man holding crutches over head

Miracle Recipient Reveals God’s Memos /Spiritual Meditations

How many times have you watched the rising or setting sun over a beautiful landscape and appreciated the magnificence of God’s creation?  How many times has the Bible addressed  your need?  There are many ways in which God speaks to us, but I know one person to whom God has spoken loudly and he is going to tell us what he’s learned.

How God Speaks to Us

The pyramid below not only represents the ways in which God speaks to us, but also how frequently He does so. (Relevant Bible verses can be found at the end of this post for each level of the pyramid with links to example accounts)

ways God speaks to us pyramid

The top level of the pyramid falls into the realm of miracles; when God speaks to us directly through word or action.  This is what I want to explore today.

What are Miracles?

In its most basic sense, a miracle is an unusual, unexpected, observable event brought about by direct divine intervention. Because they are rare, I want to share with you the insights of my friend Rev. Dr. Timothy W. Ehrlich who has experienced 46 divine interventions. 

But let’s start with a Biblical example; notice that the lame man did not request a miracle.

One day Peter and John went to the Temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the hour for prayer.  There at the Beautiful Gate, as it was called, was a man who had been lame all his life. Every day he was carried to the gate to beg for money from the people who were going into the Temple.  When he saw Peter and John going in, he begged them to give him something.  They looked straight at him, and Peter said, “Look at us!”  So he looked at them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said to him, “I have no money at all, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I order you to get up and walk!”  Then he took him by his right hand and helped him up. At once the man’s feet and ankles became strong; he jumped up, stood on his feet, and started walking around. Then he went into the Temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.  People there saw him walking and praising God, and when they recognized him as the beggar who had sat at the Beautiful Gate, they were all surprised and amazed at what had happened to him.(Acts 3:1-10 TEV)

Pastor Ehrlich sees a pattern in when and how God acts in our world.  The following are conclusions he has reached and outlined in his book The Long Road to Eternity available on Amazon.

Miracles range in intensity from low intensity things which could be considered fortuitous coincidences or God-incidences, to high intensity things or events which are undeniable manifestations of God’s power and/or presence, such as the healing described in the passage above.

The good news is that the miraculous power of God, that was clearly present in the miracles and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is still available to God’s people today. 

God’s Three General Rules for Miracles

God’s first rule is that God always uses the smallest amount of miraculous power, and on the fewest possible number of occasions, to accomplish His goals.

God limits the use of His power because He wants to preserve our free will and our ability to choose God freely. As we go through life, we unintentionally provide God many opportunities to save us or help us, or to comfort or encourage us. God responds to our needs in varied ways, but in general God’s response is always as limited and small scale as possible in order to bring about the needed result. This hiddenness or unprovability of God was a part of God’s plan because if we could prove God, it would take away our need to have faith, and it is important to God that we have faith.

Why does God want us to have faith? Faith is the overcoming of doubt, hopefully substantiated by reason. Faith, the Bible tells us, is the activating agent of worshipping in the Spirit (James 5:15). God is all around us all the time (Acts 17:28) in the form of the spiritual energy that holds us and all things together (Colossians 1:17), and faith is what opens the door to the Spirit to come into and intervene in the physical world. (Matthew 21:21-22). Because frequent, large, splashy displays of God’s power would take away our need for faith, God uses the least amount of His power and the smallest level of intervention to accomplish His purposes.

God’s second general rule of miracles is that miracles are always for the benefit of God’s people.

God reaches into the lives of those who trust in Him, those who earnestly seek Him, and those who love Him wholeheartedly, and generally, but not always, in response to our prayers.

Sometimes God uses a non-believer to bring about a miracle to save a believer; and God sometimes gives a miracle to a non-believer to reach that person or to reach others who witness the miracle to help them become believers or to comfort or encourage them in their faith.

God’s knowledge of each person is complete and entire, and His wisdom, power, knowledge, and abilities are without limit. God knows what is going on in each of our lives, minute by minute, and God really cares about what we are going through.

God’s third rule of miracles is that His miracles are a gift of his grace: we cannot earn them with good deeds or buy them with a donation to a ministry or other good cause.

Unfortunately, some preachers I have heard twist Paul’s statement that “a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.” They say giving money to their ministry is just like planting a seed, that it will always produce an abundant plant of blessing – expect up to a one-hundred-fold return for every dollar you give.

Others who claim to be Christians try to convince people that X number of prayers for X number of days will get a guaranteed result. These beliefs trivialize God and would have you believe He behaves like a cosmic vending machine: put in the dollar and out pops your hundred. All we can do is ask God for a miracle or make ourselves available to be used by God.

What Inspires a Miracle?

Miracles come in two varieties;

  • the first type of miracle are those that occur as we reach up to God in prayer making a request and God responds.
  • The second type of miracle are those that occurs because God intervened without our asking; that is why I said miracles happen generally but not always in response to our prayers. [There are times, as you can see in the scripture regarding the lame man in Acts 3, where God knows what is needed and provides.  Though the man may have hopelessly wished for health he did not ask for or expect it.  In this case Peter and John were the conveyors of the miracle.]

Barriers to Miracles

Anyone can ask God for a miracle at any time, and God may grant one; but for a number of reasons that you and I may never understand, what we ask for may not be granted by God. Among the reasons we don’t receive the answers we are looking for are lack of faith, and improper motives. James writes: “You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it. And when you ask, you do not receive it, because your motives are bad; you ask for things to use for your own pleasures” (James 4:2-3 TEV). Miracles are rare and hard to come by, that is why they are so special.

Miracles are More than Just the Miracle Itself

Miracles are just one of the ways that God speaks to us.  His love for the recipient of the miracle and those witnessing the miracle is introduced into our everyday life.  And these manifestations make a big impact on us internally, externally or both.

Miracles are a bit like fishing with dynamite – they blow you out of the water. They change lives, not just by physically rescuing a person, but by opening people’s eyes to the reality of God and to the nature of God, thus inspiring us to learn more about God and to obey God.

I spent many hours speaking with an atheist who was genuinely curious about what I believe and why. At the end of our talk I convinced him to at least keep an open mind to the reality of God. A few weeks later he told me that he had really been praying intently and God baptized him in the Holy Spirit. He said, “This changes everything!” He wanted to become a pastor and tell everyone what he had discovered.  When we are confronted with the reality of God that knowledge has the effect of causing us to reevaluate our priorities and behavior, and even, for some, to reevaluate our understanding of the universe.

Conclusion

To experience the miraculous, we cannot elicit it from God by using some magical incantation, neither is a life of study required. All that is required to move into miraculous levels of interaction with God is to have enough faith to seek God with all of your heart, and to have a willingness to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength until you find that God is real and knows and cares about you.

You will find several accounts of miracles experienced by Pastor Ehrlich, myself and others in the ‘Spiritual Experiences’ category on the Navigation Menu.

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Relevant Scripture

God speaks to us:
Through Nature  


(Romans 1:20)  For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.  

(Psalms 19:1 – 4)  The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.  Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.  They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.  Yet their message has gone throughout the earth and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.

Through Scripture
What to Know About the Bible

(2 Peter 1:20 – 21)  Above all, you must realize that “no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.”   

(Hebrews 4:12 NLT)  For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.   

(2 Timothy 3:16-17)  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.   

Through Signs

(Matthew 16:1 – 4 NLT)  One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, demanding that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. He replied, “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times!  

Through Dreams and Visions
What No One Tells You About Your Dreams
Stunning Vision Reveals Heaven’s Lobby

(Job 33:14 – 16)   For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds. He whispers in their ears and terrifies them with warnings.

Through Angels
Angels in Our Lives…Literally  

(Luke 1:26 – 27 NRSV)  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 

Directly and through Jesus
God’s Faithfulness Changed My Life
An Astonishing & Undeniable Spiritual Healing 

(Hebrews 1:1 – 2 NLT) Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.  

(Exodus 3:4-6) When the LORD saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” “Here I am!” Moses replied. “Do not come any closer,” the LORD warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.   

young girl leans head on hand staring into space, flowers window table

How Long Must I Wait, God?/Spiritual Meditations

Do you have a prayer that has been met with no response?  You may decide that this is a ‘no’ from God, but perhaps it’s a ‘not yet’.

Our perception of time differs from one moment to the next.  If we are bored or anxiously anticipating something pleasant, time drags.  If we are overwhelmed with things to do or enjoying a pleasant experience, time flies by.

