Category Archives: People

Still Dreaming: Only by Seeing Each Other as Individuals Will We Experience True Freedom

Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, shortly before delivering his “I have a dream” speech. Photo by Rowland Scherman; restored by Adam Cuerden – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.

Fifty-four years ago Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave voice to his dream. It was a dream that had started 100 years before, when President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared that people of America could no longer own one another as slaves.

But King’s dream went further – to a point where people of black and white skin color could live in harmony. In his speech he dreamed of a time when the offspring of slave owners and the offspring of slaves could sit together at the table of brotherhood. He dreamed of black boys and girls joining hands with white boys and girls as brothers and sisters. And he dreamed that one day people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

The theme of the dream was to quit looking at people as groups and start interacting with one another as individuals. Stop exaggerating the differences and start celebrating the similarities. Because, truthfully, the similarities far exceed and outweigh the differences.

Stop exaggerating the differences and start celebrating the similarities.

Why, then, do we still have incidents like those that happened in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend?

When I was in college in the late 1970s-early 1980s, we were encouraged to look at everyone as individuals – King’s dream in action. And we did. There was a freedom in it – we no longer felt bound by a constraint of us vs. them, my group vs. your group. The only group that mattered was that we were all human and we were all American. I’m not saying it was utopia but we were much more conscious of our similarities than our differences.

Why Things Changed

But then sometime in the past 15-20 years, things seemed to change. Group identity became more important. Thinking outside the group (depending on the group) was tantamount to being a traitor. What happened?

Power and control happened. Extremists on both sides recognized that they could wield more power by screaming loudly about what they had lost, were losing or could lose. They began to emphasize the differences. And the mainstream media played into their hands, in large part because it allowed them to wield more power as well.

Before long, people were being nudged – in some cases shoved – into one group or another. The group “leaders” – not appointed by anyone nor speaking for the vast majority of those in their group – crowed that if you didn’t agree with every tenet of their group, you must be in the other group. And if you were in that group, then you must adhere to every tenet of that group. If you didn’t – and most people didn’t –and you protested, you were called a denier. And if you were a denier, you were a liar and a hater.

Over time, more and more people have either given in to it, or as more often happens, young people without fully developed thought processes buy into the group-think.

And the mainstream media, in its power play, would like us to think that racism is rampant and only they, and the people they appoint to lead them, can solve it.

The Secret

Here’s the secret the extremists and the media don’t want you to realize: The majority of the country doesn’t feel this way. The majority of people, black or white, would love for this to just go away and be allowed to treat each other like individuals – to live out King’s dream.

Freedom comes only when we walk together as brothers and sisters, as Americans, as humans.

King addressed this earlier in the same speech: “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

That is as true today as it was 54 years ago. Freedom comes only when we walk together as brothers and sisters, as Americans, as humans.

King also addressed what would have been good for both sides of clash in Charlottesville to heed. He wrote this about those in the fight for equality, but it is valuable to everyone. “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.”

America’s Christians must continue to be at the forefront of this effort, just as they were in the 1850s and just as they were in the 1950s.

Again, the only way we will continue to overcome these extremists is to continue to do what many black and white Americans have already done successfully – get to know each other as individuals and realize that our similarities are far greater than our differences.

Christians Must Lead the Way

America’s Christians must continue to be at the forefront of this effort, just as they were in the 1850s and just as they were in the 1950s. King was a devout Christian who preached powerful sermons. He received strength and power from his daily dependence on Christ through prayer. We should, at a minimum, do the same.

Our prayers today, though, are not to gain freedom or equality for one group or the other. Our prayers today as Christians are to be released from fear and from the constriction of group-think, and to experience the marvelous freedom of seeing each other as individuals.

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Slaughter of the Innocent: Nigerian Christians Need Our Help

A Christian church in Nigeria. Many Nigerian Christians are being persecuted for their faith. Photo by E Kolk95 from WikiMedia

Want to find out what Princess Kate is wearing or the latest outrageous thing Miley Cyrus has said or done? Chances are good you’ll find out on the evening news or as a top internet story. On the other hand, if you want to find out about Boko Haram slaughtering Christians and kidnapping adolescent and teenage girls to use as servants, sex slaves and suicide bombers, you’ll probably have to search a little harder.

In fact, you may not even know what I’m talking about when I say Boko Haram. They are a militant Islamic terrorist group in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. For the past several years they have been trying to overthrow the Nigerian government to turn the entire country into a militant state. They have killed thousands – it has been estimated they killed more than 4,000 in just 2014 alone, and they’ve murdered many more since.

They have openly declared war on Nigerian Christians and hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians are among those they’ve killed. But they have also targeted Muslims who do not go along with their violent outlook and anything else they consider marks of Western civilization (in a local language, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden”).

Perhaps most disturbing is that they are now using these young girls as suicide bombers.

Along the way, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of girls, some as young as 7, to serve as cooks, servants and “wives” for their soldiers. Perhaps most disturbing, though, is that they are now using these young girls as suicide bombers. They strap explosive-filled vests on them and send them into a targeted area – sometimes the girls know what they’re doing, other times not. So far at least 145 girls have been used in this way – probably a low estimate – and have taken the lives of hundreds more. Targets have included government centers, Christian centers, even a mosque. It also included a wedding, although a dog heroically stopped the girl before she could enter the ceremony and detonate the explosives.

Boko Haram recently sent out a request to Muslims who are in agreement with their way of thinking: Donate your young girls to use on suicide bombing missions. Yes, they want parents to willing sacrifice their daughters in this way.

Tragic, you may say, but why should we be concerned about some tiny little country half-a-world away?

Well, Nigeria isn’t exactly tiny. At 357,669 square miles, it is larger than Texas and nearly the size of the combination of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Nigeria has a population of 193.5 million, ranked seventh in the world, which is more than half of the United States population (the population for the seven states mentioned above is a combined 47.3 million, so it has four times as many people as that area). Nigeria has a GDP (the nation’s contribution to world wealth) of $1.125 billion, which ranks it in the top 25 in the world.

Still not convinced of the need? Consider that we have been involved in helping straighten out Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 15 years, and are still sending troops there on a regular basis. Nigeria is far larger than either of those countries, more than twice the size of Iraq – in fact, it has nearly the land size of the two countries combined (it is 85 percent the size of those two).

When it comes to population, Afghanistan and Iraq combined have a third as many people as Nigeria. Their GDP combined is barely half of Nigeria’s. You might suspect oil has a lot to do with why we’re more interested in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Nigeria ranks 11th in oil reserves, right behind the United States (Afghanistan has no known oil reserves).

As Christians, we should be especially concerned. At least 40 percent of the country is identified as Christian, about equal to the number of Muslims.

We certainly can communicate with people in Nigeria – the country’s official language is English.

And as Christians, we should be especially concerned. At least 40 percent of the country is identified as Christian, about equal to the number of Muslims, compared to just 3 percent in Iraq and less than 1 percent in Afghanistan. This isn’t too surprising since the area of West Africa where Nigeria is located is experiencing some of the fastest growth in Christianity in the world.

So these are our brothers and sisters who are suffering torture and death simply because they have chosen to follow Christ as their Lord. They are already crying out to the Lord to avenge their blood. Rev. 6:9-10 says, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: ‘Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?’” God gives them white robes and urges them to be patient until the end of this world, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t calling us into action now.

What can we do as Christians to help our brothers and sisters in Nigeria?

Pray. First of all, pray. Not just praying for the persecution to stop, but for God to raise up laborers – based on the growth in the neighboring countries, many people in that area of Africa are interested in Christianity, despite the threat of persecution.

Donate. Then consider donating to those who are already helping the persecuted. A list of some of those groups appears at the end of the blog. I have not vetted them for their effectiveness in getting mission dollars to where they’re needed most, so check them out, as you should with any organization, before donating.

Write. On the political front, urge your senators and representatives to consider what actions can be taken to help the Nigerians. While I don’t believe the United States should be the world’s police officer, it does seem like our resources could be more wisely allocated in a country like Nigeria than in the Middle East.

Action. Be open to taking action. Whether through advocacy here in the United States or in ministering in Nigeria itself, be open to God’s call to action in your life.

Left untreated, even a small cut can lead to an infection that threatens the entire body.

In 1 Cor. 12:26, Paul tells us that if one member of the body suffers, then all members suffer. Sometimes that’s hard to remember, if the cut is small. But left untreated, even a small cut can lead to an infection that threatens the entire body. Right now, to Christians in the United States the persecution in Nigeria may seem like a small cut to the body, but how long before it becomes an infection that threatens us all? And I guarantee to the Christians in Nigeria and its neighboring countries, this is far more than a cut. It’s a major wound. They are suffering; we must help.

 

Groups Supporting Persecuted Christians

The Voice of Martyrs (persecution.com)

Open Doors (opendoorsusa.org)

Christian Aid Mission (christianaid.org)

Frontline Missions International (frontlinemissions.info)

Rescue Christians (rescuechristians.org)

I Commit to Pray (icommittopray.com)

Identity Crisis: Who Are You Really as a Follower of Christ?

 

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride (Men: This is not a chick-flick movie. It has sword fights, great feats of strength and overcoming overwhelming odds to rescue a damsel in distress – plus it’s funny). One of the main characters in the movie is Inigo Montoya, a man obsessed with revenge.

When Inigo was a boy, his father was killed by a six-fingered man and he has spent most of his life training so that he can one day exact his revenge. He even has his introduction to the six-fingered man down pat:

“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

And (spoiler alert) he does just that. Once he has exacted his revenge, though, he is left with a conundrum because his entire identity had been tied up in one thing.

“Is very strange,” he marvels in his Spanish accent. “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”

Our identity, even as Christians, is almost always based on the work we do for a living. Yet we are many more things.

Many Americans are in the same situation about their identity, although they may not realize it. When you ask someone, “Who are you?” (or sing it, like The Who, “Who are you? Who, who?”) the person is likely to reply with something like this:

“I’m an office manager.”

“I’m a school teacher.”

“I’m a rock star (if you happen to ask a member of The Who).”

Our identity, even as Christians, is almost always based on the work we do for a living. Yet we are many more things. For example, I could answer the question, “I’m a husband,” or “I’m a father,” or “I’m a baseball fan.”

Still, my identity is not tied to my occupation or my marital status or my devotion to the New York Yankees. My identity is that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a child of God.

Paul wrote a lot about this identity. He said we are now citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), our old self was crucified and we now live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20), we were chosen for adoption into God’s family (Eph. 1:5), we are children of God (Ga. 3:26) and we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6). John adds that our new identity as God’s children is a result of God’s great love (1 John 3:1).

When you think about it, shouldn’t our identity be the same as our top priority in life?

This is obviously quite a bit better than even our noblest professions or relationship statuses. This new identity comes with some pretty good perks – a new abundant life on earth, co-heirs with Christ in his glorious inheritance and eternal life.

When you think about it, shouldn’t our identity be the same as our top priority in life? And when we answer the identity question with our job function, what does that say about our priorities? If we truly make following Christ our No. 1 priority, then our identity will first and foremost be that of being a Christ follower. (This works even if the question is, “What do you do?” You can answer, “I follow Christ.”)

I’ve even thought of a catchy way to phrase it a la Inigo Montoya: “Hello. My name is Child of God. You have been saved by grace. Prepare to live.”

 

The Great Suggestion or the Great Commission? How Do We Respond to Jesus’ Final Words?

After his resurrection and just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus came up with an interesting option for Christians. He said that if a select few people felt like it, if it wasn’t too much bother, they could tell people about him. This is called the Great Suggestion.

Um, really, no, it’s called the Great Commission and Jesus was hardly suggesting it as an option. He was commanding it, to all of his followers then and now. Yet today, many Christians treat his final words as a nice suggestion that somebody should be doing, as long as it isn’t them.

The Great Commission is found in Matt. 28:18-20, although frequently it’s listed as verses 19-20, and often only verse 19 is quoted. But it is actually verse 18 that is the key to understanding the rest of the Commission. Here’s what Jesus said:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

The very first thing Jesus states is that all authority has been given to him in heaven and earth. Not some authority, not just authority in heaven, but all authority in heaven and on earth – in other words, it’s all the authority there is, anywhere in the universe. No one has more authority than Jesus – not a police officer, not the president, not even your mom (sorry, Mom).

Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.

What does it mean when someone has authority over you? It means they have the right to tell you what they want to have done. Someone in authority, ideally, will be someone who understands the big picture, understands what needs to be done, how to do it, and can give you the order to do so. We have learned to obey authority – if the blue lights start flashing because you chose to ignore the speed limit sign, you’d better pull over. If your boss tells you to get a project done by a certain date, you’d better get it done by then.

Why? Because we have submitted ourselves to these people as having authority over us – and because there will be consequences if we don’t obey that authority. Run from the cops and eventually you’ll be tasered and thrown into prison. Ignore the boss’s instructions and you’re soon standing in the unemployment line.

Yet how do we – how do most Christians – respond to Christ’s authority? Do we say, well, Jesus said it and he has all authority so I’d better snap to it? Or do we say, cool suggestion, Jesus; somebody better get busy on that, and then look around the room to find someone who should be doing it?

Jesus isn’t just telling us that he has all authority in heaven and earth to brag about it. It’s not, “Hey, I got all authority from the Father. What’d you get?” He is telling us this for a reason, and the reason follows in verse 19, which begins with Therefore.

Now, anytime you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you have to ask yourself, what is it there for? Because what follows the therefore is based on what was said in the previous sentence or paragraph. In this case, Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.

And that command is to go and make disciples. There are two verbs that are connected here, “go” and “make.” Go means, of course, that you aren’t stationary. You aren’t sitting back waiting for these disciples to magically appear around you. It is an aggressive action on our part. But is that how we generally think of this process? I think most of us sit back, waiting for people to show up at our church and decide to become involved in the church activities. The closest we come to “go” is to occasionally invite someone to check out our church sometime.

So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group.

The second verb is make, and this is a modifier, describing the next word, disciples. Again, make is an aggressive action. Nothing is magically going to appear. It will take time and effort on our part. And notice what we are supposed to make – not more church members, not more people to sit in worship service, not even more people to lead Bible studies or sing on the worship team. The command is to make disciples.

For many years, this verse has been loosely and lightly interpreted as doing evangelism – simply telling people about the good news of Jesus and hoping they would attain salvation. But that is not what Jesus is commanding here. The Greek word for disciples is mathetes, meaning a student or committed learner. The two English words, make disciples, are actually summed up in one Greek word, matheteuo, which is in the imperative form in Greek – imperative meaning it is absolutely necessary, or a command. It also points to the words “make disciples” as the central focus of the sentence. The people to be made into disciples are every ethnos, or people group.

So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group. That hardly sounds like some passive action, or a suggestion.

But Jesus isn’t done yet. He goes on to describe what this disciple making will include. First, we will baptize these new believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then we will teach them. What we’ll teach them is to obey or observe everything he commanded, through his words while on earth and through his revelations to Paul and other writers of the New Testament. In Greek, the word commanded carries the connotation that we are aware of the purpose of the commands – in other words, we don’t just obey blindly, but we do so because we know the purposes behind them. Again, there is an all-inclusive word here – we are to obey everything he commanded; not just the things we like or we approve of, but everything he told us to do.

The magnitude of conveying everything Jesus commanded, including the purposes behind them, indicates more than a one-time contact with someone. It requires more than a casual relationship with someone. It is an ongoing teaching process, one that Jesus took three years to accomplish with his disciples. But many of the early disciples took longer – Silas and Barnabas spent years pouring into Paul, who then spent years pouring into Luke and Timothy and Titus and others.

But just making disciples wasn’t the end goal. The end goal is to make disciples who make more disciples. After all, Jesus told us to obey everything he commanded, and one of those commands is to make disciples. So our disciples will have to obey that command as well.

His final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.

Note also that making disciples is not listed among the gifts of the spirit. The gifts of the spirit are those special abilities that the Holy Spirit has endowed on some, but not all Christians. They are to be used together to build the body of the church. Among the gifts that some, but not all, Christians have are prophecy, teaching, hospitality, even evangelism. But discipleship isn’t listed because it is expected of all believers. It’s not something special endowed to just a few, but a command entrusted to all believers.

When Jesus came to the end of his time on earth, when it came time for him to say one last thing, to give one last command, to in essence to sum up everything he’d been saying all along, he chose to say this. It wasn’t to build big churches, to sing beautiful songs, to develop outstanding church programs, it wasn’t even to simply evangelize. No, his final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.

The question now is, will we accept Jesus’ authority? Do we believe that Jesus has the right to tell us what to do? If so, are we willing to take action? Are we willing to enter into the long, involved process of making disciples rather than sitting in church letting words wash over us?

Perhaps the better question is, What authority do we have that exceeds Jesus’ authority to not do what he has commanded?

Not an Illusion: Ordinary Humans Have Extraordinary Power in God

Years ago in college, I was privileged to see a show by a Christian illusionist. His act amazed and delighted me.

Among his magnificent tricks was placing his full-grown assistant into a box and shrinking it down to 1-foot-square cube, making objects disappear and reappear and levitating. Before each act, though, he would say something like, “Nothing you see here is magic. It is all just an illusion.”

Throughout the performance he kept reassuring us that he was an ordinary man who had no magical powers and everything he did was simply a trick of the eyes. I wanted to scream, “Noooo! I’m not that easily fooled!” I preferred to think the illusionist had some special powers rather than that he was fooling me by doing what any ordinary human being could do with the right training and preparation.

“Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”

There’s a verse in the Bible that reminds me of that magic show. It’s James 5:17, which begins with “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”

Remember the testimony about Elijah in the Old Testament? He prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain for more than three years (1 Kings 17:1), he was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:2), he lived with a widow and her son and caused her meager food supply to never run out (1 Kings 17:13-15) and then raised her son back to life after he died (1 Kings 17:18-24).

But Elijah was barely getting started at this point. He defied the king and his wicked queen (1 Kings 18:17-18), called down fire from heaven in an awesome display of God’s power compared to false idols (1 Kings 18:21-40), brought the rain back (1 Kings 18:41-44) and outran a chariot pulled by horses (1 Kings 18:46).

Want more? He was fed by an angel (1 Kings 19:5-7), felt God’s presence and heard His voice in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13), prophesied the death of the evil Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 21:20-24), called down more fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10-15), parted the waters of the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8) and was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). And then Elijah appeared with Moses alongside Jesus (Matt. 17:3).

Yep, Elijah sounds just like every other human being I know.

Seeing the assertion from James that Elijah was an ordinary human with no special powers blows my mind, much like the amazing illusionist I saw. I prefer to think that he was some special godly creature.

Because if what James said is true, then it means any of us – including me – should be able to perform at least some of what Elijah did. Seem laughable? In our own power it is, but James’ prologue to his statement about Elijah is, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

What brought about all the miracles and awesome display of power by Elijah? His righteousness. What made Elijah righteous? His utter dependence on God and his willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him (not that he didn’t have doubts – at one point he thought he was the only righteous person left in Israel and expected to die at Jezebel’s hands).

God is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us.

Since Pentecost, all true followers of Christ have his spirit, the Holy Spirit, living in us. He is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us. Can we raise the dead, call down fire from heaven and part a river? Absolutely not! But the Holy Spirit could through us.

In all likelihood, we won’t be called on to do the more showy works that Elijah did because we’re living in a different time. More likely, the Spirit’s work in our lives will be to give us joy and peace in times of turmoil, to give us the words to speak at the right time and to lead others to following Christ. But he also might give us the power to end travesties like sex trafficking, abortion and lethargy in our churches.

And that, unlike the amazing illusionist, would not be a trick of the eyes. It would be demonstration of God’s power that is as real and available to us today as it was to an ordinary human like Elijah.

Ordinary human beings rock – when we allow the Holy Spirit to move through us!

Did I Say That? Our Words Will Have Eternal Consequences

Time can never mend
The careless whispers of a good friend
To the heart and mind – Careless Whisper

Back in 1984, the group Wham! (yes, with an exclamation point), featuring George Michael, had a huge hit with the song Careless Whisper. The song is basically about a man cheating on his wife or girlfriend, who apparently learned about it by overhearing a careless whisper to the new lover. It speaks about how much those careless words can damage a person’s heart and mind.

Of course, we’ve also long heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But at least according to one authority other than George Michael, careless words can have a long-lasting impact. And since that authority is Jesus, we would be wise to pay attention.

In Matthew 12:33-35, Jesus talks about fruit trees – a good tree can only produce good fruit, a bad tree can only produce bad fruit. The trees, of course, are us. Jesus goes on to say that we will speak what is in our hearts – good words can’t come from an evil heart.

Then in verses 36 and 37 he says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ESV)

The word translated as careless is the Greek word argon, which some versions translate as empty or idle, and can also mean lazy. So what does it mean to speak careless, empty, lazy words?

These words often hurt the person they’re spoken to – and, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t get a free pass just because you didn’t mean them to be hurtful.

In the context, we can infer that they are not good words – they come from a heart that is not right with God. These words may be blurted out without thought of their effect on others or be reactionary, angry responses based on another’s words or actions. These words often hurt the person they’re spoken to – and, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t get a free pass just because you didn’t mean them to be hurtful. That’s part of being careless and lazy – not taking the time to think about how your words will be perceived.

Paul had a lot to say about words as well. In Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 12, for example, he lists several areas of speech among unrighteous acts: Slander, deceit, quarreling, outbursts of anger, boasting and gossiping. He warns Timothy twice about not speaking with irreverent, empty words. And John, in 1 John, implies that love that is based on speech only rather than accompanied by action is empty.

On the other hand, Paul says our speech should be an example to other believers (1 Tim. 4:12) and should be full of grace, seasoned in salt (Col. 4:6), meaning it should be thought out with words that enhance others. We are to speak the truth in speech, Psalms and songs; we are to speak the gospel fearlessly and boldly; and we are to be quick to hear and slow to speak.

Our words will be used to either justify us or condemn us on the Day of Judgment.

With TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we are so surrounded by words that we become inured to their affect. They’re here for a moment and then vanish. But Jesus clearly says everything we say will have an eternal impact. Our words will be used to either justify us or condemn us on the Day of Judgment.

That angry remark you made to your spouse, the little white lie you told your parents, the flirtatious words to that cute new employee at work all may seem like innocent words, just words, that don’t mean anything. Except that Jesus said they do matter – a lot.

But, fortunately, so do the words of encouragement you spoke to your neighbor, the kind words you told your child, the loving words you expressed to your spouse. We just need to make sure we think before we speak.

In the song, George Michael’s careless whisper had a negative impact – he was left with no one to dance with. Jesus said that your words will determine who you’ll have as a dance partner for eternity.

The Love Chapter is Much More than a Nice Marriage Sentiment

At most weddings I’ve attended, at some point the pastor or a friend reads a section of 1 Cor. 13, which is known colloquially as “The Love Chapter.” I’ve seen those verses on plaques or cross-stitch samplers hanging on the walls of people’s homes. We look at those words and think, “What a great example of married love.”

It is a great example of married love – but Paul wasn’t speaking of marriage at all when he wrote it. Paul spent chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians describing how the church works as a body and encouraging us to seek the gifts of the Spirit. All fantastic stuff, but he ends the chapter with “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”

So in chapter 13, we are looking at what Paul believes is an even better way to conduct our lives and our churches. The word translated “most excellent” in the NIV is the Greek word hyperbole, which has the connotation of going above and beyond.

The hyperbole or most excellent way to conduct ourselves is with love. In the first three verses Paul explains that anything we do, no matter how good the work is, even if it’s speaking in heavenly tongues, is worthless if it isn’t done in love. We can’t just create a checklist of do’s and don’ts and go down the list like a robot, marking them as done. Our attitude means everything. The works we do as followers of Christ are meaningful only when we do them from the heart.

For love, Paul used the Greek word agape, which most often refers to the active, unconditional love God has for us – and the same love we are to have for one another.

Jesus himself was adamant that the right attitude was essential to doing good works in his name. In Matt. 7:21-23, Jesus says that people will come to him proclaiming their good works, but if they weren’t done according to God’s will, he will drive those people away, calling them evildoers.

Verse 4 to the beginning of verse 8 in 1 Cor. 13 are those that most often make their way onto the cross-stitch samplers. For love, Paul used the Greek word agape, which most often refers to the active, unconditional love God has for us – and the same love we are to have for one another.

Here is a catalog of what love is (note that it isn’t what love does, but what it is): patient, kind, rejoices in the truth, endures, trusts, hopes, perseveres and never fails. Here’s what it isn’t: envious, boastful, proud, dishonoring, self-seeking, easily angered, a record keeper of wrongs and unrighteous.

Replace the word love or it in that passage with the pronoun I (or better yet, your actual name). How does that sound to you now?

Obviously, those are fantastic things to strive for in marriage. But are you also striving for it in your church? In your interactions with other believers? In your conduct among non-believers?

Here’s how you can do a gut check on how well you are living out the love of God: Replace the word love or it in that passage with the pronoun I (or better yet, your actual name). How does that sound to you now?

“I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I’m not boastful, I’m not proud or conceited, I don’t dishonor others, I’m not selfish, I’m not easily angered, I don’t keep a record of wrongs. I find no joy in unrighteousness but I rejoice in the truth. I endure, I always trust, I always hope, I always persevere, I never fail.”

Impossible? Of course it is, under our own power. But as believers in Christ, we now have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to make possible what we once couldn’t do. We still have to approach this intentionally, though, to keep striving for this kind of love. The more we work at it through the Spirit, the better we’ll get at it. Paul later implies that this is part of our maturing process as Christians – not maturing as a married couple, but in our everyday lives as followers of Christ.

Eventually all other good works will fade away but three things will always remain forever – faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love. This, Paul says, is the most excellent way to conduct our lives – at home, in church and in the world beyond. And, of course, in marriage as well. It goes above and beyond expectations. The key is to put love into action, not just frame it and hang it on the wall.

The Positive Aspects of Being Disciplined

Our society has defined the word discipline to primarily mean something bad – a punishment for wrong action. But the word actually can – and possibly should – hold a positive meaning.

The word discipline comes from the Latin for instruction, and is related to the word disciple. A disciple is someone who decides to follow a certain teacher or set of teachings in an effort to make his or her life better and to make the lives of those around them better by becoming teachers or leaders themselves. The Disciples with a capital D were the ones who followed Christ and who in turn spread the Word, and developed more disciples to carry on their work. We’re able to read the Bible today and follow God through Christ because of the Disciples’ willingness to be taught. So being a disciple is a good thing.

Discipline is what a disciple does. While we see it today as punishment or at least an unpleasant form of correction, discipline is actually the act of committing oneself to a particular set of teachings, studies or course of action. A college major is a discipline. Athletes in training follow a discipline. Learning specifics for a job is a discipline.

Correction and punishment usually come from a lack of discipline. Lack of discipline can have negative consequences. If an athlete doesn’t stay disciplined, he runs the risk of not being able to compete, or not compete well, or even become injured (a boxer who doesn’t stay disciplined to do his footwork and defensive tactics will get punched in the head repeatedly until he is unconscious). So being disciplined means doing the things to avoid the punishment or negative consequences.

Discipline often means giving up things. Athletes give up being lazy, students give up free time to attend class, Christians give up following the world, etc. There are obviously certain things that can’t be done if a certain goal is to be obtained (which is why, for example, eating donuts while on a treadmill isn’t going to work for weight loss – gotta give up the pastry if one wants to shed the pounds).

Here’s the positive aspect of discipline – it gets you where you want to be.

The things given up aren’t necessarily bad. For example, there is nothing wrong with a student wanting to have fun and eat pizza with friends, but if that keeps him from the studies that will help him achieve his end goal, then he’ll need to give up the pepperoni party.

So on the surface, the fact that discipline can mean correction and giving up things (heads get punched, donuts go uneaten) does sound like it is a negative thing. But here’s the positive aspect of discipline – it gets you where you want to be. The whole point of discipline is that it helps you become a better person and/or to achieve a goal. When we stay disciplined in what we eat and how we exercise, we become stronger and slimmer. When we stay disciplined in how we spend our money, we have a bank account that grows fatter and/or we can buy more stuff we want. And when we stay disciplined in Bible study and prayer, we become more Christlike.

Here’s what the Bible has to say about it in Hebrews 12:11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

In other words, as Dave Ramsey might say, you live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later.

We want what we want now – or better, yesterday! Discipline takes time.

It’s a hard thing to do in our instant gratification world. We want what we want now – or better, yesterday! Discipline takes time. Discipline sometimes means failing and starting again. Discipline means patience. Discipline means building on yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Discipline means doing the same things over and over again with consistency.

Discipline is hard work, no doubt about it. That’s why training is often done in pairs or groups. It’s easier when you have the support and accountability of others (misery loves company, you know). They help you stay disciplined on the days you absolutely don’t feel like being disciplined.

And you don’t usually go through it on your own, but with an instructor or trainer, someone who will show you the way, be able to nudge you back on course and let you know when you’re getting sloppy with techniques (although a punch in the head will also be a reminder of that).

Of course, usually people have to go through more than one discipline at the same time. The classic example is the student-athlete, who has the twin disciplines of brains and brawn. Adults often have to simultaneously juggle disciplines in marriage, child-rearing, finance and job skills.

Attitude plays a key role, too. No, discipline isn’t pleasant as the writer of Hebrews says. Seriously, it means giving up donuts! The ones with sprinkles! But it seems that the people who succeed the most in achieving their end results are the ones who have learned to deal with the daily grind of discipline at least neutrally (i.e., don’t hate or complain) or in the best cases, find reasons and ways to enjoy it (maybe I could just eat the sprinkles…).

Painful or not, there is no doubt that the Bible says that discipline is a good thing. Discipline is needed in order to achieve wisdom. Wisdom is more valuable than gold or silver, more precious than rubies – and even more desirable than donuts with sprinkles.

Even Hollywood Can’t Exaggerate Enough for the Real Exodus Numbers

If you’re like me, you have a good mental image of what Moses looked like. He looked just like Charlton Hesston.

Yes, thanks to the iconic movie The Ten Commandments and the networks airing it every Easter season, it’s almost impossible for us to read the story of the Exodus without thinking of Charlton Hesston in the lead. And thanks to the movie, we feel we have a pretty good grip on the storyline.

Amazingly enough, Hollywood embellishes the story! Shocking, I know. There are many inconsistencies with the biblical account, and lots added in. But I want to examine one area where Hollywood simply didn’t embellish it enough – the enormity of the Exodus.

According to various sources, the film used 10,000-14,000 extras to play the part of the Hebrew nation. That certainly looks impressive on the screen, especially during the crossing of the Red Sea. But 14,000 is probably no more than 4 percent of the number of people who actually left Egypt that night.

The odds had to be overwhelming for Moses, even if he looked like Charlton Hesston.

Ex. 12:37 states that about 600,000 men left as part of the Exodus. In Numbers 1, about a year after the Exodus, a census puts the number of fighting men aged 20 and over at 603,550. It did not include the tribe of Levi, but a few chapters later we are told there were 22,000 of them. So that brings the number to 625,550. Notice, though, that this is just the men older than 20.

In most cultures, women slightly outnumber men. If that’s the case, there were probably around 650,000 women. So our total swells to 1.275 million. But that’s just people over the age of 20.

Since marriage was an important institution among the Israelite nation, we can assume a large proportion of these people were married. Just for round numbers, let’s say there were 500,000 married couples. Some are older couples, of course, with grown children, and some won’t have children. But many may also have had four, five, six or more kids under the age of 20. Let’s just estimate, probably conservatively, that there were 1.25 million younger than 20. Now we’re up to 2.525 million people. But we’re not quite finished.

Imagine trying to hustle the entire Tampa-St. Pete area down the road in a single night.

According to Ex. 12:38, a number of other foreigners living in Egypt (and possibly some Egyptians) took off with the Israelites. We have no way of determining how many, but if it was 75,000 (for the sake of round numbers), we’re at 2.6 million. And remember, that’s being on the conservative side. If there were more married couples with young children, the number quickly pushes beyond 3 million.

Holy Moses, that’s a lot of people!

Plus they took all their livestock with them, probably hundreds of thousands of animals, possibly more than a million.

For a modern comparison, the Tampa-St. Petersburg area in Florida and its surrounding suburbs are home to 2.975 million people. Imagine trying to hustle the entire Tampa-St. Pete area down the road in a single night. And then marching through a sea. Followed by wandering in a desert wilderness for 40 years with them.

Some people have disputed the numbers, claiming they may have been inflated by a factor of 10; in other words, instead of 600,000 men there were 60,000. That still puts the total at a hefty 300,000. But every indication is that 600,000 men was an accurate total. They had more than 400 years to multiply and, according to Ex. 1:7, the Israelites were no lightweights when it came to multiplying their numbers.

Remember, too, that the Egyptians were afraid of how large the Israelite population was growing. In fact, the new Pharaoh was concerned that the total number of Israelites had surpassed the number of Egyptians (Ex. 1:9). While actual census data aren’t recorded, some Egyptologists have estimated there were 2.5-3 million Egyptians at the time, so 2.5-3 million Israelites certainly agrees with Pharaoh’s assessment.

The odds had to be overwhelming for Moses, even if he looked like Charlton Hesston. How could he have managed to lead such a large, unwieldy group across a desert wilderness? Obviously, only with God’s help. As the Bible repeats many times, it was God who delivered the Israelites from Egypt.

This is one time where Hollywood underwhelmed us. The real numbers were far greater than Cecil B. DeMille could conjure up, which makes God’s deliverance far more impressive than any movie could ever portray.

Gary Kauffman is a writer, photographer and Bible teacher living in North Augusta, S.C.