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you . . .
[And may] the Lord . . .
Turn his face toward you . . .
And give you peace . . . .
YouTube Video: “Blessings” by Laura Story:
At some point this past January I picked up a copy of RELEVANT Magazine’s January/February 2018 issue [#91] while perusing the magazine rack at Barnes & Nobles. For those who might not be familiar with the magazine, RELEVANT isn’t your typical Christian magazine. Here is a description from their website:
Since 2002, RELEVANT has been the leading platform reaching Christian twenty- and thirtysomethings. Covering faith, culture and intentional living, the stories we tell are at the intersection of where a Christ-centered life is really lived. Our magazine is not about “being relevant” (whatever that means)—it’s that God is relevant to every aspect of our lives. (And yes, we cover the stuff that’s relevant to our readers.) We reach about 2,300,000 twenty- and thirtysomething Christians a month through all of our platforms, publishing every other month in print and iPad, as well as daily online, occasionally on RTV and weekly via our podcast.
We’re twenty- and thirtysomething Christians seeking God and striving to impact the world around us. We are people who want to live well—outwardly, creatively and intentionally. We are pro-Church and want to love our neighbors as ourselves. We serve the Creator, so we love great art—whether that be redemptive music, movies, books or design. We are daily seeking to show how God is at work in the world and in our generation.
We try to publish ideas that break stereotypes, challenge the status quo and spur a generation to know God more—and change the world while they’re at it. We want to engage our generation in a deeper conversation about faith, challenging worldviews and causing people to see God outside the box they’ve put Him in. Encountering God changes things.
We believe God is alive and speaking both inside and outside the four walls of the church. That’s why we cover life issues and culture next to social justice and spiritual growth—to look at the things relevant to our lives and world, and give voice to what God is doing in and through our generation. We believe a lot can be learned by looking more deeply at things that challenge you. But we also believe in the importance of the Church and want to be catalysts for change rather than part of the mass exodus of our generation leaving it.
Christians can’t be complacent living in a Christian bubble and never engaging the world they live in. We want to live the way Jesus did. Through relationship and love, the world was changed. We don’t think believers should be known primarily for legalism and bigotry. We believe in dialogue—about Truth, about faith, about freedom in Christ….
RELEVANT Media Group is a multimedia company whose purpose is to impact culture and give voice to what God is doing in and through our generation. We believe encountering God changes lives, so the magazine looks at how we can live that out in tangible and intentional ways. We talk about culture and real-life issues that other faith-based magazines might shy away from because we believe it’s important to address the gritty stuff of life—even when it makes us uncomfortable. If it’s relevant to our readers, you’ll find it on our pages.
RELEVANTmagazine.com is the daily updated, interactive counterpart of RELEVANT magazine. Together, they have become the leading platforms reaching a generation of culturally savvy world-changers hungry for God….
WHAT WE BELIEVE: Whether 20 years into it or just starting out, if you’re at this website you’re probably on a spiritual journey. Christianity is not a destination. No one has it all figured out. And because of that you’ll find the articles in RELEVANT ask questions a lot of others won’t, which is something we feel is vital to our spiritual growth. We need to never stop pursuing Truth and authenticity with passion.
But we do believe. We believe that eternal life and the only true freedom is found in Christ. We believe a relationship with Him changes things forever. You are not the person you used to be after you find Him. You may not be perfect—we’re all sinners, after all—but you don’t live the way you used to. Jesus told us to be in the world, yet not of it. We’re supposed to stand out and make a difference. We’re supposed to live for something bigger than ourselves.
That’s not something we can magically attain overnight. Following Christ and figuring out what it means to be like Him is a lifelong quest. It’s the hardest, longest and most rewarding thing we will ever undertake. It is what will define us—not only in this life, but in the life to come.
For more information about Christianity, we recommend checking out the Bible (it is the source, after all) and finding a good local church where you can meet other people like you. (More information on RELEVANT and quote source here.)