Waiting for the Best Time

When we have a need, the resolution cannot come quickly enough.  When we have a need great enough to bring to God, we really are hoping He will resolve it now.  Or better yet, why didn’t He handle it before it even became an issue!

But God’s time is not the same as our time.  In fact, I’m thinking that cultural changes, events, acts, realizations, and our emotional, spiritual and mental developments are some of the things that God tracks (and sometimes orchestrates) instead of minutes and years.  Peter left us this logical conundrum – “…with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8) which expresses this irrelevance of time.

But because God sees all the events of our lives and the thoughts of our minds, His timing is always perfect. His perfect time may be immediate as for the disciples when they healed people around Jerusalem (Acts 5:16). Or it may be a few years: God gave Joseph a dream that did not come to fruition for 13 years (Gen 37, 39-41): the Egyptian exiles wandered for 40 years before entering God’s promised land.  And the Messiah’s perfectly timed arrival was 4 centuries in the making as can be seen in Dr. Leed’s post entitled Eye-Opening Events Between the Testaments.

These huge events make our problems seem kind of small in comparison, yet God knows every hair on our heads.  He loves us,  knows what is best for us and knows when it I best for us.  I once waited for God’s response to my desperate prayers for several months.  But then WHAM His resolution came in one day. You can read about it here.

Waiting on God Changes Us in Important Ways.

It takes practice, but as we let God help us in each situation, we develop patience which is one of the most important Christian virtues. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22). It’s developed only under trial, so we must not run from difficult situations. But “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4).

Trusting God often requires not knowing how He is going to accomplish what needs to be done and not knowing when He will do it. But as we see God’s faithfulness over and over, we rely less on ourselves, and gradually place our trust in Him.

When God directs our paths, He sometimes leads us in ways that don’t make sense to us.  But if we try to reason it out, rationalize His leading and don’t follow His path, we will only prolong our struggle.  Most of us have spent our lives trying to take care of ourselves, but when we accept Christ as our Savior, we must have faith that He will care for us.

Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 )

What to Do While Waiting on God

1) Prayer / Meditation

The priority for your wait time is prayer and meditation. Let it be your rock. 

  • Pour out your heart to God with all your concerns and doubts.
  • Pray for guidance, patience and strength through the waiting season.
  • Pray for God to reveal the next step in His path for you.
  • Pray for your heart to be open to the work God’s doing during the wait.
  • Pray for transformation and renewal.
  • Pray for peace of heart and trust.
  • Clear your mind and listen for God’s messages.

It’s not easy to go to prayer when you’re frustrated in the wait, but as you develop this habit of (and utter dependence on) prayer, you’ll find the waiting becomes easier.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

2) Read Your Bible

Stay in scripture, especially in periods of waiting. Often what feels like waiting is really a time of preparation. It may be that our heart needs some work, or it may be that God is moving in other areas to prepare the way.

Study God’s Word, especially His promises. “He will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6b). He will be with you through the entire waiting process. Stay focused on Him and His Word and the reasons for your time of waiting will eventually be made clear.

Staying in scripture keeps you grounded in God’s plans and promises. When you’re in that period of waiting, daily reminders of God’s faithfulness will sustain you. Reading about God’s power and plans will fill your heart with hope. Studying biblical people who endured seasons of waiting reminds you that you’re not alone in this struggle.  The Bible may also be helpful in determining if your prayer request is being met with a ‘no’ or a ‘not yet’.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 NIV)

3) Surrender to the Process

Change is a process and can take time. When God is working a change in your life or carrying you through a challenge, it may take time to fully work through the process.

Surrender to God’s work in your heart. Submit to His timeline and process. Let go of your attempts to control and plan your way out and allow God to lead.

Entrust your ways to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will act on your behalf.
He will make your righteousness shine like a light,
your just cause like the noonday sun.

Surrender yourself to the Lord and wait patiently for him.
Do not be preoccupied with an evildoer who succeeds in his way
when he carries out his schemes.

Let go of anger and leave rage behind.
Do not be preoccupied.
It only leads to evil.
(Psalm 37:5-8 GOD’S WORD Translation)

4) Who is Waiting for Who?

Could it be that God is waiting on us?  To arrive at the perfect time for Him to act, perhaps we must first realize, develop or become involved in something.  If God answered right away, many of us would be ill-prepared to handle His solution. Our personal, national or international circumstances may need to change to make the most of His intervention.

