Why Character Is Making a Comeback

Character formation isn’t just an individual process, says Anne Snyder. It requires institutions.
INTERVIEW BY KATELYN BEATY| MAY 21, 2019

Why Character Is Making a Comeback

In a media landscape awash in flame wars and polarizing punditry, it’s a bit surprising that the topic of character formation is making a comeback. “Building character” is the stuff of childhood chores and onerous school projects, completed out of duty and little delight. Yet according to new research presented in the book The Fabric of Character, published by the DC-based Philanthropy Roundtable, character formation is a top concern among today’s leaders and charitable givers across the ideological spectrum. According to researcher Anne Snyder, anyone paying attention to social trends in the West recognizes that “the conditions under which good character is forged are in trouble—weakened as much by the decline of traditional institutions as by a culture that promotes ‘I’ before ‘we,’ pleasure before purpose, self-expression before submission to a source of moral wisdom beyond oneself.”

In the book, Snyder highlights several institutions—including schools, neighborhood renewal projects, and the Boy Scouts—as case studies of how organizations strengthen the moral fiber of their members. Snyder, the newly named editor-in-chief of Comment magazine, recently spoke with CT about why faith-based institutions are particularly good at teaching character.

When I hear the word “character,” I think of the dad in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip who is always making Calvin shovel snow because it builds character. It’s not a sexy topic. Yet as you note, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in it. Why?

I started this particular project for the Philanthropy Roundtable in early 2016. I used to joke that Donald Trump and the Democrats  are a huge gift to my work because suddenly a lot of people who I never would have anticipated being interested in character, regardless of where they fell politically—even if they voted for them—began to say, “Actually, we really do care about it in our leaders.” When I began figuring out how to build a bridge between philanthropists and practice, a lot of people wanted to talk to me because they had a lot of worries about what was going on at the top of national leadership.

More broadly, as people look at social trends—everything from rising mental illness to widening and debilitating anxiety, particularly among young people, to what I would call hyper-emphasis on achievement alone as the only way to define what the good life is—a variety of those social trends have raised alarm bells about how we’re raising our kids and telling them what to value. Whether people would say there’s a moral vacuum, there’s definitely been a realization that we haven’t attended to the whole person. As a society, we’ve somehow not attended to the deeper, often invisible moral fiber of life.

Why did you focus your research on institutions that create the cultures necessary for character formation and not on individual character?

The donor community that I try to serve and cast a vision for, frankly, a lot of them are older, male, and white, ages 70 and above, and they lament the decline of the Boy Scouts years. Early on, when people heard that I was studying character, most of the donors said, “We want to fix the Boy Scouts and make it relevant again.” They were referring to these big, national institutions formed during the Progressive Era 100 years ago. We used to have a bevy of nationally scaled civic institutions that brought people together, that formed our young people in such a way that we had a shared American moral norm. Where have those institutions gone? And with the decline of religious institutions and trust in religious institutions, what are the fresh institutions to take their place that can serve in a more pluralistic era? That’s why what I ended up doing was so much more institutional and sociological than just looking at how an individual becomes more honest.

Character is such a surprise minefield in terms of how people want to define it. The tribalism of our age seems to strike this topic more than I was expecting. I didn’t think it would be politicized. I’m sensitive to the baggage that even the word character has—of cultural imperialism of a certain kind. People on the right think I’m being crazy when I say that, but people on the left kind of roll their eyes at the notion of “reviving the character-building institutions of yesteryear,” because they see that as a euphemism for middle-class values that are not taking a lot of other things into account.

Character is a word like truth or goodness; we all think we know what it means, but we probably have very different working definitions. How do you define characteras it applies to your research of various institutions?

So true! Part of the minefield of this work was realizing that different folks wanted to emphasize different aspects of character. My goal was to diffuse some of the alleged disagreements by emphasizing the practices of a character-filled life, and the often-invisible cultural and institutional forces that shape those practices. Here’s the definition I offer in the book:

Character is a set of dispositions to be and do good, engraved on a person in multiple ways: by strong family attachments that teach what to love and how to love well; by regular habits that ingrain small acts of self-control; by teachers and role models who personify excellence and inspire emulation; by religious instruction on honest, courageous, and compassionate living; through institutions that establish standards for good conduct and mentors who inculcate concrete ways to execute it; by the reading of great literature; through experiences of struggle, positions of responsibility, and the blessings and demands of enduring commitments.

In Case Study 2, you profile the Other Side Academy, which takes ex-convicts through a rigorous residency and moral boot camp of sorts to prepare them for re-entry. Their approach is strict and no-nonsense. Is there a way in which character development in general sounds a bit like “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”? What is the role of grace in character formation?

The Other Side Academy was originally founded in Salt Lake City, so there is some Mormon influence in the underlying teleology. That played a role in how they designed accountability and even the initial interview, as they described it to me, when people apply and come in off the street or out of jail. I was a little shocked at how eviscerating those interviews are. It’s a test of, are you willing to hear some of the hardest, ugliest things about the way you’ve lived your life thus far? It’s really bracing. But I saw one of the graduating ceremonies, and the entire secular “sermon” given to the current students and the graduates was on grace. Grace was described as an active chiseling process that comes to us in the form of a friend who will be there for us no matter what but who will confront us when they see us making a moral infraction.

These ex-convicts are there to change who they are on the inside and completely shift their identity. And to do that, they have to face the worst things they’ve done to others. Grace in their view is very real, but there’s often pain involved.

If we’re going to give it a Christian corollary, it’s like the discipline of the Father toward those he loves. That’s the spirit behind it: Pain is purifying. I don’t think this could thrive in small group church situation [laughs], but I’ve never been so morally humbled in my life by these ex-offenders. I want some of these people leading companies now.

In all the examples in the book of healthy institutions, one doesn’t have to dig far to find a faith-based orientation, or at least an openness to faith. Do people of faith traditions, whether Christianity, Judaism, or Mormonism, create the best institutions for character formation?

I don’t think it’s necessary that any organization shaping lives has to have some kind of theological infusion. I did find that today, because a lot of our institutions are secular, the moral categories are very politicized categories—terms like “social justice” on the left, or on the right, the virtue of manifested, individualized courage. Our secular institutions have lost a thick moral framework. Your average “character program” that’s trying to exist in a public education environment—it’s not grounded in a clear definition of the good.

A lot of character work out there is “we just need to pull kids out of poverty and teach them some soft skills,” where character formation is a means to an end and all about getting them to a broader success ethic. By contrast, a lot of the religious institutions that we looked at tended to think in communal terms, tended to think in accountability terms, and tended to believe that humans are dependent on something beyond themselves. They have resources to draw from in their own traditions to address the moral life in a coherent way. Because religion has a transcendent orientation, it’s one of the best spheres to equip people to think about ultimate ends.

You recently took the helm of Comment magazine. How will your faith inform your vision for the magazine?

For whatever reason—whether by grace or God’s wink—since becoming a Christian, my faith has been the core engine driving my creativity. It’s the integrating pulse for my questions, ideation, laughter, skepticism. So therefore I believe in the arts, hospitality, relationship, paradox. The Beatitudes and 1 Corinthians 1 will be hitching posts, both for what this next season of Comment will seek to embody and for the sorts of voices I’ll be working to attract. In a time of deep division and gracelessness in our public square, I see a need to cohere a community of thought and action that is exploring today’s toughest issues with a kind of transcendent curiosity—a curiosity that will pour itself out in hope, faith, and love.

 

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Being A Kid At The Grown Up Table

May 9, 2019 by Emilee

Sometimes I’m surrounded by all these grown up’s and think, “Wow, they are so wise. I hope when I grow up I have half their wisdom.” Then I get the harsh reality that I might be considered a grown up.

Is 37 a grown up???

I’ll have two teenagers next month. My oldest is taller than me. Making me feel even more like a child.

I struggle to feel qualified to share anything. The enemy has me right where he wants me. Scared, insecure and unqualified.

There’s this woman at my church who insists I use my God-given gifts!!! The nerve, right? She pushes me out of my comfort zone often and then tells me to knock it off when I’m filled with doubt. She sees something in me that I can’t see for myself. At times I’m convinced she’s crazy and other times I’m so grateful that God would put someone in my life who demands more out of me.

1 Timothy 4 says,

12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Okay, so maybe I’m going way too far with this whole “youth” thing because lets face it, 37 is practically 40 and the aching back and wrinkled eyes paint a different picture. But these verses still pierce my heart. “Do not neglect the gift that is in you…” I so want to neglect my gifts. I want to hide where I’m safe from ridicule. I want to stay in the safety of feeling like I’m soooo young and have plenty of time to share my amazing insights and lessons. But God is asking me to “give myself entirely to them, that my progress may be evident to all.”

So scary, right? But there’s good news! I can be unqualified and still obey because Christ is qualified and His Spirit resides in me. hallelujah!

I pray you all have someone in your life, who you try to avoid, so they won’t ask you out of your comfort zone.

God has great use for you and I am thankful for that.

 

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VIDEO On Oaths and God

By Dr. Jerry Newcombe – May 19, 2019

The attempt to remake our country into a secular wasteland continues unabated.

Even the U.S. House of Representatives has begun leaving God out when swearing in witnesses.

For example, a video of such an omission is beginning to make the rounds.

Graham Ledger, the host of “The Daily Ledger” on One America News Network, showed the video of this purposeful omission of God at a swearing in; and he commented, Democrats Delete God:

 

“So God is gone now. Poof. No more God in the people’s House. This is not about a religious test. This is about the founding of this republic. We are a country built on a core belief in God and Judeo-Christian values. Thus, the Declaration of Independence is now under de facto assault by this crew. One nation under God, divisible by one political party that seeks to attack liberty and justice for all.”

In the video, we see Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen from Tennessee, who is the chairman of this particular committee, swearing in guests. Cohen is perhaps best remembered as the congressman eating KFC on the Congressional floor in a publicity stunt recently.

Cohen asks some witnesses about to testify:

“Do you swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the testimony you’re about to give is true and correct, to the best of your knowledge, information, and belief?”

Congressman Michael Johnson (R, LA) politely interrupts with a “parliamentary inquiry.” He states:

“I think we left out the phrase ‘so help me, God.’”

Cohen replies directly to Johnson, “We did.” Johnson asked if the witnesses could swear in again, but this time with the traditional phrase, “So help me God,” added. Chairman Cohen shakes his head and says, “No.” And he adds, “If they want to do it…but some of them don’t want to do it.”

Johnson states:

“Well, it goes back to our founding history. It’s been part of our tradition for more than two centuries, and I don’t know that we should abandon it now.”

Cohen looks at Johnson, and his face seems to communicate:

“What planet is this guy from?”

Johnson adds:

“Could I ask the witnesses if they would choose to use the phrase?”

Then Congressman Jerome Nadler (D-NY), shuts this discussion down, saying:

“We do not have religious tests for office or for anything else, and we should let it go at that.”

I once interviewed Michael Johnson for Christian television. As an attorney, he specialized in religious liberty. He told me:

“Can the government acknowledge the role of God in human affairs? Now we know that the founders have always done that since the beginning—the founding of the nation.”

So the answer is yes.

Johnson also added:

“Americans intuitively have an appreciation for absolute truth and justice.  We were programmed that way by our Creator, and that’s what the founders acknowledged from the very beginning….The enemies of the faith would have us remove all vestiges of Christianity, all vestiges of the God of the Bible from the public square; and that’s not what the Constitution says, and that’s not what we’re required to do.”

Another Republican Congressperson weighs in on this issue. Liz Cheney from Wyoming says:

“It is incredible, but not surprising, that the Democrats would try to remove God from committee proceedings in one of their first acts in the majority….They really have become the party of Karl Marx.”

When my brother-in-law saw this clip, he responded:

“If you think about it, our rights are inalienable because they are endowed by our Creator. If we no longer believe in a Creator, how soon will our rights no longer be inalienable?”

Exactly. That is what at stake in this debate on a seemingly arcane subject.

The founders followed the classic tradition of swearing in on the Holy Bible and in the name of God. Why are oaths taken that way? Because they recognized that we are accountable to God who sees all and who will one day judge us all.

I remember in seminary, one of my professors said:

“It’s not what we (professors) expect that matters. It’s what we inspect.”

Inspection means accountability. It means we have to do the assignments, which they will then inspect.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington said:

“Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?”

Take God out of oaths, and they have no real meaning.

Thomas Jefferson asked:

“Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”

Acknowledgment of God is another victim, it would seem, of today’s culture war. And with Him goes any assurance that the witness is telling the truth.

Swearing in without reference to God at a House Subcommittee (February 28, 2019)

 

Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is an on-air host/senior producer for D. James Kennedy Ministries. He has written/co-written 31 books, e.g., The Unstoppable Jesus Christ, American Amnesia: Is American Paying the Price for Forgetting God?, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (w/ D. James Kennedy) & the bestseller, George Washington’s Sacred Fire (w/ Peter Lillback)   djkm.org  @newcombejerry      www.jerrynewcombe.com

 

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Doubting

May 20, 2019  by JC Cast

Do not allow thoughts of doubt to steal your joy. Doubtful thoughts do not make you a weak or noncommitted Christian; it only shows that you’re human.

Throughout my four-plus decades as a Christian, I have experienced many times when doubt creeped into my thoughts during periods of complacency, or crashed to the forefront during traumatic situations.

Similarly, I do not know one Believer that has not experienced various degrees of doubt during their Christian walk. A fact which is equally confirmed in God’s Word.

Thomas, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, was both inquisitive and zealous. We see his zeal portrayed is John 11:16: “Thomas, nicknamed ‘The Twin,’ said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let’s go too—and die with him.’”

Unfortunately, that is a side of Thomas many people forget since he has been tagged as “Doubting Thomas” down through the centuries because he chose to disregard the initial reports of Jesus’ resurrection. Like all humans, Thomas was susceptible to doubt, and it arose at that particular time. Though, he wasn’t the only doubter in the Bible.

There are numerous examples of Believers showing their humanity in the form of doubt. Too many, in fact, to deal with in a blog post. However, I will touch on one more that I found surprising; yet, it truly shows that all humans can succumb to moments of doubt. That individual was John the Baptist.

Similar to the prophecies announcing a coming Messiah, there were prophecies of one that would come before the Messiah and proclaim his coming. Approximately eight-hundred years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah wrote the following in Isaiah 40:3: “Listen! I hear the voice of someone shouting, ‘Make a road for the Lord through the wilderness; make him a straight, smooth road through the desert.’”

The aforementioned prophecy, along with others pertaining to a “Crier of Good News,” were fulfilled with the arrival of John the Baptist.

In Luke 1:13 we see that the angel Gabriel told Zacharias that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son, and they were to name him John.

Similarly, in Luke 1:30-31, Gabriel tells Mary that she will bear God’s son, and to name him Jesus. He also tells her that her aunt Elizabeth is equally pregnant. In other words, for those who may have forgotten, John the Baptist and Jesus are cousins.

In John 1:32-36, John the Baptist confirms, not once but twice, that Jesus is the chosen one that he’s been preparing the way for.

“I didn’t know he was the one,” John said again, “but at the time God sent me to baptize he told me, ‘When you see the Holy Spirit descending and resting upon someone—he is the one you are looking for. He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw it happen to this man, and I therefore testify that he is the Son of God.” — John 1:33-34.

The following day, Jesus walked by John the Baptist and two of his disciples, and John declared, “See! There is the Lamb of God!” — John 1:36.

All of his life John the Baptist knew he would eventually be used by God. And, from all accounts, he performed his ministry with a zeal rarely matched by others mentioned in the Bible. And yet, during his imprisonment by King Herod, this robust Believer showed he was still human. In Luke 7:18-19 we read the following: “The disciples of John the Baptist soon heard of all that Jesus was doing. When they told John about it, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him, ‘Are you really the Messiah? Or shall we keep on looking for him?’”

Just consider that for a moment. The coming of John the Baptist, like the coming of the Messiah, had been prophesied. The angel Gabriel spoke to a parent of both John and Jesus (John and Jesus were cousins). And, to top it off, God had specifically given John the Baptist a sign to look for during his ministry that would confirm who the Messiah was—a sign John saw and publicly proclaimed after baptizing Jesus. Yet, he still succumbed to a moment of doubt during a time of trial.

If it can happen to John the Baptist it can happen to each of us. Just remember, such doubts do not make you a weak or noncommitted Believer. It’s merely a sign of your humanity. As long as you do not allow the doubts to override your Christian walk you will come out stronger after the experience or trial.

Personally speaking, the doubts could never overcome the truth I hold in my heart or the abundance of evidence I’ve found through many years of study.

 

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The Root of Bitterness

By Adrian Rogers

The Root of Bitterness
Bitterness blows out the candle of joy and leaves the soul in darkness. Here is what God’s Word has to say about bitterness:

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled. (Hebrews 12:14-15).


The Germination Of Bitterness

The seed of bitterness is a hurt that is planted in someone. It may be intentional or unintentional. Someone does not mean to hurt you, but you were hurt. Sometimes the hurt is only imagined. No one has hurt you, but somehow you feel that someone has done something wrong to you. There are also times when the hurt may be the very chastisement of God upon your life. That is the context of Hebrews 12:14-15.

The soil of bitterness is a heart that harbors hostility and does not deal with hurt by the grace of God. When someone becomes bitter, the bitterness takes root in the heart and grows deeper.

The world is full of people who have not dealt with an old hurt. They look for things to criticize, people to find fault with, and ways to justify the way they feel. Have you ever seen people who are hypercritical? Generally, they are bitter people. They know how to push your hot buttons until you react in a way to further justify their bitterness. Then, they can say, “Aha! I was right. I have a right to be bitter.”


The Devastation Of Bitterness

We have learned about the seed and the soil of bitterness, now let’s look at the root and the fruit of bitterness, which is found in our text from Hebrews 12:14-15.

The Root Of Bitterness
The root of bitterness is underground; it is easy to hide and camouflage. Seldom do you find anyone who will admit that they are a bitter person. They will either deny it or disguise it. A bitter person is hypersensitive, ungrateful, insincere, holds grudges, and has mood swings. The Fruit Of Bitterness

Bitterness will affect you physically, emotionally, and spiritually because the fruit of bitterness is an acid that destroys its container. When your heart is bitter, God will not be real to you be. Why? Because hatefulness and holiness do not dwell in the same heart. And without holiness you will not see the Lord (see Hebrews 12:14).


The Eradication Of Bitterness

There are three steps to eradicating bitterness:

1. Let God Reveal It.
Sometimes people say, “I know my heart, there’s no bitterness in me.” Truth of the matter is you don’t know your heart. God’s Word tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). A deceitful heart cannot diagnose a deceitful heart. You need to let God the Holy Spirit do radical surgery.

2. Let Grace Reveal It.
A response of bitterness is never right when someone has done something wrong to you. You need to ask God to forgive you, and He will by His grace. If someone has wronged you, cut it down and forget it. By the grace of God, bury that hurt in the grave of God’s forgetfulness. Justice is God giving us what we deserve, mercy is God not giving us what we deserve, grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve.

3. Let Good Replace It.
Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” You cannot be holy unless you follow peace with men. It is so worth it when you forgive. But, you say, “Look what they’ve done! I am not going to let them off the hook.” Well, they are not on the hook — you are! When you forgive, you set two people free and one of them is yourself.

You will discover that your life is more joyful when you uproot your bitterness. If God gave us justice, every person reading this would die and go to hell. Thank God for His mercy that removes His hand of punishment from us. Praise God for His grace that gives us a brand new life!

 

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Five Ways God’s Love Changes You

May 9, 2019 missionloved_hck1bk

I’m an action oriented person. Give me a to-do list and I’ll tackle it until every item has a neat little check mark next to it.

So the idea of just sitting in silence and contemplating God’s love and nearness seems well–not very productive. How can stillness accomplish anything?

During one busy season of my life I decided to try a little experiment. During this period I had a to-do list the length of a football field. Just thinking about the list was caused a panicky feeling. So to keep stress from being a frequent visitor, I decided to set a timer to go off every hour. At the sound of the timer, I stopped what I was doing for a couple of minutes and contemplated God’s great love for me. Sometimes I listened to a favorite song about God’s love, sometimes I reviewed words of God’s love from Scripture, sometimes I just closed my eyes and remembered: Jesus loves me.

The results were astounding. My productivity increased with these breaks instead of decreased. Stress wasn’t looking over my shoulder every minute. I remembered I didn’t have to work alone–God was more than willing to work alongside.

This small act of basking God’s love made such a difference in my day, that I took a look in God’s Word to see what it says about the effects of Divine love. Here are 5 ways God’s love changes us.

God’s love banishes fear. 1 John 4:18 says: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” I noticed that recalling God’s immense love for me chased away the fear of not being good enough. The fear of not pleasing people evaporated because, well, what did that matter if the King of the universe loved me?

God’s love gives us strength against Satan’s attacks. Look at Psalm 59:10,17: “My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies…O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” We are safe in the fortress of the Redeemer’s love. God’s love gives us the strength to resist Satan’s arrows.

God’s love helps us trust. Psalm 13:5 says, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” It’s easy to trust someone who loves you unconditionally. When we think about God’s love our trust grows.

God’s love leads us to contentment. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 90:14, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” When our hearts are filled with the beauty of God’s love, we are satisfied. Cravings of the world fade away.

God’s love draws us to worship. King David wrote in Psalm 5:7, “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.” When we contemplate God’s love for us, our hearts bow in worship. We enter God’s presence to praise Him for His priceless gifts.

Try my experiment. Set an alarm or timer to go off every hour. Stop for a moment. Close your eyes. Remember God’s love. Watch it change you.

This is an article by Sharla Fritz

 

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What Happens When We Don’t See God Do What We Hope

April 9, 2019 by Dylan

 

I believe that it is the power of God’s Love which truly transforms and changes our world to be more like His Kingdom. As John 3:16 says, it was “For God so loved the world the He sent His Son…” and Jesus, His Son, is the Light that our world – and each one of us – needs. It is from the place of God’s Love that we have salvation, healing and true flourishing of life through Jesus.

My hope is to carry His Love to all His creation. Sometimes in ministering to others, we might try to seek to see a certain result that we want to see. We might want to see someone healed or someone have a radical encounter with Holy Spirit. But a question I’ve been thinking about lately is what happens when we don’t see something outwardly powerful occur? What happens when someone doesn’t get healed? What happens if someone doesn’t choose to give their life to Jesus right in the moment we might wish they would?

For some, even asking such questions might be viewed as not having enough faith, because our belief and expectation is always that God’s will is to heal and save, which certainly is true. Yet I propose that it is in those times when we don’t see what we believe and hope will happen, that we are actually invited into the gift of increased faith. Do we still believe that God is Good? Do we still believe that God is Love? Are we still showing others God’s Love and how much they are valued by not only God, but by ourselves?

People are not objects of ministry, to be viewed as something to save or something to heal. Others, like ourselves, all need to feel known, cared about and loved. No matter what happens, we can always experience for ourselves, and show God’s Love to all people.

 

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