I found the January/February 2018 issue of RELEVANT to be quite informative as well as entertaining even though I haven’t fit into its typical audience’s age group for, well, let’s just say a very long time. However, there is a fair amount of confusion out there today about who Jesus Christ really is in our rapidly increasing secular society. And it is even more important to reach out to the younger generations today who have been secularized by our culture from the cradle up including in the classroom and in pop culture, social media, and everyday life. This magazine along with their various platforms are geared for the younger generations who are genuinely seeking after truth.
With that being said, I read a short article in the January/February 2018 issue the brought a smile to my face. It’s titled, “A Beginner’s Guide to Ethical Cooking,” on “The Cheat Sheet” on page 36. See if you don’t agree:
We’ve all been there: a moment of clarity while staring into your refrigerator, where you determine that from now on, it’s no more leftovers and frozen meals. You’re going to become a real cook, make healthy meals and start buying groceries from that cool little bodega over by the yoga studio.
You’re going to be one of those people who sprinkles exotic seasonings on your seared salmon and harvests fresh herbs from your little backyard garden. You can see it all in your head, and it looks great, but next week, you’re probably back to preheating the oven for another DiGiorno pizza.
Truth be told, what you’re trying to do is a good thing. Part of being mature with your resources is knowing how to buy and cook food responsibly.
It’s not as hard as you think. It just takes a few easy steps to get you started on the right path. You’ll be grilling salmon like America’s Next Top Chef in no time. (Quote source: RELEVANT, Jan/Feb. 2018, #91, p. 36)
Ah yes, those “moments of clarity”…. I had one back in October when I decided my eating habits were going to kill me (not literally) if I didn’t take some control over the kinds of foods I was eating on a regular basis (too much sugar, too much fat, too much salt, and all those chemicals and ingredients nobody can even pronounce let alone know what they do inside your body). While I’ve been eating the same fast foods and processes foods everyone else has been eating for most of my life (except during the several of times I started a new diet and successfully lost “X” number of pounds only to slowly, or not-so-slowly, gain many of them back), I had an “ah ha” moment while eating lunch off the value menu at Wendy’s (burger, fries, you know… that stuff). To make it even worse, I had just found a copy of a diet book at a Goodwill store for $1.00 in the same shopping mall where Wendy’s (a fast food restaurant) was located, and I was looking it over as I ate my fast food meal. (Oh, the irony, right?)
A relative of mine has had great success with this particular diet, “The Virgin Diet,” by. J.J. Virgin, a Certified Nutrition Specialist, a Certified Health and Fitness Instructor with advanced certifications in Nutrition, Personal Training and Aging, and Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. She has been following this diet for the past several years since it came out in 2012. I knew she loved lasagna and pasta as much as I loved Wendy’s or Burger King, so I figured if she liked the diet and was still following it after several years, I should at least give it a try. So, when I saw a copy of it at Goodwill store for $1.00 (“used” but in “brand new” condition), I had to buy it. I had previously told myself that I was never going to buy another diet book for the rest of my life, but for $1.00, how could I resist? So I bought it and took it over to Wendy’s to have my last “fast food meal” while thinking it was impossible I could ever be successful at it.
Right off the bat it took away gluten, eggs, soy, dairy, corn, peanuts, sugar and artificial sweeteners. So what was I left with to eat? Lettuce leaves? I know it sounds awful (it’s really not awful at all, just different), but the author said to give it one week–seven days–and a person would be able to feel an amazing difference. So I did, and I did… and I’ve been eating this way since October because I feel so great in a dozen different ways then I did when I was eating so much crap. It’s not really a diet, but a way of life, and I really like what I get to eat now, and it’s a very healthy way to eat, too. And after a lifetime of dieting, no diet has ever made me feel as good mentally, physically, and in every other way as this diet has made me feel due to getting rid of foods that make us feel bad (e.g., food intolerance) and we don’t even know it. I can definitely see why my relative has stuck with it for so long now.