Ask yourself: Is there a purpose in your waiting? Do you have some work to do to prepare for the next season? Is God working on your heart?  Is the motive for your prayer acceptable to God.

Consider the lessons and submit to God’s work in your life. If you need to deal with a sin, confess and turn away from old ways. If you need to forgive, do the hard work to let go and forgive. If you need to rid your heart of some stubborn habits or beliefs, dig deep and allow God to do his work.

Exodus 13:17-18 tells us that God led the Israelites the longer, harder way on their journey to the Promised Land because He knew they were not yet ready to go in. There had to be time for their training, and they had to go through some very trying situations.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

5) Focus on the Blessings

Instead of focusing on where you’re going, look around you and find the blessings that already surround you. Even if your situation is dark and stormy, be especially vigilant about looking for blessings.

You could even create a blessing list by writing down everything good that God has blessed you with. Keep the list handy and read it whenever you are feeling low.

There’s nothing like helping others to get a better perspective on your own issues.  Where can you be a blessing to others at this time? Who has God placed you near that you can bless? Who can you pray for and encourage?

6) Worship

In all things, be full of praise and thanksgivings – even while waiting, even through the storm, even when you’re frustrated.  You may find that affirmation and song will lifts your spirits.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)

Conclusion

Wait as long as it takes. He may not answer right away or even give us what we think we need, but God will provide what is best for us when it is best for us.

As much as we want to move forward NOW – sometimes we’re just not ready. We have more to learn, more to change, more to grow.  Sometimes the wait is for God to align other pieces of the plan. Sometimes the wait is for God to align the pieces of our own heart.

Always have an expectancy that He will provide.  There are times when we might give up if we knew how long it was going to take, but when we accept God’s timing, we can learn to live in hope and enjoy our lives while God is working on our problems.

Then be alert for His answer.

God is never accidental. Everything he does has a purpose. He is the expert…let Him handle it

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Relevant Scripture

 In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly. (Psalm 5:3)

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

My times are in Your hand;
    deliver me from the hand of my enemies,
    and from those who persecute me.” (Psalm 31:15)

We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-23)

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning, (Psalm 130:5-6)

Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40: 31)

He has made everything beautiful in its time … God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there shall be a time there for every purpose and for every work.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11,17)

And He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” (Acts 1:7)

But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing (James 1:4).

References

“What to Do When You’re Waiting on God” by Joyce Meyer

“Waiting on God: Why It is Important to Wait on God” by Amy Blossom

When God’s Timing Is Taking Too Long” by Joyce Meyer

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.

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 

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

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    

Longing to Reciprocate God’s Astonishing Love /Spiritual Meditations

God is love. The supreme surprise of God’s love is that it has nothing to do with you.  God loves you because He decides to.  You don’t influence God’s love. The apostle John didn’t say that God is occasional love or frequent love, but God IS love.  If your actions altered God’s love, it would be human love. 

God Loves Everyone, Always

God’s love is unconditional. Life may be good or we may wallow in despair. Success signals God’s love no more than struggles indicate the lack of it.  When you abide in His love, you make it your home in the good times and the bad times.

“God’s love is all-inclusive and takes under its wing all being, your being and mine, saint and sinner alike.  Until you understand that this is the nature of God, you cannot know Him aright” writes Joel S. Goldsmith.

In his book Practicing the Presence, Mr. Goldsmith writes “the nature of God’s love is forgiveness.  Who loves and holds in condemnation! Who loves and holds a memory of something to be forgiven! In the heart of the lover there is no condemnation, there is compassion.  There is no condemnation from parent to child, no condemnation from lover to beloved.  There is no condemnation wherever there is love.  We do not hold those we love in condemnation.”

This can be seen in the recounting of the last earthly days of Jesus.  At the last supper in Matthew 26:31, Jesus says “tonight all of you will desert me”. All the disciples scoffed at the idea. Yet before the dark became dawn “all his disciples deserted him and ran away“. But when Christ rose from the dead, he never brought it up. Never. Not even one “I told you so.“ The disciples deserted Jesus, but he still loved them.

God Revealed the Extent of His Love to Julian of Norwich

Elaine A Heath gives us insight into the visions of Julian of Norwich as a part of her book The Mystic Way of Evangelism. It was revealed to Julian that not only does God forgive but that He understands that the emotional wounds that we experience in life are the cause of our sin.

