The Bible is a two-edged sword, but that doesn’t mean it’s a weapon.

Twenty years later, I can still picture my husband Michael as a boy, jumping up in a roomful of cross-legged students and shouting, “Got it!” Moments before his triumphant cry, the teacher had yelled, “Swords in the air!” to which we all heaved our Bibles toward the ceiling, elbows slightly bent under the weight of the Good Book. The room transformed into a wave of uplifted skinny arms and Scripture. When all “swords” were thus unsheathed, the teacher shouted a book, chapter, and verse reference, and we would drop our Bibles into our laps in a race to be the first child to find it. I was a shy girl, so I faked my participation in Bible drills, whereas Michael clearly relished the idea of winning. I laugh at the memory of it now, but I also realize the formative nature of this early experience with God’s Word—how, in a way, we were taught to view our Bible as a weapon.

There is scriptural precedence for this. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and of marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Paul uses this war and weaponry language in Ephesians 6:16-17 when he writes of putting on the full armor of God: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (ESV). Most biblically literate Christians are familiar with the imagery and Paul’s words, but we don’t always consider how this description can subtly affect the way we approach Scripture. The weaponization of the Bible against other people is a centuries-old temptation.

Throughout history, the Bible has been used to justify all manner of evil, including slavery, genocide, and the subjugation of minorities and women. Singular verses have been taken out of context to suit a particular goal or purpose, with little thought regarding the nature of the text, the intended audience, or the historical context. I’d like to believe this is no longer the case in modern society, but the nightly news often tells a different story.

For centuries, brothers and sisters in Christ have used the Word of God to foster a culture of infighting and division.

Sadly, in today’s politicized landscape, where aggressive culture wars rage on year after year, we see God’s Word used as a tool for division. Various groups with various belief systems all claim the pages of Scripture, using them to justify their position and condemn their opponents. It leaves me wondering how we can avoid further division. As believers, how can we use Scripture to sow peace?

We need to acknowledge that this weaponization isn’t something we do only to non-Christians—we also do it to each other. For centuries, brothers and sisters in Christ have used the Word of God to foster a culture of infighting and division. Our rifts cast a shadow across the Bible and the church alike, shrouding the good news as if in a dense fog. How, instead, can we bear witness to this good news rather than bury it? To this gospel hope that is our offering to a despairing world as it stands back and watches?

It’s unfortunately easy to forget or overlook that when Scripture talks about itself as a sword, the target is not fellow humans. Paul reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). According to Paul, we fight against evil in the realm of the spirit. Scripture is a sword meant to be used on our knees in prayer. The enemy is Satan himself.

The difficult truth is, when we feel as if we are wrestling against flesh and blood, it is often our own we’re contending with. We fight against our flesh and its sinful impulses on a daily basis. In those moments, the sword of the spirit should be aimed not away but toward the darkness of our own heart. Scripture is our means of renewal, the gift from God by which both heart and mind are recalibrated to shape right thinking and holy living—transforming us into instruments of redemption and peace.

Scripture is a sword meant to be used on our knees in prayer. The enemy is Satan himself.

In Isaiah 2:4, the prophet gives us a vision for a peaceful kingdom when he writes, “And they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” These images are compelling when applied to our use of Scripture as a weapon. A sword is a tool of destruction, whereas a plowshare is a tool of creation—a necessity for growth and cultivation of the entrusted kingdom.

The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai transforms this imagery even further in his poem “An Appendix to the Vision of Peace”:

Don’t stop after beating the swords
into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
and make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again
will have to turn them into plowshares first.

As I rethink my deeply ingrained perception of the Bible, I’m reminded that the first time God speaks in Scripture, it is through an act of creation. His speech is generative, giving light and life. Those of us who follow Christ are called to be His instruments in the physical realm, working toward a world where justice seeking and peace building are the hallmarks of His kingdom. A world redeemed will come about, not through the weaponization of God’s Word against one another, but rather through creative cultivation and a commitment to the sweet song of peace.

Illustration by Sr. Garcia

Related Topics:  Reading Bible

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Established in His Righteousness…Therefore, Unashamed and Unafraid

By Arthur Schaper – May 28, 2019

Barbwire Chief Editor Dave Jolly issued a stunning indictment against the Body of Christ in the United States.

