stick figures

Reversing the Little Known Causes of Prejudice/Spiritual Meditations

“If he’s fat, he’s a glutton.” “Anyone with that accent is uneducated.” “As a woman, she’s a push over.” Prejudice can target anyone different than us and includes stereotypes of women, men, the rich, the poor, the LGBTQ community, ethnicity, bikers, conservatives, liberals and anyone that comes to mind when asked “who do you consider lesser, avoid or fear?” 

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Why a tax collector? Because they were despised by the Jewish population, which was who Jesus was talking to.  Yet this man humbly recognized himself as a sinner and sought God’s mercy and Jesus declared him exalted and justified.

We don’t have to look far to find our “tax collectors” of today: people who are part of a group despised by someone, people who don’t get the credit they deserve.  We make assumptions about individuals without knowing their heart or mind or their situation.  Whereas Jesus may declare them justified before God.  How do we develop such strong feelings about people we don’t know?

The Development of Social Categories

All people have a need to make sense of the world and we do that from infancy and across our lifetimes by creating categories to help interpret our environment. We create constructs like “fruit” and “vegetable” to categorize types of food. We create constructs about gender, age and other attributes of people.

Most of our constructs are based upon our socialization and the concepts we learn from the people around us, as well as our exposure to books and media. No one is born prejudiced, but as we are exposed to others’ biases, inaccuracies, and stereotypes, we develop beliefs that are discriminatory. Let’s admit it – It is nearly impossible to grow up without some.

Confirmation of Our Biases

Once constructs have been formed, we have a natural tendency to selectively attend to information that agrees with or confirms our existing categorizations. So, biases such as Asian men are good at math and science, black men are good at basketball, or white men are entitled and insensitive to others are reinforced as we selectively attend to any information that reinforces our existing biases. We then have well-entrenched stereotypes that can guide our actions.

Implicit Bias

Once a stereotype is entrenched, it can become unconscious and automatic. We find ourselves just reacting without stopping to think. We may believe that we are truly not prejudiced or racist, while not consciously aware of our automatic thoughts and attitudes. There are generally two parts to this:

  • Conscious, deeply held thoughts and
  • Unconscious thoughts and beliefs that sometimes guide our behavior.

The Escalation of Prejudice

Initially, if a person feels insecure or lacking in identity, they may have a desire to affiliate themselves with a group in order to strengthen their sense of self and find a feeling of belonging.  Being part of something bigger than themselves and sharing a common cause with the other members of their group makes them feel more complete and significant.

There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself.  However, this group identity may lead to a second stage. In order to further strengthen their sense of significance, members of a group may develop hostile feelings toward other groups.  Here we begin to judge others whom we don’t even know.

The third aspect is when members of a group take the step of withdrawing empathy from members of other groups, limiting their concern and compassion to their fellows.  For example, as political tensions polarize us, we become unquestioningly zealous about our party affiliation and feel momentarily justified not empathizing with members of the opposing party – we dismiss them as other.

This is closely related to a fourth aspect, in which individuals belonging to other groups are no longer perceived in terms of their individual personalities or behavior, but in terms of generalized prejudices and assumptions about the group as a whole. 

And finally — moving into the most dangerous and destructive extreme of prejudice — people may project their own psychological flaws and their own personal failings onto another group, as a strategy of avoiding responsibility and blame. Other groups become scapegoats, and consequently can justifiably be attacked or murdered, in revenge for their alleged crimes. Individuals with strong narcissistic and paranoid personality traits are especially prone to this strategy, since they are unable to admit to any personal faults, and are especially likely to demonize others.

Changing Our Minds

Changing our individual unjust social concepts takes conscious effort and practice. Dr Sherry Benton has 3 suggestions on how to do this:

  1. We all have prejudicial beliefs and we need to begin by acknowledging them if we are going to grow.  If we tell ourselves, “I’m not prejudice,” we are likely burying and ignoring the truth.
  2. We need to actively seek out objective facts that do not support our beliefs. Easy enough to do with the internet.  Find those objective sources.
  3. We need to focus on making our stereotypical, deeply ingrained beliefs conscious and reflect on their impact on others. At this point we generally know the right thing to do and we can act without prejudice while recognizing that we do have prejudice.

The Good Samaritan parable is an excellent reminder of how we should act toward others. I you’re wondering who merits such compassion from us, you may find an answer in this article entitled “Who are Your Neighbors?

Conclusion

As social animals we require a healthy balance between a sense of individuality (our own and that of others) and a sense of belonging; prejudice is the loss of that healthy balance.

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Relevant Scripture

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)

Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Cor 4:5)

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (Act 10:34-35)

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. (James 2:1)

References

The Psychology of Racism; Racism is a sign of a lack of psychological maturity and integration.” by Steve Taylor Ph.D.

A Surprising Cause of Prejudice; The real problem might be how we relate to people like us”  by Ron B. Aviram, Ph.D.

“Understanding Prejudice, Stereotypes, and Racism; Why we develop social constructs—and how we identify and change them. by Sherry Benton Ph.D.

fingers crossed anchor tatoo sun in background

The Key to Hope in a Hopeless World / Spiritual Meditations

Being a curious person with a strong desire for clarity, I was that classmate that always had a question.  With maturity, I still have lots of questions. Here’s another.

The phrase “faith, hope and love” is such a theme of our social fabric that we see it on jewelry and home décor. From a spiritual perspective: I understand faith,  I understand love.  But hope?  What exactly are we hoping for?

We don’t have to look far to find disturbing and frightening events happening on this earth.  Corruption, violence, disaster and disease exist everywhere and always have. Yet we, as a species, appear to find enough in life to make it worth living.  What in the world, or in our psyches, keeps us going?  Modern day psychologists and ancient Biblical writers tell us it’s hope.

Where Hope Springs Forth

Hope is an emotion that springs from the heart, not the brain. It lays dormant until it’s amazing strength is beckoned, supplying the sheer belief that you will overcome, you will persevere, and you will endure anything and everything that comes your way.

Hope is also a perception. Unlike most perceptions, however, it has the possibility of creating reality. It’s a perception of something that does not yet exist. It is not a passive exercise in wishing or pretending but a perception of what is possible.

Research shows that when people have hope, their goals are more likely to become reality; they’re more likely to develop a plan and take steps to make it happen. Hope involves taking an objective look at the way things are but being daring enough to believe that a better future is possible.  Some might call it foolhardy but many goals that some believed were impossible turned out to be possible.

Nehemiah wanted to rebuild Jerusalem from rubble and did it with the help of Jews who returned from exile in Babylon. In addition to their hope for protection from enemies, success in overpowering them and a redeemer; the great hope of the Israelites was for a homeland as is repeatedly expressed in the Old Testament.  Rebuilding Jerusalem was another step toward their hope.

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:10-12) 

Are You a Hopeful Person?

The Israelites persisted for centuries, with fluctuation in success and borders, and again fulfilling their hope on May 14, 1948 when Israel became a nation.  This persistence is a supreme example of hope and is supported by research by psychologist C. R. Snyder, who found that hope is at the heart of our goal pursuits. Through interviewing large numbers of hopeful people, he discovered that most had three things in common: goals, strategies, and a belief in their capabilities. They were under no illusions that all (or even most) of their strategies would work, so they tended to try multiple pathways. They recognized that working toward their goals would be difficult yet believed that they might be capable of doing it if they kept trying. 

Benefits of Hope

Research indicates that hope can help us manage stress and anxiety and cope with adversity. It contributes to our well-being, happiness and resilience. Hope allow us to take a wider view and become more creative in our approach to problem solving. Hopeful people believe their efforts can have a positive impact.

Is there any better example of this than Paul when he was in prison? His letter to the Philippians begins with thanksgiving and joy, a remarkable response considering his lengthy imprisonment. His hopeful and eternal perspective were essential to Paul’s peace and joy.

Other positive emotions such as courage and confidence emerge from hope as was the case for two of the Egyptian exiles led by Moses.  Joshua and Caleb were two Israelite spies who brought back a good report and believed that God would help them obtain the land of milk and honey.

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”

Caleb said ”Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

As a result of their hope for a land of their own and faith in God’s promises, these two were the only men from their generation permitted to go into the Promised Land after their time of wandering

How to Attain Hope

Despite the Biblical and cultural emphasis on hope, we sometimes become overwhelmed with the pace of our life and the constant bad news we listen to.  Nonetheless, the situation is not hopeless.  Here are some tips on how to strengthen this virtue:

Faith is important. A belief that there is something bigger and more important than you, whether it’s God, a higher power, a child, a loved one, a mission or a cause, it is a reason to go on, and it has nothing to do with just you.

Gratitude is an easy virtue to practice.  Focus on what you have to be thankful for, not on what you don’t have or what you have lost or what you want. Remind yourself of this every day.  You will find that gratitude also goes a long way in building personal relationships as can be seen in this article.

Love is powerful. Think about the people in your life that you love and those that love you — family and friends. Make it a point to connect often with each one. This is best accomplished in person, but as we know that is not always possible. A phone call, text or a quick email will do.  This article tells us that there is more love in our lives than we may think.

Seek inspiration and awe. Research by psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD., shows that when we are so moved by something that we can hardly find the words to talk about it we are experiencing awe and that creates meaning, and positive feeling which contributes to a sense of hopefulness that can keep us moving forward. Awe reminds us of something bigger and vast. Causes us to slow down, think about what’s important to us, and connect in a deeper way.

Re-identify your goals. Maintaining a clear vision about what’s important and what we want to contribute and achieve also contributes to hope. When you are reminded of your big goals, the things that drive you to get up in the morning, you reconnect with your deeper values. Then, you’re more likely to persist because the process—the lifestyle that comes from living close to your values—helps you prevail despite obstacles. If you’re feeling hopeless, ask yourself what goals in your own life are worth persistent action.

Appreciate the setbacks and move through them. Hope is strengthened exponentially when you hit a setback and you persist despite it.  Next time you run up against one, pay attention to what it offers you—a growth opportunity, a chance to learn something you need to know to accomplish your goals—then move through that challenge.

Now that we understand what hope is and how to attain it, I want to get back to my initial question; What is being hoped for, when the Bible speaks of it?  You may notice, as I did, that although some Biblical objects of hope can be obtained through our actions (as described above), there are others that rely on faith alone; we merely trust in the Trinity and wait for the gifts bestowed on Christians.  See if you can identify the ones below that can be advanced through activity: physical, mental or spiritual.

The Bible contains 180 (NIV) verses about hope.  The object of hope is sometimes repetitive, so I am only selecting one of each.