Julian, a 14th century anchorite of Norwich, England, spent most of her life in a small cell attached to the church of Saint Julian, from whom she took her name. As an anchorite, her life was devoted to prayer, not for herself but for the world. Julian’s wisdom arose from a lifetime of meditation on a series of 15 visions she experienced on May 8, 1373, while gravely ill.

She saw to her astonishment that God‘s judgment is without wrath, that it will heal the entire cosmos. She saw that God looks at human sinfulness and brokenness “with pity and not with blame.“ Yet how could it be, Julian questioned, in light of sin, the devil, and the traditional teaching of the church, that God‘s judgment would be without wrath? Julian wrestled with God, unable to resolve the tension between what God showed her and what the church taught. Bewildered by the absence of God‘s wrath (as she understood it) in her vision, as well as God’s silence concerning the Damned, Julian wept, begging God to give her some way to reconcile the tension.  Then He gave her a 16th vision which she continued to contemplate.

As the years passed and Julian prayed, she came to understand that her vision told of the fall of humanity, cast not as willful or prideful rebellion, but because of childlike exuberance leading to a mistake. Julian’s God loves with a power that is deeper than sin, that heals all wounds, a love that binds humanity to God forever. Love is God’s meaning. God‘s essence. God’s overwhelming message to her is one of security for the saved. Even though she believes in the genuine possibility of hell for people, Julian’s stance becomes one of great help for all people who are the wounded. No matter how dreadful our conditions, the “sweet eye of pity is never turned away from us, and the operation of mercy does not cease. “

“The maternal grace of God draws and protects the sinful soul from the moment the soul is breathed into the body”, Julian writes. “Within our very physicality exists an operation of the Holy Spirit that mysteriously inclines us to God.”

Paul Explains the Depth of God’s Love

By pulling directly from Romans 8 we see where Paul initiates his love hunt with five life-changing questions for us to consider:

  • Question one: “if God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (verse 31). The presence of God tilts the scales of security forever in our direction so who could hurt us?
  • Question two: “since God did not spare even His own son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?“ (v. 32). Would God save our soul and then leave us to fend for ourselves? Will He address eternal needs and ignore earthly? Of course not.
  • Question three poses: “who dares accuse us whom God has chosen us for His own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself “ (v. 33). Once God excepts you, what other opinion matters? Every voice that accuses you, including your own, sounds ineffectual in the tribunal of heaven. God‘s acceptance trumps earthly rejection.
  • Question four continues: “who then will there be to condemn us? Will Jesus Christ? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, interceding for us” (v. 34). Adjacent to God, within a whisper’s distance of your Maker, sits the one who died for you. So, let your accusers or your conscience speak against you. Your divine defense attorney mutes their voices. Why? Because he loves you.
  • Question five asks the primary question of this chapter, even the question of life: “can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? “ (v. 35). This question crests the top step of a great staircase. As we stand with Paul at the top, he bids us to look around for anything that can separate us from God‘s love. Can you name one element of life that signals the end of God’s devotion?

God Loves You, No Matter What

Are you convinced that you have never lived a loveless day? Not one. Those times you deserted the Christ: he loved you. You hid from him: he came looking for you. And those occasions you denied Christ, though you belong to him; were home with him?   God let you feel the shame of conscience and feel the heat of tears. But he never let you go. Your denials cannot diminish his love.

Nor can your doubts. While there is much we cannot know, that we’ll never know, we can be sure of this: doubts don’t separate doubters from God’s love.

Years ago, I confessed to God that, although I understood that He existed and loved me, I felt no love for Him in my heart.  This was during a period when I started searching for a closer relationship with God and had begun daily prayer and meditation.  Not long after, as I became closer to God, He opened the way for my reciprocal love.  He already knew my heart, but the confession of my separation from Him made it possible.

God sees the worst of us and loves us still. Your sins of tomorrow and failures of the future will not surprise him; He sees them now.

Longing to Love God

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (Psalm 27:8)

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a mystic, activist, and author who had a great influence on Italian literature and the Catholic Church. Canonized in 1461, she is also a Doctor of the Church.

