Objective of Forgiveness: Reconciliation

IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO HELP A STUMBLING
BROTHER THAN TO
PROVE YOURSELF CORRECT

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (Matthew 5:21-24, MSG)

This quote comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus started by saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old.” Then He added, “But I say to you…” Jesus continues this comparison throughout this portion of His message. First He quotes the law that regulates our outward actions. Then He shows its fulfillment by bringing it into the heart. So in God’s eyes a murderer is not limited to the one who commits murder; he is also the one who hates his brother. What you are in your heart is how you really are.

Jesus clearly delineates the consequences of offense in this portion of His sermon. He illustrates the severity of holding anger or bitter offense. If one is angry with his brother without cause, he is in danger of judgment. He is in danger of the council if that anger bears fruit and he calls his brother raca. This is a biblical term meaning “worthless” or “empty.” It implies that the person is a fool. In the days of the Early Church, calling a person a fool was to imply that they were Godless. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart ‘there is no God.'” So if anger reaches the point where you call your brother worthless or a fool, you are in danger of hell.

Jesus was showing them that not dealing with anger can lead to hatred. Hatred not properly dealt with would put them in danger of hell. Then He said that if they remembered their brother was offended with them, they were to make it top priority to find him and seek to be reconciled. But why the urgency to seek reconciliation? It it for our sake or our brother’s sake. We should go for his sake that we might be a catalyst to help him out of the offense. Even if we are not offended with him, the love of God does not let him remain angry without attempting to reach out and restore. We may have done nothing wrong. Right or wrong doesn’t matter. It is more important for us to help this stumbling brother than to prove ourselves correct.

There are limitless scenarios for offense.

Maybe the person we have offended believes we were unjust in our treatment of him, when in reality we did him no harm. He may have inaccurate information that has yielded an inaccurate conclusion. On the other hand, he may have accurate information from which he had drawn an inaccurate conclusion. What we said may have been grossly distorted once it was processed through the various channels of communication. Though our intent was not to harm, our words and actions gave a different appearance. Often we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions. It is possible to intend one thing while communicating something totally different. Sometimes our true motives are cleverly hidden even from us. We want to believe they are pure. But as we filter them through the Word of God we see them differently.

Finally, maybe we did sin against the person. We were angry or under pressure, and he got the brunt of it. Or maybe this person has constantly and deliberately lashed out at us, and we were responding in kind. No matter what caused it, this offended person’s understanding is darkened, and he has based his judgments on assumptions, hearsay, and appearances, deceiving himself even though he believes he has discerned our true motives. How can we have an accurate judgment without accurate information? It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that he believes with his whole heart he has been wronged. For whatever reason he feels this way, we must be willing to humble ourselves and apologize.

Jesus is exhorting us to reconcile even if the offense is not our fault. It takes maturity to walk in humility in order to bring reconciliation. But taking the first step is often harder on the one who is hurting. That’s why Jesus told the person who caused the offense to “go to him.”

ASKING FORGIVENESS OF ONE WHO IS OFFENDED

The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19) This shows us how to approach a person we have offended. If we go with an attitude of frustration, we will not promote peace. We will only make it difficult for the one who is hurt. We are to maintain an attitude of pursuing peace through humility at the expense of our pride. It is the only way to see true reconciliation. On certain occasions, as part of making amends in the 9th Step, I have approached people I have hurt or who were angry with me, and they have lashed out at me. In fact, I am currently estranged from my brother and one of my sons due to wrongful behavior during active addiction. I have been called selfish, inconsiderate, hopeless, and a continual failure by people whom I love, but whom I stole from or belittled.

My natural response has been to get defensive. No I’m not! You just don’t understand what I’m going through. You don’t understand addiction. Whenever we defend ourselves in this manner, it only fuels the fire of their offense. This is not the proper way to make amends or to pursue peace. Standing up for ourselves and “our rights,” especially when we were wrong in the first place, will never bring true peace. Instead, we need to learn to listen and keep our mouth shut until they have said what they need to say. Whether we agree or not, the key is to respect their feelings. Let them know we love them despite how we treated them. Then tell them we’re sorry and ask for their forgiveness.

Pride defends. Humility agrees and says, “You are right and I was wrong.”

James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” Godly wisdom is willing to yield. It is not stiff-necked or stubborn when it comes to personal conflicts. A person submitted to godly wisdom is not afraid to yield or defer to the other person’s viewpoint as long as it does not violate truth.

APPROACHING SOMEONE WHO HAS OFFENDED YOU

Now that we have discussed what to do when we offend our brother, let’s consider what to do if our brother offends us.  Jesus said, “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15) Many people apply this Scripture verse in a different attitude from the one Jesus was intending. If they have been hurt, they will go and confront the offender in a spirit of revenge and anger. They use this verse as justification to condemn the one who has hurt them.

But they are missing the whole reason Jesus instructed us to go to one another. It is not for condemnation, but for reconciliation. He does not want us to tell our brother how rotten he has been to us. We are to go to remove the breach preventing the restoration of our relationship. This parallels how God restores us to Himself. We have sinned against God, but, as Paul wrote, Jesus demonstrates His own love toward and for us, in that while we were still sinners, He died for us. (Romans 5:8) Are we willing to lay down our self-protection and die to pride in order to be restored to the one who has offended us? God reached out to us before we asked for forgiveness. Jesus decided to forgive us before we even acknowledged our offense.

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20) The word of reconciliation begins on the common ground that we all have sinned against God. We do not desire reconciliation or salvation unless we know there is a separation.

Although we have sinned against God, He chooses not to condemn us but to reconcile us to Himself. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” God’s goodness leads us to repent. His love does not leave us condemned to hell. He proved His love by sending Jesus, His only Son, to the cross to die for us. God reaches out to us first, even though we have offended Him. He reaches out not to condemn, but to restore. Since we are to imitate God, we are to extend reconciliation to a brother who sins against us. Jesus established this pattern: Go to him and show him his sin, not to condemn him or make him wrong, but to remove anything that lies between the two of you and thus be reconciled and restored.

The goodness of God within us will draw our brother to repentance and restoration of the relationship. We keep this bond of peace by maintaining an attitude of humility, gentleness, and long-suffering, and by undergirding each other’s weakness in love. We should not go to a brother who has offended us until we have decided to forgive him from our heart – no matter how he responds to us. We need to get rid of any feelings of animosity toward him before approaching him. If we don’t, we will probably react out of these negative feelings and hurt him, not heal him.

A word about telling everyone what someone has done to us rather than approaching the offending party. I believe we do this because we are looking for people who will take our side. It strengthens our cause and comforts us when others agree with how badly we have been treated. There is only selfishness in this type of behavior. If we keep the love of God as our motivation, we will not fail. Love never fails. When we love others the way Jesus loves us, we will be free even if the other person chooses not to be reconciled to us. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” He says, “If it is possible,” because there are times when others will refuse to be at peace with us. We are to do everything we can to be reconciled with the other person, as long as we remain loyal to truth. We often give up on relationships too soon.

The love of God is the key to freedom from the baited trap of offense. This must be an abounding love, a love that continually grows and is strengthened in our hearts. So many in our society today are deceived by a superficial love, a love that talks but does not act. The love that will keep us from stumbling lays down its life selflessly – even for the good of an enemy. When we walk in this kind of love, we cannot be seduced into taking the bait and living in offense. Instead, we are capable of complete, unconditional forgiveness. We are able, if even for a moment, to be like Christ.

Forgiveness: letting go of grudges and bitterness. When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment, and thoughts of revenge, or embrace forgiveness and move forward. If not, the wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of animosity, hostility, and malevolence.

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The Gospel: Part Two

THE FALL

The world was made for God’s glory, but His glory in creation was made manifest in man and woman, bearers of His image, who were created to take dominion over creation, to be the crown jewel of the material world. So when sin entered us, it entered the world. Original sin has effects beyond humanity; it affects the world, the cosmos. “The whole creation has been groaning.” (Romans 8:22) This is not just to remind us of the seriousness of rebellion against God, but to indicate that human rebellion against God disrupts the natural order of everything. This is why the Gospel must be explicitly about the restoration of God’s image bearers and also about the restoration of the entire theater of His glory, the cosmos.

There is a vital connection between Adam’s disobedience and the Fall of the very earth itself in Genesis 3, as God pronounces the curse:

“And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the food. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat the bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19, ESV)

The harmony that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God’s creation, the peaceful dominion they were given over it, is not broken. “Cursed is the ground because of you.” The fracture between Adam and creation reflects the fracture between God and Adam. Where Adam’s work was toil-less, it is now toilsome. While the earth was once wonderfully subdued, it now yields grudgingly. Where it was once only fruitful and abundant, it now offers the challenge of thorns and thistles. And while Adam was once bestowed with imperishable flesh, his sin limits the life span of his body. Having rejected God’s blessings, he has chosen to place his hope in the dust from which he was fashioned.

We know Adam and Eve were placed as the crowns of God’s good creation, but as the crown goes, so goes the creation. Their sin brings the curse to us all, and the curse is found far as east is from west. What Adam and Eve enjoyed before the Fall is often referred to by the Hebrew word shalom. The fullness of this word means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. There is a sense of soundness, and an absence of agitation or discord; a state of calm without anxiety or stress. Shalom has been said to be God’s word for total satisfaction in life. This is the abundant life Jesus promised! (John 10:10)

The order God established in creating the universe and us as its inhabitants is certainly reflected in the Law – it is there summarized in the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – but it is bigger than mere legal commands. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were stewards of the creation God had given them in a way that accurately reflected God’s glory. The way they cultivated the garden, tirelessly drawing forth from it the very best of fruits, was a reflection of the way God drew forth Adam and Eve’s best. The whole place ran like a well-oiled machine.

Their sin, however, threw a wrench in the gears. The relationship Adam and Eve had with creation itself was broken at the precise moment their relationship with God was broken:

“Therefore the Lord sent him out from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24)

Today, every person is searching for meaning, significance, and happiness. Man’s pursuit of these ideals can morph into some of the most self-centered and perverse avenues ever known. Whatever label we put on it, however we personally identify with it, we all are seeking fulfillment. And this search for fulfillment alone should tell us that there is an actual fulfillment to be had. Happiness is the driving force behind everything we do. Anything we do has the desire for happiness at its center. Even distasteful things we do are done because we see them ultimately as preferable and more conducive to happiness than the alternatives.

When sin entered the world and fractured it, Romans 1:23 tells us that you and I exchanged the infinite creator God for His creation. We settled for temporary fleeting pleasures rather than for what is eternal and soul-satisfying. Almost all of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have bought into the philosophy that what we need to finally make us happy is more of what we already possess. This is nuts! It’s all meaningless. After all, God has put eternity into man’s heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) At some level, in the deepest parts of our soul, we remember what life was like before the Fall. At some really deep level, our sould has this impression cut into it by the finger of God, like the grooves on a record, encoding the memory of what it was like before sin entered into the world. We remember, at a really deep level, that at one time we were full, and at one time we were happy, and at one time there was nothing weighing us down. Our souls are outright groaning to get back there. We have a God-shaped hole in our soul.

In the end, there is nothing under the sun that brings lasting fulfillment. You have to look beyond the sun. The hole in our soul cannot be filled with the temporal. It demands eternity. Therefore, our very search for more and more, for bigger and bigger, and for better and better, is our sense that something is off, amiss, deformed, and broken. In the same sense that death, pain, insatiable searching tells us that something bigger than the earth itself is missing from our soul.

Sin isn’t just a personal thing; it’s a cosmic thing. While the Gospel shows us that depravity is very personal, that it’s inside our being, it also shows us that depravity affects earth’s very social fabric. The whole thing is messed up. The system and all its parts are lacking. There is no peace or contentment in our hearts. We are cursed; creation is cursed. We are groaning; creation is groaning. The ache is bigger than all of us. Consequently, we need a redemption bigger than all of us.

In looking at the happening and the consequence of the Fall, I cannot help but note Paul’s words in Romans 11:22: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” There is sin, and there is judgment, but the Good News is God sought out the sinners. Although he passed sentence, he also promised salvation to come. In many respects, Eden was a type of Canaan or Promised Land. Canaan was a place of beauty; a land of milk and honey. Possession could be had only by obedience to God. Once again, man was faced with a decision to make. What kept Adam and Eve from everlasting blessing was their desire to have pleasure at the cost of unbelief and disobedience.

We all suffer the consequences of the Fall. Our salvation is in calling upon the name of the Lord and trusting in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for our sin. (Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18) The world groans under the curse, crying out for the relief that will come at the ultimate redemption of God’s people when Christ returns. (Romans 8:22-23) When Jesus comes for all those who have trusted in Him, God will restore all things. He will create a new heaven and a new earth to replace that which sin destroyed. (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:12-13; Revelation 21:1) Mankind will no longer be “fallen” but restored and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God. (Revelation 7:14)

a man of all sorts

He stepped into the sunlight,
Squinting,
Glad for the freedom, yet
Confused about what to do.

Life began pushing in
Before
He was capable of
Pushing back.

It’s not that he was
Young
Or inexperienced; rather
He skipped maturity,

Straight to mid-twenties,
Deficient
Of the caution and brains
That come from participation.

His old man said he was
Nothing;
That his life would be
Garden-variety.

Why not rebel? Why not
Run?
What’s the point of
Even trying to be, to do?

Who can begin to
Save
Him from dime-a-dozen
Failure and doom?

They said he’d never
Bloom;
That he’d simply exist
Like a speck of dirt

Lying under the bed
Far
From reach of the broom,
Crusty and peevish;

Totally lacking in
Relevance,
As if life was already over
And the bring-about was nil.

©2017 Steven Barto

The Cost of (Non) Discipleship

JESUS SAID, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) But He also said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) So, which is it? Is a life of discipleship a comfort or a crucifixion? C.S. Lewis points out the seeming paradox. On the one hand, Jesus proclaims the delights of discipleship; on the other, the seemingly crushing cost. Faced with the high cost of discipleship, many Christians compromise by attempting to ensure their self-interests while still trying to be good. But a halfway approach to discipleship is impossible:

Christ says, “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work; I want YOU. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and there. I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself.” (Lewis, 1952)

Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24) There will ultimately be a conflict of interest between self-will and God’s will. A choice will have to be made between surrender and self-rule. With this tension in mind, it is vital to re-examine the emphasis of the Great Commission. Jesus tells us to make disciples who learn to do all that He commanded. (See Matthew 28:19-20) However, what it means to be a Christian has taken on a different definition in many Western church traditions. It has unfortunately come to mean someone who has agreed to a set of beliefs about Jesus, or has become a member of a church. What is omitted is the necessity of actually following Jesus. We are to become His apprentice.

The result is that churches are full of members who have affirmed the tenets of faith in order to get to heaven, but have no intention of obeying Jesus on earth. Ironically, these converts feel prepared to die, but they are not equipped to live. Many church members would be shocked if confronted with the necessity of a life of continual obedience to Jesus, since that is what Jesus meant when He described masses of self-professed Christians coming to the end of their lives only to stand before God and be told, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23) I don’t know how you feel, but I don’t want that to happen to me when I stand before God.

The heart of true discipleship is a settled intent to become like Jesus. A disciple is like the man who in his joy went and sold all he had in order to buy the field with the great treasure. (See Matthew 13:44) Disciples gladly rearrange everything in their lives around Jesus because of a firm persuasion that He is everything they want.

So, is it hard to follow Jesus? That is, to be more than just a fan or an admirer? Yes, because He demands total allegiance. Only those who give all to Christ find all. This is the paradox of Christianity. I am personally aware of a parallel in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Recovering alcoholics are told that half measures avail nothing. In fact, the beginning of “How It Works” – which is read at the start of virtually every meeting in the world – says, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”

Disciples of Jesus obey Him because they believe He is the way to eternal life. Their confidence in Jesus and the joy of life with Him greatly outweigh the price. Consider for a moment the alternative – the life of non-discipleship. If Jesus is right, then failing to follow Him will cost the very things that He alone can bring: peace, love, hope, power to do good, health, and life with God, now and forever. It turns out that the life of non-discipleship is the costliest life of all.

References

Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics anonymous, 4th edition. New York, NY: AA World Services

Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Co.

The Gospel: Part One

Grace is at the heart of the Christian message. The Good News of the Gospel is, at its core, about the death of Jesus Christ as a substitute for you and me. He died in our place. He died the death that we deserved. He bore the punishment that was justly ours. For everyone who believes in Him, Christ took the wrath of God on their behalf. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” (NIV) God’s love is different than natural human love. God loved us even when we were unlovable.

Water Color of Crucifixion

When Jesus died, He died for the ungodly, for sinners, and for His enemies. Paul pinpoints the depth of this love when he writes in Romans 5:7, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV) The death of Christ was effective in its purpose. And its goal was not just to purchase the possibility of salvation. It was to claim those who believe in Him. John 6:37-39 says, “All the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day.” (NIV)

The context of the Gospel message is not only about our salvation; the context of the Good News is the supremacy of Christ and the glory of God. Yes, the story is personal, but it is also cosmic. It is important for us to emphasize that not only is there a personal side to the Gospel, there is a social side. The full picture here is that Christ will be set up as the head in all things. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 1:9-10: “He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (NIV) Salvation is not merely a subjective experience, a nice feeling, or peace, or whatever it is we are seeking. That is part of it; but there is something more important, namely that the whole universe is involved. We must give the people a conception of this, of the scope and the bounds, and the greatness of the Gospel in this all-inclusive aspect.

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Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) In other words, the entire universe is involved. What a wonderful thing to look forward to considering the depth of the sufferings we see in the world today. Paul tells us, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:18-22, NIV)

It’s truly amazing to see the comprehensive theme of Christ’s redemption. We all witness the terrible things that go wrong in the world. We know hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, tornados, horrific wildfires, and other natural disasters can be very bad. We watch endless news reels of terrorist bombings, domestic violence, school shootings, murders, sexual assault, government corruption. In times of such troubles, we may wring our hands and wonder whose sin brought it about. It is easy to say, “Not me. I’m a fairly good person. It must be the gays or the liberals or the commies. Maybe the drug dealers and prostitutes.” We need a scapegoat. That’s human nature. But we don’t stop to consider that all this horror and disaster is directly related to fallenness. The Fall of man that is on the heads of all of us. Paul said all of creation has been subjected to futility, which means creation has been knocked down from where it was supposed to be to where it is now.

In Romans 8 all of creation groans; it’s in the pains of childbirth. I’ve been in the delivery room for the birth of my sons. I experienced the pains only in a secondary fashion. I’ve been in the room to see it, but I have not felt it firsthand. What I can reasonably deduce is that if the pain of childbirth is significant enough that it turns a would-be mother’s idea of, “Yeah, I love this,” into “I don’t want to feel this happening. Give me an epidural now,” it’s got to be pretty heavy.

Our world is longing for and in pain about what it’s supposed to be. The world isn’t capable of feeling pain, of course. Let’s not take a pantheistic notion of the universe being divine or having a personality. The way Paul develops the metaphor in Romans 8 follows a biblical thread where mountains sing and trees clap. Isaiah 55:12 says, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (NIV) When the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke his disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (RSV) The very natural world itself is responding to the introduction of sin into the world. The world feels.

As we examine what creation is, in all its diversity and wonder, and we ponder how this creation came to be, we must remember that all the complexity and beauty in the universe is not meant to terminate on itself but to trace its origin to the Creator. We can examine the what of creation and grasp to some degree the how, but the why still remains. God created the universe. What He created was good. We should be driven to worship Him as a result of all He has provided. It’s the same when we love a meal at a restaurant. We don’t admire the food, but the creator of the food. The goodness of creation is designed not to declare itself, but to act as a signpost pointing heavenward. This is why Paul can say, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Human beings seem to be created for worship. From sports fanaticism, to obsession with celebrities, to all the other strange sorts of voyeurisms now commonplace in our culture, we prove that we were created to marvel at something beyond ourselves, desire it, like it with zeal, and love it with affection. Our musings, our appetites, and our behaviors are always oriented around something, which means we are always worshipping or attributing worth to something. If it’s not God, we are engaging in idolatry. Regardless, we cannot simply turn the worship switch in our hearts off. Any time we orient our heart around something, we are worshipping that thing. The aim of Scripture is to direct our worship to where it belongs: to the one true God of the universe. The heavens do not declare the glory of themselves. The angels do not sing of their own perpetual beauty and majesty, but rather the glory of God.

We are meant to worship, to give glory to something greater than ourselves. We should therefore interact with the earth in such a way that our hearts and minds are being stirred by its beauty, gracious to God for all He’s given. God’s chief concern is for his own glory. The main point of human life must be regard for God’s glory. That’s the purpose of of God’s creation.

glory

Justification, propitiation, and redemption – all benefits of Christ’s death – have one sole purpose: reconciliation. Jesus’ death enables us to have a joy-filled relationship with God, which is the highest good of the cross. Paul writes, “Once you were alienated from God, and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (NIV) It works the same way in our daily relationships with other people. When we sin, not only do we hurt the person we sinned against, we harm the relationship. It might never be the same again, especially without our seeking forgiveness. And from my experience, when we hurt the same people again and again, forgiveness is much harder to come by. Thankfully, it is not the same with our relationship with God. We enter this sinful world, and as a result, we’re alienated from God. Only forgiveness – forgiveness which was purchased at the cross – can heal the relationship so that we are able to enjoy fellowship with God.

The Power of Spiritual Armor and the Word of God

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. – Ephesians 6:10-11

Armor-1-289x375

The Word clearly states that we are not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices – yet many remain ignorant, allowing Satan to continually destroy their homes, steal their possessions, and ruin their health while they helplessly wonder what they did wrong. The reason for this is that many Christians do not know that they have been given authority over all the power of the enemy to prevent his attacks. And for some, when they become aware of their authority, they fail to exercise it.

We must face the fact that we need to prepare ourselves and be ready to confront the many demonic challenges constantly confronting us. Before I get into the arena of spiritual warfare, deliverance, and our authority to resist Satan, we must remember one thing – Satan has had more than six thousand years of experience in persecuting and tormenting Christians. If you go into battle to resist Satan without the full armor of God, you are defeated before you start. This is what is happening to a huge number of Christians every day. They try to do battle with the spiritual forces of evil without first taking up the armor of God.

The armor required to battle Satan may not be comfortable to put on, but it is very necessary if we want to be effective. It’s not a call to war, but a declaration to live in victory. Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians, and us, about the armor are very specific and powerful:

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. -Ephesians 6:13-18 (NLT)

The Belt of Truth

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“Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth.” A Roman soldier in Paul’s day wore a leather girdle around his waist to protect his loins and to carry weapons, such as a sword. A policeman today also has weapons attacked to his belt that he would never go on patrol without, for if he did he would not be able to engage in defending the public. The belt holds the weapons in place close to the body. The belt can be likened to our integrity, honesty, and truth. Speaking truth is speaking God’s Word. When we declare and confess the Word, we are putting on the belt of truth.

The Breastplate of Righteousness

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Putting on the breastplate of righteousness is important because Satan always goes after a man’s heart and his conscience. Our righteousness in Christ will defeat Satan every time. It is one of God’s attributes imputed to us upon salvation. Our filthiness is exchanged for His righteousness. The breastplate gives us confidence and assurance in the process of sanctification.

Shoes of Peace

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“For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully protected.” The peace of God gives you a firm footing. Many believers walk around without peace, miserably believing that’s part of their cross to bear in life. None of us are immune to trials and tribulations. Darkness and fear attack all of us. But we must be careful not to confess or express all our fears. The enemy looks for our expressions of doubt and fear so he can have a right to attack us. We must instead confess God’s Word and stand firm in our peace. It is a necessary part of the armor. Peace of mind in the midst of trouble is warfare at its best. It is a position we must take. God has promised to never forsake us. Christ gave us His peace.

The Shield of Faith

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“Hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” Our faith is a shield from all of the enemy’s fiery darts and assaults. The shield of faith is God’s sovereign omnipresence in our life. God is “your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” (Genesis 15:1) God requires our daily dependence upon and communion with Him and His Spirit. Just like food, it becomes our daily sustenance and our very life. We must hold up our shield of faith every day and confess and declare our union with Christ. He is our covering.

The Helmet of Salvation

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“Put on salvation as your helmet.” The purpose of a helmet is to protect our heads. The purpose of our biblical helmet as part of our armor is to protect our mind from the lies of the enemy. We are in a spiritual war. God knows that without constant surveillance of our thoughts, we can become double-minded, and God hates double-mindedness. A mind controlled by the Spirit of God produces life and peace. (Romans 8:6-7) We keep the devil’s thoughts out of our minds by putting on the mind of Christ. We do this by studying and meditating on the Word. Christ Jesus is our salvation. This piece of the armor, the helmet of salvation, is also Christ in us.

The Sword of the Spirit

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“Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Taking in the Word is taking in spiritual food. Without it we will remain anemic, debilitated, and unable to life up the sword of the Spirit to confront the intruding enemy. No Word, no power! More Word, more confidence and fire in our bones. The living Word is an offensive weapon. The moment we lift up the sword of the Spirit and speak a biblical verse into an adverse situation, the enemy has to take his hands off. This kind of belief takes fearlessness and practice.

We need to speak to our mountains. I have heard the expression, “Don’t say ‘my God I have big problems,” but rather say, “Problems I have a big God.” We must use our swords every day. Make sure all the other parts of our armor are in place. Our spiritual man must be in order and ready for the battle. It’s easier than you might think. It takes a willingness to surrender all to Jesus. Living by faith and believing God must become a lifestyle. Only then will we enjoy peace and victory in this life. The applied Word of God heals and restores as it penetrates deeply, removing all the garbage inflicted by past experiences and false teachings.

The person of the Holy Spirit is the one wielding our sword of the Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit we have no effective sword. We must be controlled by the Spirit to be effective in warfare. Satan has to retreat when we appropriately use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

Pray in the Spirit

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“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” Prayer is what keeps this entire armor in place. Without prayer and communication with God we become loners, separated from God and His love. As we remain in relationship with Christ, connected with the Holy Spirit, clothed in God’s armor, and committed to a prayer lifestyle, we become invincible in the face of the enemy. No evil force can remain in our atmosphere. Perseverance in prayer will help conquer the lustful desires of our flesh. Without consistent fervent prayers, we will not be able to win our battles. The prayers of a righteous man or woman are powerful and effective. (James 5:16) Our powerful prayers will cause God to perform His Word in our lives.

In simple words, the armor described in Ephesians 6 is Jesus Christ in us. We are transformed by the Word of God. The Word is so powerful that it can transform a degenerate man into a new man. It can take someone like me, in bondage to drugs and alcohol, wallowing in resentment, anger, and guilt, lying, cheating, and stealing just to get high, and make me new. Free. This is impossible with human power or influence. Peter confirmed this when he wrote, “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the Word of God, which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1:23)

THE CHRISTIAN VERSUS EVIL SPIRITS

Deliverance from evil spirits is one of the most controversial subjects among Christians. The question on people’s minds is, “Can a Christian be possessed by demons?” Possession is when a demon acts from within an individual to agitate them, driving their behavior and their personality. Every believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit. We are owned by God. The Holy Spirit is greater than the devil. Therefore, it is clear that a demon can never own or possess us. It is important, however, to note that Christians can be oppressed, burdened, and afflicted by demons.

The enemy would like nothing better than for us to believe that demons cannot influence the life of a born-again believer. This is one of Satan’s subtle ways of deceiving people. He causes Christians to believe they are immune to demonic attack. Satan uses his demons to wreck their lives in the process. Many Christians live under different states of fear, oppression, bondage, sickness, poverty, or total defeat. God ordained for believers to live under the faith covenant and to enjoy peace, love, joy, divine health, abundance, and victory. Nothing can be found in the Word to confirm that all evil spirits are expelled automatically when a person receives salvation. The demons in a person’s body at the time of salvation are forced to flee.

When the believer strives for a deeper walk with God, demons can become active according to the person’s degree of commitment, and will cause problems until they are finally driven out. Demons do not want a person to become a Christian in the first place, much less see them commit to the Lord all the way. The devil does not want a believer to become an overcomer who will resist them, but they don’t seem to mind a carnal Christian. Yes, demons can and do cause believers to become defeated by attacking their soul, mind, and body, but God has provided weapons of spiritual warfare to counteract every attack of the enemy.

It is unfortunate that many in the Body of Christ have a defeated attitude in the face of the enemy who rules this world. It is time to listen to what God is saying to His church, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” (Psalms 110:2) If we continue displaying a defeated attitude, we will not be able to conquer the enemy. He will remain in our territory, and we will continue to suffer in a great way. But as we exercise our authority in Christ, we become an overcomer – a strong and valiant soldier in God’s army. God has given us the power and the choice to walk in freedom so that we can place all of our possessions out of the control of Satan. In order to remain free, we must abide by God’s Word and believe what it says – that we “are more than conquerors.” (Romans 8:37)

JESUS DIED TO DEFEAT SATAN

When Jesus died on the cross, He not only shed His blood for our sins and suffered His stripes for our healing, but He also totally defeated Satan. At this time Jesus transferred His authority over Satan to every believer on this earth. We must use this delegated power to keep Satan and his demons out of our lives so that we can readily adhere to God’s directions through the Holy Spirit. God is the eternal power over the enemy, and He made this power available to us through Jesus. But if we do not use this power, we cannot expect to receive many blessings. Jesus defeated Satan and his demons on the cross, but their full sentence has not been carried out yet. Lucifer’s day of reckoning is coming. God gave us, as believers, the privilege and the responsibility of announcing to Satan and his demons their defeat in our lives.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Never despair that this evil world is out of God’s control. It only appears to be that way. “He works all things according to the counsel of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11) The existence of random evil does not mean that life is absurd and meaningless. Never yield to the thought that God sins or is ever unjust or unrighteous in the way that He governs the universe. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways.” (Psalm 145:17) When we renounce the designs of the devil and trust the power and wisdom and goodness of God through Christ, and put on the whole armor of God, we become a part of Christ’s victory. “…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false profit were, and they will be tormented day and night forever.” (Revelation 20:7)

 

COUNTERFEIT OXYCODONE WARNING!

COUNTERFEIT PAIN PILLS CONTAINING DANGEROUS SYNTHETIC OPIOIDS!

Originally posted July 18, 2017
National Institute of Drug Abuse
https://www.drugabuse.gov/

Health and safety agencies in Iowa have issued an advisory to warn Iowans of counterfeit pain pills containing dangerous synthetic opioids. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s (DCI) laboratory analyzed pills made to resemble the prescription pain reliever oxycodone, finding them to contain more powerful and illicit synthetic fentanyl and U-47700, putting users at higher risk of opioid overdose. U-47700, also known as “Pink” or “U4” on the streets, is a synthetic opioid pain medication currently being distributed as a dangerous designer drug. Since 2015, reports have surfaced of numerous deaths due to street use of U-47700. Law enforcement agencies have traced illegal importation into the United States primarily from clandestine chemical labs in China. It is available through the Dark Web.

Heroin and a Handgun

U-47700 has been seized by law enforcement on the street in powder form and as tablets. Typically, it appears as a white or light pinkish, chalky powder. It may be sold in glassine bags stamped with logos imitating heroin, in envelopes and inside knotted corners of plastic bags. In Ohio, authorities seized 500 pills resembling a manufacturer’s oxycodone immediate-release tablets, but they were confirmed by chemical analysis to contain “Pink.” U-47770 has also been identified and sold on the Internet misleadingly as a “research chemical” at roughly $30 per gram.

Pink is very toxic or deadly in even small doses. Labels on the packaging may state NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION or FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY, most likely to avoid legal detection. Fatalities due to U-47770 in the United States join the growing incidents of drug overdose deaths from opioid pain medication. Those who abuse U-47770 may be at high risk of addiction and substance abuse disorder, overdose and death. Fatalities have been reported in New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

In July 2016, a toxicology case report was published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine that detailed events in which fentanyl and U-47700 were being sold misleadingly as the prescription opioid pain medication Norco or Vicodin (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) on the streets of Northern and Central California. In one patient who presented to the emergency room, nalaxone (Narcan) was administered which reversed respiratory depression and pinpoint pupils. After additional chemical analysis, it was found the Norco contained hydrocodone, fentanyl, and U-47700.

Reports indicated that Pink and prescription fentanyl may have been contained in the drug cocktail that led to the death of pop star legend Prince in April 2016. In Utah, two 13-year old boys died in September 2016 reportedly due to use of U-47770 purchased from an Internet website. U-47700 (“Pink”) is a novel synthetic opioid agonist with selective action at the mu-opioid receptors in the brain and on the spinal column. It was originally developed by chemists at Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in the 1970’s as a potent pain reliever for use with cancer patients, post-operative patients with intractable pain, or extremely painful trauma injuries. Although it was never commercially made available, the patent and chemical details remained available, and have been produced on the black market.

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U-47700 has a similar chemical profile as morphine and other mu-opioid receptor agonists; however, it has been reported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) that Pink is “far more potent than morphine” –  possibly by seven to eight times. Unfortunately, the strength of the product can never be assured, and may be much stronger, especially when manufactured overseas in illicit labs as a designer drug. On November 14, 2016, the DEA placed U-47700, as well as its related isomers, esters, ethers, and salts into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act due to an imminent hazard to public safety and health. Substances in Schedule I have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

Temporary emergency scheduling of dangerous illicit drugs is one tool the DEA uses to help restrict potentially fatal and new street drugs. Scheduling will last at least 24 months, with a possible 12-month extension if the DEA needs more time to determine whether the chemical should remain permanently as a Schedule I drug. According to the Federal Register, there are no current experimental or approved new drug applications for U-47700, which can typically hinder its permanent placement in Schedule I if approved. DEA’s Final Order is available in the Federal Register with details on threats to public safety. Prior to DEA’s scheduling, several states had already outlawed the drug under emergency orders, including Florida, Ohio, Wyoming and Georgia.

BOTTOM LINE

U-47700, known on the streets as “Pink” or “U4”, is a dangerous designer drug exported from illegal labs in China to the U.S. It is a strong opioid analgesic, reportedly 7 to 8 times more potent than morphine. Authorities in many U.S. cities have reported that Pink is sold on the streets or over the Internet, often falsely promoted as a prescription opioid like Norco or Percocet, or as heroin. In fact, many of these products have contained the potent designer drug Pink, as well as fentanyl. U-47700 is now illegal in all forms, and the DEA has temporarily placed the substance into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, pending further review, due to an imminent hazard to public safety and health. It is considered not safe for human consumption, and has no acceptable medical use.

Clusters of overdoses and deaths of Pink were reported in U.S. cities in 2015 and 2016. Some of these deaths involved children. According to one case report, the use of naloxone (Narcan) in an emergency setting reversed the effects of U-47700, but this may not always be the case. Emergency physicians should contact their local poison control center, medical toxicologist or public health department in cases where there is a reasonable suspicion of ingestion of designer drugs to help protect the surrounding community. Special lab analysis is typically needed to identify drugs like “Pink,” leaving communities at risk.

The public should be aware that drugs obtained on the street, even though they look like an authentic prescription medication, may be fake and deadly. Don’t take any prescription drug, legal or otherwise, unless it is prescribed specifically for you by a doctor and is dispensed by a reliable pharmacy.

God Calls Us to Service But We Make the Decision to Answer His Call

God gave Moses the dream of leading the children of Israel out of 400 years of slavery, but Moses had to make the decision to confront Pharaoh. God gave Noah the dream of saving the world from the flood, but Noah had to make the decision to build the ark. God gave Abraham the dream of building a new nation, but Abraham had to make the decision to leave everything he had and go out into the unknown. Just like these men, you will never realize God’s dream for your life until you come to the point of making a decision and stepping out in faith.

It is helpful to understand the call of God in three distinct ways.

First, there is the call to be a Christian. The God of creation invites us to respond to His love. This call comes through Jesus, who invites us to be His disciples and to know the Father through Him. To be Christian is to respond to this call to know and love God, and to love and serve others. It becomes, then, the fundamental fact of our lives; everything about us is understood in light of this call. Every aspect of our lives flows out and finds meaning in light of the fact that we are a called people. And the church – the Body of Christ – is made up of “called” ones.

Second, for each individual there is a specific call – a defining purpose or mission, a reason for being. Every individual is called of God to respond through service in the world. Each person has a unique calling in this second sense. We cannot understand this second meaning of call except in the light of the first. When we fulfill our specific vocation, we are living out the full implications of what it means to follow Jesus. Therefore, while we all have a general call to love God and neighbor, we each follow our Lord differently, for though He calls us all to follow Him, once we accept His call we are each honored with a unique call that is integrally a part of what it means to follow Him. The second experience of being called is derived from the first.

Third, there is the call that we face each day in response to the multiple demands on our lives – our immediate duties and responsibilities. The call to be reliable and trustworthy when my family needs me, or to volunteer during our church’s annual baseball and softball clinic as part of the meet-and-great team assigned to parents and grandparents of the kids enrolled in the clinic, or to respond to some specific need presented before me. These are my tasks – not in the sense of burdens, but as those things that are placed before me today by God. It may be nothing more complicated than helping my elderly neighbor put her groceries away. But that is what God has for me today. I would not speak of these as my vocation (which is closer to the second meaning of call), but they are nevertheless the duties and responsibilities God calls me to today.

Calling, or vocation, is much deeper and all-encompassing than career or occupation. Indeed, there are some who may not even begin to discover their vocation until after they have retired from a career. It is a sheer gift if we are able to fulfill our vocations through an occupation. But for many, a job is a means of supporting life and family; it is often a matter of getting whatever work might be available. We need to discern our vocations and then also discern how God is calling us, within the complexities and demands of this world, to fulfill these vocations. The pivotal issue is one of self-knowledge and of living out our lives in a way that is consistent with who we are, as individuals.

KNOW YOURSELF

The key to finding your specific calling is simply “know yourself.” This is implicit in what we read in Romans 12:3: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (NASB) The Apostle Paul calls us to look at ourselves with “sound judgment.” God has granted grace to each of us, so we can take an honest, critical and discerning look at ourselves. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to observe that when it comes to answering the question What is God’s vocation on my life there are really two critical questions. The first: Who am I? And the second: Am I willing to live in humble acceptance of the call of God?

Make an appraisal of yourself – an honest assessment. Think of yourself in truth. Who are you? What makes you unique? How has God called you? We are not all the same. In fact, Paul compares the church to a body (Romans 12:4-5), with different gifts, differing contributions, differing abilities. Vocational identity is found in discerning who we are within this mix. What is the ability, the talent, the deep passion that God has given you? Where is it that God is calling you to make a difference for Him in the church and in the world? Consider and think of yourself with honesty; make a sound judgment.

If we seek to be anything other than who we are, we live a lie. To know ourselves and to be true to ourselves is to be true to how God has made us. How He has crafted our personalities. How He has given us ability and talent and passion. God will call us to serve Him in the church and in the world. But this calling will always be consistent with who we are, with who He has created us to be. A.W. Tozer calls this “living with freedom from pretense.” His comment captures it well, for in living truthfully we no longer live with a mask, a façade, but rather with a deep honesty about who we are and who God has created us to be. During a period of my rebellion and doubt, my favorite song was The Stranger by Billy Joel.

Well, we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out
And show ourselves when everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of a stranger
But we’d love to try them on

I think that Billy Joel’s “stranger” is similar to what psychologist Carl Jung called the archetypal shadow self. The part we disown, usually because it is disapproved of by our family, our spouse, or society in general. Anything that contradicts our “public image” gets consigned to the shadow. Unfortunately, the shadow self contains enormous energy and alternate possibilities that we ignore at our own peril. We need to acknowledge the “disowned” parts of our personality and seek to heal our brokenness through Jesus Christ. If we don’t, the dissociated aspects of ourselves, like hungry dogs locked in the basement, can wreak havoc when released. We truly have no idea what can happen when we deny and continually suppress defects of character that need to be healed.

“IF I HAD MY DRUTHERS.”

Ask yourself, If I were able to only do or be one thing, what would it be? A follow-up question might be, What do I long for more than anything?  What brings me joy? It is important to get to the root of the matter. It is not what you imagine might bring you joy; it is seeking what fundamentally and actually brings joy. We cannot buy into the lie that more money or more prestige would do it. Such motivation is a distraction. When we get at what really matters to us, we get to the passion of our hearts. But the “instrumentality of our culture” distracts us from what really matters. Any many of the things that matter most defy measurement. It’s easy to yield to that which is doable and practical and popular. Worse yet, as I tended to consider recently, was my deciding how impractical it was to go to graduate school at sixty years of age and become an addictions counselor whose clientele will be exclusively sixteen to twenty-nine years old. Teens and young adults. This, however, is an area of great importance to me.

What matters to us reflects who we are and gives meaning to our lives. What matters is reflected in the life we live; it is reflected in the way we engage life, spend our money and our time. Here’s a thought: If we don’t have the time to do something, perhaps this is a sign that that particular thing does not matter to us. Really, what we need is to stop complaining about the economy, the limitations we are facing, the problems of our past, and begin to take responsibility for our actions (to be the cause rather than wallow in the effect).

Perhaps another way to get at the core of who we are is to get at what makes us angry. Anger is often dangerous terrain, of course, but I’m talking here about righteous indignation. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” (NASB) This is the same type of anger displayed by Jesus when he threw the money changers out of the Temple. (See Matthew 21:12) When our anger is consistent with God’s view of the world, could it be that what matters to God matters to us? Could it be that by attending to what makes us angry we begin to get a read on what moves us? It’s been said that the antidote for exhaustion may not be rest but wholeheartedness. In other words, could it be that we are exhausted because we are not doing our true work?

What are your elemental waters? What is your core, the sense of who you are? David Whyte is an English poet whose poetry and philosophy is based on what he calls the conversational nature of reality. He has been quoted as saying, “One of the distinguishing features of any courageous human being is the ability to remain unutterably themselves in the midst of conforming pressures.” Whyte was essentially saying when in our work we are engaged with tasks or responsibilities that are deeply congruent with our fundamental self, we are in our “elemental waters.” When the young shepherd boy David refused the armor of the soldiers when he went to take on Goliath it was not so much that he wanted to trust in God and not in his own strength or capacities, though that was surely the disposition he brought to this encounter. Rather, he was not at home in that armor; he was at home in his shepherd gear and with a weapon he had mastered; not the sword but the sling.

WHERE DO YOU FEEL THE WORLD IS MOST FRAGMENTED?

Consider this question: Where do you feel and the operative word is feel – the deepest fragmentation of our world? Certainly, we each see the world’s needs differently. And our vocational identity is in some form or another aligned with how we each uniquely see the pain and brokenness of the world. Often we miss our vocation because our sense of the needs of the world is informed and shaped by the expectations of others. Sometimes preachers and public speakers outline the needs of the world in a way that is very compelling, and they describe these needs in such a way that they communicate that if we really care, then we will respond according to their expectations and evaluations. They assume that we should see the world as they see it. But the needs of our world are complex, and we need to be alert to how others use the word should.

If we are prepared to listen to our own hearts, we will recognize that we long to help and serve and make a difference just as much as they do. But it will be our own vision for a needy world – a vision informed by our own reading of the Scriptures, but also a vision sustained by the witness of the Holy Spirit to our hearts. So where do you see the brokenness of the world? What impresses you to the core of your heart and calls you to be or do something? When you are able to set aside ego gratification and ask honestly what you long to do to make a difference because you see the need – quite apart from any monetary return or honor that might come your way – what comes to mind?

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I have found that taking the steps I’ve outlined in this post helps to assure that my vocation will in some fundamental way be aligned to how I see the brokenness of the world. By taking what 12-step recovery calls a fearless and thorough moral inventory of myself, I have the opportunity to take stock of who I am. This includes the negatives and the positives on my “balance sheet.” As I look long and hard at my moral shortcomings, I am actually able to start fleshing out a plan of spiritual and emotional recovery. Such an inventory should be written down, because it becomes the first tangible proof you have that these issues are real, and that they must be addressed. Of course, this personal evaluation will also allow you to get acquainted with your talents, your skills, your passion for life. It allows you to answer the four basic questions I brought up earlier: What do you want most of all in life? What matters to you? Where do you feel most comfortable (your elemental waters)? What breaks your heart about the circumstances in the world today?

In John 17:4, Jesus says these remarkable words: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” I want the same to be true for my life. I want to come to the end of my days and know that in God’s eyes I fulfilled my vocation. Work can be difficult. Especially when we consciously choose to embrace a life of addressing the evils and brokenness of this world. Jesus reminds us, however, that His yoke is easy, His burden is light. For a yoke to be easy, it means that it fits us. It is designed around the contours of who we are; it is congruent with the character, strengths, potential, and personality that we are before God. I believe our only hope for vocational clarity is that we come to terms with our own hearts – with what we individually believe is happening in the very core of our being.

Each of us has something that we feel is the very reason for which we have been designed, created, and redeemed. In the end, we embrace this call, this purpose, because this is who we are. In the end, there is something to which we say, “This I must do.” Now we are in the position to give up our lives for the sake of others. (See Matthew 16:25) We do it because we must. And we accept this as from God – as that which God has placed in our hearts. What drives us is the very conviction that God has placed there. This is what is meant by vocational integrity and personal congruence.

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere, but God Himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one-by-one, by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, The Message)

Death: And Then What?

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Poets, essayists, researchers, and philosophers write often about death, but have rarely seen it. Physicians and nurses, who see it often, rarely write about it. Most people see it once or twice in a lifetime, in situations where they are too entangled in its emotional significance to retain dependable, useful memories of the ordeal. Survivors of mass destruction – plane crashes, hurricanes, terrorist bombings, building collapses – quickly develop such psychological defenses against the horror of what they have seen. Nightmarish images in their mind distort the actual events they have experienced. There are few reliable accounts regarding the ways in which we die.

Very few of us actually witness the deaths of those we love. For instance, not many people die at home anymore, and those who do are usually victims of  drawn-out diseases or chronic degenerative conditions in which drugging and narcosis effectively hide the biological processes that are occurring. Of the approximately 80 percent of Americans who die in a hospital, almost all are in large part concealed, or at least the details of the final conclusion of mortality are concealed, from those who have been closest to them in life. I was with my father when he took his last breath on December 9, 2014. Although I was glad to be with him as he passed away, it was a difficult experience.

An entire mythology has grown up around the process of dying. The mythologies of death are meant to combat fear on the one hand, and its opposite – wishes – on the other. They are meant to serve us by disarming our terror about what the reality may be. While many of us hope for a swift death or a death during sleep (so I won’t suffer), we at the same time cling to an image of our final moments that combines grace with a sense of closure; we need to believe in a clear-minded process in which the summation of a life takes place – either that or a perfect lapse into agony-free unconsciousness.

For many, death is a grim adversary to overcome, whether with the dramatic armaments of high-tech biomedicine or by a conscious acquiescence to its power, an acquiescence that evokes the serene style for which present usage has invented a term. Death With Dignity is our society’s expression of the universal yearning to achieve a graceful triumph over the stark and often repugnant finality of life’s last breath.

It is helpful to realize that death is not a confrontation.  It is simply an event in the sequence of nature’s ongoing rhythms. Not death but disease is the real enemy; it is disease that requires confrontation. Death is the give-over that comes when the exhausting battle has been lost. Even our confrontation with disease should be approached with the realization that many of the sicknesses that befall mankind are simply conveyances for the inevitable journey by which each of us is returned to the same state of physical non-existence from which we emerged at conception. Keeping in mind, of course, that I am speaking of physical death. In no manner to we cease to exist on a spiritual level at the time of our last breath.

Medical science has conferred on humanity the blessing of separating those pathological processes that are reversible from those that are not, constantly adding to the means by which the balance shifts ever in the favor of sustaining life. Unfortunately, modern medicine has also contributed to the misguided fancy by which each of us denies the certainty of our own individual mortality. The claims of too many laboratory-tested doctors to the contrary, medicine will always remain, as the ancient Greeks first dubbed it, an art. One of the most severe demands that its artistry makes of the physician is that he or she become familiar with the poorly delineated boundary zones between categories of treatment whose chances of success may be classified as certain, probable, possible, or unreasonable. Those uncharted spaces between what’s possible through medicine, and everything beyond its reach, are where the thoughtful physician must often wander, with only the accumulated judgment of a life’s experiences to guide the wisdom that must be shared with those who are sick.

Most people do not leave life in a manner they would choose. In previous centuries, men believed in the concept of ars moriendi, the art of dying. Those were times when the only possible attitude to impending death was to let it happen – once certain symptoms made their appearance, there was no choice but to die the best way possible, and hopefully at peace with God. But even then, most people went through a period of suffering that preceded the end; there was little but resignation, and the consolation of prayer and loved ones, to ease the final time.

We live today in an era not of the art of dying, but of the art of saving life. As recently as half a century ago, that other great art, the art of medicine, still prided itself on its ability to manage the process of death, making it as tranquil as professional kindness could make it. Except in the too-few programs in existence, such as hospice, that part of the art is now mostly lost, replaced by the brilliance of rescue and, unfortunately, the all-too-common abandonment when rescue proves to be impossible. The family of the afflicted grasps at a straw that comes in the form of a statistic; what is offered as objective clinical reality is often the subjectivity of a devout disciple of the philosophy that death is an implacable enemy. Once it is clear that someone is going to die – after all possible measures have been taken by the medical team – the crowd thins out. All that remains in the room is the dying and those that love them.

Though the hour of death itself is commonly tranquil, and often preceded by blissful unawareness, the serenity is typically bought at a fearful price – and the price is the effort and the process by which we reach that point. There are some who manage to achieve moments of nobility in which they somehow transcend the indignities being visited on them, and such moments are to be cherished. But such intervals do not lessen the distress over which they briefly triumph. Life is sprinkled throughout with periods of pain, and for some of us it is as if life decades have been bathed in pain and suffering, as we endure one illness or setback after another. In the course of ordinary living, pain is mitigated by periods of peace and times of joy. In dying, however, there is only the affliction. Its brief respites and ebbs are known always to be fleeting, and soon succeeded by a recurrence of the anguish. The peace, and sometimes the joy, comes with momentary relief from suffering.

The dignity we desire in dying, at least from a psychological standpoint, is often found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives. Honesty and grace over the years is frequently the real measure of how we die. This reminds me of the adage, “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” It is not in the last weeks or days of life that we compose the message which will form our legacy, but in all the decades that preceded them. Certainly, for the man who waits until the eleventh hour to try living a life worth being honored and celebrated, he will be frustrated, if not downright defeated. He who has lived in dignity, dies in dignity. Antithetically, he who has lived a shameful, selfish, evil life will die in abject fear of the ultimate judgment his is facing.

William Cullen Bryant wrote these words, which I think capture this sentiment well:

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Death is the one great certainty in life. Some of us will die in ways out of our control. Amazingly, most of us will be unaware of the moment of death itself. As we live longer on average than ever before in human history, we develop an increasing cultural denial of aging and dying. I find it shocking that death attitudes of our elders have not been well integrated into the fields of gerontology and psychology. In addition, gerontologists have not investigated the unsuspected and differing effects of various world religions upon the personalities of older individuals. There have been no solid comparisons of the religious beliefs of various elderly patients who represent different faiths.

Death-related attitudes and death anxiety tell us that such proclivities have a cognitive component that connects death to our lives. Older persons are more likely to be anxious about death when they have lower levels of ego integrity – ego identity versus despair, the last life stage – a high number of physical problems, psychological problems, poor sense of spirituality, or have been institutionalized for the remaining months or years of their lives. Elders who fear death seem to do so because of the unknown, possible impending wrath or punishment from God, loss of self, or lost opportunities in life. Tomer and Eliason (1996) proposed a comprehensive model of the death and anxiety scale that relates death anxiety to three factors: past-related regret, future-related regret, and meaningfulness of death.

Though in the everyday sense, death is the end of life, spirituality makes death more meaningful and less frightening. Death is, after all, merely the separation of body and spirit. Death of the physical body does not put an end to the journey of the conscious, fully-aware spirit living inside it. Being present when a loved one takes his or her last breath is a very formidable event. While death is no longer an enemy for a believer in Jesus Christ, it remains difficult for the dying and their loved ones. Romans 14:7-9 says, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” (NIV)

The Bible compares death to sleep more than fifty times. After death, we are asleep; we are unconscious; we are not aware of the passage of time. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.” (NIV) This brings to mind the idea of legacy. Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (ESV) For the longest time, I gave no thought to what kind of legacy I would leave. It actually seemed arrogant to me that I should leave a legacy. What do I claim as my legacy? Our mind tends to run our stats and score board during the “final quarter.” My past is rather checkered, to say the least, containing many sinful acts and failures. What, exactly, will I be remembered for? I’ve come to understand that the greatest legacy I can leave is to show the importance of obedience. No matter who you are, or where you’ve been – regardless of your age – you can live in the same manner as Christ lived through allowing His presence to dwell in you.

Genesis 2:7 tells us, “God formed man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The man came alive – a living soul.” (MSG) The New King James translation puts it this way: God did not put a soul into man, but a spirit. Your soul is that part of you that consists of your mind, character, thoughts and emotions. The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which translates to “living being.” The Greek synonym is psy. The human soul is central to the personhood of a human being. As God is triune (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), man is spirit, soul and body. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV) Man is made up of physical material, the body, that can be seen and touched. But he is also made up of immaterial aspects, which are intangible – this includes the soul, spirit, intellect, will, emotions, conscience, and so forth. Man does not possess an immortal body. When we die, the breath of life leaves us.

We have a soul at the moment of conception, but God knew us even before we became living souls. At the moment of sperm and egg becoming one, our complete “code”  becomes set in stone, and our entire blueprint is created. From that moment forward, our cells carry out the work of making our physical body. We are spiritually created the instant our genetic code is formulated. According to Scripture, death is not really normal or natural even though it is a persistent fact of human history. Why? Because man was initially created by God to be a unity of body, soul and spirit to live forever with God in fellowship with Him. This is the natural, normal state that God planned for man. According to the Bible, death is an enemy; the last enemy to be conquered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Death is the result of sin and the fall of the human race. (See 1 Corinthians 15:25-26) At the moment of death, believers will be made perfect and cleansed from all sin.

Knowing that death ushers us directly into the reality of either heaven or hell should make us look up to Christ as our refuge and salvation, and should make us strive “…to have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9) Even for believers, the prospect of death is sometimes a fearful thing because death is enshrouded in great mystery as the realm to which we have never gone. But we may take courage and lay aside our fears in the confidence that we have a God who time after time says to his people, “Do not be afraid.” God wants his people to be comforted in the face of death.

Romans 8:38-39. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor death, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NASB)

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
September 10

I AM ALWAYS AVAILABLE to you. Once you have trusted Me as your Savior, I never distance Myself from you. Sometimes you may feel distant from Me. Recognize that as feeling: do not confuse it with reality. The Bible is full of My promises to be with you always.  As I assured Jacob, when he was journeying away from home into unknown places, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. After My resurrection, I made this promise to My followers: Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Let these assurances of My continual Presence fill you with Joy and Peace. No matter what you may lose in this life, you can never lose your relationship with Me.

ISAIAH 54:10; GENESIS 28:15; MATTHEW 28:19-20