“In the light, truth is revealed.” – Pastor Dave Simiele, MCC’s youth pastor
The recent youth retreat featured a theme of light and darkness called, “Illuminate.” Pastor Dave gave a memorable teaching that included a number of noteworthy principles.
- People tend to sin in darkness because we think nobody will see us. We think it is safe to sin in the dark.
- You can’t change your life in darkness. You have to come into the light.
- Light can be offensive because it illuminates things we don’t want to see.
- When God calls you out of darkness, that doesn’t mean He has called you to a place where there is no trial.
- God is the only one who can really change me. I have to submit to the power of the Holy Spirit working in me.
Don Coleman is a good friend and spiritual mentor who is running for the 7th district seat on the Richmond School Board. I just finished talking with him on his porch, and I believe he is the kind of man that most people want to see run and win public office.
I wish I lived in his district so that I could vote for him. Unfortunately, I don’t live in the city. But on election day, I will be out in his district encouraging voters to vote for him. Beyond just his personal friendship, I cherish Don as a truly unique individual. He knows how to bring people together and inspire them to work for a greater good. His faith guides his actions.
Here’s why I wish I could vote for Don. If you are in his district, consider electing my friend who will work to solve many of the problems in the Richmond Public Schools.
- Don truly cares about the community and has volunteered for years to encourage people to reach their full potential.
- Don will work across party lines and seek to reconcile divided factions that have paralyzed the city over the past few years.
- Don is truly running to bring unity and develop solutions not out of some sense of ego or self fulfillment. He handles authority well and knows how to listen to get to the root of problems.
- Don has lived a life of struggle and is familiar with the problems facing many kids today.
- Don brings years of experience working with kids, families and education.
- Quite simply, Don is one of the best men that I know.
Find out more at http://doncoleman.org
A closer reading of mankind’s great fall in Genesis 3 has brought a number of things to my attention that I have not seen in the past. One of the greatest aspects of Biblical study is that you never reach the bottom.
Here are some notable things that jumped out in a group discussion as well as some of my own “original” observations.
- The story starts out describing the snake as more crafty than the other beasts of the field. God obviously made the snake so we don’t know if crafty here is supposed to be a good thing.
- The identity of the snake is never connected with Satan in this passage. For starters, it seems strange to us that a snake would talk. But Eve doesn’t seem to be affraid or give any sense that a talking snake is odd. The snake could have been possesed by Satan or possibly influenced by demons. On the other hand, there is no textual proof to indicate that the snake acted in malice except Eve’s accusation when confronted by God. Could this merely be a snake that innocently asked the wrong questions?
- The NT book of Revelation cleerly states the snake in its prophecy is Satan. The concept about Jesus crushing the head of the snake suggests that the snake symbolizes Satan. This issue is hotly debated by Biblical scholars and preachers.
- The snake framed its question to focus on the liberty of the individual. I find this interesting in a society that focuses on individual rights.
- Eve replied that they could eat of all the fruit of the trees except for one. Then, she added that they couldn’t even touch the fruit. This goes beyond what Adam was told. He received the instruction before Eve was created. We don’t know if Eve added to what God said or Adam did it. We don’t know if God added some additional parameters to help protect Adam and Eve. This brings up the rabbinic concept of hedges and fences around the law. These extra little rules made it difficult to transgress the law. Maybe this was the first law hedge.
- No where in the text does it tell us what kind of fruit it was that Adam and Eve ate. Literature has developed the notion that it was an apple. But it could have been almost anything. This shows us that some of our general concepts about a passage may be wrong because we have been more influenced by tradition than what the text actually says.
- The snake said that you will not surely die. The Hebrew indicates that the snake mentioned death twice in this response. That is where we translate the “surely” part. But this could have meant to describe more than one type of death. The original Hebrew is not clear.
Sometimes we have to stop and ask the right questions if we want to see the necessary change in our lives. Without asking any tough questions, can we really expect to see transformation in our lives and communities?
These are some questions that have challenged me recently?
- When was the last time I took a major leap of faith?
- Who would Jesus vote for?
- What would a truly “Christian” nation look like?
- When was the last time I did a favor for a neighbor?
- Should Christians worry about the economy?
- How can I share my political beliefs while respecting the opinions of those I disagree with?
- When was the last time I sat in silence for 10 minutes?
- How many people in my cell phone are non-Christians?
- How is my life serving the Kingdom of God?
- Why do grades matter so much to me?
- Why is Sunday morning the most racially segregated time of the week in America?
- When will churches stop inviting people to come in and start going out?
- Does Christian marketing make baby Jesus cry?
Sometimes we feel like we are the only person dealing with a particular struggle. We can feel like everyone else has it all together. But the reality is that no temptation overtakes us except that which is common to mankind. We are in essence all in the same boat. No person is righteous on his/her own.
Even the great heroes of the Bible, have moments they wish we would forget about. The Apostle Paul was certainly a star on God’s All Star team. If it had not been for Paul, the Christian Gospel may have never been carried to the Gentile world. Paul suffered many physical afflictions and personal challenges to spread the Gospel. He did many wonderful miracles in Jesus’ name. But he still struggled with temptation and sin.