Old Testament Statements about Hope

Note the emphasis on physical needs.

But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish. (Psalm 9:18) 

If we refer back to Psalm 10:17 we find that what the needy are hoping for is  You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, (Psalm 33:18)
We wait in hope for the Lord;  he is our help and our shield. (Psalm 33:20)
Remember your word to your servant,
    for you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this:
    Your promise preserves my life. (Psalm 119:49-50)

It is God’s word (the law) which gives guidance and instruction that preserves life for the Psalmist.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. (Psalm 130:7)
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” (Isaiah 49:23)

Isaiah refers to a land of Israel and its God being accepted by their overlords.

Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.  (Jeremiah 14:22)

New Testament Statements about Hope

The Jews were oppressed by Rome and unaware of when their dreams of a sovereign land or messiah would be fulfilled.  At this point, Jesus revealed more about the nature of God, his own role and further explained OT laws. By the time the New Testament writers sharpened their pens, Christianity had grown from a small sect around the Sea of Galilee to churches around the Mediterranean and beyond.

Note the greater variety in what is hoped for as the NT writers convey the Gospel and hope for the fulfillment of Christ’s words.  Although some verses may appear alike, there is a nuance of difference.

Therefore, my heart is glad, and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay. (Acts 2:26-27)
Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. (Acts 8:22)
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 23:6)
and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (Acts 24:15)
“For this reason, I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” (Acts 28:20) 

Here Paul is referring to Israel’s hope for the messiah

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Rom 5:1-2)

This next one is one of my favorites as it emphasizes our close relationship with God:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba,  Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Rom 8:14-17, 22-25)

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:6-7)
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, (Eph 1: 17-20)

Wow! That one is worth extra thought and meditation.  The ‘power’ referred to is the actual transformation of the whole person, accomplished as one is opened to receive the grace of God bestowed in Christ.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)
For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:7-9)
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, (Titus 1:1-3)
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. (1 Peter 1:13)

18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
    ‘You are a priest forever.’”

22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests, men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Heb 7:18-28)

A statement of Christ’s amazing role in our present and future lives.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

Conclusion

The object of Christian hope sometimes lacks clarity. But considering the verses in which the object of hope is clearly stated, along with my concordance’s explanations, I’ve found a better understanding of what NT writers were encouraging the churches to hope for, or indeed expect, as believers.

As psychologist Meg Van Deusen, author of Stressed in the U.S., wrote of hope, “When we have it we move and when we move we change things.” If you’re feeling hopeless, ask yourself what pathways you can walk right now—even with small steps—to help move toward greater faith, awe, love and goals you value.

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References

“The Power of Hope” by Dale Archer M.D

Why Hope Matters” by Polly Campbell

Is It Still Possible to Hope?” by David B. Feldman PH.D.

holding scrabble tiles spelling encourage

Encouragement-So Little Yet So Much /Spiritual Meditations

Julie Exline recounts her experience of learning to surf.  Not an easy task for anyone, Julie had the extra difficulty of having to work around some physical limitations.   She, however, had an exceptional teacher who provided, not only technical training, but patient encouragement.

Given my limited upper body strength and a decided lack of flexibility in my neck and back, I found it very hard to maintain the surfer position required for paddling. When my instructor saw this obvious problem, she quietly offered me a gift of grace: She gently but firmly hooked her foot on my board and began to tow me out into the waves. 

OK, I’ll admit that this was humbling for me. It was so painfully apparent that I needed the help. I couldn’t do it on my own. I came so close to being overtaken by a dark storm cloud of shame, which would have tainted the whole experience. But instead, I was presented with a lifeline for my emotions, a balm that soothed me and my bruised ego: It was my instructor’s positive attitude.

Although she would have been perfectly justified in grumbling, rolling her eyes, or at least giving me a heavy sigh, she did none of these things. Instead, she presented the situation as though towing me around was just exactly what she wanted to do. Although I don’t remember her specific words, this is the message that she conveyed to me: “This is great! I need some more practice doing this. And I’ll get a good workout.”

Because of the grace that my instructor offered me, I didn’t have to struggle through the waves alone. I was able to put my head down periodically and rest. I didn’t have to hold my body up in an uncomfortable position for too long, and I didn’t have to waste precious time and energy with laborious, inefficient paddling.

My instructor’s consistent encouragement and support steadied me throughout my surfing adventure. When I missed a wave or wiped out, she was gentle and patient in response. She didn’t berate me for my errors, nor did she show a trace of frustration with me or my screw-ups. She would simply watch for the next decent wave, give my board a little push, and then coach me through the steps to stand up.

All that I had in my glass were a few drops of accomplishment. But she chose to focus on the sweetness of those drops, not on how comically small they were or how much of the glass remained empty. And because of her emphasis on what I had achieved, I was able to join her in celebrating my successes, modest as they were.”  

Julie J. Exline Ph.D.

The Purpose of Encouragement

As you can see encouragement can turn an embarrassing situation into a cause to celebrate. An expression of affirmation through language or other symbolic representations can give strength to another person who feels limited, justifiably or not. Courage reduces fear, perseverance combats a desire to give up, confidence addresses low self-efficacy, inspiration resolves a lack of motivation or creativity, and hope decreases pessimism about the future;  all goals that the Apostles would have been striving for with their letters and visits to the first Christian churches who often struggled with the rejection of their former synagogues, friends and business associates.  This article speculates on where the first disciples traveled to spread the Good News.

Alfred Adler (1956), arguably the first psychologist to theorize on encouragement, considered encouragement a core feature of human development.  A broad definition commonly cited by Adlerian scholars says, “encouragement is the process of facilitating the development of a persons’ inner resources and courage toward positive movement”. (Think spiritual faith and Holy Spirit as two of those inner resources.)

Dreikurs (1971) considered the ability to encourage others as the single most important attribute in getting along with other people.

Grounded in humanistic psychology, the purpose of encouragement embraced by Adlerian scholars was to enhance the core features of a fully functioning person: a positive view of oneself,  a positive view of others,  being open to experiences, and a sense of belonging to others.  A measure for children was also developed that focused on three areas of encouragement: a positive view of the self, a sense of belonging, and the courage to be imperfect.  Are these not characteristics strongly supported by Jesus’ words and actions?  Once again Christianity and science coincide. See (Cosmos + Life + Science) = God for other areas of commonality.

Also, useful, our encouragement to others can include a suggestion to replace negative self-talk (inner dialogue) with a positive focus on accomplishments.  In their book Words Can Change Your Life, Newberg and Waldman tell us that positive self-talk improves attentiveness, autonomy, confidence, and work performance.  On the other hand,  negative self-talk can stimulate eating disorders, passivity, insomnia, agoraphobia, compulsive gambling, sexual dysfunction, low self-esteem and depression.  It can make you quite your job in a self-destructive way, and it can drive you to treating your family with disdain.

The importance of our inner thoughts is significant.

The Greater Impact of Your Words

The Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to encourage one another, particularly those who are disheartened (1 Thessalonians 5:11-15). Encouragement is more beneficial and necessary for some people than for others.

There is some preliminary evidence suggesting that encouragement might be relatively more important to the success and well-being of women, minority groups, and some non-Western cultures. Women, racial minority and impoverished individuals who routinely face discrimination might rely more on positive social messages from significant others to build their self-confidence.

individuals from non-Western collectivistic cultures such as in Eastern Asia, might define themselves more strongly in terms of their relationships with others and may, therefore, be more open to the influence of encouragement provided from significant others.

Praise vs. Encouragement

Although encouragement can be expressed through praise and persuasion, it is not the same. Praise refers to communicating positive evaluations of another person’s characteristics, performance, or products.  Although, like encouragement, praise involves the expression of affirmation, praise may not necessarily be intended to instill courage, perseverance, confidence, inspiration, or hope in another person.

For example, praise that is only offered as a form of congratulations would not be considered encouragement. Moreover, praise can be offered merely as feedback for something done in the past (e.g., “Good job on the presentation!”), whereas encouragement always has a present or future orientation. Even when a statement of encouragement refers to a past achievement, the ultimate goal of encouragement is to serve as a stimulus that either strengthens or develops positive motivation, cognitions, emotions, or behavior.

To make it easy to remember, think of praise as for past actions and encouragement as for future actions.

Conclusion

We are to follow the examples of Christ and the apostles to encourage others, especially in their faith.  It costs us nothing to speak a few words of support and what an amazing gift it is. 

As Dr. Julie Exline tells us, “When we ‘en-courage,’ it’s as though we actually infuse courage into another person. It can provide people with strength to look ahead, move forward, and reach for the next goal. The whole emotional tone of a tough situation can be transformed through encouragement. Somehow things seem a little brighter.”

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Relevant Scripture

So, when they were sent off, they came to Antioch. Having gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter.When they had read it, they rejoiced over the encouragement. (Acts 15:30-31)

In the day that I called, you answered me. You encouraged me with strength in my soul. (Psalm 138:3)

Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers with many words and strengthened them. (Acts 15:32)

When he had gone through those parts, and had encouraged them with many words, he came into Greece. (Acts 20:2)

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through perseverance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now the God of perseverance and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 15:4-6)

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord an  encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)  This is after Paul’s conversion

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak  be patient with everyone. (1 Thes 5:14)

References

Words can Change Your Brain by Andrew Newberg MD & Mark Robert Waldman – available for Kindle

“The Psychology of Encouragement: Theory, Research, and Applications”  by Y. Joel Wong1

“The Quiet Power of Encouragement” by Julie J. Exline Ph.D.

girl whispering into ear of another girl who has covered he mouth

Gossip Turned Upside Down / Spiritual Meditations

Avoiding gossip is one of those parental teachings that has stuck with me.  My father would say “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” (sound familiar?). Prompted by a friend, I decided to see what the Bible says about this. 

Shocker #1

I found that there are surprisingly few occurrences of the word “gossip” in the Bible, but they all indicate a bad characteristic.  A search of the NIV resulted in only 8 instances!  Checking out a few other versions, I found the WEB has only 4 instances!

So now I’m wondering: Why this lifelong emphasis on the evils of gossip? and How did the WEB translation of the Hebrew/Greek result in only half the references?

A big clue to the difference:

29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; (Rom 1:29-30 NIV)
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil habits, secret slanderers30 backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, (Rom 1:29-30 WEB)

Now I understand the emphasis on the dark side of gossip.  But if it can be translated as “slander”, a very serious accusation, gossip seems kind of minor.