However, this blog post is not about dieting. It’s about a “moment of clarity” that can start one going in a new direction or just getting back on track, whether it’s dieting or anything else that we struggle with in life. In the case of this particular blog post, I’m addressing Christians who have been Christians for a very long time, but who have pretty much settled into coasting in the Christian life as it has lost a lot of it’s “glow” in place of all the other “stuff” our society offers us.
I’ve read some pretty startling statistics on the younger generations in our culture via the Barna Group, a 30+ year research and resource company considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture. Starting with the “Baby Boomers,” to “Gen X,” to “Millennials” (also sometimes referred to as “Gen Y”), and the latest generation, “Gen Z,” with each passing generation the postmodern mindset has taken a must stronger hold in it’s many and various forms. Often Jesus Christ has no real meaning or appeal to a growing number of people in the younger generations. Not only has postmodernism taken center stage–where truth is relative and there are no absolutes–it has often watered down the true meaning (when not totally discrediting it) of the Gospel. However, we can’t just blame the culture. Showing up for church every Sunday like clockwork isn’t going to convince anybody of the reality or genuineness of Christianity. It is in how we live our lives and the genuineness of our own actions towards others that makes the difference.
In an online article in RELEVANT titled, “Does Fasting Even Matter Anymore,” by Levi Carter, he writes about his own relationship and desire to return to the passion he had when he first came to know Jesus Christ:
As I’ve delved deep into my relationship with God, I’m reminded over and over again of the words of God in Jeremiah 2:2.
“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me, and followed me through a land not sown.”
It’s interesting that in the history of Israel, God doesn’t remember their arrival in the promised land or the golden age of David and Solomon as his favorite season. No, God remembered their first season—alone and completely dependent on him in the wilderness.
That is the season that God longs to return to with us from time to time.
Many of us feel similarly about our first season with Christ. It was painful, intimate and messy, but everything was new and real and beautiful.
When I think back to my early days with Christ, I think of the raw and honest prayers I prayed. I think of how I dug deep into the Scripture, not to pass some religious test, but because I desperately needed the sort of truth that could set me free. I can’t escape the feeling that the wilderness of first love was his favorite season with me, nor can I escape my own ache to return.
I’ve been praying to return to that place, to heed the admonition of Christ in Revelation 3, “Repent, and do the things you did at first.” This is something that I’ve prayed for 10 years, and last year I sensed that this was what God was telling me this fast was the path to that place.
The second day of my fast I heard one word: Consecration. The Hebrew word for consecration—qadash—means, “to be set apart, to make something holy.”
It spoke of all the things in the Old Testament, that God set aside for Himself or for His use. Like the consecration of the firstborn male, the tithe or the articles of gold and silver for the temple. Essentially God was saying, these things are set aside for me and I’m going to use them for a specific and holy purpose.
We talk about holiness in the Church, but we don’t talk about the fact that there’s a reason God wants us to be holy. He has a specific purpose for us in mind, and in order to make a difference, we must first be different.
God began to highlight areas of compromise in the shows I allow myself to watch, consume or get complacent in.
When we remove compromise from our lives, we are rewarded with closeness. Isaiah told us that “your iniquities have separated you from your God.” Jesus taught that it was the pure in heart who would see him. God is making me holy, not just for a purpose, but for proximity. God doesn’t hate sin because he’s vindictive, God hates sin because it’s the only thing that stands in the way of him and his kids….
As I’ve sensed these winds of change, the wilderness has produced in me a dependence on Him that was previously unknown. When we look to fulfill our dreams or accomplish a goal, it’s easy to forget that Jesus told us in John 15 that apart from Him we can do nothing. When we take away a basic need like food, a union with Christ is forged. We are saying, I need You more than my most basic human needs. This posture of humility creates a lean in our hearts. Where we no longer lean into our own understanding or ingenuity to produce, but rather lean unto His heart. (Quote source here.)
Whether we are older and contemplating retirement, or younger and anticipating a career or life change, or maybe just trying to get through a difficult time, Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” That is for everyone, at any point, and any circumstance, in our lives.
I mentioned the words to the chorus in the song, “The Basics of Life,” (YouTube Video below) in a previous blog post, but they are worth repeating again. Here’s the chorus: We need to get back to the basics of life–a heart that is pure, and a love that is blind. A faith that is fervently grounded in Christ; the hope that endures for all times . . .
These are the basics . . .
We need to get back . . .
To the basics of life . . . .
YouTube video: “The Basics of Life” by 4Him:
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” ~President Ronald Reagan
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (Quote source here.)
In the United States of America, religious freedom and the expression of such beliefs is a Constitutional right of all citizens, but what about beyond the law? What about everyday life in America for the everyday citizen who has religious beliefs that others around them might not agree with, believe in, or share?
Here in America we often look in horror at the persecution experienced by others that is taking place around the world for their religious (and often Christian) beliefs. However, we tend to think of persecution as taking place “over there” in some distant country without the benefit of religious freedom. However, what if, especially in recent decades, a type of persecution has invaded our own shores that often goes unnoticed by the public-at-large because it doesn’t “look” the same as the persecution that is going on in other countries around the world, and it is often disguised in other types of more “normal” type events like chronic and prolonged unemployment or even homelessness? What about our skyrocketing health crises and opioid and drug addiction epidemic, and rapidly rising obesity rates? Other factors include economics as mentioned in articles like “What’s Killing the American Middle Class?” by Richard Eskow, writer, former Wall Street executive, and radio journalist, on BillMoyers.com. Perhaps we just don’t see any connection at all because we don’t want to see it. Subterfuge is never obvious, and that’s the whole point.
And maybe Ronald Reagan was right after all. . . .
I came across a 2015 article on Patheos.com, titled, “Yes, There is Christian Persecution in America, and Here’s What It Looks Like,” by Benjamin Corey, a cultural anthropologist and public theologian; a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and recipient of a Doctor of Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He admits to having been one of the “naysayers” regarding Christian persecution in America until he started to encounter it (see his article published in July 2017 on his personal experience with “Christian Ghosting“ at this link). Here’s what he had to say in that 2015 article:
I’ve often written about the American persecution complex that tends to see anti-Christian persecution under every rock, and have long been a proponent that such claims of persecution are often simply a loss of privilege or the ability to persecute others. Each time I say something along these lines, I usually get a flood of comments and messages/e-mails telling me how wrong I am and that Christianity in America is under attack. One commenter even said recently that “Jesus” is the only name you’re not allowed to speak at work without getting fired.
Secretly I’ve had some misgivings about my position and these doubts have now given way to a change in position. So, this post is a capitulation to my critics and a public admission about how wrong I’ve been. Yes, Christians are bullied for their faith in America– and it happens on a daily basis. Yes, Christians can lose their jobs simply because they believe in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, some Christians in America are hated on account of their association with Jesus. Real persecution just happens to look differently than what is often claimed as persecution. Case in point:
A few weeks ago, MidAmerica Nazarene University chaplain and Vice President of Community Formation Dr. Randy Beckum spoke at the student chapel services. Dr. Beckum gave a short sermon during the chapel service that is being billed as “controversial” and something that really upset the student and faculty population at MidAmerica Nazarene (see/read full text here). What was so controversial and offensive you ask? Well, let’s take a look.
At first, Dr. Beckum starts off by saying,
“In my life, I have struggled with some things that Jesus said, (pretty plainly), that go against the grain of what is accepted as normal, or OK or even a sign of a being a good Christian in this part of the world.”
Seems like something I’ve heard a thousand times in my life–we’re repeatedly told that just because something is widely accepted as being okay or normal, such acceptance doesn’t mean it’s okay for a Christian. And, I totally agree.
Except, and here’s where Dr. Beckum got himself into some serious problems: he wasn’t speaking about listening to rock and roll or wearing skirts that weren’t knee high– he was talking about the golden calf of American Christianity. He went on to say,
“Anyone who has made a decision to follow Jesus realizes that the goal of a being a Christian is to become Christ-like.”
Sounds good so far, but starting to get edgy with this Jesus-likeness stuff. But here’s where he went completely off the rails:
“I am extremely troubled. I have been for a long time and I have hesitated to address this subject publicly, but I cannot keep silent about it any longer… I don’t think it is an under-statement to say that our culture is addicted to violence, guns, war, revenge and retaliation. Unfortunately, so are a lot of Christians… So, what does Jesus have to say about it. Again, if you are not a follower of Jesus you can relax. This doesn’t concern you. But Christians have to do something with this. I have to do something with the words of Jesus and his actions… We have to be very careful about equating patriotism with Christianity. We never say God and…anything. God is above all, everything else is underneath… We have put “our way of life”/freedom on the top rung. If you mess with it I’ll blow your head off. For a Christian what is on the top rung? Love for all.”
Dr. Beckum ended his sermon by reminding the students that not only did Jesus teach radical enemy love, but that we should serve them, and forgive them as well.
In many Christian circles you can talk about the Bible all you want, and you can speak as much Christianese as possible, but as Dr. Beckum has now learned, you cannot talk about what Jesus taught regarding enemy love. That is off-limits and heresy.
The sermon on enemy love sparked an outcry at the University, with some furious that he’d have the audacity to call into question the issue of Christians using violence against enemies. The MNU president was quickly forced to issue a statement distancing himself from the teachings of Jesus, saying:
“At MidAmerica Nazarene University we encourage the exchange of ideas and individuals are free to express their individual perspective and opinions, even when those opinions may not reflect the official policy or practices of our university, our core values or our affiliations.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough– speaking out against bloodshed in American Christianity often requires bloodshed of some sort, and such was the case with Dr. Beckum. On February 3rd the President relieved him of his duties as Vice President of Community Formation, citing that Beckum had previously requested to be removed from that position, something his own daughter has publicly called a falsehood.
In my opinion it’s easy to see what happened here: a Christian leader saw our lust for violence and military conquests, and decided to speak out on it. Since quoting what Jesus said on enemy love is so offensive within American Christian culture, he had to pay a price–and lost his position.
And so here is where my critics have been right all along: there is anti-Christian persecution in America. The chief difference however, is that it’s not the secularists or atheists who are persecuting us–it’s “Christians” who are doing the persecuting.
The best way to understand the cultural scenario is to realize (as someone astutely mentioned on twitter recently) that there are “two different types of Christianity.” One is a movement of people who want to live and be like Jesus. The other (and far more common, far more powerful) is a civil and political religion that is simply named Christianity. The civil political religion named Christianity is addicted to both political power and violence, and thus finds the message of Jesus offensive. When they encounter the other kind of Christian–the kind that actually believes in following Jesus–they have an immediate need to persecute them in some form or another, as we see in the case of Dr. Beckum, who actually did lose his job because of speaking the name of Jesus.
So, yes, there is Christian persecution in America- and for saying there is not, I do apologize to my critics for such an error. People do get bullied for speaking about Jesus. People do lose their jobs for it. Dr. Beckum is one of them.
But as it turns out, it’s actually the critics attempting to defend the violence-loving political religion named Christianity who are persecuting the people of Jesus.
Don’t believe me? Just try teaching “love your enemies,” and see which group of people will be the first to mock and bully you. (Quote source here.)