God spoke to Catherine in a vision saying

“When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him [Jesus] to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. And this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn to love. He would not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. You can hardly resist being drawn by love, then, unless you foolishly refuse to be drawn.”

Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of a French monastery in 1115 described his observation of how we journey toward God in his manuscript entitled On the Love of God. Perhaps you will see yourself in this continuum.

The first-degree of love : love of self for self’s sake.

In the human realm people love themselves for their own sake. This love of self is held in check by the command to love our neighbor. If we cannot love our neighbor because of our love of self, then we must restrain our lusts and give to our neighbor’s needs. Your love will then be temperate when you take from yourself and give it to your neighbor.

The second-degree of love: love of God for self’s sake

God blesses us with His protection. When we suffer from calamity, we turn to God and ask His help, calling upon Him in times of trouble that are beyond our abilities to remedy. This is how we who only love ourselves first begin to love God. We will begin to love God even if it is for our own sake. We love God because we have learned that we can do all things through him, and without Him we can do nothing.

Or as the apostle Paul asks, “does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity or are persecuted or hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?“  Earthly affliction does not equate to heavenly rejection.

The third-degree of love: love of God for God’s sake

As trials and tribulations continue to come upon us, every time God brings us through, even if our hearts are made of stone, we will begin to soften because of the grace of the rescuer. Thus we, we begin to love God not merely for our sakes, but for himself.

In order to arrive at this, we must continually go to God with our needs and pray. In those prayers the grace of God is tasted, and by frequent tastings it is proved to us how sweet the Lord is. Thus, it happens that once God’s sweetness has been tasted it draws us to the pure love of God more than our needs compel us to love him. Thus, we begin to say, “we now love God not for our necessity, but we ourselves have tasted and know how sweet the Lord is.“

When we begin to feel this, it will not be hard to fulfill the second commandment: to love our neighbor. For those who really truly love God in this way also love the things of God. Also, it becomes easier to be obedient to all the commands of God. We begin to love God‘s commands and embrace them.

This love is pure because it is disinterested. It is pure because it is not merely in our words that we begin to serve, but in our actions. We love because we are loved. We care for others because Jesus cared for us.

We have obtained this degree when we can say, “give praise to the Lord for He is good, not because He is good to me, but because He is good.“ Thus, we truly love God for God sake and not for our own. It should be noted that in this third degree we will stand still for a very long time.

The fourth degree of love: love of self for God’s sake

Blessed are we who experience the 4th degree of love wherein we love ourselves for God’s sake. Such experiences are rare and come only for a moment. In a manner of speaking, we lose ourselves as though we did not exist, utterly unconscious of ourselves and emptied of ourselves.

If for even a moment we experienced this kind of love, we will then know the pain of having to return to this world and its obligations as we are recalled from the state of contemplation.

This perfect love of God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength will not happen until we are no longer compelled to think about ourselves and attend to the body’s immediate needs. Only then can the soul attend to God completely. This is why, in the present body that we have, it is difficult to maintain. I do not know if we can attain this degree in this life.

Conclusion

God has created in us a need for love and a need to express love.  He created our souls in His image as loving extensions of Himself so that we will seek a loving relationship with Him.  The perfect reciprocal love, for which we strive, is only found in Him.  Do you feel a longing to be one with God?  You can be, through deeply felt prayer and meditationIt takes time, so be patient with yourself.  When we connect with Him we become fountains from which His abundant love can be poured out for others; our spouse, family, friends, strangers, and even our enemies. In the moment we are enfolded in God’s love, His love permeates our being.  His love is the central theme of our being.  His love is our life.

Relevant Scripture

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73: 25-26)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:7-21)

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

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17-18)

References

 Come Thirsty by Max Lucado

Revelation of Devine Love by Julian of Norwich

On the Love of God by Bernard of Clairvaux

The Dialogue by Catherine of Siena

The Mystic Way of Evangelism by Elaine A Heath

Does Your Idol Speak Louder than Jesus /Spiritual Meditations

Why is there an intense fascination with celebrity?  29 million people in the United States watched the wedding pageantry of British Prince Harry to Megan Markle, an event which affects none of them personally.  Magazines like People and TV shows like TMZ or Entertainment Tonight provide details into celebrities’ comings and goings far beyond what is of any practical value to anyone.  Professional sports players and politicians are lifted as role models and heaped with praise while parents, teachers, godparents, and friends (whom are far more important to a person’s moral development) are hardly acknowledged. 

When we hear the word idol, we often think of statues and objects reminiscent of those worshiped by pagans in ancient cultures. However, the idols of the 21st century often bear no resemblance to the artifacts used thousands of years ago. Today, many have replaced the “golden calf” with an insatiable drive for money or prestige or “success”. Some pursue the high regard of others as their ultimate goal. Some seek after comfort or a myriad of other passionate, yet empty, pursuits. Sadly, our societies often admire those serving such idols.

We support politicians and self-professed leaders. We media-stalk and try to emulate celebrities.  We buy shirts displaying the names of our sports heroes. We behave as though these are infallible and worthy of our devotion. If only we were as wealthy, talented or beautiful as they are, we would receive more attention which appeals to our sense of vanity. Since those dreams are not likely to become reality, we settle for the next best thing – we consider ourselves a part of their ‘flock’. We mimic their rhetoric and make it our own and the more we repeat it the more we are emotionally bound to it.

They become our idols when they absorb our heart and imagination more than God; when we make then more important than God; when we follow their voice like sheep

Of course, we can make idols of possessions, careers, relationships, hobbies, sports, entertainment, goals, greed, addictions to alcohol/ drugs/ gambling/ pornography, etc., but today I’m just talking about people we admire…maybe admire a little too much.

Who are Our Models?

I’m not a “fan”.  I don’t consider anyone more significant than another, but I believe admiration is appropriate when a person demonstrates characteristics consistent with the Golden Rule or as extoled in the Bible.   In my mind, the “A list” of desirable traits is produced by the fruits of the Spirit.  Think of someone famous today, someone that you support, and then compare them to the following:

Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:21-23)

How did your celeb measure up?  No, nobody is perfect and thank God for His grace, but how many of these traits does your favorite politician, hero or celebrity exhibit?  What does their history and lifestyle say about them?  If they profess to be a follower of Christ, are the fruits of the Spirit evident in them?  Can they be a positive influence or model if they aren’t manifesting some of them?

In many cases we see both wealth and poverty as deserved: wealth as the reward for their virtuous behavior and poverty as the reward for their vicious behavior.  With this in mind you may confess that you think that “he / she would never have become great if the fruits of the Spirit were important to them.  They were justified in pushing a few people aside to get where they are.” 

But what is so great about where they are?  If you answered their money, their power or their talent, you are missing the point of Christ’s teaching or have compromised your beliefs to be part of their flock.  What do they have that is of value to the Kingdom of God?  

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)

Are your celebs serving anyone besides themselves? Don’t know? Here are some examples of how they can use their fame.

God, as revealed through Christ, is the only One truly worthy of our devotion, our service, and our love.  Those earthly beings that we put on a pedestal are nothing compared to Him.  Although the Holy Spirit seeks each lost sheep, God rejoices in those who listen to His voice and work within His will.  Each person must decide if they want to be part of God’s Kingdom or a part of the world’s pollution.  One can’t be both.

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. (Matt 12:30)

Wisdom as a Prerequisite to Leadership

Wisdom isn’t necessarily required for a rock star or actor, although it wouldn’t hurt, and some have delved into the spiritual. But for a political or military leader, wisdom is prized though, unfortunately, rare.  According to scripture, these are a few ways to determine if someone is wise.

  • They accept correction when they know they were wrong.
  • “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
  • They have godly integrity.
  • They are not easily offended
  • They are not obsessed with being ‘right’. When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Prov 11:2)

Again, in Proverbs, the wisdom book:

“For wisdom is better than jewels;
And all desirable things cannot compare with her.
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And I find knowledge and discretion.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate. (Prov 8:11-13)

If We Aren’t Part of the Solution, We are Part of the Problem

Maybe I’m being too hard on our idols when it is we who are elevating them to this status.  The first commandment is clear.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me

We know this but don’t always realize it when we are creating our idols.  We are so easily led.  It is no wonder that God so often refers to us as sheep as in Psalm 23.  Regarding the jumble of lies and facts surrounding politicians, we know that we don’t know everything and, therefore, accept what our friends and the media tell us; it’s easier.  We usually have the resources to obtain our own answers, but we don’t take the time to do the research. Instead we acquire new opinions that augment or conform to what began as one idea or experience…a small sample of life and perhaps an insignificant one.  With the accumulation of the like thoughts we select, that initial idea grows into a mantra and manifesto.  Now it is hard to see truth; much easier to rationalize it away; more comforting to jump on the “band wagon” with our tribe; less threatening to our egos to continue in our chosen stance.

The Lord is My Shephard

When Jesus referred to us as sheep, He was talking about our vulnerability and His compassion for us. Jesus loved humanity so much that He pushed Peter to an emotional response, making it a point Peter could never forget.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, LORD," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He answered, "Yes, LORD, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "LORD, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

But why this crazy metaphor of sheep of all animals?  Here are just a few of the characteristics we have in common: 

*Sheep can’t defend themselves. When a sheep is frightened, the only thing it knows to do is run.  People can “fight” as well as “flight” but both reactions are based in fear, something God tells us repeatedly is unnecessary. Politicians are notorious for creating fears and then trying to convince us that only they can resolve them. But God is the only defender we need. “The LORD is my defense; and my God is the rock of my refuge” (Psalm 94:22).

*Sheep aren’t intelligent. Sheep are not known to be smart or cunning animals when it comes to safety; rather, they are susceptible and tend to wander away from the protection of the shepherd.   Compared to the wisdom of God, which is all knowing and all loving, human intelligence is miniscule.  (1 Cor 3:19).  People tend to wander away from God and bestow their affection on their idols.

*Sheep are Directionless.  Not only are sheep wanderers, but they get lost easily. When even one sheep goes astray, the shepherd goes after it and restores it to the flock. As Isaiah 53:6 indicates, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.”  If a sheep wanders off from the rest of the herd, it will have a hard, if not impossible time, finding its way back. They have no sense of direction. So it is with those outside the Lord, there is simply no sense of spiritual direction in their lives.

*Sheep follow the voice of their own Shepherd (no other shepherd). The Bible says the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. They follow the one whom they know. You may never have a complete understanding of your circumstances with all the answers to the questions of life, but you will understand the love of God and the importance of following the Lord to the green pastures and living water.  Likewise, the shepherd leads the sheep. The sheep know their shepherd, the sound of his voice and follow him. This is also the way that the sheep are separated into separate herds after grazing or sleeping together. The shepherd calls the sheep and they come. They need no markings to distinguish them – all they need is the sound of the shepherd’s voice.

*A Sheep is a Personal, a Prized and a Precious Possession. This sheep belonged to the shepherd, he paid a personal price to own it and won’t stand idly by while it is lost. (Ill. The price Jesus paid for the sheep – Ill. Calvary – 1 Cor. 6:19-20)- This sheep may have been no different from any other ordinary sheep, but it was special to the shepherd. Despite their differences every sheep was precious in his eyes. So it is with the Lord. He loves all His sheep equally.

*Sheep must be led to grass, just as the Holy Spirit leads us to what we need. If left to themselves sheep will graze in the same place until all the grass is gone. A good shepherd leads them to the best places to graze to keep them healthy. He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Conclusion

There are many people out there vying for our attention and hoping we will contribute to their income.  They want our political donations, votes, ticket buys, and endorsement purchases among other things.  Granted, a little entertainment gives us relief from a stressful world, but let’s consider the source of that entertainment before we count ourselves as a member of its flock.  No person should be made an idol or be blindly followed.  We must open our eyes to who they really are. Only God has our best interests at heart and deserves our devotion.

What do you think?  Are the celebrities, heroes and politicians who you endorse worthy of you? You – one of God’s children?  Whose sheep do you choose to be?  I’m hoping you will answer “Jesus’”.

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

Relevant Scripture

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Ex 20:4-6)

 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revelings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did ]forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;  and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (John 12:42-43)

Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear
Is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding,
But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 24:15-16)

A fool always loses his temper,
But a wise man holds it back.
If a ruler pays attention to falsehood,
All his ministers become wicked. (Proverbs 29:11-12)

The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Eccl 9:17-18)

Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them. (Isaiah 1:23)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

References

“Five Reasons Why God Calls His People “Sheep””  by Bethany Hayes 

“Why Does God Call Us Sheep? on For His Service

“Why is Idol Worship Such a Powerful Temptation?” on Got Questions

“Why Do We Admire Celebrities?” with Jon Murphy