Paul was a man just like the rest of us. We can see a glimpse of this in this modern paraphrase of a classic Scripture text from Romans.
Romans 7:17-25 (Message)
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
While driving home from a recent retreat, I listened to a sermon by Paris Reidhead about the human condition and sin’s effect on us all. Paris is one of my favorite preachers. He said a few tough things.
Here is my favorite comment from his sermon.
“Jesus didn’t die to help me do what I ought. He died to do what I am powerless to do because he is everything that I am not.” – Paris Reidhead, old revival preacher
The basic point is that if all we need is a little help than we are mostly good and don’t really need a Savior. Jesus came to do more than give us a boost. He came to offer us His life that we can live in Him. Consider this Scripture.
Galatians 2:20 (New International Version) – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
We need more than a helping hand. We need to be transformed and made into a new creation. We need to be born again. And Jesus is the One who can do what we are powerless to do. That is freedom. And that is life.
Everyone knows that there are two things you aren’t supposed to talk about in polite conversation. Those are religion and politics. Spiritual Shots, a Christian forum for non-religious thinkers, recently tackled both taboo topics in one night. Corey Widmer spoke about the intersection of Christianity and politics. Corey called for “cruciform engagement” where Christians use power to serve not to dominate others.
The Kingdom of God is supposed to be a different kind of kingdom. Power equips service not selfishness in God’s way of doing things. Corey said that we have to be careful that we don’t use religion to advance our agendas. He disagreed with those who said that religion and politics should never mix although he was quick to point out that it has frequently been abused through the years.
Corey said, “Political power is an inadequate vehicle to accomplish God’s will because it doesn’t address the human heart.”
The key is to ask the right questions and to make sure that our objectives line up with God’s call to love, serve others and hold to the truth. We have to ask, “What has our primary allegiance?”
One of my favorite Christian artists, Michael Card, recently said at a concert that he is working on a book that explores the concept of slavery in the Scriptures. Some mistakenly discredit what the Bible has to say on the topic because it doesn’t outright prohibit the practice.
It can be easy to forget that the Bible is the redemptive story of God’s interaction with humanity. God knows that you cannot completely change everything over night, and He always meets people where they are to take them where they should be. We must be patient with societies in the past just as we will need people in the future to be understanding of us. Each new generation has its practices that future generations will find odd or outright immoral.
Here are some quick thoughts on the Bible and slavery:
- Everyone is a slave to something or someone.
- All true Christians are “slaves” to Christ so that we may be free from the grip of sin and death.
- God brought the Israelites out of Egypt “the land of slavery.” But when things got tough they preferred the familiarity of slavery over the hardships of freedom.
- God desires obedience not sacrifice.
- Jesus didn’t have an entitlement attitude neither should His followers.
- After the introduction of the Law, the Israelites were not to enslave each other because they were to be a nation of slaves to God.
- God provided for humane treatment of slaves in the Law.
- Slavery in antiquity was somewhat different than modern slavery. Some people even sold themselves into slavery to pay off a debt for a period of time.
- Jesus came to set the captives free.
- Paul encouraged Philemon to treat Onesimus (his slave) as a brother. This was as close to prohibiting slavery as Paul could get without completely sidetracking the greater purpose of his mission. Slavery during the Roman Empire was a central part of the world’s economic system. Calling for the outright end of slavery was something that Paul didn’t seem to want to overtake.
- Jesus forever set aside the distinctions between slave and master.
- The Year of Jubilee was a gift from God to the Israelities that we don’t know if it was ever practiced. This year long celebration and the forgiveness of debt is a foreshadowing of Christ’s work on the cross.
All this talk about bailouts and blooming federal government deficits is enough to make you wish that you could click your heels and go back to a simpler, less chaotic time. What really bothers me is that I worry we are only delaying the real crash. Sure, the stock market could soon drop below 8000. But the bigger point is that we eventually have to live within our means and start to pay back what we owe the world.
I believe the government basically has a few options to pay back its dept.
1.) Increase taxes and fees. This is likely to happen, especially for anyone with money or those who have done the right thing by saving money over the past 20 years instead of live like a Saudi prince.
2.) Refuse to pay it back and ask, “Whose going to make us?”
3.) Take over another country and use their resources to pay off our debt. This isn’t likely to happen. This kind of exploitation stopped in the 1800s or did it?
4.) Crank up the printing presses and pay our debts back with a worthless dollar.
None of those options looks really appealing. We could always cut budgets and try to reduce our debt. But that would be responsible. And who likes to be responsible in the federal government? Republicans used to be for less spending. Not any more. Democrats have always liked to spend like a teenager with his/her first credit card. At least they want to pay for the spending by getting daddy (all the rich people) to pay for it. Of course, this has a negative effect. It causes people with money to buy less, live in other places and generally take money out of our economy.
I have a feeling we will choose a bit of option 1 and 4. That means we are likely to see more downward pressure on the dollar. This is basically a tax on wealth, which means those who have done the right thing will pay with their savings become almost worthless. It is enough to make us all want to march on Washington and demand someone to just, “Fix It.”