In America’s Christians – Ashamed and Afraid, Jolly writes:

The state of the Christian church in America today is nothing like it was when I was young and the change is not a good one.

When I was young, many Christians boldly stood up for Jesus Christ and their faith in Him. They weren’t embarrassed to pray over the meal when eating in a restaurant or in front of other people. They weren’t afraid to stand up against the social recognition of sins and perverse lifestyles.

Sadly, over the past 50 years, millions of American Christians began to compromise with the decaying secular world. Rather than continue to stand up for their faith, they didn’t want offended anyone and they wanted to be inclusive.

Christians are ashamed to call themselves Christians, or to declare that Christ Jesus is their Savior. They are afraid to be slammed, shamed, defamed, and defeated in the public square.

Granted, these are welcome criticisms to point out.

I am interested in finding out why this is happening. One can suggest that many of this class of Christian really are not Christians. They are professors, not possessors of faith. If that is the case, then they need to hear the Good News in its fullest.

But I submit to you that there are indeed many in this “Ashamed and Afraid” class that do believe in Jesus, in that they know that Jesus died on the Cross for all their sins and rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures.

So, what’s the problem, then? How does this get remedied?

The Gift of Righteousness 

I can attest that I believed on Christ Jesus when I was 13 years old – June 11, 1994. Yes, indeed, I can point to a day and a time when I said “I believe in Jesus,. I believed that He died for my sins.)

It wasn’t until at least 20 years later that I understood the fullness of what it means to “be saved.”

Salvation is about righteousness, it’s about being established in Jesus’ own righteousness. Indeed, there can be no eternal life until we understand that all our sins are eternally forgiven—sins past, present, and future.

The Apostle Peter preached to Cornelius and his household:

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him … To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:34, 43)

Remission, the sending away of all sins—that is Gospel.

And there’s more! Paul the Apostle clearly articulated the Gospel message thus.

“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

Forgiveness of sins, justification from all things – there you have it. And how? Through Jesus!

“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11)

Now what does righteousness have to do with dismissing shame and fear?

After Isaiah 53, the prophecy of our suffering Messiah, we find the glorious Blessings outlined in Isaiah 54, in seventeen stirring, remarkable verses!

Here are a few:

“Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.” (Isaiah 54:4)

Why “fear not”? The prophet declares:

“In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.” (Isaiah 54:14)

Whose righteousness, though? Our own? Not at all!

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:17)

It’s HIS Righteousness, God’s own righteousness that secures every blessing.

Does this sound farfetched? Even heretical?

Rear your Bible:

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Because of Jesus, we are not just righteous, we are made the Righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We are invited, exhorted to receive—and keep receiving—this gift of righteousness and the abundance of grace, of unmerited favor from Him (Romans 5:17). God our Father looks at us, and He sees His own Son, because we are in Him!

“Herein is our love made perfect [lit. love perfected among us], that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)

When we are established in His righteousness, we have nothing to fear, since His covenant of protection watches over us (Hebrews 8:10-12). And let’s face it, people are fearful because they feel condemned, they are wary of any wrongdoing attached to them, whether rightly or not.

Consider Isaiah 54:4 once again:

“Fear not”

Why fear not?

  1. thou shalt not be ashamed:
  2. neither be thou confounded;
  3. thou shalt not be put to shame:
  4. thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth;
  5. [thou] shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.”

All the shame, all the reproach is taken away from us forever, because of Jesus! We need to preach fully that all our sins are forgiven, that any and all shame is removed forever from us.

Even when we sin, fall, fail, screw up—His righteousness is never taken away from us. It’s an eternal gift which we receive and keep receiving.

Why are Christians ashamed? Why are they afraid? They don’t know their righteous standing before God in Christ. We have been made the righteousness of God in Him—but many Christians just don’t know it—yet. Let’s change that! Once we know the grand and glorious gifts, the standing, the grace we have in Christ, we can then say with Paul:

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

When we are established in His righteousness, Christians will no longer live in fear and shame, the way that our loving Father intended us to live!

Arthur Christopher Schaper is a blogger, writer, and commentator on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow his blogs at The State of the Union and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.

Townhall.com Contributor

Barbwire.com Contributor

Canada Free Press Contributor

Twitter: @ArthurCSchaper

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/arthur.schaper.503

Email: ArthurSchaper@hotmail.com

 

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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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Mother’s Day: Honoring Moms,Teaching the Next Generation ‘The Noblest and Most Precious Work’

May 10, 2019 By John Stonestreet

(Screenshot)

On Mother’s Day, most of us take intentional time and effort to show our moms how much we love and appreciate them, and how much we’re thankful for their love and sacrifice. I’m not always as intentional as I should be about honoring the moms in my life, especially the one who gave me life and the one who’s currently doing the really heavy lifting caring for our kids.

But especially in this cultural moment, Christians should be the first, not only to honor current mothers, but also to celebrate and encourage future mothers.

Andrea Burke, writing at For the Church, suggests that we’re not always very good at this. As a result, for too many young Christians, cultural attitudes toward motherhood are setting the tone. And it’s not a positive tone.

Burke calls motherhood “the one life dream that makes a girl blush.” In her work directing her church’s women’s ministry, Burke regularly sits down with single, young women to talk about the future. They often confess that although they could pursue further education or a successful career in any number of fields, what many of them want is to get married and raise a family.

By Burke’s account, these young women are smart and accomplished. They don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Still, they regularly talk as if choosing to be a wife and mom is a silly cop-out—somehow a waste of their lives. “When a 21-year-old sits across the table from me and tells me that she wants to be a mother,” Burke writes, “she blushes and gives a thousand caveats as to why she knows it’s not the optimal choice.”

Where do young women get this low view of motherhood? Well, look around. According to a New York Times article last year, the average age at which women become mothers is now at a record high—30 or older in some parts of the country. The Times reported this as if it were a good thing, talking up the wonders of a “fulfilling career” and all-but-openly suggesting that the only reason any woman would have children young is because she couldn’t achieve the ideal professional life, and needs a substitute rite of passage to adulthood.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the average birth rate failed to rebound after the Great Recession, and now sits at a rock-bottom 1.77 children per woman on average—that’s down over 16 percent from a decade ago.

So now there’s a gap in our culture between the number of children women want to have, and the number they end up having.

The Times explains, “it’s unlikely any future baby boom will be able to fully offset the baby bust of the last 10 years.” This means that “millennial women are likely to experience the largest shortfall in achieved fertility verses their stated family desires of any generation in a long time … .”

What does all this have to do with young women embarrassed about wanting to become mothers? Well, they need honesty from us—specifically from their parents, that whatever society says about the wonders of a successful career, they’re statistically likely to regret prioritizing promotions over parenthood.

At BreakPoint.org, my colleague Shane Morris recently wrote a beautiful letter to his six-year-old daughter, in which he encouraged her to think of marriage and motherhood as callings worth pursuing, not as afterthoughts. Shane described how his daughter already is in the habit of tucking her little brother’s trucks to bed. Shane is right in seeing in those nurturing instincts things worth celebrating and cultivating.

His letter reminded me of Martin Luther’s praise for nurturing tendencies in his commentary on Genesis: “How becomingly even little girls carry infants in their arms,” he wrote. “And how appropriate are the gestures with which mothers dandle the little ones when they hush a crying infant or lay it in the cradle … .” Elsewhere he says: “In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work.”

If you’ve got daughters (like I do) or granddaughters or even nieces, proudly tell these young women that if motherhood is their dream, they’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.

John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.

https://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/john-stonestreet/mothers-day-honoring-moms-teaching-next-generation-noblest-and-most

VIDEO Love Lessons

May 4, 2019

 

With countless songs, books, and movies dedicated to love, you would think we actually understood what it means. But the world has warped our view of God’s most precious attribute, leaving humanity longing for the real thing. In this message, Dr. Stanley teaches us what love really is and how it affects our lives. Learn how your life can be transformed when you allow God’s love to wrap around you and flow through you to others.

KEY PASSAGE: 1 John 4:7-11

SUPPORTING SCRIPTURE: John 3:16

SUMMARY

Do you believe God loves you?

We are all very familiar with John 3:16, which clearly states that because God loved the world, He sent His Son so those who believe in Him would never perish. We usually think of God’s love as generally applying to everyone, but maybe not specifically to us personally. However, the Lord wants us to know we’re loved by Him and to love Him in return. Only then will we be able to give and receive love in our relationships as He desires.

SERMON POINTS

To understand how important love is to God, we need only look at His Word. In the Old Testament there are 250 mentions of love, and the New Testament uses love 234 times—and of those, 72 are found in John’s gospel and epistles.

In 1 John 4:7-11, the apostle John mentions love in every verse.
[7] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
[8] The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
[9] By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
[10] In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
[11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Love Lessons

Since love is such an essential part of our lives, we need to understand what it truly is.

  1. Love is more than an emotion. It’s a commitment to another person.
  2. Love is not free. It actually demands something of us. We can’t live for ourselves in isolation and at the same time love someone else.
  3. Love looks beyond the flesh. Its focus is the heart and spirit of a person, not the external appearance. The connection is both emotional and cerebral, not merely a physical attraction.
  4. Lust has nothing to do with genuine love. Our world has substituted lust for love, and this has become very obvious in the sexual revolution, which is still continuing to this day. Lust is focused on self—what I want or need from the other person. But love is concerned for the loved one—what I can do for him or her.
  5. Love cannot be bought. It’s a gift that is given freely, and one that is received without cost.
  6. Love desires to give with no strings attached. It doesn’t demand that the other person be a certain way or do what is desired before love is given. Genuine love is freely bestowed without qualifications or requirements.
  7. Love is generous and unselfish. True love is othercentered, not self-centered. It’s always looking for ways to give, not ways to get.
  8. Love is more fulfilled in giving than in receiving. Those who genuinely love others find great satisfaction in generously giving to them. They are especially gratified when they can supply what someone else really needs or desires.
  9. Love is forgiving. Carrying the weight of anger, resentment, bitterness, or jealousy chokes a person’s spirit and hinders the ability to truly love others.
  10. Love desires to express itself. Love is demonstrative and must be expressed. When God’s love is in us, it flows out in sacrificial giving.
  11. Love is a happy emotion. The happiest people are not those who have everything money can buy, but those who know how to love.
  12. Love enjoys seeing others happy.That’s because the focus is not on getting for self but in sacrificing for others. In seeing the pleasure others experience, there is great enjoyment.
  13. Love is fulfilling and enables us to feel complete. When we know how to give and receive love, it gives us a sense of completeness, competence, and worthiness.
  14. Love hurts when others hurt.Genuine love is characterized by compassion and mercy expressed either through direct interaction or more distantly through prayer.
  15. Love does not keep accounts. There is no record of who did what for whom. Love is not a matter of paying and receiving, but of giving without expectation of return.
  16. Love may be very painful. This is especially true if the love isn’t mutual. It may require repeated forgiveness.
  17. Love doesn’t require anything in return. There are no conditions or requirements placed on the other person before love is freely given.
  18. Love is patient. It waits until the proper time, whereas lust wants immediate gratification. If ultimatums are given, it’s not genuine love.
  19. Christ’s death on the cross is the perfect example of love. Jesus came into the world He loved to give His life as a ransom for sin, yet few people loved Him in return. When we continue to love unresponsive, ungrateful people, we are following Christ’s example. This is possible because after we accept Him as our Savior and Lord, He pours His love into our hearts, enabling us to love others no matter how ugly they behave toward us.
  20. Love is its own reward. Knowing that we are loved by God and being able to love Him in return is an amazing blessing. It sustains us when we feel forsaken and unloved by others. And if loved ones die or leave us, we have a Friend who will never desert us.

Love isn’t found in advice from magazines, books, or people. God is the source through Jesus Christ, His Son, and the place to look is the Bible. It begins with accepting the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as the greatest act of love ever shown. He died to pay our sin debt in full. And when we believe in Him and repent of our sins, all the mess we’ve made of our lives is washed away. Our sins are forgiven, and God will remember them no more.

Now His love is poured out in our hearts, enabling us to love Him in return and to receive and give love to others. If we don’t have Christ and His love in us, our lives are empty, and we are poor, needy, and wretched. The only One who can satisfy our longings is the One who died for us on the cross. His love for us is beyond all explanation and human comprehension.

RESPONSE

  • Do you feel loved by God? Why or why not? What does God’s Word say about His love for you (See Romans 5:8 and 8:36-39)?
  • Are you able to give love, or is something hindering you from expressing it freely to others? What hope do you find in 1 Thessalonians 4:9?

https://www.intouch.org/watch/expressing-godly-character/love-lessons

My Son Needed the Love of the Church. I Wasn’t Sure It Was Possible

Including the cognitively disabled in ministry is a chance to live in a cross-shaped way.

May 8, 2019 by JENNIFER BROWN JONES

My Son Needed the Love of the Church. I Wasn’t Sure It Was Possible.

“NO! I NOT QUIET!” The meltdown began—of course—just as the prayer was starting. My husband grabbed our son Mischa’s hand and left the sanctuary, as quickly and quietly as possible. It wasn’t quiet. I have no idea what the worship leader was praying, but my own desperate cry had become almost rote: “Lord, I can’t do this. Help. I’m so tired. I don’t remember not being tired. I can’t do this.” The lights came up and people began greeting one another. I took a breath, preparing to apologize. Again. We wouldn’t be able to come back to this church.

Church. It’s where we should be most loved. It’s where my son should feel most loved, accepted, and wanted. But it isn’t. And the very idea that I could bring my special needs son into an actual worship service was a joke, even if it was just for the music and prayer. I don’t even know why we tried. “God, you’re moving us here, but there aren’t any churches with special needs programs. How are we going to make this work?” This time, though, God’s answer wasn’t “wait and see” but “look and see.” We weren’t going to make it work. He was going to show us how people who don’t just tell his story but also live his story are not just transformed themselves but become agents of transformation in the lives of those around them. God and his people would make it work.

Most Christ-followers will agree that God’s church isn’t really a building. It’s the people that God has called and redeemed; it’s a community of people that he is transforming into the image of his Son. Sounds good, but how many of us are actually being transformed and how many of us have experienced the fruit of our own transformation or that of those around us? What does it look like to be transformed into the image of Jesus?

Living cruciform lives

Throughout the New Testament we see a portrait of Jesus that, if we allow it to, will force us to rethink our understanding of God. Jesus subverts our expectations, just as he did 2,000 years ago. He shows us that true divinity, God himself, is fundamentally self-sacrificing, self-emptying, self-humbling, and self-giving or what New Testament scholar Michael Gorman calls “cruciform” (cross-shaped). In Philippians 2 Paul uses a hymn to describe Jesus’ character, calling believers, then and now, to share in it:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

It sounds beautiful, poetic even. For many this passage is familiar, but when was the last time we allowed ourselves to be confronted by its call? These verses include what Gorman describes as the pattern of Jesus’ life and character. Although Jesus had a certain status (“equality with God”), he didn’t choose selfishness (“his own advantage”) but rather selflessness (“made himself nothing” and “humbled himself”).

It is sometimes too easy to simply marvel at what Jesus has done and miss the call to do likewise: have the same mindset; don’t look out for yourself; humble yourself; put others first. Don’t just tell Jesus’ story, live it. Don’t just narrate the gospel, embody it. Like Jesus, our lives are to be cross-shaped, demonstrating a sacrificial focus on the needs and well-being of others. When we, as members of God’s church, take Paul’s instructions seriously, focusing on others and forgetting about our own power and achievement, we not only truly reflect the image of the God that we worship, we become people that he uses in the lives of others here and now. We don’t have to wait for the new heaven and the new earth.

Such a community sounds beautiful, or at least the concept does. But if we’re honest—if I’m honest—too often we aren’t like Jesus. We are more like that old Dostoyevsky quote: “The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.” So how do we live a cruciform life? While it may seem obvious, the first part of the answer is to be involved in the community of believers; Paul assumes believers in the Philippian church have relationships with one another. He’s instructing them on how they are to act in these relationships. Yes, this way of life will spill over beyond the church, but it starts inside of it.

Just building relationships with other believers isn’t enough, though. The church isn’t a social club. It is a community of people who are cross-shaped, retelling and reliving the self-giving and self-sacrificing life of Jesus. They are enabled to do so as each individual and the community as a whole are molded by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s image. Believers are being transformed into cross-shaped individuals through the work of the Spirit. Christ-followers have to cooperate with the Spirit’s transformative work, though, by reflecting on and identifying with this pattern: Although we may have rights, we are called not to take advantage of them. Instead we are to place the needs of others ahead of our own. Here, in our death to self—our death to personal priorities and our death to personal ambitions—we experience the paradoxical way that God brings life out of death.

The challenge of L’Arche

While he doesn’t use the words cruciform or cruciformity, Jean Vanier’s life and writings gave us a vivid portrait of what such a cross-shaped life looks like and prepares us for our own journeys. In 1964 Vanier founded L’Arche, an organization that creates homes where people with intellectual disabilities live together in a covenant community with typically abled assistants. While L’Arche itself is not explicitly Christian, Vanier’s life and work have been fundamentally motivated by his desire to follow Jesus by living out the gospel as a source of healing, love, trust, friendship, and reconciliation in a world of injustice, pain, and brokenness. Here, in Vanier’s life, we see the way in which a cross-shaped life that relives Jesus’ story spills over into our wider communities.

For Vanier, the beatitudes are at the heart of L’Arche, pointing us to the sometimes-hidden beauty found in the intellectually disabled, a beauty that can be seen in their capacity for life and growth, as well as in their openness to God. He believed that they have the gift of better understanding the Beatitudes and more closely living them out. In The Scandal of Service and The Challenge of L’Arche, Vanier described the roles of the assistants who live in L’Arche communities as not only offering physical support but, more importantly, loving those whom Vanier describes as weak, helping them to grow, to develop, to discover their beauty, and to find the meaning of their lives. Vanier believed God has a prophetic call on the lives of those who are differently abled, one that is often seen in their very ability to live life more simply, in humility, and with love and receptivity to God.

Like Paul’s portrait of Jesus in Philippians 2, Vanier’s portrait of life with the cognitively disabled is heart-achingly beautiful until we get into the nitty-gritty of what it looks like on the ground. Living with those who are differently abled requires us to let go of our self-focus and self-reliance. We have to grow in our willingness to understand people who are different, to share with them, and to sacrifice on their behalf. It is a life that confronts us with our own brokenness and poverty of spirit—our impatience, our self-absorption, our anger, and our insufficiency. In life with the intellectually disabled, we learn that we are the weak ones. Those who are supposedly “disabled” are our teachers. It is here, when we finally welcome our weakness, need, and shortcomings, that we meet Jesus.

Not everyone is called to daily life with the intellectually disabled, but they live around us and among us, as do their families. How do we engage with them on the street and in our churches? Our responses matter, because they hold the potential to embody the healing and love of God’s self-sacrifice. When we tell a parent their autistic daughter is no longer welcome in our youth group because she is too disruptive, are we living out Jesus’ love and sacrifice? Are we focusing on the needs of the “able” and “strong” at the expense of another one of Jesus’ children? Perhaps this beautiful—yes, beautiful—young woman is a crucial part of God’s transformative work. As she learns of her inherent value and beauty, finding love and acceptance, she may also help those around her to be transformed into the self-sacrificing, cross-shaped image of Jesus that is more concerned for others than self. Perhaps this young woman is there to teach the rest of us about who we really are (the broken) and what we really need (the transformative work of the Spirit).

Being confronted with weakness and failure isn’t for the faint of heart. We have to choose to cooperate with the Spirit’s work, staying in the difficult places and relationships. But when we recognize, accept, and then integrate our own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and brokenness into our lives, God brings healing. It is here where we meet Jesus, for it is only when we welcome our own weakness, need, poverty, and insufficiency that we are able to welcome him. Then, as we encounter Jesus, we become agents of healing for those around us.

Becoming a little more like Jesus

“I’m so sorry!” I told the people around me. They just looked and smiled, telling me not to worry about it. I froze for a moment. One lady commented, smiling, “You’re doing the best you can; so is he.” What? I wasn’t being judged, condemned, and found wanting? And then someone we had met on our way in came up to me. He gently placed his hand on my shoulder and asked, “What can we do to make things easier for him and for you?” Tears welled up. No one had ever asked me that unless they were being paid. Maybe we couldcome back to this church.

Less than a year later, we had not only become regular attendees but also involved members. As we have taken steps to support others in our new community, sometimes sacrificially, we have seen how God works. We’ve seen it when we’ve gone to what was supposed to be a small group meeting and were told that we had a night free to go out to dinner while fellow church members watched our son. We’ve seen it in the way that our campus pastor has stood singing while holding Mischa, who knows without a doubt that he is not just accepted; he is loved. We’ve seen it in the way that one of the regular greeters made Mischa an official member of the welcome team with his own nametag. Each of these acts may seem small, but the sum of many small acts is far greater than the individual parts.

We don’t bear our burdens alone; our joys and sorrows are shared. We have no doubt that our son is welcome. We are welcome. In this place where we are supported and loved. God has enabled us to begin serving others instead of merely trying to survive. Our family has found love, acceptance, and healing. But perhaps the moment where God taught me the most was when a visitor walked into the sanctuary carrying a dandelion. She was beaming and smilingly told me that this beautiful boy outside had made her feel so loved and welcome; he’d given her this flower and a great big smile.

Yes. That was my son. The one who still occasionally has meltdowns during the music or prayer. The one who knows he is safe and loved. And I’m still the mom who struggles and who needs to welcome her own brokenness. But we’re all making progress. We’re each becoming a little more like Jesus and seeing how God brings life, healing, and love among people who not only tell Jesus’ story but relive it in their everyday lives.

Jennifer Brown Jones is a PhD candidate in Christian theology (Old Testament) at McMaster Divinity College and adjunct faculty at Ecclesia College. Her research focuses on the Psalter, the Minor Prophets, and the intersection of Christian life with disability studies. She attends Capital Church in Park City, Utah. You can learn more about her personal journey and read her recent reflection about Jean Vanier on her website: https://jenniferbrownjones.com

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/may-web-only/cross-shaped-living-with-cognitively-disability-vanier.html

VIDEO Godly Christian Living in Evil Times

June 14, 2016 BY AMERICAN COUNCIL OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES

 

Few will deny that we are living in evil times. The enemy has “come in like a flood.” Every perversion imaginable to sinful man is now promoted as “good” or “normal.” Basic standards of morality and decency, which once prevailed in the United States, now have been largely abandoned. Sadly, as our society’s culture has sunk further into the swamp of moral degeneracy, a love for the world has eroded the standards of many Christians, which were once grounded upon the teachings of God’s Word. Selections of music, entertainment, clothing, and other choices necessary to godly living have become more similar to and less distinct from those of the lusts of the world.  Many of God’s people lack a zeal for putting a cultural difference between the clean and the unclean (Lev. 20:22-26).

The true child of God must reject and resist such worldliness.  The Bible warns that the world in which we live is in an important sense the domain of the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). What God has ordained for life in this world, Satan has sought to corrupt.  For this reason, Paul warns in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

1 John 2:15-17 commands us to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”  To love the world in this sense is to fail to love the Father.  To conform to the cultural norms produced by this lack of love for the Father is to communicate a similar lack of love for Him.

Some justify a greater conformity to the world by divorcing what is in the heart of a Christian from his outward appearance and actions. God indeed told Samuel: “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). However, what is in the heart will always manifest itself outwardly. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil” (Luke 6:45). Paul is concerned with both the transformation of the mind and the consecration of the body to holiness (Rom. 12:2).  Matthew Henry, in commenting on the holy behavior of older Christian women in Titus 2:3, says that Christians should have “an inward principle and habit of holiness, influencing and ordering the outward conduct at all times.”

God has commanded us: “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). The Scripture is clear about the fruit of true holiness in the child of God: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). This fruitful holiness produced by God’s Spirit is antithetical to worldliness, the works of a flesh that produces both sinful desires and a wicked walk (Gal. 5:16-21).  Cultural choices are included among the works of the flesh.  Any music, clothing, entertainment, speech, or other cultural choice promoting fruitful holiness must not be conformed to styles developed to promote the worldliness of 1 John 2:15-17. This mandate applies equally to our personal lives and our corporate worship.  Our love for the Father provides powerful motivation for careful conservatism that draws a clear line well-removed from the gray of compromise in this regard.

Therefore, the American Council of Christian Churches, at its 71st Annual Convention, October 23-25, 2012, in the Cedar View Independent Methodist Church, Kingsport, Tennessee, affirms the need for all Bible-believing churches and individual Christians to separate from conformity to the cultural norms produced by this world’s love for possessions, pleasures, and pride.  As children determined to love our heavenly Father faithfully, we commit ourselves to the promotion and practice of consistently conservative, godly Christian living, regulated by cultural standards that demonstrate the distinctiveness of our calling as pilgrims and strangers in a world ruled by “the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience.”  It is our desire that in every area of our lives, the change that has called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” would be seen plainly by others in a way that will “glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:9-12).

Picture: https://pixabay.com/en/hills-flowering-desert-flowers-960106/

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Psalm 91:1-66

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, …


Derek Prince – Evil Forces At the End Time