Shocker #2

The academic definition of gossip is simply that

“you’re talking about someone who isn’t present”.

 What?!  I do this all the time!  I thought gossip was supposed to be really bad!

Gossip Started with Our Ancient Ancestors

Social Psychologists tell us that when disparaging gossip, we overlook the fact that it’s an essential part of what makes the social world tick; the nasty side of gossip overshadows the more benign ways in which it functions.

In fact, gossip can actually be thought of not as a character flaw, but as a highly evolved social skill.

Evolutionary psychologists believe that our preoccupation with the lives of others is a byproduct of a prehistoric brain.  According to scientists, because our prehistoric ancestors lived in relatively small groups, they knew one another intimately. In order to ward off enemies and survive in their harsh natural environment, our ancestors needed to cooperate with in-group members. But they also recognized that these same in-group members were their main competitors for mates and limited resources.

Living under such conditions, they faced several adaptive social problems: Who’s reliable and trustworthy? Who’s a cheater? Who would make the best mate? How can friendships, alliances, and family obligations be balanced?  In this sort of environment, an intense interest in the private dealings of other people would have certainly been handy – and strongly favored by natural selection.

Recent Studies of Gossip

Only 15% of Gossip is Negative

New research published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science analyzed thousands of daily conversations to better understand the true nature of gossip. Contrary to conventional wisdom, gossip may not be as negative as we tend to think.

To arrive at their conclusion, researchers at the University of California Riverside analyzed daily conversations of 467 people over a multi-day period using an Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR, for short). EAR is a portable device that continuously samples sound from a wearer’s immediate environment. Participants were encouraged to wear the device all day during the test period. This allowed researchers to unobtrusively listen in on, and analyze, the contents of participants’ daily conversations.

Here’s what they found. First, the researchers reported that females gossiped significantly more than males (which is consistent with past research as well as general beliefs on gossip). They also found that extraverts and agreeable people tended to gossip more than others.

But it gets more interesting. The researchers separated gossip into three distinct categories:

  • positive/flattering gossip,
  • neutral gossip (i.e., observations about people that aren’t necessarily positive or negative),
  • and negative/malicious gossip.

Examining these three categories separately, they found that younger people tended to gossip more negatively than older people. They also found that people with higher incomes tended to gossip more neutrally than people with lower incomes.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is what the researchers didn’t find. For one, when it came to evaluative gossiping, (positive/flattering and negative/malicious gossip), they found no evidence of a gender difference. They write,

“Despite popular notions, the most reliable evidence for women gossiping more than men was for neutral, rather than evaluative, gossip.  The study revealed less consistent evidence for evaluative gossip and therefore did not support the notion that women evaluatively gossip more than men.” 

Women are no more “catty” than men.

They also dispelled another common misconception—that poorer, less educated people engage in gossip more than the affluent. If anything, the results suggest the opposite.

The researchers were also interested in understanding how people gossip. In other words, what are the common topics, times of day, and conversation characteristics that define gossip? To start, they report that just about everyone gossips. (Only 34 individuals out of the 467 did not gossip at all.) Specifically, they estimate that the average person spends 52 minutes per day gossiping.

However, they note that most gossip (75%, to be exact) is non-evaluative, or neutral, in nature. Fifteen percent of gossip is negative while the remaining 10% is positive or flattering. They also note that gossip tends to be about acquaintances more than celebrities, and typically involves an exchange of social information rather than thoughts about one’s physical appearance or achievements.

Gossip Creates Relationships

In studies reviewed by Ellwardt, Steglich & Wittech, harmless gossiping in the workplace was found to build group cohesiveness and boost morale among colleagues.

Gossip also helps to socialize newcomers into groups by making them privy to group norms and values. In other words, listening to the judgments that people make about the behavior of others helps the newbie figure out what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

What’s more, gossip also fosters trust and closeness among friends, and can provide moral guidelines for behavior. Those who can’t do it well often have difficulty maintaining relationships, and can find themselves on the outside looking in.

Among a group of friends or coworkers, the threat of becoming the target of gossip can be a positive force; it can deter “free-loaders” and cheaters who might be tempted to slack off or take advantage of others.

I Just Couldn’t Help Myself

 A 1993 observational study found that male participants spent 55% of conversation time and female participants spent 67% conversation time on “the discussion of socially relevant topics”.

They also found a physiological distinction to be drawn between active and passive participation in gossip. Matthew Feinberg, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Toronto’s and his colleagues explored this in a 2012 study.

When subjects heard about another person’s anti-social behavior or an injustice, their heart rates increased. When they were able to actively gossip about the person or the situation it soothed them and brought their heart rates down. The act of gossiping, Feinberg explains, “helps calm the body.”

So, it could be a struggle to stop gossiping, but if you wish to do so, Sarah DiGiulio has some suggestions.

Criteria for Useful Gossip

A good gossiper is someone who people trust with information and someone who uses that information in a responsible way. If you find out your friend has a crush on someone with a bad reputation for cheating, you let your friend know, not to hurt your friend, but as a warning. You may find out someone in your company is not a team player and you let other coworkers know so that they can try to avoid working with that colleague.

A bad gossiper, on the other hand, is someone who shares confidential information about others in order to get ahead, get an advantage for themselves or is just reckless. Negative gossip is frequently a means of making perpetrators feel better about themselves by putting another person down. People don’t tend to trust “bad” gossipers with private information. “If someone is speaking negatively about my friends to me, they are likely to be doing the same thing to me behind my back.”

Research has indeed shown that a lot of gossip has both positive effects and moral motivations, explains Robb Willer, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Polarization and Social Change Laboratory at Stanford University, who studies the social forces that bring us together and drive us against one another, including gossip.

Studies from his group have shown that the more generous and moral among us are most likely to pass along rumors about untrustworthy people, and they report doing so because they are concerned about helping others. They call this type of gossip “prosocial gossip” because it serves to warn others — which has the effect of lowering overall exploitation in groups, Willer says. “A lot of gossip is driven by concern for others and has positive, social effects.”

Here’s how to make sure you’re gossiping in a responsible, trustworthy way:

1. Think Twice Before You Do It

Whether you’re gossiping in a responsible way or not is all a matter of when you’re doing it and with whom you’re sharing the information.  Are you stabbing someone in the back by telling that story? Is that news going to stop something bad from happening?

2. Don’t Gossip for Personal Gain

If you’re doing it for your own personal gain, don’t; it’s probably not doing anyone any favors. “The form of gossip we’ve found beneficial is negative gossip about people who have behaved in an antisocial way,” Willer says.

3. Don’t Distort Information

Tell it like it is. Leave the exaggeration at the door, Willer says. “People often exaggerate what they pass on to make a better or more coherent story — or to justify why they are speaking about someone.”  That’s not a responsible way of sharing information. Gossip doesn’t do a lot of good if its informational content is unreliable.

Conclusion

Despite multiple studies that reveal an upside to gossip, negative opinions about gossip are resistant to change.

Whether it’s workplace chatter, the sharing of family news or group texts between friends, it’s inevitable that everyone who talks, talks about other people. And that’s OK if we first ask ourselves: Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful?

You may not be able to always answer “yes” to all 3 questions, but always do your best.  Some days are better than others.

To sum it up gossip is light talk about a person that may or may not be true but is often public knowledge, most often about family, friends and coworkers. Slander, on the other hand, are outright lies about a person’s actions or character and can seriously harm their reputation. It is good to remember that even though gossip is not illegal it can hurt a person’s feelings and reputation as well as damage relationships.

If you found this post to be interesting, inspiring, informative or helpful, please share it.

Relevant Scripture

… if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be my spokesman….(Jeremiah 15:19)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph 4:29)

References

The Truth About Gossip” by Mark Travers Ph.D.

Gossip Is a Social Skill, Not a Character Flaw” by Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

Good News about Gossip” by Megan Robbins Ph.D.

The Science Behind Why People Gossip—and When It Can be a Good Thing” by Sophia Gottfried 

Psychologist Say Gossiping is a Social Skill.  Here’s How to Know if You are Doing It Right” By Sarah DiGiulio 

statue of Jesus blessing

Uncover Blessings Concealed in Beatitudes / Spiritual Meditations

Every day we hear someone say “I’m blessed” referring to just about anything.  It’s usually the receipt of something: a goal achieved, support or endorsement, a gift or acquisition, money.   Although the words “I’m blessed” imply that the receiver credits God for the gift, which may be legitimate, the type of blessings spoken of by Jesus, the apostle John and the Psalmists are quite different.

What we consider a blessing is often still the same as it was when Jesus walked the earth.  At the time he taught the Beatitudes, the “blessed” ones were considered to be those who lived on a higher plane than everyone else.  Either:

  • They were gods.
  • They were humans who had gone to the world of the gods.
  • They were the wealthy, upper crust. They were those with many possessions. The blessed were those people and beings who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.

Matthew (reflecting Jesus’ thoughts) uses the word  “blessed” in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not the high and mighty who are blessed. It is not the people living in huge mansions or expensive penthouses who are blessed. Rather, Jesus turned it upside-down and pronounced God’s blessings on the lowly: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, and the mourning.

So, when you read the Beatitudes do you see yourself in one or more of those blessed groups?  This is the way I always looked at them; as separate groups. That is until I started doing some research.  Then I had a real eye-opener.

With the help of my friend Rev. Nathan Carlson. I’ll tell you what I found.

Setting the Scene

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  (Matt 5:1-2)

Matthew wrote his gospel many years after Jesus spoke on the mountainside. In his view, the ‘crowds’ included  the new groups of  Christians who would be reading his Gospel. His intention was for a closer look at this part of the teaching, targeted to disciples already living in a post Easter, post Ascension, post Pentecost times.  Therefore, although the ‘disciples’ who were mentioned may have included only Jesus’ current 4 disciples, it most likely referred to all those who were part of the crowd, or indeed, all readers of Matthew’s gospel, including you and me! 

Some have understood the beatitudes as teaching the true meaning of either Torah or prophetic pronouncements upon Israel. And the beatitudes borrow heavily from themes and phrases found in the Prophets and Psalms, which you can see by reading the Relevant Scriptures at the bottom of this article. Thus, Jesus could be viewed as explaining the meaning and fulfillment of texts well known to his Hebrew listeners who would have interpreted Jesus’ teaching as concerning the coming of the promised land of Israel. 

Therefore, note that there are multiple parallel thoughts running through the beatitudes: the Hebrews on the hillside were expecting the creation of the state of Israel, Christians (who existed at the time Matthew wrote his gospel) were expecting the Kingdom of Heaven on earth at Christ’s second coming, and  those who believe that the Kingdom of God is the individual’s inner relationship with God anticipates that relationship for each seeker of God.

The Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,

The purpose then of these beatitudes is not to prescribe actions necessary to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but to describe the type of characteristics expected to be seen in those who are in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven, here, refers specifically to God’s reign on earth.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

Whereas Luke (Luke 6:20-26) only mentioned the poor who are in a state of financial and physical need and excluded those who are wealthy, Matthew included the qualifier “in spirit”, opening the inclusion of everyone. Various meanings of the words “in spirit” have been suggested, however, Rev. Carlson believes the best use for them relates to those who are entirely dependent upon God’s grace, mercy, sovereignty, and care. There is supporting evidence throughout the Gospel of Matthew and it makes sense with what follows in these verses.  For the Jewish community, the poor are those missing a homeland – themselves.

Blessed are Those who Mourn for They will be Comforted

This should be understood as those who mourn the loss of the things of this world that reflect the will of God and the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. They will be comforted by the restoration of the kingdom, whether it be land, the second coning or our inner connection with God.

Blessed are the Meek for They will Inherit the Earth

If you equate “meek” with “milk-toast”, you are not alone.  But my friend and Hebrew/Greek/English translator, Dr Frank Leeds, gives us a much more accurate way to visualize what the Greek speaking folks of the time understood ‘meek’ to mean.

Greek is loaded with ‘picture’ words and English simply does not have the language to fill in the difference.  Meek is a horse term which the New Testament is full of.  Here is the picture:  A horse is by its very nature, scared to death of fire.  It sees fire and it bolts away to save its life.  When the Romans used horses for military purposes, they often used them at night and soldiers at night needed torches to see properly. Light a torch and the rider had a crazy horse to deal with.  However, by training a horse, a torch could be passed in front of its eyes and it wouldn’t move.  Taking its cue front the calm of its rider rather than the fire of the torch, the horse was declared to be “MEEK”.  What was going on around the horse, no matter how frightening, the horse took its perspective of life from its rider not from its environment.  When Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek” he is saying, “Blessed is the man who does not get all bent out of shape and scared to death about what is going on around him, but is strong enough to take his cue from his master.  It is a description of the person who does not ‘fly off the handle” but remains perfectly in control. It is about a person who has reached beyond his or her nature.  It is a person who takes their cue from God.

So, the meek reflect the character of Jesus as the suffering servant. Those who have been used and abused by tyrannical political systems and have the strength to not fight back. Those who exhibit the peaceful nature of the Kingdom. Those who confront power not with power but with God’s love and promise as their fortifying backbone.

Can you now accept being called ‘meek’? I can.

Promised to the meek is “the earth”. In the prophet’s words in Isaiah, the same concept is used to signify the earth being not the globe but the promised land of Israel.  This is the long-awaited hope of the people of Israel; that that for which they mourned the loss, will be restored to them. Or It will be given to those who reflect the nature of Jesus with the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness for They will be Filled

Like Luke, Matthew raised up those who are hungry, but also those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  The idea of hunger and thirst relating not just to the physical body, but also to the spiritual body, already existed in Psalms. What does it mean, however, to hunger and thirst for righteousness? This addition cuts several directions.

  • First, righteousness indicates a right relationship with God. This meaning absolutely applies to this verse.
  • The second meaning of the word in Greek means justice, specifically God’s justice. This then has something to do, potentially, with the judgment at the end of the time.
  • Considering the oppression of Israel’s people by the Romans, ‘justice’ also refers to the coming of God’s will to provide Israel with a homeland.

The fulfillment of these would be a right relationship with God and for the Kingdom of Heaven to be perfectly represented in the new ‘earth’ spoken of in the previous verses.

Blessed are the Merciful for They will be Shown Mercy

Mercy, the act of forgiveness even in the face of the unforgiveable (as Jesus demonstrated on the cross for his crucifiers and mockers) unveils the true nature of the Kingdom of God in the present kingdom.  This then is a mark of a right relationship with God which will be made apparent as those who are merciful have already received God’s mercy and at the final judgment will receive God’s mercy.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart for They will See God

This has often been mistreated as a matter of Christian thought and is worth exploring. Some recent and historical Christian teaching has suggested this to be a matter of moral or ethical purity: “I need to keep my mind pure; I need to keep my actions pure; I need to keep my mouth pure”. This value, while commendable, does not seem consistent with the original language. The original Greek used the term “katharoi” whose first meaning is “purified by fire”. One commentator suggests that a good translation would be “Whose heart is unalloyed”. The person whose heart is not a mixture of two things, but single minded, of single purpose, of single devotion; this is the one who Jesus speaks of here. Then we can see that those whose hearts are single-mindedly focused on God without including any other gods or devotion to anything else alongside God; those people will be the ones who see God.

Blessed are the Peacemakers for They will be Called Children of God

The focus here is on the Hebrew word “Shalom”. Shalom is not a passive peace but a peace forged out of the hard work of reconciliation between God and humanity and humanity and itself. Peacemaking in the sense of uniting individuals’ hearts with themselves, uniting conflicting people with one another, uniting people to God who have been estranged, and even uniting the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven with the current reality. These people are the peacemakers. The conclusion of this verse should be translated Sons of God. Sons of God is a phrase used early in scripture to denote the angels in heaven. Therefore, peacemakers on earth act as the angels in heaven bearing God’s message to all.

Blessed are Those who are Persecuted Because of Righteousness, for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This verse does not address all who are persecuted, but rather those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, which as we have seen is living a right relationship with God and their desire to see the justice of the Kingdom of God reflected in the world. This concludes the words spoken by Jesus on the hillside to the crowds. Notice that up to this point all the beatitudes begin with “blessed are those.” This will be important in a moment.

Bracketed by verse 3 and 10 in which the received blessing is the Kingdom of Heaven, Mathew may have, and likely did, include verse 4-9 as being the same blessing, while providing further augmentation of what characteristics would be found in those who reach the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are You when People Revile You and Persecute You and Utter all Kinds of Evil Against You Falsely on My Account.   Rejoice and be Glad, Because Great is Your Reward in Heaven

Jesus in this moment inserts Himself into the equation in the same place as righteousness in the verse before. He becomes, for Matthew and us, the righteous one. This verse is seen by some as a Matthew insertion because it points to the time after Jesus was on earth in the flesh. Verse eleven makes little sense in a context in which many are following Jesus and during which there is little present threat to Him or His followers.

It speaks directly to Matthew’s community of Christian Jewish followers ostracized by both the synagogues and Rome.  The reward for faithfully following Jesus through all of this, for standing up for Him and claiming Him is that “your reward is great in heaven.”

Conclusion

We can clearly see that the nine beatitudes were written as much for those who were in the Christian church of Matthew’s day as well as spoken to the first disciples and the crowds.

Even amid persecution and separation from the synagogues and other Jewish groups, Matthew saw Jesus as still calling this community to peacemaking and reconciliation. They, and those who followed after them, would be persecuted for maintaining a right relationship with God – especially as found through Jesus – and their reward was the Kingdom of Heaven. We can also see how the beatitudes today relate, not how the church OUGHT to live, but how the true people of God WOULD live. It is less prescription and more description of the nature of the lives of disciples.

They were poor, potentially, for being disinherited from sacred Jewish spaces, mournful for their loss, meek in taking their cue from God to avoid conflict with oppressors, hungering and thirsting for right relationships with God and for justice, merciful in that they still desired to extend the Gospel to those around them and were quick to forgive those who had wronged them (think Saul/Paul), pure in heart as they believed in and sought God above all things including family and possessions, persecuted by the Roman authorities and those around them, and persecuted from within their own Jewish community and ostracized from it. This, then, for Matthew and his Jesus marked the traits of the authentic community of the people of God and identified the promises for which their hearts longed.

If you found this article interesting, helpful, inspiring or informative please share it.

Relevant Scripture

The meaning of the word ‘beatitudes’ (μακαριότητα in Greek) is ‘the joys of heaven’ or ‘a declaration of blessedness’.  As you will see here, they are not limited to only those in Matthew 5.

Blessed are all who take refuge in Him. (Psalms 2:12)

Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalms 32: 2)

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside from false gods. (Psalms 40:4)

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. (Psalms 41:1)

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. (Psalms 84:4-5)

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right. (Psalms 106:3)

Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. (Psalms 128:1)

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:16)

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Rev 14:13)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:9)

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev 20:6)

viewed from behind 6 people with arms across each others shoulders.

The Pandemic Interrupts My Hug-fest!! /Spiritual Meditations

If pre-pandemic you attended church most Sundays, you have probably been missing the hugs as much as I have.  This week I happened upon this writing by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which speaks so poignantly to our current pandemic restrictions that I felt it was handed to me by God for our benefit and gratitude.  Giving this to you is not meant to express any opinion on when churches should open or how to provide for the safety of their congregations.  I share this as a reminder of one of God’s gifts that many of us take for granted and our responsibility to extend this gift to others wherever needed, now and post-pandemic.

Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1 ). In the following we shall consider a number of directions and precepts that the Scriptures provide us for our life together under the Word.

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end, all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evil doers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work.

“The kingdom is to be in the midst of our enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?” (Martin Luther)

So between the death of Christ and the last day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God‘s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the gospel in foreign lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude… To the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday “ (Psalm 42:4).

But they remain alone in far countries, a scattered seed according to God’s will. Yet what is denied them is an actual experience they seized upon more fervently in faith. Thus, the exiled disciple of the Lord, John the Apocalyptist celebrates in the loneliness of Patmos the heavenly worship with his congregations “in the Spirit on the Lords day “ (Rev 1:10). He sees the seven candle sticks, his congregation, the seven stars, the angels of the congregation, and in the midst and above it all, the son of man, Jesus Christ, and all the splendor of the resurrection. He strengthens and fortified him by his word. This is the heavenly fellowship, shared by the exile on the day of his Lord’s resurrection.

The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. Longingly, the imprisoned apostle Paul called his “dearly beloved son of the faith,” Timothy, to come to him in prison in the last days of his life; he would see him again and have him near. Paul has not forgotten the tears Timothy shed when last they parted (2 Timothy 1:4). Remembering the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul prays “night and day….exceedingly that we might see your face“ (1 Thes 3:10). The aged John knows that his joy will not be full until he can come to his own people and speak face-to-face instead of writing with ink (2 John 12).

The believer feels no shame, as though he or she were still living too much in the flash, when he or she yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. The human being was created a body, the son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of Gods spiritual–physical creation.

The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother and sister. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian and exile, sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of a gracious presence of the triune God. Visitor and visited in loneliness recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body; they receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord in reverence, humility, and joy. They receive each other’s benedictions as the benediction of the Lord Jesus Christ. But there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother, how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God‘s will are privileged to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians!

It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden underfoot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let them who until now have had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God‘s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and declare it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brothers and sisters.

The measure with which God bestows the gift of visible community is varied. The Christian in exile is comforted by a brief visit of a Christian brother or sister, a prayer, together and a brothers or sisters blessing; indeed, he or she is strengthened by a letter written by the hand of a Christian. The greetings in the letters written with Paul’s own hand were doubtless tokens of such community. Others are given the gift of common worship on Sundays. Still others have the privilege of living a Christian life in the fellowship of their families. Seminarians before their ordination receive the gift of common life with their brothers and sisters for a definite period. Among earnest Christians in the church today there is a growing desire to meet together with other Christians in the rest periods of their work for common life under the Word. Communal life is again being recognized by Christians today as the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the “roses and lilies”, of the Christian life.

If you found this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful please share it.

Relevant Scripture

These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng. (Psalms 42:4)

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, (Rev 1;10)

Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. (2 Timothy 1:4)

Reference:

A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer   edited by Kelly & Nelson

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German:  4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic.

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

After being accused of being associated with the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then hanged on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

person comtemplatin cross with bay and city in background

Are You Listening for God’s Messages?/Spiritual Meditations

Because you are a follower of Spiritual Meditations, I believe your faith is, at least, partially based on your own experience with the Holy Spirit.  As such, the following content is especially being sent to you to enhance that experience.  The process of becoming Spiritually Conscious may be new to you or you may practice it regularly. You may be on the first steps of your spiritual path or you may be fully aware of God’s daily presence in your life.  If the following content seems foreign to you, I encourage you to ask God to help you absorb and utilize it to form a greater connection with Him. 

Before getting to the heart of Consciousness, I want to avoid any confusion. 

Conscience is an inner feeling viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior. It includes a sensitive regard for fairness or justice. Although a desirable trait resulting from care and nurturing, that conforms to spiritual consciousness, this is not what will be discussed here.

The medical community will define consciousness as being fully alert, aware, oriented, and responsive to the environment.  It is the worldly perspective but by substituting the word “God” for the words “the environment” we have a good working definition of Spiritual Consciousness.

Those who try to understand the inner life intellectually will meet with failure. The life for which they are looking will vanish in the analysis. S. S. Singh

Spiritual Consciousness Provides Fulfillment

The secret of harmonious living is in the development of spiritual consciousness. Fear and anxiety disappear, and life becomes meaningful with fulfillment as its keynote. The degree of spiritual consciousness which we attain can be measured by the extent to which we relinquish our dependence on the external world of form and place our faith and confidence in something greater than ourselves, in the Infinite Invisible, which can surmount any and every obstacle. It is an awareness of the presence and the grace of God.

Our work may require greater strength, greater knowledge, greater ability then we seem to possess, or there may be greater demands on our finances then we can meet. The human belief may be that there is a physical, mental, or moral demand made upon us that is too great. Instead of accepting this apparent lack, let us remember, “He performs the thing that is appointed for me…. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me,“ or some other scriptural passage. The very moment we turn to God’s spirit, recognizing that He performs that which is given us to do, a weight drops off our shoulders, and the sense of personal responsibility lifts. Suddenly, we are given the necessary ability, which we discover is not our ability at all; it is His ability being expressed through us. Out of our weakness comes strength, but not our strength; it is His strength, and we perform the work through His strength.

We are Not of This World

There is a specific practice which will aid in the attainment of this spiritual consciousness. It is a practice which can be carried out throughout the day as the world crowds in upon us. To every insistent desire proposed by the world, let our answer be “No, no. This is not what I need or want. Thy grace is sufficient, nothing else, only Thy grace“. Let us learn to hold to this resolutely.

Gradually, as over and over the temptation comes to say, “I need; I want; I haven’t enough; I am insufficient “; we remember that our sufficiency is in the Infinite Invisible. This practice deepens spiritual consciousness. Brother Lawrence called it practicing the presence of God. The Hebrews called is keeping the mind stayed on God and acknowledging God and all ways. Jesus called it abiding in the Word. It is a practice that ultimately leads to a complete reliance on the Infinite Invisible, which in its turn brings the visible into our awareness as we need it.

As consciousness becomes more spiritual, confidence in the Infinite Invisible increases, and our love, hate, or fear of the external world diminishes. We see the Infinite Invisible as the law, cause, and activity of all that is and drop our concern for the form, whether it be personal, thing, or condition.

Material living puts its faith in forms of good. Spiritual living makes use of that which is in the world; it enjoys the form, but its reliance is on that which is the substance of the form, that which has created the form, the Invisible God.

The Kingdom of God is Within Us

All spiritual revelation has shown that the substance of this universe is in us. Every issue of life is determined, not by external conditions and things, but by our consciousness. For example, the body, in and of itself, has no power, no intelligence, and is not responsible for its actions. A hand, left to itself, would remain right where it is, forever and ever. There must be something to move it, and that something is called “I”. That “I “determines how this hand will be used; the hand cannot determine that in and of itself. The hand exists as an effect or as a form, and it responds to direction. As a vehicle or tool, it is obedient to us, and we impart to it whatever usefulness it has. This idea can be applied to other parts of the body.

Once we understand this principle, we will have grasped the entire principle of life. Literally, the “I” is the Kingdom of God within us; the law of life – the substance, the activity, the intelligent direction of life – is within us. If we can prove this to ourselves in one single way, that the life, activity, substance, and harmony of our being is determined by the law of God within us, we shall have no difficulty in proving this in every phase of our life, in the health of our body, and in all the relationships. The audio lecture entitled the Inner Kingdom will provide further explanation.  

The whole secret lies in the word “consciousness.“ And intellectual knowledge of the fact that ‘God is all’ is of no value. The only value any truth has is in the degree of its realization. Truth realized is spiritual consciousness. If we are conscious of the presence of the Lord (some will recognize this as the Holy Spirit) we are conscious of the activity of God

God is Omnipresent

In most religious teachings, we are told that the Spirit of God is everywhere just as electricity is everywhere. That is true. Electricity, however, is of no value to us, unless it is connected in some way for our particular use. So it is with the Spirit of God. It is everywhere, in an absolute, spiritual sense. But it is only effective in our experience to the extent we connect to It.

God is; there is a God – never doubt that. God is infinite in nature; eternal, universal, impartial and omnipresent. But how do we avail ourselves of that which God is? How do we bring this that we know about God into our individual experience? To illustrate, we can turn to the field of music. The principle of music is absolute. If, however, we fail to understand its principal and the sounds produced turn into a jumble of discordant noises, we do not fault the principle. We apply ourselves more diligently to practicing the principal until we become proficient in its applications. So it is in our God experience. God is, and God is here, and God is now, but God is available only in proportion to our realization and willingness to accept the discipline that is necessary for the attainment of that mind which was also in Christ Jesus.

There is a spirit in everyone. There actually is a spirit – the Spirit of God. No one is devoid of it, but most of us are unaware of it. God is with us. His presence fills our space; the Spirit of God dwells in us. But how many people have felt that presence? It is talked about, prayed about, theorized about, and sermonized about; but it is not experienced. It is the conscious awareness, the actual feeling or realization of the presence which is necessary.

How to Attain Spiritual Consciousness

Scriptural Immersion and Truth

Spiritual consciousness is attained through the activity of truth in consciousness. Dwelling on scriptural quotations or statements of truth helps to spiritualize thought. The more truth that we read and hear, the more active is truth in our consciousness. Thus, we learn to abide in the Word. This is the first step on the way.  It is important to learn all that we can about the correct letter of truth, to understand every principle, and then to practice these principles until we go from an intellectual knowledge to an inner awareness of them.

Take scriptural passages which embody spiritual principles and live with them. Take them apart, one by one, considering every implication and meaning, talk to God about them. Carry one of them with you day in and day out for a week or a month. Then take another and live with it, using it as a yardstick with which to measure every experience. Hold them up as a banner in the presence of any and every problem, until these principles become automatic.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • God is the only power
  • Love your neighbor as yourself
  • To him who has, more is given.
  • I can do all things through Christ
  • Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart
  • I and my Father are one.  He is always with me
  • My peace I give to you

If we solve enough problems and seek to understand the truth behind issues and situations, day in and day out for one, two, three, or more years, we shall have all the answers available for instant use. Years and years of contemplating God and the things of God, meditating/praying and communing with God, will have eliminated our worries about the things of this world. When a question arises, the right answer is immediately revealed.

Listening to the Holy Spirit

The second, and more important step, is to be able to receive truth from within, to be receptive and responsive to the truth that comes to us. At that point we do not think, read, or hear truth with the mind. We are becoming aware of the importation of the word of God from within because the inner ear and the inner eye have been developed through our knowing the letter of truth, dwelling on it and clearing our mind through meditation. Do not expect to hear from God whenever you meditate. For me, this practice enhances my ability to hear God when He has something to say.

How do we know when the Spirit of God dwells in us? If we are letting go of hate, envy, jealousy, malice, self-seeking, self-glorification, prejudice, and bigotry, we are making room for the Spirit of God, for God cannot dwell amid such qualities. As long as these qualities are present in our consciousness we have more work to do abiding in the truth and letting the truth abide in us, until such time as the Christ has come so alive that’s such mortal thoughts no longer touch us. Then the Spirit of God dwells in us, “which is Christ in you, The hope of glory… Behold I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him, and will stop with him and he with me. “

The listening attitude, the expected attitude, developed through meditation, creates a kind of vacuum into which God rushes with the things we need, whether it be wisdom, power, grace, or with whatever may be necessary.  For further info about meditation, you will find the audio entitled The Art of Meditation very useful.

Living with Spiritual Consciousness

The student of spiritual wisdom cannot go through his day, satisfied that he has read some truth in the morning, or that he is going to hear some truth in the afternoon or evening. There must be a conscious activity of truth going on all the time or a pause at frequent intervals for the practice of the presence (clearing our mind and listening for God). That does not mean that we neglect our human duties and activities; it means that we train ourselves to have some area in consciousness always active in truth. Whether we look out at forms of nature such as trees, flowers, or oceans, or we are meeting people, we find some measure of God in each experience. We train ourselves to behold the presence and activity of God in everything around us and remember that “My grace is sufficient”, that the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, and that His spirit of peace and joy is discernible to me and to all those who come within range of my consciousness.

The goal of God-awareness is very close to us, but nonetheless, as close as it seems, it is far away, because with every horizon reached, another beckons beyond. As we go forward in our quest or search, we can measure our progress in this way: We see the horizon before us and we have the feeling, “oh, I have just a short distance to go”. Sometimes, it takes only a few weeks or months to reach that horizon, then the whole world of spirit is opened before us. We believe we really have entered the kingdom of heaven, and we have – for a few days. Suddenly we become accustomed to this light and we are aware of another horizon that urges us forward, another advance that must be traveled step by step, and again, we press forward to even greater spiritual consciousness.

Conclusion

It is important that we let no hour of the day go by without some conscious reminder within us that the goal of life is to attain that mind which was also in Christ Jesus. The goal of the spiritual life is to attain God consciousness – to live and move and have our being in the eternal awareness of God‘s presence.

It is possible for anyone to change the trend of their life, not by hearing or reading truth, but by making it an active part of their consciousness and daily experience, until it becomes a habit every moment of the day, instead of an occasional thought. Make these principles operate in consciousness morning, noon, and night, until gradually the actual awareness comes. Then we make the transition from being hearers of the word to being doers of the word. Then we shall be abiding in the word and shall bear fruit richly.

A friend once asked me why some people experience God’s presence and others do not.  Only God can answer this definitively, but I can affirm that the practice described above created a stronger God-connection for me. Anyone with enough desire for a realization of God can achieve that realization – the grace of God will guarantee it.

If you found this article useful, informative, inspiring or interesting, please share it.

Relevant Scripture:

Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer regarding his disciples and all believers, was prayed as he was about to leave this world and was already mentally moving into the next.

11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are….

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20 I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”  (John 17:11-26)

Reference:

Practicing the Presence: The Inspirational Guide to Regaining Meaning and a Sense of Purpose in Your Life by Joel S Goldsmith

fisherman waist high in water throwing fishing net and facing into sun.

Why was Israels Catch & Release Like Habakkuk’s Fish?/Spiritual Meditations

Most of the time when I read the Old Testament, I am understanding only what is in front of me at the moment.  My friend Dr. Frank Leeds III has a much broader perspective and lays out for us how it all fits together historically.  In this post he tells us the fascinating hows and whys of the Babylonian catch and release of the Israelites, as well as some amusing results and long-term repercussions. He writes:

Bibles are so plentiful in these days of digital printing that it is easy to forget that they are a very ancient collection of manuscripts. In the very earliest of them Moses required and instructed the people to “keep the commands”. To the casual reader the word ‘keep’ is generally assumed to be ‘obey’. It is much more than that. The admonishment is “to guard them with your life”, to always have them, because your life and your children’s life depends on them. Paraphrasing Moses, “If you do not teach your children the Torah, they will think you’re crazy, because no one has ever experienced what you have and you must teach your children what you have seen and heard and experienced as the Lord leads us out of Egypt.”

Coming out of Egypt was not the only “EXIT” that was provided to the children of Israel. The following is another story of an exodus. We are told, “I have set before you two paths. One leads to life and the other to destruction”. Choose wisely. You too dear reader will have times in your life where you will need an EXIT because you are on the wrong road. May the Holy One of Israel provide it to you as you call upon his authority over life.

Habakkuk’s Lament

The prophet Habakkuk asked the following from the Holy One of Israel.

Are we only fish, to be caught and killed? Are we only sea creatures that have no leader? Must we be strung up on their hooks and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate? Then they will worship their nets and burn incense from them. “These nets are the gods who have made us rich!” they will claim. Will you let them get away with this forever? Will they succeed forever in their heartless conquers?

The context of this prophet’s questioning comes after being informed that Israel and her terrible Kings [although they did have some good ones] were going to be overrun and conquered by a nation that was far less righteous than they were. He spoke of Jewish kings who taxed the people heavily so they could build big palaces for themselves. They dishonestly gained wealth and ignored the poor. They trusted in their ill-gotten wealth as their security blanket. So, the nation must learn afresh what life is all about and what is important. Thus, I wish to tell you another story about life.

King Solomon’s Folly

Life is a process, but all stories must begin somewhere. For this one, I have chosen to begin with King Solomon. In the minds of many, he is known as the wisest of kings. At the start his kingship his prayer and heart’s desire was to be wise and his early reputation was that of a wise king. His wisdom was displayed in his decision about which mother was the real mother of a child when he threatened to have the baby cut in half to resolve the conflict. (1 Kings 3:16-28)

I suppose we all have our wise moments whereby we shine in the sun. In looking over his entire life, however, he was not just a fool, but a fool of gigantic proportions. His self-centeredness not only corrupted his person but laid the foundation for the destruction of the nation of Israel. Why do I say that?

It was Moses who laid out the criteria for the people to know when they had a good king. Here is what he said:

When you have a king, the king must not acquire a great number of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you. “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law…he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not to consider himself better than his brothers … (Deuteronomy 17:14-17)

Compare the above standard with Solomon’s reign. To his credit he did build an extremely gorgeous temple in Jerusalem. When built, it stood as the pride of the nation and a beacon for the surrounding nations, or did it?

Contrast for a moment the building of the tabernacle under Moses’ leadership and that of the temple under Solomon.

For the tabernacle, everyone contributed a tiny portion. They all put their two cents in, so to speak, so the tabernacle had everyone’s participation. Following, people contributed to the cost as they felt led to do so. Some gave a little more. Many gave significant amounts. When it was completed, it was all paid for and they had excess money. Every penny was accounted for and the people were told, “no more is needed.”

With Solomon, he built the temple in a similar fashion to Pharaoh’s methods. He used slaves and he even made slaves of his own people to get the project completed. He got it built and that would be considered a great success, if that were the only reason to have it built in the first place. But he enriched himself with the collection of huge amounts of gold. He then added collections of silver. How about wives? He collected those as plentiful as gold coins. And then there is the prized collection of horses, which he got from Egypt.  He built magnificent stables that were better than the homes of the poor.  Solomon’s leadership was all about Solomon and the use of his kingship to line his own pockets. It is a very familiar story throughout history. By the end of his reign, the temple no longer stood for the righteousness of their loving God, but it became a symbol of corruption. By contrast, his father – King David – never rode a horse. He rode the peoples’ transportation – a donkey.

Now, I happen to live on the water and have been able to have a small boat most of my life. The rule of the water way is: “A person is responsible for the wake that he leaves behind.” Solomon left a mess. So much so, that when he died, the people revolted because of his poor leadership and the nation split into two parts: A Northern and Southern Kingdom and no longer a united Israel.

A variety of kings follow for each kingdom but when history came to King Josiah, it found him very different from Solomon. By the time we reach the Prophet Jeremiah, the son of Josiah, is the target of the prophet’s wrath [cir 640 BC] as he describes the greed and warnings to another bad king.

Woe to him who built his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing not paying them for their labor. He says, “I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms”. So, he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. Does it make you a good king to have more and more cedar?  Now, take a look at your father, did he not have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 22).

The prophet then makes it clear, this self-centered kingship that centers on lining one’s own pockets is a disgrace that leads to destruction. He then tells the nations they will be destroyed. They have made alliances with Babylon to fight against Assyria and they did likewise with Assyria to fight against Babylon. Now, the whole world knows their word is no good and the temple is a symbol of shame.

A side note about the promise of ‘destruction’. This is not, ‘you did bad therefore I will punish you’. Rather it is, ‘you did bad and your bad behavior will take you down the path of destruction’. That is true for all of us. When we make poor decisions, we are left with poor options…unless we change our ways.

Anyhow, the prophet declares, the temple is now a symbol of evil and must be destroyed.

Now to the Catch part of “Catch and Release”

The Babylonians head east and conquer Israel just as the prophet proclaimed. They begin by destroying the temple. They remove its precious jewels, gold, and silver. They then take it apart piece by piece. Anything of value is removed. Items that are too large to carry back to Babylon are cut in half for ease of transport.  In time, the temple is no more and much of Jerusalem is destroyed.

As the temple is being destroyed, all the leaders, the politicians, the ‘movers and shakers’ are taken to Babylon. After that, they remove all the artists and musicians. When these people get to Babylon, they lament as in the 137th Psalm.

By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, and tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “Tear it down to its foundation!” O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

So, the leaders are gone and so are the artists and musicians. Next to be deported are all the people with skills [the butchers the bakers and the candlestick makers – stone masons, etc.] Eventually, young men of ‘army age’. What remains in Judah are women and children and grandparents.

After this, the Babylonians look at the Northern Kingdom, particularly Samaria, and here they do things differently. They remove all the men of marrying age and replace them with Babylonian men. This way, they have support in the north, and these men marry the Samaritan women.

What follows in Israel is a management plan. Very large areas simply had to be broken into small areas for management purposes.

When the Hebrews arrive in Babylon, they are not made slaves. Rather, they are given ‘good land’, just as they had been in the Egyptian exile. The purpose of King Nebuchadnezzar was not to enslave them but rather to keep an eye on them relative to the balance of power in the area. As a result, they prospered. They had good land and they were exposed to new trade routes.

In their old land of Israel, people often joke that the Lord led them to the only area without ‘oil’, which is correct. However, the main trade routes between the region north and south of the Mediterranean Sea went through their turf. In fact, the mountain pass that everyone had to go through was Megiddo, from which we get our term Armageddon. Whoever controlled that pass controlled that part of the world, so they were very knowledgeable of trade in this area  Now, in Babylon, they were on a different trade route and, with their earlier experience, their knowledge was doubled and allowed them to  prosper.

Seventy years go by. A new force in the area is a man called Cyrus. For me, he is the Sam Walton of the area. Walton is the gentleman from Arkansas that developed WALMART CORPORATION. I mention him because no one saw him coming. The big stores in the USA were J.C. Penney, Kmart, and Sears. Before these big box stores knew that Sam Walton existed, he was gobbling up their market shares. In brief, he was eating them for lunch, and he passed them before they even knew he was approaching. Likewise for Cyrus. He learned early that it was easier to manage people that were happy than people who were your enemies. He conquered many of the smaller areas and before anyone knew what happened, he conquered Babylon.

Now we switch to the ‘Release’ part of our story.

The man, Nehemiah, goes to the King and requests permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. From what I can understand, Nehemiah was an extremely wealthy and generous man. The King gives him permission to do so which seems consistent with Cyrus’ style.

Nehemiah goes and as you can guess, the logistics are overwhelming. The area has been destroyed and there wasn’t even any place for builders to live. So, houses needed to be constructed as well as much else..

During this process, Cyrus declares “The Lord God of the Most High has come to me and told me to let these people go.” He then declares to the Hebrews in captivity, that they are free to go. “Go where?” they ask. “Anywhere within my realm” the King declares. That is half of the known world. “Do we have to?” they ask. “No” they are told. “You may go or stay. Whatever you prefer”.  Remember, this is 70 years later so these people have never been to Jerusalem. Babylon has always been their home.

Let me ask you the reader. Did you ever make a significant locations change? If so, It was probably because of your job. People move to a location where they can support their family. It was a job that brought me from New Jersey to Florida. The Israelites in Babylonia did not suddenly pick up and move one day; they gave it some thought. For all of those involved in ‘trade’, they chose to go where they had business contacts. Some of these followed their grandparents contacts when they were in Jerusalem. Others added contacts from trade during their time in Babylon. As a result, they eventually moved all around the Mediterranean Sea. Some chose to stay in Babylon. Some went toward India.

Some went to Jerusalem. This is where it gets really interesting, at least to me. A group of people moved from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. While there, the Samaritans came and offered to assist. It sounds like a good move to me, but it immediately presented a problem.  Nehemiah and Ezra, who organized the reconstruction, had an underlying motive. They understood that the temple was destroyed because Israel’s corrupt kings failed to live up to the standard of the Lord God and the failure of the people to abide. As a result, they made a commitment to rebuild the temple and to stick as close as they could to the Torah. [Nehemiah 8 & 9]

This included, but was not limited to:

  • To separate themselves from all foreigners.
  • To stand and confess their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
  • To set their seal to a confirmatory document to which they bound themselves under oath to keep the divine law.
  • To refuse intermarriage with Gentiles.
  • To abstain from trade on the sabbath.
  • To leave the lands untilled.
  • To release all their Jewish debtors every seventh year.
  • To pay a third of a shekel of silver each year for the maintenance of the temple service and to contribute tithes, first fruits, and various freewill offerings for the same purpose.

Additionally, they had other manuscripts that gave the history of their past kings and the prophets. In their intent to be as pure as possible as a people, they added these ancient manuscripts to the Torah. These combined manuscripts then became the basic ‘constitution’ of their rebuilding of Jerusalem. This is the Hebrew Scriptures, as I refer to them, or what is commonly referred to today as The Old Testament.

Now, back to the Samaritans. These people no longer spoke Hebrew. In fact, the intermarriage was so significant [remember that the men had been moved to Babylon and the Babylonian men were moved to Samaria] that there were questions as to whether they were really Hebrews anymore. For the sake of ‘purity’ the Samaritans were told “Thanks but no thanks on your offer to help us rebuild the temple.”

Did the Samaritans find this offensive? They were outraged!!! As expected, outraged people often try to get even. They went to their Satrap [manager of the area] and he wrote a letter to the new King of Babylon. (King Cyrus had died by this time and the new King was Darius.) In essence, they said to Darius, “if you go back and check your records, you will discover that there was a reason that King Nebuchadnezzar took this people from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was because they could not be trusted and their ‘word’ was no good. If you let them come back to Jerusalem, you will live to regret it. You will have a new enemy on your hands.”

As a result, Darius had all the records checked to see ‘why’ and ‘what’ King Cyrus had proclaimed. When the records were found, they revealed the following orders from King Cyrus.

1. The Hebrew people were free to remain in Babylon, or go to Jerusalem, or go anywhere they so choose.

2. All the gold, the silver, the precious jewels that were in the temple were in storage, and everything in the warehouses that came from Jerusalem was too be returned.

3. In addition to returning everything that was taken from Jerusalem, the treasury of Babylon was to make a very handsome donation to help rebuild the temple.

As you can guess, the people of Samaria were furious that their plan had backfired. The people of Jerusalem were ecstatic. Given this very strange turn of events, one can understand why there were hard feelings and resentment still flowing many years later at the time of Jesus and the reason that the Samarians rejected the idea that God could only be worshipped at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. One can also understand why today in Israel, there is a main boulevard named after King Cyrus.

The Hebrew people moving not only to Jerusalem, but all around the Mediterranean Sea, and westward toward India.  Although the temple was  rebuilt, it was no longer the center of their physical life. For their spiritual life, study of the Torah and community, they formed synagogues. With their common Torah studies, their continued observance of the Passover meal established by Moses and taught their history to their children. The Jews continued to be Jews and to be bound to each other via the synagogue.

Conclusion

The Israelites were caught as prophesied but released in a fashion that defied human understanding. No one saw it coming. In all our lives, there are times when we get caught, trapped, left without options that we can see. Just like the EXIT provided by God in the EXODUS, these ‘caught’ people were released and set free when they least expected it. When you, the reader, find yourself trapped, trust the Lord that the ‘Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’.

Dr. Leeds posted another fascinating article that tells us what transpired between the Old Testament and the New Testament that set the stage for Christ’s arrival. You will be amazed and delighted by God’s timing.

If you found this article interesting, useful, inspiring or informative, please share it.

Unleash Your Good Samaritan Impulses /Spiritual Meditations

The parable of the Good Samaritan (who pays it forward in a big way) not only compares the actions of the self-righteous and the righteous but speaks of human motivations to help or not help. Although we vilify the priest and the Levite, we find ourselves exhibiting the same avoidance behavior (sin of omission) on a regular basis.  How can we recognize and overcome our tendencies to ignore opportunities to show compassion?

Why do People Help?

Evolutionary Model

The evolutionary model maintains that people are naturally inclined to help one another because it contributes to the survival of the species. This is especially true in situations that are considered low or moderate risk, such as helping someone pick up something they have dropped.  

In higher risk situations, however, a phenomenon called kin selection occurs. Kin selection indicates that people are more likely to help only their relatives, because they are intuitively carrying on their genetic line.

Egoistic Model

Whereas the evolutionary model seems to employ a more collective effort for helping behavior, the egoistic model suggests that sometimes people egoistically help others because helping elicits some type of reward. People who are intrinsically motivated, help others because it makes them feel good inside. Their empathy allows them to understand what another person is feeling and their desire to relieve them of their suffering elicits an altruistic behavior.  Think of it this way: when you give a donation to a cause about something you care about, you are not necessarily expecting anything in return.  Because you deeply care about that cause, it makes you feel good to be a part of it.

When intensified to an emergency, bystanders may feel fear, anxiety or sympathy.  Being upset by this emotion the bystander feels a need to relieve it.  The greater the perceived need for help, the greater the bystander’s emotional response and the greater their likelihood of providing assistance.  But not always as you will soon see.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity states that people help because they expect to be helped in return. Additionally, it states that a person who has been helped previously, will feel indebted to help those who helped them.  And often that is true.  But let’s say that you give a donation to your cause, but you know that you are getting a gift card to your favorite restaurant in return.   Although this may seem like a selfish motive it is not necessarily so.  Often it is apparent that the donation is of a far greater value than the reward-it is a thank you rather than a reciprocation, but it’s just enough to make the giver feel like they are also getting.

Furthermore, helping someone and thus receiving something in return, can benefit your family. Although the welfare of your family can be seen as a gesture of self-interest, you may be motivated knowing you are contributing to their health, safety, and happiness. Of course, we can also see an example of the evolutionary perspective here as well: you are helping someone and receiving something in return in order to enhance the survival of your family, which in turn carries on your genes.

Social Responsibility

Social responsibility is a feeling that a person has an obligation to act in such a way that benefits the whole society. With this, a person has a duty to fulfil or maintain the balance in his environment. A person may do this actively, by donating money to government NGO’s or recycling their garbage, or passively, by ensuring that he commits no harm to others.

The passive response brings to the surface a discussion of the “sins of omission” wherein we don’t further damage someone in need, but neither do we do anything to help them.  We ignore them: let’s see why.

Why do People NOT Help?

The Bystander Effect

This concept states that the presence of bystanders inhibits or decreases the likelihood of a person helping another. The more bystanders there are, the less likely that a person will extend help [an experiment on bystander effect]. Several variables explain why this occurs.

Ambiguity

This variable pertains to a person’s perception of how grave the need is. High ambiguity situations would cause a person to have second thoughts about helping – for example, a soft cry vs. a loud scream.

Cohesiveness

This variable affects the likelihood that bystanders will help another based on familiarity with the person in need.  Remember evolutionary kin selection above?

Diffusion of Responsibility

The presence of other bystanders leads one to believe that the others will take responsibility. This may be affected by skills or qualifications, in which one believes that others are more qualified to help, thereby avoiding giving unwarranted assistance.  How many films have you seen in which a crowd gathers on a beach watching a drowning person?  Did you admire the one or two individuals who stepped out to provide the rescue?

Modern Good Samaritan Rescues Boy from Humiliation

I found the following post on social media. It provides a great example of someone who acted compassionately, but also note that it appears that there was only one bystander who might have inhibited the woman’s intuitive response to help.

Amber Schaefer
February 14, 2019
So, I just stopped at Arby’s to treat myself to a mint shake for V-day. While waiting for my order I was watching this silly and playful group of high school boys order lunch for V-day for the girls with them. One young man who was hanging towards the back of the group was being pretty quiet and particularly caught my eye. The last boy placed his order for the young lady and ordered nothing for himself. The girl then ran away with her gaggle of other girls to go get seats. I watched this boy fumble through his empty wallet holding only $2. He then hands over his debit card slowly and of course it declined. I watched his little head look down with the saddest feeling of defeat and boy did it pull at my heart strings (I literally could feel his heart sink into his stomach while his mind frantically raced as how to fix this situation without his friends knowing)…I pray no one ever has to feel that feeling of sheer embarrassment and helplessness because of lack of money…Lord knows I’ve stood right where he was many times in my life…it’s awful.

Just then, his girl comes fluttering back to the counter to check on him…the cashier and I’s eyes locked and it was just this overwhelming feeling in my body that I had to do something. Being a mom makes you look at the whole world differently. So, as though it was second nature, I quickly bent down and pretended to pick up $20 as though he dropped it. I handed it to him and he paid with his mouth wide open. He then tried to hand the change to me as his girl went to fill up her drink cup. I politely declined and told him he still needed to get her dessert. In that moment, a 15 year old boy grabbed my hand and squeezed it so tightly…with tears welling in his eyes he simply stated “Thank you…thank you for your kindness ma’am”

That was an awesome moment. As I went to leave with my shake, the cashier winked and said with a giant smile, “well played!”

I didn’t change the world today…but maybe, just maybe, I helped a boy know that love and kindness can come in many forms. Damn that felt good…especially on Valentine’s Day 💘

This lady had just gloriously avoided a “sin of omission” and gives us an excellent example of empathy and altruism in action.

How Can We Realize Greater Christian Perfection?

Dr Samuel Paul Veissiere provides brilliant insight on how we can do better at avoiding the sins of omission by merely acting on our natural impulses.

He observes that probing the core of what makes us human can seem rather bleak in these times of humanitarian crisis. That we have such a crisis to begin with speaks to the terrifying violence, callousness and ignorance we are all capable of.  But there is also something deeply precious about our unique nature-nurture, and now more than ever, it is time to remember, honor, and summon that part of the human in each of us.

Altruism, cooperation, and caring for the vulnerable is what made our species unique. It is empathy and cooperation, not self-interest and competition, that drove our physiological, cognitive, linguistic, cultural, social, and technological evolution. We wouldn’t be the large-brained, neurally-plastic, intelligent, cumulatively-learning, empathetic beings that we are without the mutual help that characterizes our everyday interactions.

Our evolutionary history is one of collective child-rearing, cooperative hunting and gathering, caring for elders and the sick, and freely sharing information. Raising weak, slow-maturing human infants requires immense amounts of collective effort and the free sharing of knowledge, attention, time, love, joy, and fun. This is a miracle that we have reproduced in each generation. That every one of us can walk, think, talk, and imagine in one or more language(s) and navigate complex social worlds is a testament to this collective miracle. We owe this miracle to everyone alive today, and all that came before us. We could never be our own selves, in other words, without others – without all others in time and space!

In his excellent ethno-history of money and passionate debunking of the rational-actor, homo econominus‘ view of human nature, anthropologist David Graeber points out that for most of human history, the reciprocal expectation that social obligations had to be repaid in kind was simply not the norm.

What’s in it for you, after all, when you stop a stranger to let them know they dropped their wallet, when you freely give them directions, or watch their belongings on a beach or at a café? Absolutely nothing! Nothing beyond the intrinsic, automatic urge to help a fellow human.

Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone but does nothing to help their circumstances. It is without consequence or action. Another way to look at any problem is through the lens of empathy; and to distinguish between what we may term deep and shallow levels of empathy.

Empathy requires the ability to put oneself in someone else’s perspective. Intuiting ‘correct’ behavior from a set of implicit rules  (something at which humans are extraordinarily skilled) requires just such perspective-taking abilities. We behave according to the way we expect others to expect us to behave in any given context. Empathy is a highly complex cognitive operation that we engage in without conscious effort in all but the most trying of everyday actions, from knowing how and where to sit on a bus or waiting room to ignoring the homeless.  Bystander experiments in social psychology have shed ominous light on our collective social minds: as strange as it may seem, someone being harassed in public is more likely to be helped by a stranger if there are fewer people around; if the bystander mode of attention is one of callousness and ignorance, breaking that spell becomes counter-intuitive and very difficult for all involved.

Consider the following scenario. You are sitting in a crowded subway, and notice a pregnant woman standing by the doors. Every part of you is aching to get up and offer your seat (deep empathy), but everyone on the train is looking down at their mobile phone and blocking off the social world around them with their headphones. You find yourself, somehow, too shy to offer help.

You leave the train filled with shame, and soon forget about the incident.  Your basic empathetic abilities in this case are translated into a pro-social urge to enforce local norms-do what everybody else is doing. This is what Dr. Veissiere terms shallow empathy.

The scenario described above is something we have all experienced. We experience it daily. We experienced it with tears and horror when we saw the picture of the dead Syrian child washed ashore on the Turkish beach during the September 2015 refugee crisis. We desperately wanted to help, but soon felt too shy or insignificant. Some of us shared the picture on social media and wept a little more; some of us donated money here or there, but soon, we all moved on to the next Facebook post about cats, cars, or vegan meals, and resumed our ignorant bliss as usual.

What it takes to break out of the hypnotic pull of rule-governed shallow empathy, then, is an approach to virtue ethics that is best exemplified in Confucian and Taoist traditions; one which, as neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco Varela argued can be broken down in cognitive-scientific terms. In the Confucian and Taoist practice of wisdom, the sage does not rely on abstract rules like those of the western sense of obligation, but rather trusts his or her intuition to act virtuously according to the minute particulars of each situation (remember the lady at Arby’s). Who would not ‘violate’ someone’s private property to rescue a child drowning in a residential swimming pool? Surely, the virtuous thing to do in such a situation is to overlook our respect for another’s property in order to save a life.  But how many of us would allow our socially-created conscious to delay us too long before jumping that fence and submerging ourselves, cellphone, wallet and all, to save that drowning child?

As we can see, intuition is no simple matter. The autopilot through which we navigate most of our everyday situations is deeply conditioned by largely implicit social regimes of attention that shape our every movement. This, in a nutshell, is what anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu  described as the “habitus”, or the way in which our most ‘personal’ styles of thinking, moving, and feeling, are constrained by a broader cultural context. It is this “broader cultural context”, (see ‘Why People Do Not Help’ above), which we must become more aware of as each situation presents itself.  To overpower it with our more ethical intuitive response to assist others allows us to avoid sins of omission
Once we are conscious of this problem, the virtuous approach entails an arduous back-and-forth monitoring of our conscious and unconscious intuitions, and the search for that right gut feeling, that feels counter-intuitive most of the time, on which to base our actions.  It supports our desire to offer our seat on a bus to a pregnant woman or comfort a homeless man who was crying on the sidewalk.  It also begins with a critical, ongoing examination of how we see others that continually shapes our relationships. In this process we may discover that our culture has fostered the wrong kinds of standard values.  At this point we are ready to rediscover and learn from other cultures, that have made charity and hospitality a sacred tenet, what it is like to be human.

The tradition of care and hospitality to strangers, to be sure, has been encoded, honored and kept alive in many languages, moral systems, and everyday modes of relations. This is what the African tradition of Ubuntu, “the quality of being human” stands for. In the island Mayotte off the coast of East Africa, people like to say mañka uluñu uluñu uluñu: “what makes a person is other people”.

In the postindustrial capitalist West, our deepest sense of ‘self’ has been shaped by the false notion that individual problems are distinct from social problems. As we forget our history and that of the world, we become content, selfish, and ignorant. We are not entitled to any of the privileges we take for granted.  More than our privileges, we owe our very life to humanity and the planet as a whole. This is a debt that, as David Graeber points out, can never be repaid.  The road ahead, then, entails honoring this Gift through compassion, love and care for others, even – and especially! – when it seems socially counter-intuitive to do so.

Conclusion

Even though he had just heard of the death of his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus wasn’t just sympathetic to the crowd before he fed the 5000. He didn’t just feel sorry for them. He had compassion for them, and that gut reaction spurred him to do what he could to help them. He cured their sick. He met them at their need and did what he could to serve them, to minister to them.  

It’s a heart issue. The sin of omission is allowed by the widespread hardness of societies heart. But everyone has the choice to follow their instinct and step out of the crowd in a stand for virtue ethics. When you listen to the Still Small Voice or act on your natural desire to help, you can welcome refugee families in your homes; show mercy for those trying to escape from violence and deprivation; campaign for healthcare, and immigration law reform in your countries, and so much more.

Then think further and keep questioning your allegiances to such strangely violent and narrow rule-governed divisions such as race, political party, and nation-states.  You can do it.

If you found this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful please share it.

Relevant Scripture

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,  and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”  And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

References

“Caring for Others Is What Made Our Species Unique” by Samuel Paul Veissiere PhD

“Psychology of Helping Others” by Instructor: Joshua Mummert

The Psychology Notes HQ    

single orange lily

The Parable of the Lily / Spiritual Meditations

The following is written by my friend, Dr Frank Leeds III

This story begins with “Once upon a time…”

Before continuing with our story, I recall seeing another in which a father was reading to his daughter. She interrupted him and asked, “Daddy, do all fairy tales begin with once upon a time?” No, said the father, most fairy tales begin with “If elected, I promise to…”

Thus, today’s story is not a fairy tale. It is a parable, but it begins with “Once upon a time…”

Once upon a time, there was a lily. She was a gorgeous lily that lived in the forest, surrounded with other colorful flowers, large and small trees of various hues, green grass, rolling hills, and a little brook gently meandered down the slopes providing a sweet-sounding music as it flowed over the stones in its path.

The lily was a very contented lily. She soaked up the sunlight that shone on her during the days, she watched the branches waved to and fro as the breezes moved through the trees. Her world was full of color and soft sounds, and lily was just ecstatic about being alive. You may want to think of her as the lily that Jesus talks about when he asked,

Have you considered the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [Mathew 6:8]

Then one day, a little bird flew into Lily’s life. The bird landed a fair distance from Lily and she watched as the bird slowly pecked at worms in the soil, and then flew away. A few days later, the bird returned and did likewise. When he flew away the second time, she wondered where he went and what he saw. The thought began to puzzle her and in fact kept her from having a good night’s sleep.

When the bird returned a few days later, and got a little closer to Lily, she said “Good morning bird. My name is Lily.” “Lily” he scoffed, “You do not look like a lily to me. I have flown all over the world and I have seen the most gorgeous lily and you do not look like her at all. She was quite pretty and you are rather ugly.” The bird then flew away.

That night, Lily could not sleep at all. The rolling brook that used to lull her to sleep now became an irritant that kept her awake. With each passing day she seemed to wilt a little.  She began to envy the bird’s freedom to come and go as it pleased, while she felt stuck in one place.

Eventually, the bird returned. When it did, she said to him, “Bird, where do you go when you fly away?” “Oh” said the bird, “I go many places. I just go where I want to go.” Lily then asked, “Will you take me with you? I want to see the lily that you described that is so much prettier than I.” He agreed, that on his next visit, he would take Lily with him.

A few days later, he returned. He started by chewing away the base of her stem to free her from the spot where she felt enslaved. When he finally “cut her loose”, he held her under his wing and flew the distance toward “the most gorgeous lily”. On the way Lily withered and died.

Why did I tell you that story? Lily is not the only one that has someone whisper in her ear that she is not “good enough”, that she is in the “wrong place”, that she is “not created the way the Lord wanted her created”, that there is something “wrong” with her.

The One who created and loves you, did not give Himself to die for the person the bird says you are. He died for the person you are. Be careful what voices you listen to. Your life could depend on it.

The End