Corey’s article mentions a type of persecution coming from within the ranks of Christianity itself (Jesus referred to it as “tares and wheat,” and he often experienced it at the hands of the Pharisees and other religious folks), but the persecution we’ve heard about on a worldwide scale does not often come from within genuinely Christian circles, but from others who stand against it. However, here in America it’s also coming from a growing secular intolerance (e.g., atheists, agnostics, “Nones,” etc.). They can also be disguised in the church since many of them have grown up in a Christian culture and they have learned how to pass “under the radar” as Christian. A blog post I wrote in July 2017 on the subject of “Christian ghosting” titled, “These Are The Times,” contains one technique they use. This type of behavior gets blamed on supposedly “Christian” folks who are doing it (as with the mobbing and bullying mentioned in Corey’s 2015 article above). However, genuine Christians don’t “ghost,” mob or bully anybody. It’s not in their DNA.
In a 2016 article published on Christianity Today titled, “Are American Christians Being Persecuted” (subtitled “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are”), by K. A. Ellis, doctoral candidate at Oxford Center for Mission Studies, and a speaker and writer on the theology of human rights, African-American culture, understanding Islam, and the persecuted church, Ellis states the following:
Anti-Christian hostility is on the minds of many American Christians these days. Each new legal challenge to religious liberty at the state and federal levels raises the issue afresh. It seems that today, Christians must think through their cultural position more carefully than at any other point in US history.
Still, given the terrible persecution of Christians overseas, I wonder whether it’s accurate to say that American Christians are “under persecution.” When I discuss the rise in anti-Christian hostility in the States, I avoid the “p word,” and I don’t make comparisons to other parts of the world.
But listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment…. American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.”
A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”
When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.
Of course, persecution in countries like India and China looks different than it does in Vietnam or Nigeria; the methods of oppressors and survivors vary dramatically. Often, other religious minorities suffer as well. In some regions, the disdain is cultural; elsewhere, hostility manifests itself in legislation. In places like Pakistan and North Korea, believers experience both.
In America, we see two groups: hostility deniers and hostility seekers. “Hostility deniers” believe the church has been the greatest agent of oppression in history, making no distinction between faithful Christians and those who exploit the Bible for selfish gain. To them, Christians are not being persecuted but rather getting what they deserve. “Hostility seekers” see persecution as a mark of “true Christianity,” as if it holds salvific value—usually expressed as, “If you’re not persecuted, you’re not being a faithful Christian.” They exaggerate threats in order to keep the “persecution industry” alive. They forget that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by suffering. Christ rebukes these believers by modelling how to resist suffering, from his prayer in Gethsemane to submitting to his Father’s will at Golgotha. In “Tortured for Christ,” Richard Wurmbrand reminds us that “the true martyr seeks nothing for himself—not even the glory of martyrdom.”
Today, a third group is emerging. Hostility realists understand that anything is possible. Rarely does a nation move from freedom to oppression overnight. Realists understand that while the US Constitution promises inalienable rights to all citizens, those rights are not always guaranteed for the church. As an African American, I understand this well. In the early 1600s, Africans arrived in the New World on equal footing with other settlers. By the century’s end, though, freedoms had been steadily chipped away, race-based slavery established, and the worship, speech, and activities of black churches and gatherings were repressed. Still, the persecuted black church remained active underground, meeting in secret “hush harbours” of slaves and among free, believing abolitionists. Today, cultural disdain toward Christianity is increasingly palpable. Whether we are talking about a group of nuns providing services for the marginalized, an educational institution that wishes to maintain faith-based standards for faculty and students, or a medical provider exercising conscience in right-to-life decisions, I believe we will continue to see more constrictions for people of faith. This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people. While religious liberty is worth protecting, it is not our ultimate goal. Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God. (Quote source here.)
The comment above by a Syrian who remained in the region to assist Christians and Muslims sends us in America a warning: “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”
In ending this post on a topic nobody really wants to read or talk about, there is a strong reminder for those of us who are Christians (and not in name only). It is found in her last two sentences: While religious liberty is worth protecting, it is not our ultimate goal. . .
Our true goal is perseverance . . .
And faithfulness in showing forth . . .
The kingdom of God . . . .
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon: