Seeing the rise of persecution against Christians in Iraq, the far East and Africa, Msgr Pope has a great archived article here on the five stages that precede outright persecution. Can it happen in the USA – land of religious freedom? Msgr Pope observes the five stages.
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When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:3-6, 26:14). It was after Saul’s conversion to Jesus Christ that he became known as the Apostle Paul. Before Jesus made himself known to Paul, he thought he was doing everything right in his worship of God and his persecution and killing of the new followers of Jesus after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul thought he was on the right road as a well respected Pharisee within the community before Jesus made it clear to him that he was not.
Let’s take a look at what Jesus meant when he said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (or “pricks” as stated in the KJV). GotQuestions.org gives us this answer:
“It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” was a Greek proverb, but it was also familiar to the Jews and anyone who made a living in agriculture. An ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the oxen when plowing. The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the prick, and this would result in the prick being driven even further into its flesh. In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered. Thus, Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.”
Of the better-known Bible translations, the actual phrase “kick against the pricks” is found only in the King James Version. It is mentioned only twice, in Acts 9:5 and Acts 26:14. The apostle Paul (then known as Saul) was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians when he had a blinding encounter with Jesus. Luke records the event: “And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:14 KJV). Modern translations have changed the word pricks to goads. All translations except the KJV and NKJV, omit the phrase altogether from Acts 9:5.
The conversion of Saul is quite significant as it was the turning point in his life. Paul later wrote nearly half of the books of the New Testament.
Jesus took control of Paul and let him know his rebellion against God was a losing battle. Paul’s actions were as senseless as an ox kicking “against the goads.” Paul had passion and sincerity in his fight against Christianity, but he was not heading in the direction God wanted him to go. Jesus was going to goad (“direct” or “steer”) Paul in the right direction.
There is a powerful lesson in the ancient Greek proverb. We, too, find it hard to kick against the goads. Solomon wrote, “Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path” (Proverbs 15:10). When we choose to disobey God, we become like the rebellious ox—driving the goad deeper and deeper. “The way of the unfaithful is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). How much better to heed God’s voice, to listen to the pangs of conscience! By resisting God’s authority we are only punishing ourselves. (Quote source here.)
While Paul’s story has to do with his conversion experience, there are times in a believer’s life where we “kick against the goads” often unintentionally, too. Our passion and sincerity are very much real, and we think we are doing the right thing. And often this will happen in the “battles” we face in life. In America, we tend to be very independent which is part of what has made our country great. So it comes naturally to a lot of us that when a battle heats up in our lives, we want to fight against it with everything that we’ve got.
We often forget that God’s ways not our ways and, in fact, are far above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and that what He is doing in this world of ours we can’t even begin to understand or fathom. When we try to take on our battles ourselves, we really have no idea how big that battle may be in the total scheme of things from God’s viewpoint. For example, while we may rail against the current tide that our society has been swept up in over the past several decades, God is not the least bit surprised.
I think of the world that Daniel (in the Old Testament) lived in “after Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (who reigned 605-562 B.C.), besieged Jerusalem, and chose of Israel’s royal household noble men who were handsome and showed an aptitude for learning, to be trained in the ways of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:1-6); quote source here). Daniel was one of these young men. GotQuestions.org states the following about the life of Daniel under Babylonian captivity:
Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge,” and his three countrymen from Judea were chosen and given new names. Daniel became “Belteshazzar,” while Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah became “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” The Babylonians believed that, by giving them new names that were completely disassociated with their Hebrew roots, Daniel and his friends would become subservient to their new rulers and the culture they now lived in.
Daniel and his compatriots proved to be the wisest of all the trainees, and at the end of their training, they entered the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s first sign of faithfulness to God was when he and his countrymen rejected the rich food and wine from the king’s table, because they deemed it a defilement, and became vegetarians. As their health improved, they were permitted to continue with their chosen diet. In their education, the four men from Judah became knowledgeable in all Babylonian matters, and Daniel was given by God the ability to understand dreams and visions of all kinds (Daniel 1:17).
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar was troubled with a dream that he could neither remember nor interpret. His magicians and astrologers were unable to interpret a dream, much less to know what the dream was. The king decreed that all the wise men, including Daniel and his companions, must be put to death. However, after Daniel sought God in prayer, the mystery of the king’s dream was revealed to Daniel, and he was taken to the king to interpret it. Daniel immediately attributed his ability to interpret dreams to the one true God (Daniel 2:28). The key feature of the dream, as Daniel told it to the king, was that one day there will be a kingdom set up by God that will last forever, and that it will destroy all previous kingdoms known to man (Daniel 2:44-45). With this, Daniel was honored by King Nebuchadnezzar and placed in authority over all the wise men of Babylon. At Daniel’s request, his three countrymen were also placed in positions of authority as administrators of Babylon.
In time, King Nebuchadnezzar built a huge golden statue and decreed that all his people bow down and worship it at the given signal. His decree went on to say that whoever refused to bow down to it would be thrown into a blazing furnace (Daniel 3:6). Word reached the king that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not worshipping his gods or the statue, and so they were summoned to Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Faced with being thrown into a blazing furnace, the three faithfully announced that their God could rescue them from the fire, but even if He did not, they would not bow down to the image (vss. 16-18). The furnace was so hot, seven times its normal heat, that the king’s soldiers were killed while putting the three into it. Then Nebuchadnezzar saw that there were four men in the furnace, completely unbound and walking about and that the fourth figure looked like he was a son of a god (vs.25). When the king called them out of the furnace, he and his governors were amazed to find that not a single hair of their heads had been scorched, nor was there even the merest smell of fire about them.
King Nebuchadnezzar had a second dream, and, not for the first time, he acknowledged that Daniel had the spirit of his holy God within him and was able to interpret his dream (Daniel 4:9). Daniel’s interpretation of the dream was fulfilled, and, after a period of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his kingdom, and he praised and honored Daniel’s God as the most High (Daniel 4:34-37).
Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, became the new king, and during a banquet he ordered the gold and silver goblets that had been stolen from the holy temple in Jerusalem to be brought out for use. In response to the defilement of such holy items, Belshazzar sees a hand writing on the wall. Once again, his astrologers are unable to assist him in its translation, and so Daniel is called upon to interpret the writing (Daniel 5:13-16). As a reward for interpreting the writing, Daniel is promoted by King Belshazzar to the third highest position in the Babylonian kingdom (vs. 29). That night, as Daniel had prophesied, the king was slain in battle, and his kingdom was taken over by Cyrus the Great, and Darius the Mede was made king.
Under the new ruler, Daniel excelled in his duties as one of the administrators to such a degree that King Darius was contemplating making him head over all the kingdom (Daniel 6:1-3). This infuriated the other administrators so much that they looked for a way to bring Daniel down. They encouraged Darius to issue a decree forbidding his subjects from praying to any of their gods for the next thirty days. The penalty for disobeying was to be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel, however, continued to pray so openly to God that he could be seen at his bedroom window doing so. With much regret the king gave the order for Daniel to be thrown into the lions’ den, but not without a prayer that Daniel’s God would rescue him (Daniel 6:16). The next day when Daniel was found alive and well, he told the king that God had sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths and so he remained unharmed. This resulted in King Darius sending out a decree that all his subjects were to worship the God of Daniel. And Daniel continued to prosper throughout King Darius’ reign.
The lesson from the life of Daniel is that he exercised great integrity and, in doing so, received the respect and affection of the powerful rulers he served. However, his honesty and loyalty to his masters never led him to compromise his faith in the one true God. Rather than it being an obstacle to his success, Daniel’s continual devotion to God brought him the admiration of the unbelievers in his circle. When delivering his interpretations, he was quick to give God the credit for his ability to do so (Daniel 2:28).
Daniel’s integrity as a man of God gained him favor with the secular world, yet he refused to compromise his faith in God. Even under the intimidation of kings and rulers, Daniel remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Daniel also teaches us that, no matter who we are dealing with, no matter what their status is, we are to treat them with compassion. See how concerned he is when delivering the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream (Daniel 4:19). As Christians, we are called to obey the rulers and authorities that God has put in place, treating them with respect and compassion; however, as we see from Daniel’s example, obeying God’s law must always take precedence over obeying men.
As a result of his devotion, Daniel not only found favor with those around him, but above all he found favor with God and was held in high esteem by Him (Daniel 9:20-23). Notice also in those verses what the angel Gabriel told Daniel about how swiftly the answer to his prayer was dispatched. This shows us how ready the Lord is to hear the prayers of His people. Daniel’s strength lay in his devotion to prayer and is a lesson for us all. It is not just in the bad times but on a daily basis that we must come to God in prayer. (Quote source here.)
As stated above, “Daniel’s integrity as a man of God gained him favor with the secular world, yet he refused to compromise his faith in God. Even under the intimidation of kings and rulers, Daniel remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Daniel also teaches us that, no matter who we are dealing with, no matter what their status is, we are to treat them with compassion. See how concerned he is when delivering the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream (Daniel 4:19). As Christians, we are called to obey the rulers and authorities that God has put in place, treating them with respect and compassion; however, as we see from Daniel’s example, obeying God’s law must always take precedence over obeying men.”
The seventy years of Babylonian captivity in which Daniel lived under was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 29:1-14; also see explanation regarding Daniel 9), who lived in the final days of the crumbling of the nation Israel (source here). “Daniel lived in Babylon throughout the entire 70 years of the Jewish captivity. He lived to see the fall of the Babylonian Empire and the sudden rise of the Medo-Persian Empire with its first ruler, Cyrus. One of Cyrus’ first acts was to issue a decree allowing the Jews to leave Babylon.” (Quote source here).
Daniel spent the bulk of his life living under Babylonian rule yet he did not compromise his faith and belief in God, but respected and served the rulers he had been placed under during his lifetime. While he was well aware of the prophecy of Jeremiah (as shown in Daniel 9), he did not try to change or “fight the system” in which he found himself living in but rather he stayed true to God in all of his dealings with others while serving under or with the other administrators and the king.
So how does that relate to us when we are fighting the battles that come our way? Instead of trying to “fight the system” (e.g., “kicking against the goads”), we need to trust God and not try to take matters into our own hands. He can and will guide us if we let go of trying to “steer that ship” on our own. That is not to say that we should compromise our beliefs, but rather depend on God to work it out in His way and His timing.
Several times in these past seven years since I lost my job in Houston I have found myself trying to fight this battle (in my case, long term unemployment and now added to it affordable housing) in my own power (e.g., via an extensive and massive job search for several years, and now adding the affordable housing search that has been ongoing for over two years now). And I have yet to secure either a job or affordable housing. Yet, every time I have needed guidance and trusted God to show me what to do in even the smallest decisions in my daily life, I have been amazed at how He has come through for me (not that I haven’t given Him both my job and my housing search but obviously He has His reasons for the delay). And He has met my needs even if not in the way I was hoping for yet.
Perhaps one of the greatest struggles we face in this life is that struggle between our will and God’s will. And often we don’t see or understand the real struggle going on until He shows us in ways only He can show us how we need to stop trying so hard and trust Him to work out His will in His timing and not just for what we want when we want it. We live in our own world (e.g., work, church, other responsibilities) most of the time but He is orchestrating the entire world, of which we are a small part. What we don’t understand (which often brings about our own efforts to try to “right a wrong” or change a particular unpleasant circumstance) is that what we are experiencing in our own personal battles is part of a much bigger picture that God has always had in mind since the beginning of time as stated in 2 Peter 3:8-9:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The bottom line is that it’s not about us and yet it is about us. It’s not about us and what we want… it’s about God and what He wants for us–which is that everyone would come to repentance. He places us in situations we can’t understand or fix on our own so that we learn to depend upon Him totally and not in ourselves or our own resources, and in the process He is using it in the lives of others to bring about their repentance, too. And that has always been God’s bottom line.
It’s not that our struggle isn’t real, but it is meant to bring us to total dependence on God and not on ourselves or how smart we think we are or how clever we think we can be in manipulating our circumstances to get what we want. And we all do that on a regular basis whether we realize it or not. And it is in our battles that He shows us our real need . . . and it’s Him, and nothing else.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding . . .
In all your ways acknowledge Him . . .
And He shall direct your path . . . . (Proverbs 3:5-6)
YouTube Video: “Beyond Me” by TobyMac:
Yesterday I found myself getting agitated by a situation I have no control over and it’s been going on for a very, very, very long time now (over seven years). What that essentially means is that I can’t do anything about it no matter how hard I’ve tried (and believe me when I say I have tried very, very, very hard for a very long time). And therein lies the problem. It is not a problem I can solve on my own as I didn’t start it in the first place–others did; and it does not just involve me. It involves those others, too. The details of my situation are not important for the purposes of this blog post. The lesson from it is what counts.
If you find yourself in a similar situation that you have no control over and you get agitated over it more times then you care to count but can’t do anything about it on your own, you know the feeling. And it is not an uncommon dilemma in which to find ourselves in today, either (and I’m not talking about my particular dilemma but situations that come into our lives that are out of our control to change).
In the midst of my agitation yesterday a couple of verses kept running over and over again in my mind. Those two verses are found in Psalm 37:7-8. Here are several versions of those two verses:
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil. (NIV)
Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him;
do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way,
by the man who carries out evil plans.
Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated—it can only bring harm. (HCSB)
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
do not fret—it only causes harm. (NKJV)
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. (ESV)
Quiet down before God,
be prayerful before him.
Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder,
who elbow their way to the top.
Don’t fret, don’t worry, don’t be agitated, cease from anger, and forsake wrath–it only leads to harm.
Yesterday, I read a billboard in plain sight while driving on a major interstate (I-4 near Orlando) in massive traffic that states in very large letters Jesus‘ words found Matthew 5:44 (also found in Luke 6:27-28):
Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
Those words are well known words that most people are aware of but rarely follow. Just turn on the TV and watch the media circus going on in this election year here in America as an example. That we all “want what we want when we want it” is not an uncommon theme today from coast-to-coast, and we don’t seem to mind bashing or destroying others in the process if it will get us what we want. Even the advertising on TV is often touting “It’s all about YOU” in their marketing schemes–most likely because it works. We often think about our own comfort first and foremost over the comfort of others.
Now before I go any further, I was not agitated when I woke up yesterday morning. In fact, I had not even planned to do what I ended up doing, but due to my current housing situation of living in hotels (which I have discussed previously and it has not yet been resolved), I felt the need to “do” something in order to try to change it (although I have done everything I can possibly think of to do to try to change my housing situation since I first found myself living in hotels back in the fall of 2014 when I went to Houston for three months).
I pay for my hotel rooms on a weekly basis, and at this particular hotel every Thursday morning I pay for another week in order to have a roof over my head. And, I always hope that this will be the week that I will finally figure out how to find more permanent and affordable housing and can leave hotel living far behind me. Since Thursday was only two days away as of yesterday morning when I woke up (and hence, I will have to pay yet another $285/week to keep that roof over my head once again tomorrow–Thursday–morning), I felt the need to try and DO something again before another Thursday morning showed up (although it hasn’t worked for months now but I’ve never been one to give up either).
So I did . . .
. . . and ended up with the same result I’ve had to endure for the past year and a half since I’ve been forced to live in hotels. And that is when the agitation set in. By the time I went to bed last night I could have beat the pillow to a pulp that is not mine on the bed that I don’t own in a room that costs way too much on a weekly basis to be forced to live in for so very long now. However, I don’t even beat pillows (mine or others) when I’m agitated; although, you can, perhaps, understand my frustration. Actually, maybe it doesn’t matter when I turn on the TV and see a billionaire verbally beating up on a millionaire (and vice versa) for the highest office in the America. That is not meant to be a disparaging comment about either candidate, but rather a sign of the times that we are living in today. However, it does makes one wonder what our priorities are here in America. There is a lot of division going on in America right now; almost more so, it seems, then back in the tumultuous 1960’s.
In three Gospel accounts, Jesus clearly stated that “a house (and kingdom) divided against itself cannot stand.” Whether it’s confined to family, friends, and assorted others fighting among themselves for whatever the reason (money is often a big reason), or a nation tearing itself apart at the seams, the end result is still the same . . . destruction. Here is what GotQuestions.org has to say on the subject:
There are three accounts in the Gospels in which Jesus states that a kingdom divided against itself is laid waste or a house divided cannot stand (Luke 11:17; Mark 3:25; Matthew 12:25). All three instances of this statement are spoken in response to the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan—a blasphemy that Jesus said would not be forgiven them.
Jesus’ argument to the Pharisees was logical: a kingdom that is at cross-purposes with itself will fall. Any household driven by infighting will tear itself apart. Jesus was obviously casting demons out of people. If Jesus was in league with Satan, or if Satan was somehow working through Jesus, it is unlikely that exorcisms would be a priority, because why would Satan cast himself out? Satan has more practical wisdom than to allow his demonic underlings to group themselves into warring factions.
By saying that a house divided cannot stand, Jesus is illustrating the fact that success relies on congruency. This is something we see in daily life all the time. Whether it is a machine, a sports team, a government party, or one’s own mind, things have to work together if anything is to be accomplished. The Bible says that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8), and Paul appeals to the churches that there be no divisions among the believers (1 Corinthians 1:10). In fact, churches should be unified in their purpose and judgment, avoiding people who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to sound doctrine (Romans 16:17). Christians are not to quarrel but to be unified around a common understanding of truth. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
God commands unity among believers because once conflict enters the midst of any assembly or entity, productivity and usefulness inevitably grind to a halt and the whole organization is weakened and becomes vulnerable to attack. As Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.”
A fruit of the Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:22). Christians are, as followers of the Prince of Peace, peaceful people (Matthew 5:9). We are called to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16) and, as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14). Jesus Christ is building His church (Matthew 16:18). His “house” will stand; “his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (Daniel 6:26). (Quote source here.)
“Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” We are called to live in harmony with one another, and as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with everyone. Personally, I don’t see that happening very much in our nation today or even among Christians regarding those they consider to be “the enemy.” Our real enemy is clearly stated in Ephesians 6:10-18 and my last blog post, “Penetrating the Darkness,” gives the details.
We live in a time now where lying has become second nature, especially if the person or people we are lying to don’t mean anything to us personally and/or lying to them is to our own benefit (or will line our own pockets). And too often it doesn’t seem to matter if the people doing the lying consider themselves to be Christian or not. It seems that any excuse will do if it will benefit us. And people can pretend to be “oh so helpful” when they are not (and it is intentional on their part to not be helpful, too). We live in deceptive times, but then they have always been with us.
James 4 addresses the core of the problem:
Pride Promotes Strife
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”
Humility Cures Worldliness
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands,you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Do Not Judge a Brother (or Sister)
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
Do Not Boast About Tomorrow
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. (NKJV)
At this point, I think I’ve written enough for now. At least give it some honest thought. . . .
Either we care, or we don’t care . . .
And both are very obvious . . .
To others . . . .
YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:
I think it is only fitting that on Friday the 13th (as in May 13, 2016) I should write a blog post on spiritual warfare. While almost everything we do in the Christian life has elements of this battle going on at any given time (through temptations and trials), the last time I wrote a blog post specifically on the topic of spiritual warfare was over four years ago on January 18, 2012, titled, “Regaining our Balance.”
I’m not sure anymore how seriously this topic is taken within Christian circles today because we are so focused on a “Positive Christianity” that you’d think we lived on a playground instead of a battlefield (see article titled, “16 Dangers of the Positive Christianity Movement,” by John Burton, published on October 6, 2014 in Charisma News). And we “nice” ourselves to death at our own peril. Yet, the Apostle Paul was very, very clear that we are in a spiritual battle all the days of our lives on this earth. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:10-18, these very words:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
The Message Bible states these same verses (Ephesians 6:10-18) as follows:
A Fight to the Finish
And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
Dr. Jack Hayford has written a book along with his daughter, Rebecca Hayford Bauer, on the topic of spiritual warfare titled, “Penetrating the Darkness: Discovering the Power of the Cross Against Unseen Evil,” (2011). Dr. Hayford is the founding pastor of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California, where he served as senior pastor for more than three decades. A prolific and best-selling writer, Pastor Hayford is the author (or co-author) of more than fifty books and has composed 500 hymns and choruses, including the internationally known and widely recorded “Majesty” (see Jack Hayford Ministries for more information). Currently, Dr. Hayford serves as Chancellor of The King’s University (formerly The King’s College and Seminary) in Los Angeles and Dallas, which he founded in 1997. (Quote source here.)
As Dr. Hayford notes at the beginning of Chapter 1 titled, “Rules of Engagement,” praying is at the top of the list of weapons we use when we are engaged in spiritual warfare–which is all of the time. He uses the term “Rules of Engagement” for his first chapter as it “is a military term that defines for commanders and troops when, where and how force will be used.” And he chose this term “to title this chapter, not only because we are setting a framework into place, but also to send a clarion call that when we pray, we are, indeed, engaged in spiritual warfare” (Quote source page 10).
Dr. Hayford continues by stating on pp. 10-11:
The clash of good and evil, of God and Satan, or the Kingdom of God and the powers of darkness is there–there in the Word of God. It is a battle over which some believes have puzzled themselves, saying, “Didn’t Jesus ‘win it all’ at the cross? He said, ‘It is finished.’” Bewildered by that, some have suggested that any mention of spiritual warfare trivializes the cross of Christ, but in fact, that is not the case.
- The epistles laud the cross and the blood of Christ as having completed salvation’s provision, but they also teach that a spiritual conflict is being engaged in “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).
- The blood of the cross is not only honored, but its power is testified to as the source of authority that equips believers to prevail in this present age-long battle against “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.” (Revelation 12:9).
- All prayer–petition, intercession, supplication and praiseful thanksgiving–is noted as “the weapons of our warfare,” as believers gird for the battle in spiritual armor and take up spiritual weaponry (See 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18).
It is vitally important that we understand, as Christians, that we are always engaged in this warfare. As Dr. Hayford notes at the end of this chapter (pp. 13-14):
In a very real sense, the words of the title of this book (“Penetrating the Darkness“) could appropriately be used to provide a subtitle for the Bible. All of the Word of God is a story–from the creation to the Consummation, from the chaotic darkness “upon the face of the deep” to the glories of the eternal city where forever “The Lamb is the Light thereof.”
Today, the Bible’s prophecies of the end times declare the challenge between, on the one hand, the increasing enterprises of vile and dark powers that corrupt humanity, and the inky blackness of hell’s demons surfacing for the final conflict (see 1 Timothy 4:2; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13; Revelation 9:1-21). On the other hand are those who answer Christ’s call as the Lord of the Church for us to overcome (see 1 John 5:4-5)!
The darkness is deepening–but the Word of God sounds a trumpet blast of faith-inspiring promise: Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds! It is the grace that flows from the cross and the grand that flowed to each of us who have met the Savior there. And it is also the same grace, filling and overflowing each of us who open to those overflowing “streams of living water,” that is available to every believer who will receive that full endowment of the Holy Spirit Jesus prophesied. It is the “river” that is provides power to live for Christ, to grow in the Word and prayer, and power to follow the Kingdom’s King–Jesus–as He leads us to “stand, therefore,” becoming equipped for battle.
In Chapter 2 titled, “The Gift of the Kingdom,” Dr. Hayford clearly explains the Kingdom of God, which was a constant theme Jesus preached about and was contained in the lessons He taught (p. 15):
He [Jesus] came proclaiming the power and presence of the Kingdom as the ‘entry’ of God’s will and rule, here to impact every situation. He applied Kingdom grace and power regarding every need or circumstance: health and healing, sin and forgiveness, human relationships, personal character, human failure, divine provision and His call for us to grow in Faith. His message at every point was to give hope. He came to bring “life abundantly”–life at a new dimension–both present and future. And He offered the gift of a Kingdom to all who would accept it–a dual offer of salvation, to birth us into the Kingdom, and the gift of partnership, to enable us as “citizens” to extend His Kingdom into all the world. So when He stood on the shores of Galilee, or taught on the Temple grounds in Jerusalem, He proclaimed His message with a sin-shattering, life-transforming possibility (pp. 15-16).
Continuing in the same chapter a few pages further (pp. 20-21), Dr. Hayford states:
As His redeemed, we are called beyond “being saved” to enter the school of discipleship with Jesus, first by opening to an empowering encounter with the Holy Spirit. That baptism with the Spirit includes the availability of diving power to assist us in our living, our growth, our praying, our worship, our labors, our–well, you name it! The Holy Spirit has come to glorify Christ–to cause the fullness of Jesus’ person and purpose to increase and graciously impact others around the beyond us where we live and for all that we pray (see Ephesians 3:16-19).
Further, when Kingdom truth about Kingdom rule is understood, not only does the beauty and wonder of Jesus’ call to our partnership become dynamic; the clarity of a sound understanding about our source of power and privilege in His name will not become muddled or muddied by pride, arrogance or any confusion about our authority as granted by God within His ultimate and unlimited sovereignty. We will find security as well as emboldened authority in Christ as the grandeur of God’s almightiness–His love, holiness, wisdom, power and grace is seen as ours in which to partner and to partake.
So come with me, and let us as redeemed sons and daughters, come with humility to learn His works and ways that now invite us to rule with Him through Christ and His cross.
A stunning proposition, wouldn’t you say?
In Chapter 3 titled, “Back to Basics,” Dr. Hayford writes about the foundation of prayer using the example of Jesus’ life and ministry and how He taught his disciples that the power of the Kingdom life flows through prayer (p. 31). He presents four “practicals” that should be a part of our daily devotional time: (1) Present yourself (pp. 34-36; (2) Present your heart (pp.36-38); (3) Present your day (pp. 38-40); and (4) Present your “reach” (influence) (pp. 40-46). And he ends this chapter with these words:
Keep pressing in! While you are learning, keep pressing forward, and never let the liar discourage your spirit. We can be tempted to think about daily prayer the same way that we do New Year’s resolutions. We get excited about the newness of what the Lord is working in our lives, and pray three days in a row. Then something comes up and we miss a day. If we miss two more days, we feel as though we are back down to zero again! It is as if we were scoring points and now we are behind. That is absolutely a lie of the devil. When we miss a day, all that happens is the we missed a day; it does not annul the days when we did pray.
Learning the habit o daily devotional prayer will take time. But it is step one in learning to penetrate the darkness through prayer. As growing disciples, we build that foundation of daily prayer. But there will also be times that the Lord calls us to deeper dimensions of prayer. Scripture talks about other kinds of prayer through which we can extend the light and life of His Kingdom (pp. 46-47).
It goes without saying that this blog post would be exceedingly lengthy if I continued to give a brief description of all eleven chapters. The remaining chapters are titled, (4) Intercession 101; (5) Intercession Practicum; (6) It’s Only by the Blood; (7) A Binding Contract; (8) Breaking Loose; (9) Engaging in Battle; (10) Invasion of Life; and (11) We Shall Do Valiantly. There are also two appendixes: Appendix A: A Prayer for Receiving Christ as Lord and Savior; and Appendix B: A Prayer for Inviting the Lord to Fill You with the Holy Spirit.
There is one more chapter, Chapter 9 titled “Engaging in Battle,” that I want to make mention of as it is so important for us in understanding our real enemy. Dr. Hayford opens up the chapter with the following story on pp. 141-142:
I really enjoy watching movies about our nation’s history, both documentaries and historical fiction. One time I was watching “The Patriot” and was struck by one particular scene. In case you have never seen this movie, it is set in the time period of the Revolutionary Way. The main character is a widower with seven children. Having fought in a previous conflict, he knows the horrors of war, and now his main goal is to keep his family out of the war. Thus he plays it safe and refuses to take a stand; he is now pledged to peace at any cost. His older sons are anxious to fight, anxious to engage the enemy, anxious to take the stand their father refuses to take. But though they argue and pressure him, he remains firm in his resolve: “I will not engage the enemy for the safety of my family.”
But the enemy comes and find him.
This man tries at one point to be humanitarian to some injured Colonial soldiers. Just then he turns around to see the Redcoats marching through his fields to his home. Enraged at his kindness to their enemy, the British soldiers shoot all the Colonial wounded, take the man’s oldest son captive and set fire to his home. In an instant, his life has changed, and he has no choice but to enter the battle.
Sometimes we do the same thing when it comes to our Adversary, the devil. We act as though if we play fair, the devil will leave us alone. But we need to come to grips with the fact that the devil is not just some little character that sits on our shoulders telling us to steal the cookie out of the cookie jar. He is vicious, relentless and completely committed to the destruction of humankind. Like the man in the movie, we can go about our lives and refuse to take a stand, but the point will arrive when the battle comes to us (pp. 141-142).
Yes, it will . . . when we aren’t expecting it the battle will come to us anyway. Dr. Hayford then goes on to explain how the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16 KJV)–The Message version words it this way: “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with” (p. 143). He then goes into the story of the prophet Elijah. Elijah faces many incredibly tough battles. Dr. Hayford states the following about Elijah (pp. 148-149):
The description of Elijah is one of a man who was subject to life’s passions as we are. He was not immune to depression, despair or despondency. I am sometimes convinced that Elijah was the kind of guy who woke up irritable some mornings. In fact, we could easily draw the conclusion that he woke up irritable every morning! Elijah even describes himself to the Lord as “very zealous” (1 Kings 19:10). The Hebrew word used there literally means “to envy, be jealous, be envious, be zealous.” Elijah was passionate about God, blunt in how he addressed people, and well, kind of quirky. We see a lot of these same attributes in John the Baptist, who, Scripture tells us, came in the spirit of Elijah. Bottom line–these guys did not give you the warm fuzzies.
When James [author of the “effectual fervent prayer” verse cited above and the Book of James in the New Testament] refers to this prophet, he makes clear that Elijah’s prayer of faith was not based upon superhuman transcendence of the flesh and its weaknesses. He did not walk around radiating imaginary holiness, robed in white and making wise and powerful utterances. He was a man subject to the same feelings and emotions that we experience. And it is this same “ordinary guy” who Scripture says prayed and no rain fell for three and a half years. When he prayed again, rain fell.
This is who James chooses to illustrate how effectual fervent prayer works. The New Testament application of this dramatic Old Testament story should come as no surprise to any of us. Living on this side of the cross, we sometimes forget we are living in the continuum of God’s workings. God has always been God; He has always been at work. As surely as Abraham looked ahead and rejoiced to see Jesus’ day (see John 8:56), we can look back and access the promise of God’s past workings. The Bible tells us that “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Every lesson and work of God that we see in His timeline of redemptive history can be applied to our own lives. The life of Elijah is just one example of the miracle workings of God that can be claimed by any of His children. It is Elijah’s story; it is James’ story; and it is designed to become my story, and your story, too.
Spiritual warfare is very, very real. We cannot take it lightly or think that we are immune to it. And don’t wait for the enemy to come and find you. But even if you do, remember who to turn to even in your darkest hours. . . .
Jesus Christ is the same . . .
Yesterday, today . . .
And forever . . . .
YouTube Video: “Backseat Driver” by TobyMac:
Yesterday I was at one of my favorite bookstores browsing through the bargain books section when I stumbled upon a little gift book titled “Whispers of Grace” (2013) by Ellie Claire. It is filled with short sayings by famous folks and Bible verses in various translations on the subject of grace. Since some of my blog posts tend to deal with tougher subjects (but not always), the subject of grace is of paramount importance to believers in Jesus Christ and one of great comfort to us. It is, after all, one of the cornerstones of our faith.
Biblically, grace is unmerited favor. It is God’s free action for the benefit of His people. It is different from justice and mercy. Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we do not deserve. In grace we get eternal life, something that, quite obviously, we do not deserve, but because of God’s love and kindness manifested in Jesus on the Cross, we receive the great blessing of redemption.
Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace rules out all human merit (Rom. 11:6). It is the product of God that is given by God because of who He is and not because of who we are. It is the means of our salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). We are no longer under the Law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). (See 1 Cor. 15:11, Rom. 5:2, 15-20, 2 Cor. 12:9, and 2 Cor. 9:8). (Quote source here.)
When I was a young girl (which was several decades ago), one of the first acronyms I learned in church was grace (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense), and it has always stuck with me. And one of the classic Bible verses on grace is found in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
GotQuestions?org gives us a longer definition of grace:
The gospel message is the good news of God’s grace, so it is important to know what grace is and to constantly seek to get a better view of what grace does in our lives.
Grace is an essential part of God’s character. Grace is closely related to God’s benevolence, love, and mercy. Grace can be variously defined as “God’s favor toward the unworthy” or “God’s benevolence on the undeserving.” In His grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us abundantly, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve to be treated so well or dealt with so generously.
To fully understand grace, we need to consider who we were without Christ and who we become with Christ. We were born in sin (Psalm 51:5), and we were guilty of breaking God’s holy laws (Romans 3:9–20, 23; 1 John 1:8–10). We were enemies of God (Romans 5:6, 10; 8:7; Colossians 1:21), deserving of death (Romans 6:23a). We were unrighteous (Romans 3:10) and without means of justifying ourselves (Romans 3:20). Spiritually, we were destitute, blind, unclean, and dead. Our souls were in peril of everlasting punishment.
But then came grace. God extended His favor to us. Grace is what saves us (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is the essence of the gospel (Acts 20:24). Grace gives us victory over sin (James 4:6). Grace gives us “eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Paul repeatedly identified grace as the basis of his calling as an apostle (Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Ephesians 3:2, 7). Jesus Christ is the embodiment of grace, coupled with truth (John 1:14).
The Bible repeatedly calls grace a “gift” (e.g., Ephesians 4:7). This is an important analogy because it teaches us some key things about grace:
First, anyone who has ever received a gift understands that a gift is much different from a loan, which requires repayment or return by the recipient. The fact that grace is a gift means that nothing is owed in return.
Second, there is no cost to the person who receives a gift. A gift is free to the recipient, although it is not free to the giver, who bears the expense. The gift of salvation costs us sinners nothing. But the price of such an extravagant gift came at a great cost for our Lord Jesus, who died in our place.
Third, once a gift has been given, ownership of the gift has transferred and it is now ours to keep. There is a permanence in a gift that does not exist with loans or advances. When a gift changes hands, the giver permanently relinquishes all rights to renege or take back the gift in future. God’s grace is ours forever.
Fourth, in the giving of a gift, the giver voluntarily forfeits something he owns, willingly losing what belongs to him so that the recipient will profit from it. The giver becomes poorer so the recipient can become richer. This generous and voluntary exchange from the giver to the recipient is visible in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Finally, the Bible teaches that grace is completely unmerited. The gift and the act of giving have nothing at all to do with our merit or innate quality (Romans 4:4; 11:5–6; 2 Timothy 1:9–10). In fact, the Bible says quite clearly that we don’t deserve God’s salvation. Romans 5:8–10 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”
Grace does not stop once we are saved; God is gracious to us for the rest of our lives, working within and upon us. The Bible encourages us with many additional benefits that grace secures for every believer:
• Grace wins for us a new relationship of intimacy with God (Exodus 33:17).
• Grace helps us in our every need (Hebrews 4:16).
Grace is actively and continually working in the lives of God’s people. Paul credited the success of his ministry not to his own substantial labors but to “the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Grace is the ongoing, benevolent act of God working in us, without which we can do nothing (John 15:5). Grace is greater than our sin (Romans 5:20), more abundant than we expect (1 Timothy 1:14), and too wonderful for words (2 Corinthians 9:15).
As the recipients of God’s grace, Christians are to be gracious to others. Grace is given to us to serve others and to exercise our spiritual gifts for the building up of the church (Romans 12:6; Ephesians 3:2, 7; 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10). (Quote source here.)
And all of that is Good News! Grace is God’s unmerited gift to us . . . and not because of anything we have done, but because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. We cannot work our way to God on our own merit by anything that we have done. The gift of grace comes through the sacrifice of Jesus to those of us who believe in him.
Getting back to the gift book I mentioned at the beginning of this post, “Whispers of Grace,” it contains 61 sections on the subject of grace each with it’s own title starting with “The Tune of Grace” and ending with “Passionate Love.” Each section contains a variety of approximately six to seven quotes on the subject title in that particular section. Here are four sections I’ve selected from the book to give you an idea of what the rest of the sections are like. The first section is titled, “Strong Refuge” (pp. 48-49):
We know that [God] give us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty. ~Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)
Why would God promise a refuge unless He knew we would need a place to hide once in a while? ~Neva Coyle
The LORD is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him. ~Nahum 1:7 NLT
If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer–His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable. ~John Newton (1725-1807)
Jesus Christ is no security against storms, but He is perfect security in storms. He has never promised you an easy passage, only a safe landing. ~L.B. Cowman (1870-1960)
Do not take over much thought for tomorrow. God, who has led you safely on so far, will lead you on to the end. Be altogether at rest in the loving holy confidence which you ought to have in His heavenly Providence. ~Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
You are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with Your praise and with Your glory all day long. ~Psalm 71:7-8 NASB
This next section is titled, “The Source” (pp. 68-69):
He is the Source. Of everything. Strength for your day. Wisdom for your task. Comfort for your soul. Grace for your battle. Provision for each need. Understanding for each failure. Assistance for every encounter. ~Jack Hayford
We are forgiven and righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice; therefore we are pleasing to God in spite of our failures. Christ alone is the source of our forgiveness, freedom, joy, and purpose. ~Robert S. McGee
The very life of God, epitomized in the love of God, originates only and always with Him. ~W. Phillip Keller (1920-1997)
For he satisfies the thirsty and fells the hungry with good things. ~Psalm 107:9 NLT
He is the God who made the world and everything in it…. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth…. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us. ~Acts 17:24, 26-27 NLT
We must drink deeply from the very Source the deep calm and peace of interior quietude and refreshment of God, allowing the pure water of diving grace to flow plentifully and unceasingly from the Source itself. ~Mother Teresa (1910-1997)
You are never alone. In your heart of hearts, in the place where no two people are ever alike, Christ is waiting for you. And what you never dared hope for springs to life. ~Brother Roger of Taize (1915-2005)
And here is another section entitled, “Encountering God” (pp. 108-109):
We encounter God in the ordinariness of life, not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences, but in our simple presence in life. ~Brennan Manning (1934-2013)
God is with us in the midst of our daily, routine lives. In the middle of cleaning the house or driving somewhere in the pickup…. Often it’s in the middle of the most mundane task that He lets us know He is there with us. We realize, then, that there can be no “ordinary” moments for people who live their lives with Jesus. ~Michael Card
This is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. ~I John 3:24 NIV
Do you believe that God is near? He wants you to. He wants you to know that He is in the midst of your world. Wherever you are as you read these words, He is present. In your car. On the plane. In your office, your bedroom, your den. He’s near. And He is more than near. He is active. ~Max Lucado
Much of what is sacred is hidden in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives. To see something of the sacred in those moments takes slowing down so we can live our lives more reflectively. ~Ken Gire
If each moment is sacred–a time and place where we encounter God–life itself is sacred. ~Jean M. Blomquist
And I’ll finish up this post with the last section in the book titled, “Passionate Love” (pp. 126-127):
The highest act of love is the giving of the best gift, and, if necessary, at the greatest cost, to theleast deserving. That’s what God did. At the loss of His Son’s life to the totally undeserving, God gave the best gift–the display of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. ~John Piper
It may seem strange to think that God wants to spend time with us, but… think about it. If God went to all the trouble to come to earth, to live the life that He did, to die for us, then there’s got to be a hunger and a passion behind that. We think of prayer as an “ought to,” but in reality it is a response to God’s passionate love for us. We need to refocus on the fact that God is waiting for us to show up and be with Him and that our presence truly touches Him. ~Henry Cloud
When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. ~Titus 3:4-8 NIV
God loves you! He wants you to know Him, and He is sufficient for your every need. ~Anne Graham Lotz
You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. ~Isaiah 25:1 NASB
On the back cover is the following statement:
When we stop to listen, we can hear whispers of God’s grace all around us. Sighs of His love softly speak to our hearts, assuring us that He is with us in all things, at all times. His grace is a never-ending blessing to be shared.
So let’s share it! I’ll end this post with a quote from Charles Colson (1931-2012) on page 12:
It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. . .
God doesn’t want our success . . .
He wants us . . . .
YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” by Chris Tomlin:
Back in April 2012 I wrote a blog post that was dedicated to an old friend of mine who, at that time, I had not communicated with for several years. That post was titled, “You Think About That.” My friend is a former pastor of many years, a professor emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, a radio broadcaster, and founder of Key Life Network. He is also the author of numerous books, of which I wrote a blog post on August 5, 2012, on his last book published titled, “Three Free Sins.”
Well, he’s been at it again. . . . His name is Dr. Steve Brown (but don’t call him doctor; call him Steve), and his latest book it titled, “Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart.” Sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It is quite a delightful book. Here is one of the many endorsements on his book:
“Talk about crafty. Under the guise of exploring that scariest of topics, human motivation, Steve Brown has hidden a remarkably wide-ranging, uncommonly funny, and psychologically penetrating masterclass of practical theology. What’s more, he’s jam-packed it with the kind of stories you can only accumulate from a lifetime of full-blooded ministry, rooting the Good News right where it belongs–behind the masks we all wear. Here’s a not-so-hidden, kicker-free agenda for anyone interested in understanding themselves, loving other people, or knowing God. Digest this book, post-haste.”
~David Zahl, Editor, “The Mockingbird Blog”; author of “A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock n Roll” (2014).
Yep, we all wear masks . . . every single one of us. And we all have hidden agendas, too. In the “Introduction” to the book on page 2, Steve writes:
Dr. House (of television fame) often says, “Everybody lies.” That may be truer than any of us would like to admit. But when one gets as old as I am, one lies less and, more important for the purpose of this book, one doesn’t feel as constrained to wear so many masks. It may or may not be true that everybody lies, but everybody wears a mask, everybody has an agenda, and almost everybody you know is different than you think. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 2.)
In Chapter 1 titled “Halloween Horror,” Steve defines four questions (listed on page 6) as a starting point:
- What is a hidden agenda and why is it hidden?
- What are masks and why do we wear them?
- How do those masks and agendas hurt us and those we love?
- Why are we so afraid that people will discover our agendas and look behind our masks?
Before I go any further, you have to read the book to get the full impact, the humor, and the years of experience in dealing with others including himself to really appreciate what this book is truly offering to the reader. There is no way I can do justice to it in a blog post. For the purposes of this post, I will give a very brief description of how Steve defines hidden agendas and the masks we wear (re: the first two questions above). He goes much further with each by giving personal examples from his lifetime of experiences. So let’s start with the first question:
What is a hidden agenda and why it is hidden?
An “agenda” is a plan designed to accomplish, change, fix, destroy, remedy, reward, punish, promote, or hinder. In other words, an agenda is what we do to get from where we are to where we want to be–from here to there. Further, a hidden agenda is either hidden intentionally to accomplish what we desire, or hidden unintentionally because we don’t even know we have an agenda in the first place. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 8.)
And here’s the second question:
What are masks and why do we wear them?
Masks are designed to hide, conceal, or disguise the reality behind them. In other words, the masks are created to further an agenda. Like any agenda, the masks are sometimes intentional, but more often than not, the wearers are unaware of their masks.
Someone has said that the definition of “diplomacy” is saying “Nice dog . . . nice dog” until you get a stick. The “nice dog” part is the mask. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 10.)
In Chapter 2, “Ugly in a Nudist Colony” (you need to read the intro paragraph to understand the title–and I’m not going to give it away in this blog post, either), Steve, who is Presbyterian, describes a time a number of years ago when he was attending presbytery (e.g., a group of church pastors and leaders who live in a defined geographical area) where some of the younger leaders announced they were pretty much done with the meetings that were so “boring, anal, and so often ‘the noise of solemn assemblies'” (quote source page 24). One of the young leaders announced, “We need each other, and from now on, we are going to be different. We’re going to devote presbytery meetings to caring for and loving each other instead of just church business. And this morning we are going to begin by confession our sins to one another. I’ll start.” Here’s the rest of the story:
Then to the shock and surprise of everybody there, that leader confessed a very embarrassing and particularly humiliating sin to the presbytery. “Now,” he said, “it’s your turn.”
There was a long pause and then, to my surprise, members of the presbytery stood up and one by one confessed their sins. Those weren’t the “deep and dark” sins over which Christians crucify other Christians, but is was a good and freeing beginning.
I [Steve] was sitting in the back of the auditorium when all of this happened. As the confession progressed, I noticed that the presbytery members kept turning around and looking at me. I had been a seminary professor to many of them and it was apparent to me that they could hardly wait to get some dirt on the old guy.
So finally I stood up. It grew so quiet that you could hear a flea burp. In my kind and pastoral way I said, “Are you crazy?” I’m not confession my sins to this bunch. You aren’t safe! So forget it.” Then I sat down, only to quickly stand back up again and say, “Well, I suppose that is a sort of confession.”
Everybody laughed because we all knew that, while confession was good for the soul and good for the church, inappropriate confession was quite dangerous.
We live in a time when secrets are hard to keep. With social media, cameras on every corner, YouTube, email hackers, and viral tweets, town gossips have pretty much been put out of business–or maybe now they have a much bigger platform. If you don’t want everyone to know what you say, write, and do, don’t say it, don’t write it, and don’t do it. It will come back to bite you. Just ask those whose lives were destroyed by an online revelation, a Google search, or a camera about which they were unaware.
Until the church, the world, and our communities become safe places, a wise man or woman will be careful about an inappropriate authenticity that is more akin to stripping than honesty. So before we “get down” to our discussion of masks and how they hurt us and those we love, let me remind you of some things that are very important. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” pp. 25-26.)
Now if you think I’m going to give you the rest, you’re crazy . . . buy the book!!!
This post would be hopelessly long if I gave you snippets from each of the fourteen chapters. I wish I could, but it’s all in the book. Okay, okay—here are two more examples. . . .
In a section titled, “What is Really Important,” in Chapter 6 titled, “Dead Men (and Women) Do Tell Tales,” Steve writes:
Do you remember the story Jesus told about the farmer whose farm was incredibly successful (Luke 12)? The farmer was smoking a cigar on the back porch and planning how to deal with his new found wealth. He was going to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, and then he was going to kick back and enjoy his retirement. He fantasized about booze, parties and fun. God said to the man, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).
It is said that after the North had taken Richmond during the Civil War, there were literally wagonloads of Confederate money hauled away. Some of the soldiers who had become bored with it all got together and played a poker game. They played the game with worthless Confederate money, often playing for thousands of dollars a hand. What was important about their poker game? Nothing. Nothing at all.
In our culture we are playing, as it were, a lot of poker games with phony, worthless money. Mark Twain once told a group of wealthy business people that they would one day meet someone who didn’t have a dime yet was happy. “Then,” he said, “You’ll know that you’ve paid too much for your whistle.”
The world lies to us all the time. I actually believed the commercial pushing the hair growth product. They lied. So did those who said that fame, money, and being more religious would make everything okay. I’ve had a modicum of all three and those folks lied to me, too. I thought that if I ate properly, exercised regularly, and stayed away from products bad for my body, I would live a long and healthy life. Instead, I found out that I was just like a ship going down with nothing to throw overboard. They lied. And it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me. In that reminder, I was able to “consider myself dead.”
All of my life I wanted to be a mega-church pastor. I always served relatively small churches until eventually God told me I didn’t have to be a pastor anymore. Not too long ago a member of the pulpit committee of a very large church asked me to consider becoming their pastor. I told him he was crazy, but he said, “Steve, at least pray about it.” I did.
“Lord,” I prayed, “you know I’ve always wanted that kind of church. Think of the impact I could make for you and the lives I could touch…to say nothing of the money I could make. I would tithe that money and you would get far more then you’re getting from me now.”
At that moment, God took the blinders off and reminded me of that day in my study when my life came apart. He showed me a picture of angry Christians at a congregational meeting. He showed me the graves beside which I wept and the suicides I had cleaned up. He reminded me of the sleepless night when a drunk called at 3 o’clock in the morning and the times I stayed up worrying about the direction of the church.
I wrote the man on the pulpit committee. “I did as you requested,” I wrote in handwriting so shaky I could hardly read it. “I prayed and God said I was crazy to even pray about it. I will, however, be praying for you guys as you seek the right pastor for your church.”
The reminder was from the Holy Spirit. When he reminded me about the importance (or lack of it) of serving a mega-church, I repented (i.e., agreed with God) and it was a part of the process of considering myself dead.
Considering yourself dead is also to discover . . .
What Is Going to Last
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus . . . and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:13-15). In other words, a lot of things aren’t going to last, but Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever [Hebrews 13:8], and when you die only that will remain. In the great love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul wrote that three things would last–faith, hope, and love–and then he pointed out that love was the greatest of the three. Not only that, Paul wrote his friends in Philippi that the Holy Spirit would remind them of what will last and what won’t. I have a friend who says that everybody ought to be a part of something that will last longer then they do. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” pp. 83-86.)
The last snippet will come from Chapter 12 titled, “A New Kind of Family.” Steve writes:
Jesus said that we should be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) In chapter 2 [you’ll need to get the book!] I quote my late mentor when he said that the inappropriate and reckless ripping off of a mask was the kiss of death for friendship. He’s right. In fact, let me suggest that you read that second chapter again and remember what I taught you. You have to be very careful to whom and in front of whom you take off your mask, as well as the timing of that removal. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If we’re willing to reveal who we are in the little pieces and to admit our hidden agendas in small places, it will become addictive. And it will become contagious.
I have a friend, a famous pastor (you would know his name) who was disgraced, with a great number of people bearing witness to the way they were shamed and demeaned by him. I’ve stayed in touch with him even though some friends have told me I shouldn’t. At any rate, one friend told me that he was glad I was and then said, “What he really needs is someone to hug him.” In order to do that, I have to be real to him about who I am. I hate that but I’ve been watching and waiting, and this just came along.
We’ve all heard a lot about “creating opportunities” to be witnesses for Christ. Forget it. You don’t have to create opportunities. Just walk around in your new shoes and try to be sensitive to the opportunities God has given you to be real, to cut slack, and to set aside your hidden agendas. The people you touch will amaze you.
Just don’t duck. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 177.)
There are a total of fourteen chapters in the book, and at the end of each chapter Steve gives us several questions to digest regarding the chapter’s topic, which makes the book an excellent source for individual or group study. The many stories in his book are captivating, as is his sense of humor. It is, in fact . . .
Vintage Steve Brown . . .
And I can guarantee . . .
You will not be disappointed. . . .
Ordering information (Available May 16, 2016–it can be pre-ordered now if you’re reading this post before that date):
YouTube Video: “True Colors” (1986) by Cyndi Lauper:
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
While we live in an age of ever increasing marvel and technological wonders, some things never change–like human nature. Due to the ever increasing rise in terrorism that is spreading around the globe like a cancer claiming it’s next victim, we do ourselves a great disservice if we bury our heads in the sand and pretend it can’t happen here in America. And all of the braggadocio talk we can muster won’t stop it, either. In fact, it won’t even put a dent in it. If anything, it encourages it all the more. . . .
This post is going to deal with the subject of persecution and, specifically, the rise of persecution and the basic steps involved in persecuting others. Persecution is defined as “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; and persistent annoyance or harassment” (quote source here). Whether it is individualized to a specific person or an entire group of people, there are several stages that take place in the systematic persecution of any individual or group. An article titled, “The Five Stages of Persecution,” published on July 31, 2014 on Patheos.com written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker spells out those stages:
1. Stereotyping the targeted group – To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number, and generalize it to the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on observation of a limited sample.
Basically as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward and repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotyping we are a laughable, even tragic group, caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the shackles of faith.
2. Vilifying the targeted Group for alleged crimes or misconduct – As the stereotyping grows in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary and just plain mean and basically bad people.
The History of the Church is also described myopically as little more than bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades, inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story, or that the Church founded universities, and hospitals, was the patron of the arts, and preached a Gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbarous time in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. Stereotyping will hear little of that, or, if it does, it will give the credit to anything or anyone but the Church and the faith.
3. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society – Having established the (untrue) premise that the Church and the faith is very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the next stage seeks to relegate the role of the Church to the margins.
To many in secularized culture, religion must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc., in the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.
In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly or in any way bring their Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go, out with Christmas trees, even the colors green and red at “holiday time” are banished from many public schools.
4. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works – Can someone say HHS mandate?
But prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our rights to openly practice our faith. Increasing litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.
Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information or referrals for abortion, to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e. the abortifacient known as the morning after pill), Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not adopt children to gay couples. The State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization and running of Catholic parishes in 2009. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they would dare to mention God, and Jesus in their talk. (More HERE)
5. Persecuting the targeted group outright – If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from enduring heavy fines and jail.
The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail. (Article and quote source here.)
In this country there are greater provisions for free speech but, as we have seen, there is a steady erosion in religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are well familiar with having to spend long periods in courts defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail.
The subject of persecution (the systematic destroying of others) involves “the suffering of all types of persecution and harassment short of death brought against a person or group on account of adherence to a cause and especially to one’s religious faith. This type of persecution usually takes the form of political, psychological, legal and financial harassment” (quote source here). And it occurs much more frequently in societies like America who wish to hide the outright persecution of its citizens who they see as being “unfit” in whatever category they choose to put them in (whether religious, racial, etc.) since it is not yet legal to persecute them “out in the open” (although what they do is pretty overt at times).
Persecution is alive and well right here in America. It isn’t as obvious as beheading anyone on beaches yet, or gassing them in ovens; or working people to death in death camps, but it is here. For example, how many millions in this country are in the “long-term unemployed” category and have given up ever hoping to find work again? Their lives have been decimated financially and in many other ways but does anybody care? The number of homeless has vastly increased while the number of laws against the homeless has increased, too. And you won’t find their numbers listed anywhere in the latest unemployment statistics. We hide persecution under the various cloaks of long-term unemployment, or calling into question the sanity or mental stability of those we can’t “control” (especially if they have strong religious beliefs that are not popular among the general population), not to mention the systematic targeting of specific individuals for all types of harassment. There is no shortage of examples from those being persecuted as stated above on the internet if one wants to go looking for them. Unfortunately, most people just don’t want to know, and it’s easier to call them crazy. In that way perhaps they don’t think it will ever affect them.
Let’s take a look at the early stages of persecution that took place in Nazi Germany between 1933-1939. An article titled, “1933-1939: Early Stages of Persecution,” on MyJewishLearning.com states the following:
On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler was named chancellor, the most powerful position in the German government, by the aged President Hindenburg, who hoped Hitler could lead the nation out of its grave political and economic crisis. Hitler was the leader of the right-wing National Socialist German Workers Party (called “the Nazi Party” for short). It was, by 1933, one of the strongest parties in Germany, even though–reflecting the country’s multiparty system–the Nazis had won only a plurality of 33 percent of the votes in the 1932 elections to the German parliament (Reichstag).
Once in power, Hitler moved quickly to end German democracy. He convinced his cabinet to invoke emergency clauses of the constitution that permitted the suspension of individual freedoms of press, speech, and assembly. Special security forces—the Gestapo, the Storm Troopers (SA), and the SS–murdered or arrested leaders of opposition political parties (Communists, socialists, and liberals). The Enabling Act of March 23, 1933–forced through the Reichstag already purged of many political opponents–gave dictatorial powers to Hitler.
Also in 1933, the Nazis began to put into practice their racial ideology. The Nazis believed that the Germans were “racially superior” and that there was a struggle for survival between them and inferior races. They saw Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and the handicapped as a serious biological threat to the purity of the “German (Aryan) Race,” what they called the master race.
Jews, who numbered about 525,000 in Germany (less than one percent of the total population in 1933) were the principal target of Nazi hatred. The Nazis identified Jews as a race and defined this race as “inferior.” They also spewed hate-mongering propaganda that unfairly blamed Jews for Germany’s economic depression and the country’s defeat in World War I (1914-1918).
In 1933, new German laws forced Jews out of their civil service jobs, university and law court positions, and other areas of public life. In April 1933, laws proclaimed at Nuremberg made Jews second-class citizens. These Nuremberg Laws defined Jews, not by their religion or by how they wanted to identify themselves, but by the religious affiliation of their grandparents. Between 1937 and 1939, new anti-Jewish regulations segregated Jews further and made daily life very difficult for them. Jews could not attend public schools; go to theaters, cinema, or vacation resorts; or reside or even walk in certain sections of German cities.
Also between 1937 and 1939, Jews increasingly were forced from Germany’s economic life. The Nazis either seized Jewish businesses and properties outright or forced Jews to sell them at bargain prices. In November 1938, the Nazis organized a riot (pogrom), known as Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”). This attack against German and Austrian Jews included the physical destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned stores, the arrest of Jewish men, the vandalizing of homes, and the murder of individuals.
Although Jews were the main target of Nazi hatred, the Nazis persecuted other groups they viewed as racially or genetically “inferior.” Nazi racial ideology was buttressed by scientists who advocated “selective breeding” (eugenics) to “improve” the human race. Laws passed between 1933 and 1935 aimed to reduce the future number of genetic “inferiors” through involuntary sterilization programs: 320,000 to 350,000 individuals judged physically or mentally handicapped were subjected to surgical or radiation procedures so they could not have children. Supporters of sterilization also argued that the handicapped burdened the community with the costs of their care. Many of Germany’s 30,000 Roma (Gypsies) were also eventually sterilized and prohibited, along with Blacks, from intermarrying with Germans. About 500 children of mixed African-German backgrounds were also sterilized. New laws combined traditional prejudices with the racism of the Nazis, which defined Roma by “race” and as “criminal and asocial.”
Another consequence of Hitler’s ruthless dictatorship in the 1930s was the arrest of political opponents and trade unionists and others whom the Nazis labeled “undesirables” and “enemies of the state.” Some 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals were imprisoned in concentration camps; under the 1935 Nazi-revised criminal code, the mere denunciation of a man as “homosexual” could result in arrest, trial, and conviction. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who numbered at least 25,000 in Germany, were banned as an organization as early as April 1933, because the beliefs of this religious group prohibited them from swearing any oath to the state or serving in the German military. Their literature was confiscated, and they lost their jobs, unemployment benefits, pensions, and all social welfare benefits. Many Witnesses were sent to prisons and concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and their children were sent to juvenile detention homes and orphanages.
Between 1933 and 1936, thousand of people, mostly political prisoners, were imprisoned in concentrations camps, while several thousand German Roma were confined in special municipal camps. The first systematic round-up of German and Austrian Jews occurred after Kristallnacht, when approximately 30,000 Jewish men were deported to Dachau and other concentration camps, and several hundred Jewish women were sent to local jails. The wave of arrests in 1938 also included several thousand German and Austrian Roma.
Between 1933 and 1939, about half of the German-Jewish population and more than two-thirds of Austrian Jews (1938-1939) fled Nazi persecution. They emigrated mainly to the United States, Palestine, elsewhere in Europe (where many would be later trapped by Nazi conquests during the war), Latin America, and Japanese-occupied Shanghai (which required no visas for entry). Jews who remained under Nazi rule were either unwilling to uproot themselves or unable to obtain visas, sponsors in host countries, or funds for emigration. Most foreign countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and France, were unwilling to admit very large numbers of refugees. (Quote source here.)
Nazi Germany didn’t happen in a vacuum. The whole world watched and turned a blind eye to the horror and atrocities that took place until the world found itself engulfed in the Second World War.
Regarding persecution in America, I ran into an article published on March 6, 2015 by Yes, There Is Christian Persecution in America And Here’s What it Looks Like.” His take is a bit different regarding where the source of the persecution is coming from. He opens by stating what most people believe about persecution in America:
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…. (You can read the entire article at this link).
You might be surprised (or maybe not) at where Corey sees the persecution of Christians in America coming from (hint: other Christians). And if you read the article, you will find out that the President relieved Dr. Beckum of his duties as Vice President of Community Formation. The topic of Dr. Beckum’s sermon during a chapel service that started the whole controversy was on Jesus’ admonition to his followers that we are to “love our enemies.” (The article is available at this link). There is something so antithetical about Christians persecuting other Christians when Jesus clearly commanded his followers to “love our enemies.” Christians persecuting anyone should not exist.
With that being said, persecution can come from anyone or anywhere, and no one particular group has a niche on it. It is all about the motives of those who are doing the persecuting (whether persecuting an individual or an entire group of people). The persecution of others is done for a variety of reasons, often of a religious nature but not always (e.g., money and control are huge motivators for persecution, too), goes on everywhere. As I mentioned above, just because we aren’t beheading people on beaches here in America doesn’t mean we aren’t stealth in other ways of persecuting others we want to try to control (or destroy) for whatever reasons. Those involved in the persecution are adept at making others look stupid or crazy and ruining their lives if there is personal gain in it for them. Persecution in America is alive and well hidden, but it is very much “out there.”
America is changing and it is changing at a very rapid pace. What will it look like in ten years? Who knows? Just look at the upheaval in our political system during this election year. By the way, as a disclaimer, the articles I have mentioned are for information only on the subject of persecution and I do not personally endorse some of the statements in them. I have used them because they cite specific situations of how the persecution progressed in Nazi Germany, and how one high ranking administrator lost his job here in America by giving a sermon in chapel at a Christian university on Jesus’ topic of “loving our enemies.”
The irony of it all. . . .
While persecution is a sobering topic, I want to end this post on a more positive note. An article published on August 10, 2015 written by Thomas Christianson in Relevant Magazine gives us some food for thought, and it is aptly titled, “What It Actually Means to Love Your Enemies.” You can read his article at this link.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So let us go . . .
And do likewise . . . .
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:
Back on November 3, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, “The Woman, the Judge, Justice and God,” and I reblogged it again last year on April 23, 2015, adding a few words and titled it, “Always Pray and Don’t Give Up.” It’s regarding a parable that Jesus taught on one of the most important topics we need to remember when we are in the midst of an ongoing trial (sometimes lasting for years) that just never seems to let up and, in fact, over time the pressure intensifies in order to try and make us finally give up. It tests our mettle to the max, and too often we give up when the going just keeps on going and getting harder instead of better, and the obstacles get tougher and more numerous and the pressure seems unbearable at times. And it’s at that very point that the message of the parable is so vitally important for us to remember. If we rely on ourselves and our own understanding, we will fall.
As a preface to the parable, Jesus states, “Always pray and don’t give up.” And he is our example to follow. After all, he never gave up, either (see Hebrews 12:1-3). The power to move forward when all hell comes against us is found only in God, and not is us. This parable is about persistence and how important it is to have it, and to keep it, and keep going on and to not give up, no matter how long it takes and no matter hard it gets, and no matter who may mock us or how many are against us in the process. The parable is found in Luke 18.1-8:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
There are a lot of people in this world who don’t fear God or care what people think. The judge in this case was such a person. However, what eventually got to him was this widow’s persistence in coming to him to get justice from her adversary. We are not given the details of her particular problem with her adversary, but it was clear she needed justice from the harassment she was under and the judge was the only person who could give it to her. But he refused to help her “for some time.” It could have been several years, but she never stopped coming to him for help, and she never gave up seeking help from him as he was the only one who could get justice for her from her adversary who just never gave up harassing her. Finally, the judge was so tired of hearing from her that he decided to finally give her the justice she needed so that she would stop bothering him about it, but it took a very long time for it to happen. In fact, the judge’s response states that he would finally see that she got justice so that she wouldn’t eventually come and attack him. He was wearing out under her continual pressure of asking for justice, and it was her persistence that paid off for her in the end. While we don’t know what happened to her adversary, we do know the harassment finally stopped and she was finally free from her adversary.
Of course, the ending of the parable states, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
It is interesting that Jesus asks that question at the end of this parable–“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The faith he is speaking about is the kind of faith portrayed by the widow’s continual persistence and the fact that she never gave up seeking justice from her adversary (see James 1:2-4). And that included the widow having to live through years of whatever her adversary was doing to her (Trial #1), and also the reluctance of the judge to help her for a very long time (Trial #2). And it paid off with the judge finally giving her justice from her adversary.
It has been seven years and seven months now since I started that job in Houston that has left me unemployed for all of this time. That job lasted barely seven months, but the consequences from it have lasted seven years so far. The punishment hardly fits the crime, and my only crime was accepting that job in the first place as I did nothing wrong while I worked there that warranted me being fired from it, and certainly nothing that warranted me not being able to find another job in all of this time. And I was employed in my profession for twenty years before I showed up on their door step. I suppose in a way it could be compared to a “David and Goliath” story. I hadn’t thought of that comparison before, but the corporation that owns the company I worked for is definitely a “Goliath” in size and power, owning and managing over one hundred for-profit institutions of higher education (colleges and graduate schools), of which my former employer was one of them.
What happened to me there wasn’t right . . .
It wasn’t fair, and it certainly wasn’t just . . .
And I’m still looking for some justice. . . .
YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:
Three years ago I watched a movie titled “The Pelican Brief” (1993) starring Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, and Sam Shepard, that was made from the third novel by John Grisham with the same title, “The Pelican Brief,” published in 1992 (an excerpt from the book is available at this link). There was a line in the movie that ended up being the inspiration for a blog post that I wrote on May 4, 2013, titled, “Threats to Liberty” (available at this link and reblogged in part below). The other day I ran into a hardback copy of the book at the local library for sale in their bookstore for $1.00, and since I don’t have a permanent address since I am still living in a hotel for reasons I have previously explained (and I can’t check out books from the library as I can’t get a library card with a temporary address), I decided to purchase the book to see how closely the movie follows the book. The main plot and story line are the same, but the movie is, obviously, a “quick version” of the book, with a little license thrown in. However, in reading the book it brought back the passion I felt after watching the movie three years ago. In fact, I think I’ll watch it again. . . .
There is a line stated very early on in the movie that inspired my blog post three years ago that was stated by Thomas Callahan (played by Sam Shepard), a Tulane law professor who teaches Constitutional Law to his students. The line is as follows:
“Passion and self-interest are threats to liberty.”
And they still are threats to liberty today, so I thought I’d repost the main part of that blog post titled, “Threats to Liberty,” published three years ago as a reminder of what is at stake:
On July 4, 1776, these words were written by representatives of the original thirteen United States of America in Congress as part of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . . .” (quote source here).
America was founded as a “republic” and not as a “democracy” (as it is commonly referred to), and there is a major difference between the two. “The difference between a democracy and a republic is not merely a question of semantics but is fundamental. The word ‘republic’ comes from the Latin ‘res publica’ — which means simply ‘the public thing(s),’ or more simply ‘the law(s).’ ‘Democracy, on the other hand, is derived from the Greek words ‘demos’ and ‘kratein,’ which translates to ‘the people to rule.’ Democracy, therefore, has always been synonymous with majority rule” (quote source here).
“The Founding Fathers supported the view that (in the words of the Declaration of Independence) ‘Men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ They recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch. In fact, they recognized that majority rule would quickly degenerate into ‘mob’-ocracy and then into tyranny. They had studied the history of both the Greek democracies and the Roman republic. They had a clear understanding of the relative freedom and stability that had characterized the latter, and of the strife and turmoil – quickly followed by despotism – that had characterized the former. In drafting the Constitution, they created a government of law and not of men, a republic and not a democracy” (quote source here).
America is governed by laws and not by majority rule. Does that come as a surprise to you? It’s true. American citizens have the right to vote for their representatives in government, but it is the laws created and passed by that government that rule over America and its citizens, starting with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers “recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch” (quote source here).
The Founding Fathers “recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch.” In other words, “an unrestrained majority” or an “unrestrained king” (in our case that would be the president), or both, have no right to trample the rights of any citizen in America as long as that citizen is a law-abiding citizen and has done no harm to anyone nor violated any laws. And as citizens of America, the Declaration of Independence clearly states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That means we are all equal. No exceptions. None.
In America, we all have the right to“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and that means every single one of us. When that right in trample on and/or gets taken away from even one of us, all of us lose out. There’s a line in the movie, “The Pelican Brief,” (1993) by Thomas Callahan, a Tulane law professor (played by Sam Shepard), where he states to his class, “Passion and self-interest are threats to liberty.” Let’s look at the definitions of these three words from Dictionary.com:
Passion: “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.”
Self-interest: “regard for one’s own interest or advantage, especially with disregard for others.”
Liberty: “freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc., power or fight of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice; freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint: The prisoner soon regained his liberty.”
If we allow the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (not to mention the right to privacy) to be taken away from even one American citizen who has done no harm nor violated any laws because of hatred, greed, and/or self-interest by any person or persons, majority, or government official, liberty no longer exists for any American citizen, and that is a slippery slope we will never recover from. And if it is allowed to happen to even one citizen, it can happen to all of us.
And let’s take a look at the “right to privacy.” Did you know there is a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”? It states that a right to privacy is explicitly stated under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
The following quote comes from Wikipedia.com (link here):
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the Constitution implicitly grants a right to privacy against governmental intrusion . . . . An article in the December 15, 1890 issue of the Harvard Law Review, written by attorney Samuel Warren and future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and entitled “The Right To Privacy,” is often cited as the first implicit declaration of a U.S. right to privacy . . . . Most states of the United States also grant a right to privacy and recognize four torts based on that right:
- Intrusion upon seclusion or solitude, or into private affairs;
- Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts;
- Publicity which places a person in a false light in the public eye; and
- Appropriation of name or likeness.
Do we as citizens of America take seriously the threat against allowing any person or persons, majority, or government official(s) to take away our basic human rights and rights as U.S. citizens? Do we just sit back and ignore it because it’s not happening to us at the moment? Well, it WILL happen to us eventually if we allow it to happen to even one U.S. citizen who had done no harm or no wrong to anyone nor broken any laws.
And if we don’t think it can ever happen in America, think Nazi Germany, and read that history. “Under Hitler’s rule, Germany was transformed from a republic into a dictatorship using the process of Gelichschaltung (coordination)” (quote source here). Systematic coordination . . . . Germany was transformed from a republic (which is what we are) to a dictatorship, and it was done systematically over a very short period of time (1933-1945).
So, if we don’t care what happens to our own citizens as long as it isn’t happening to us at the moment (and if we are so ignorant as to believe that it won’t happen to us), don’t be surprised when we wake up one day to a transformed America where we have no rights at all anymore.
It’s a wake up call, folks. So do we just hit the snooze button and roll over one more time? Well, one more time might be too late. The following YouTube video is the same song I posted three years ago on that blog post mentioned above, and since I love the Doobie Brothers. . . .
Here it is again. . . .
Enjoy. . . .
YouTube Video: “Takin’ It To The Streets,” by The Doobie Brothers:
This quote was made famous by “Pogo,” a comic strip character created by Walt Kelly (1913-1973) back at a time when environmental issues took front and center stage in America (1970-71), and they are still very much with us today. Here’s a little background information on the quote (source here):
None is more remembered than Pogo the ‘possum’s quote in the poster Kelly designed to help promote environmental awareness and publicize the first annual observance of Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970 (see poster at right):
“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”
In the poster, under the quote, Pogo is seen holding a litter pick-up stick and a burlap bag. He appears to be getting ready to start cleaning up the garbage humans have strewn over Okefenokee Swamp, the part of the planet where he lives.
Kelly used the line again in the Pogo strip published on the second Earth Day in 1971.
The words poignantly highlight a key concept of environmental stewardship: we all share part of the responsibility for the trashing of planet Earth, so we should all do our share to help clean it up.
Pogo’s quip was a pun based on the famous quotation “We have met the enemy and they are ours”—one of two famous quotes made by American Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry on September 10, 1813, after defeating a British naval squadron on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. (Perry’s other famous quote that day was “Don’t give up the ship.”)
While the environmental issues here in America as well as the rest of the planet are certainly daunting, there is an enemy lurking is all of us that is far more daunting and far more damaging than any environmental issue including the latest one to hit the news known as “global warming.”
While the “trashing of planet Earth” has been the main focus of the global warming controversy, there is another type of “global warming” that threatens all of us, and it is far worse than any particular environmental issue (not that they aren’t important). It is the “trashing of the human race” which is far more serious.
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) in Nazi Germany (1933-1945) tried to exterminate an entire race of people (the Jews living among them at the time, and he succeeded in murdering six million of them–known as The Holocaust–and a total of eleven million people between 1933-1945) before he committed suicide at the end of World War II. Many centuries earlier, Haman, the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who was a vizier in the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Xerxes I, also tried to exterminate the Jews but the attempt was foiled and he was hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai, a Jew who Haman considered to be his arch enemy along with the Jewish people living in Persia. As a consequence, his ten sons were also hanged.
In an ironic twist, an article published in “United with Israel: The Global Movement for Israel” titled, “Incredible Parallels between the Purim Story and the Nazi Trials,” published March 10, 2014, shows the uncanny parallels between the hanging of Haman’s ten sons centuries ago and the hanging of ten Nazi war criminals after the Nuremberg trials for the crimes committed against humanity under Hitler. The article is available at this link.
Obviously, the topic of this blog post is one we are all very familiar with, whether it’s bullying in the classroom or road rage on the freeways, or being the recipient of disdaining looks from people we don’t even know. When left unattended, especially over time, it can turn into time bombs like Nazi Germany or the many other “revolutions” that have plummeted this planet of ours over the centuries (including two World Wars in the 20th Century). And it makes our environmental issues pale in comparison. While most of us (except our veterans and other military and medical personnel) have not experience the ravages of war up close and personal, we still run into people who seem to have a pennant for disdaining others whether they know them or not. And there seems to be a lot of pent up rage out there today. Just look at the political climate during this very tumultuous election year. And sometimes it seems like it’s coming from a feeling of superiority in thinking we are somehow better than others who are around us or who are not exactly like us. Whatever form it takes, it is ugly, and we’ve all experienced it and/or been a part of it.
It brings to mind an experience I had three years ago when I was doing a lot of traveling in search of a job (which still has never materialized but the traveling has subsided considerably). I was driving through one of my favorite areas on the Gulf Coast between Houston, TX, and the town I lived in at the time that was located just north of Tampa, FL. I decided to take a short detour and got off the main interstate to drive along a coastal highway next to the Gulf of Mexico lapping on the sand beside the pavement. It was serene and beautiful and I came upon a pretty fancy multi-storied hotel right on the beach that looked too expensive for me to stay in (I found out later that it was formerly condos that had been turned into a hotel). However, I decided to check out the rate for one night anyway so I drove into their parking lot. I was wearing “road clothes” with means I was very “dressed down” in sweats as I had just driven a very long ways from Houston by the time I stopped there. I’m sure my makeup was no longer fresh, either. As I entered the hotel (I had to walk through a parking garage to get to the elevator), I noticed that the people I ran into were definitely of the “upper crust” crowd as their clothing and luggage stated as did the vehicles parked all around the hotel, and while I didn’t mind it at all, the looks I got from the folks I ran into was, well, let’s just say it was less than inviting. It was as if they wondered what the heck someone dressed like me was doing there. Glad they didn’t see my car with the faded paint job on the roof and trunk although it was only just starting then and not nearly as bad as it is now. Anyway, their reaction was disconcerting to say the least.
Nevertheless, I remained undaunted and took the elevator with a few of the well dressed folks with expensive luggage to the front desk located two floors up. As the elevator door opened and we exited the elevator, others were waiting to get on and I received the same look from them (that look of “Honey, what ARE you doing here?” if that look could be verbalized). Granted, I was not dressed like they were dressed but that didn’t matter to me. For all they didn’t know I could have been a billionaire incognito. I was there to inquire about a room to see if I could afford it for one night. Well, I was told nothing was available by a young female clerk who gave me a similar disdaining look, and I got the message loud and clear that I should perhaps look elsewhere. So I did. And I found a really wonderful room right down the street right across from the Gulf from that fancy hotel that catered to the well-to-do.
And that is when I discovered that there really is a caste system right here in America, whether by birth or even if wealth has been acquired recently by those newly rich from the internet/technology boom or Wall Street or mass tort litigation or some other means available in the Land of Opportunity (and maybe through illegal drugs or other unsavory means, although the prescription drug industry is legal and a billion-dollar enterprise). Everybody wants to be rich in America, right? Well, the compulsion is certainly there. Just look at our multi-billion dollar advertising business selling us anything we can ever possibly need or want (and often things we never thought about needing before). And the lottery system has done a real job on us, too, promising instant millionaire status in exchange for a few measly bucks every week. Well, over the years those “few measly bucks” turn into real money for the lottery folks, while the rest of us doing the spending dream on and spend more and get little or nothing in return. I don’t happen to play the lottery.
Well, I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked. The issue at hand is how we treat others, and that includes ALL others. Quite frankly, unless those “others” are our friends or relatives or folks who can do something for us, we don’t much think about the homeless on the streets, or the less fortunate living right under our noses, and you’d be surprised at those who are forced to live in hotels. I never gave it any thought until I was forced to start living in hotels almost 18 months ago.
Probably the most interesting thing I’ve noticed during these past seven years since I lost my job in Houston and my lifestyle was considerably downsized is how there really isn’t much difference between the church folks among us from the rest of the folks in society when it comes to helping others who are truly needy or judging people we don’t even know. But that’s a subject for a blog post I probably won’t write any time soon if ever. That is not to say that there aren’t Christian and secular organizations that stand ready to help people when an emergency strikes (although the initial mess from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 stands as a real sore spot in our recent history). But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the day-to-day folks we all run into when we are out shopping or going to jobs (if one is lucky enough to have a job if they want one) or walking a mall, or going to the park, etc. We all can be nice and lovely to those we know and have a lot in common with, but those we don’t know? Well, let’s just say you’d have to walk a few miles in the shoes of all those folks we like to prejudge in order to understand what I’m trying to say here. We are not the friendliest bunch of folks around total strangers in our midst, or else there would be a lot less homeless in our nation if we were. This “brother’s keeper” stuff isn’t much to our liking.
And it hasn’t gone unnoticed, and I’m not even referring to anything I have personally experienced in the past seven years. It is about how we as a nation are perceived by others, and yes, even those living among us who experience our disdain first hand.
I think back to that hotel experience I mentioned above and wonder if anyone in that hotel that catered to the “well-to-do” would have helped me if I had asked for help from any of them. Or were they too busy judging me by my appearance to want to have anything to do with me? The impression I was left with was that they couldn’t have cared less about me personally because my appearance said I wasn’t “well to do” (without them knowing anything about me), and I imagine they would have treated anyone dressed like I was dressed in a similar fashion. While I didn’t take their attitudes personally, I wondered how they treated others that didn’t measure up to their standards that they ran into on a daily basis and not just at that fancy hotel. And we don’t have to be numbered among the rich to treat others so callously, either. Plenty of regular folks are in that category, too. And multiply that number of folks we’ve disdained over a number of years or a few decades. It should matter to us how we treat others we don’t know, but I don’t think it does anymore. We primarily look out for ourselves and maybe family and friends (if we are lucky and it’s not an inconvenience to us).
And don’t think the strangers living among us haven’t noticed. . .
The environment can wait. . .
Humanity can’t afford to wait. . . .
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.
~I Corinthians 13:4-8
YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:
During the next several days ending on Sunday, March 27, 2016, we will be celebrating several events here in America that encompass one of the greatest themes known to humankind–deliverance. Also known as “Passion Week” (the last week in the life of Jesus Christ), it starts this Sunday, March 20, 2016, which is Palm Sunday, and is followed by Good Friday on March 25th, and Easter on Sunday, March 27th. Thrown into the middle of this week is the Jewish holiday of Purim (based on the Old Testament book of Esther), which starts at sundown on Wednesday, March 23rd, and ends at sundown on Thursday, March 24th.
For the past couple of years I have reposted a blog post I first wrote at Easter 2013. That post is titled, “On the Road to Emmaus” (click here for link to last year’s reblogged post). I’ve also posted two other blog posts on Easter titled, “He Is Risen” (click here), and “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ” (click here). Also, I have posted a blog post originally written on Purim 2014 with the latest version, “Celebrate Purim 5775 (2015),” published last year (click here for post).
The holidays of Purim and Easter are two holidays celebrating this theme of deliverance. Back in 2005 when Purim and Easter fell on the same day, Day of Discovery published a video titled, “Two Holidays of Deliverance: Purim and Easter” (click here to watch the video). 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). [The entire story can be read in the Old Testament book of Esther].
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. ~John 3:16-18
While I was tempted to repost my previously written blog posts on Purim and Easter from past years again for this year, the subject of deliverance is one that is too important to overlook. So let’s start by finding out what the Bible says on the subject of deliverance. GotQuestions.org states:
Deliverance is defined as “a rescue from bondage or danger.” Deliverance in the Bible is the acts of God whereby He rescues His people from peril. In the Old Testament, deliverance is focused primarily on God’s removal of those who are in the midst of trouble or danger. He rescues His people from their enemies (1 Samuel 17:37; 2 Kings 20:6), and from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 7:2; 17:13; 18:16-19; 59:2). He preserves them from famine (Psalm 33:19), death (Psalm 22:19-21), and the grave (Psalm 56:13; 86:13; Hosea 13:14). The most striking example of deliverance is the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 3:8; 6:6; 8:10). Here is God defined as the Deliverer of Israel who rescues His people, not because they deserve to be rescued, but as an expression of His mercy and love (Psalm 51:1; 71:2; 86:13).
In the New Testament, God is always the subject—and His people are always the object—of deliverance. The descriptions of temporal deliverance in the Old Testament serve as symbolic representations of the spiritual deliverance from sin which is available only through Christ. He offers deliverance from mankind’s greatest peril—sin, evil, death and judgment. By God’s power, believers are delivered from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4) and from the power of Satan’s reign (Colossians 1:13). All aspects of deliverance are available only through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who was Himself delivered up for us (Romans 4:25) so that we would be delivered from eternal punishment for sin. Only Jesus rescues us from the “wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
Another aspect of deliverance concerns the temporal. While believers are delivered once for all time from eternal punishment, we are also delivered from the trials of this life (2 Peter 2:9). Sometimes that deliverance is God simply walking through the trials by our side, comforting and encouraging us through them as He uses them to mature us in the faith. Paul assured the Corinthian believers that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). In these cases, rescue is not immediate, but in due time, after patience has had its perfect work (James 1:2-4, 12). God makes the way of escape simultaneously with the temptation which, in His perfect will and timing, He permissively arranges or allows for His people.
Deliverance is often sought from evil spirits or the spirit of lust, jealousy, etc. It’s important to understand that, as believers, we already have eternal victory over Satan and demons. But we can be delivered from their influence in our lives by using two weapons God has given us as part of our spiritual armor with which we battle “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12-17). The believer defends himself with the shield of faith and uses the offensive weapon of the Word of God. Against these two, no spirit can prevail. By holding up the shield of faith, we extinguish the flaming spiritual arrows they send against us, arrows of lust, doubt, guilt, jealousy, evil speech, and all manner of temptations. With the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, we overcome the evil one by proving his temptations to be lies because he is the father of lies (John 8:44). John’s second letter commends the young Christians whose spiritual strength came from the Word of God living in them. By the offensive weapon of the Truth, we overcome the evil one (1 John 2:14).
Deliverance from sin, rescue from trials, and escape from the influence of a world in the control of the evil one come only through Christ, the Son of God who has come and “has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:19-20). (Quote source here.)
It is God who delivers. When we find ourselves going through very trying times that never seem to end, no matter how hard we may try to coerce or plead with God, or try to work it out on our own or manipulate our circumstances, it is only God who delivers in His way and in His timing. He sees the whole picture, and it’s always much broader then we can possibly know, conceive, understand, or imagine it to be. And it is always far greater and wider reaching than what we as individuals are personally going through at any point in time, although what we are personally going through is also of great importance to Him, too. Everything in this life is connected in one way or another, and in ways we cannot possibly understand. God didn’t create this world and then decide to leave it up to us to run. After all, we know what happened in the Garden of Eden when left on our own, and we haven’t done much better on our own down through the ages to today.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany (1933-1945), wrote a statement in his diary in 1939 at a time when he was contemplating returning to Germany after spending only 26 days in New York City. While he was “safe” in New York City from the reach of Hitler, he was compelled to return to Germany in spite of Hitler’s growing reign of terror. While making the decision to return to Berlin, Bonhoeffer wrote the following in his diary:
It is remarkable how I am never quite clear about the motives for any of my decisions. Is that a sign of confusion, of inner dishonesty, or is it a sign that we are guided without our knowing, or is it both? . . . Today the reading [a passage of Scripture not noted in this diary entry] speaks dreadfully harshly of God’s incorruptible judgement. He certainly sees how much personal feeling, how much anxiety there is in today’s decision, however brave it may seem. The reasons one gives for an action to others and to one’s self are certainly inadequate. One can give a reason for everything. In the last resort one acts from a level which remains hidden from us. So one can only ask God to judge us and to forgive us. . . . At the end of the day I can only ask God to give a merciful judgement on today and all it’s decisions. It is now in his hand. (Quote source: “Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (2014), by Eric Metaxas, p. 130).
Now I assume some people reading this blog post may not believe in God or at least think it is crazy that a God “out there somewhere” (if he even exists) would care about the decisions we make, or even on some level unknown to us, that this God could be directing our steps. However, God is not surprised by any of our actions whether good or evil, but only God can use everything to fulfill His purposes in this world which really does belong to Him. That is not to say we are robots as we certainly do make our own choices, even those choices that turn out to be extremely detrimental to us. When sin showed up in the Garden of Eden, it was passed down to all of us, and we all succumb to it on a very regular basis. The Bible is filled with the history of people who accomplished His will unknown to them on a personal level (even people who never claimed to believe in Him). However, it is also filled with many stories of people who loved God and sought His will on a regular basis.
Here are a couple of verses to get us thinking in this direction:
“The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster.” ~Proverbs 16:4
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” ~Philippians 2:13
While scoffers are everywhere, for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that Romans 8:28-30 are key in understanding the very thing Bonhoeffer wrote in his diary on that day he made his decision to return to Germany:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. ~Romans 8:28-30
For the Christian, the more we love and follow after Jesus Christ (and I’m not talking about putting on a religious show), the more He shapes us into what he wants us to be and do in this life. Psalms 37:3-4 states the following:
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
“Safe pasture” isn’t always what we think it might be, but if we trust in the Lord with all of our heart (see Proverbs 3:5-6), the safe pasture can be found even in a hotel room. It is not in the externals of life (e.g., a hotel room) where we find safe pasture, but in Who we trust to take care of us during this journey through life. And, in looking at the second verse, as we learn to delight in the Lord even when fear is stalking our paths, we find that the desires of our heart change to His desires for us, and our faith and trust in Him grows exponentially.
Let’s look at the two verses in Proverbs I mentioned above–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.
Being human, our tendency to lean on our own understanding is as automatic as breathing air. I can’t tell you how many times over these past almost seven years now since I lost that job in Houston that I have thought something would work out one way and what actually happened could not have been further from what I thought would happen. It is so hard to “let go” of our own understanding when our world gets pulled out from under our feet. It requires total trust in God that the inner compass he provides will lead us on even when we don’t understand, just as Bonhoeffer stated in his diary entry on that very important decision-making day in his life. And, as we learn to trust that inner compass and submit ourselves totally to God on a daily basis, He makes our path straight, even if that path includes living in hotel rooms temporarily in two different cities as has been my circumstances for the past 17 plus months. And there have been times when I have experienced exactly what Bonhoeffer wrote about when he was making his decision to return to Germany. As we experience God bringing us through each day according to His will and not our own, the world around us opens up in amazing ways we would never have seen and experienced in any other way. And all of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 (the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible) knew the power of following God without knowing where it was leading in this life, but with an eternal perspective in mind.
Returning to the Easter story, Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully God (see John 1:1-18). Imagine being in his shoes from a human perspective during that last week of his life (click here for the chronology of the last week). Imagine what he must have been going through during the last 24 hours before he was crucified. Imagine what he must have been praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know part of what he said as it is recorded in Matthew 26:39 when he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Yet he knew the balance of the whole human race was about to change forever through his death by crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection again on the third day. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And for the past two millennium people from all the nations around the world have been coming to him and trusting in him as Savior and Lord.
As Hebrews 12:1-2 states:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [the people mentioned in Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
As we start into the Passion Week, the last week of Jesus’ life before his resurrection on Easter Sunday, may we commit to . . .
Running with perseverance . . .
The race marked out for us . . .
Fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . .
YouTube Video: “Ready” by Third Day: