“I was born a slave … I am not sure of the exact place or exact date … My life had its beginning during the most miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings.”
Booker T. Washington* described his start in life as such: “I was born a slave … I am not sure of the exact place or exact date … My life had its beginning during the most miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings.” I have known personally many people in my life time who start life in difficult and incredibly ‘unfair’ circumstances. Rejecting parents of one child over another and ignored by parents who are involved in an addiction. Then there are those born with crippling and debilitating diseases. Or in the prime of their life are struck down as paraplegics. [Joni Erickson-Todda] There is absent parent[s] who are in prison or too sick to care for them. In today’s chaotic culture, many grow up in families surrounded by family who are murderers, child abusers and con-artists. Some grow up in or are sold into a type of slavery like sex-trafficking, even here in the US.
Consider Joseph, who is held up as a hero of the Bible. Jacob, his father, grew up as conniving and treacherous man. He took advantage of his father’s blindness and stole his older brother’s inheritance. Jacob’s father-in-law Laban cheated him several times with livestock and marriages.
Jacob’s sons took after their father. Joseph who was the 11th son born, was the youngest. Jacob played favorites with his sons. He was not shy about showing favoritism toward one child over other ten brothers. He did this in different ways: Jacob gave more affection, more privileges and less discipline to Joseph who was his favorite. Is it any wonder that this created animosity and jealousy among the other 10 older? One day when Joseph was a young man they saw an opportunity to be rid of him. They sold Joseph into slavery to some Egyptians slave traders. To cover their crime, they created an elaborate story, complete with hard evidence, to convince their father of Joseph’s unfortunate demise by a wild animal attack.
Joseph, the favored son with the nicest clothes, started life as a loved and cherished son. Suddenly he finds himself in a foreign country as a slave among foreign gods. But did he focus on yesterday? No. Let me say this, I believe that there is only one reality, today. Yesterday and tomorrow are not reachable. I cannot change the past or the future therefore, they are not in my realm of reality. All I can change is what is in front of me at this moment.
Back to Joseph. He remained faithful to his God and the Bible says “The Lord was with Joseph…” [Genesis 39:2] That is a game-changer in any circumstance. What changes, if I choose to believe God, is my attitude. Jesus levels the playing field. He is the only One who can change tomorrow. Someone said that “People go through life looking at the wrongs people do to us in the yesterdays.” How sad. They fail to see that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Hebrews 13:8 ESV] We may not escape the circumstance we are born into or the circumstances thrown at us either by whim or design or our ignorance or stupidity. The good news is that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” [Romans 8:31 NIV]. When everything is all said and done, if God is in us then it does not matter who is against us! Beginnings are not endings!
I need to wake up. It is not all about how warm and fuzzy I feel during worship in a place of safety and aesthetically pleasing surroundings.
The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree – Mark 11:23-24
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
I would not have expected this statement. Is it true? I must say that it is inspiring. Where is the “But”? Jesus made this statement as a carpenter. Everything that Jesus did on earth he did as a man fashioned just like me. When he was building stuff in his father’s shop and hit his thumb with a hammer, it hurt him as much as it would hurt me. When consider this startling statement, maybe Jesus is moving me out of low-grade praying. Maybe He is moving me toward elevated prayers. Is this sort of prayer possible coming from my level of confidence?
As with all things originating with God, there is a certain way that things work. And there is a way that things will not work. Too often I just assume that God will just do things outside of the way that He designed things to work; including prayer. If I am going to be able to move a mountain, then I need to shift my mindset in a different direction. I need to wake up to the reality of the way that God does things.
Consider this insight that the Spirit of Jesus gave to John in exile: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rev 12:7-11 Based on human event thought out time and on the opposition toward Jesus while He was on earth and the opposition thrown against those who follow Jesus, it is hard to argue that there is not some sort of holy war going thought human history. And it is a brutal war. Paul wrote to the house churches in Ephesus: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
I need to wake up. It is not all about how warm and fuzzy I feel during worship in a place of safety and aesthetically pleasing surroundings. The Apostle Peter writes to warn us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1Pe 5:8 In some sense, that adversary is not something in a red suit with horns. It can be seen in our culture where to stand up for biblical principles is to invite an onslaught of hate-filled opposition. There is no room for ‘agreeing to disagree’ but if you do not agree you are labeled with ugly names and having no value to society.
Part of the mind-set of growing up is that I need to change how I interact with God. Instead of asking Jesus to do stuff for me, maybe I need to ask Jesus what I can do for Him? Sound familiar? Growing up means understanding things from a different perspective. When I was a child I had no clue why my parents would tell me certain things other than to deprive me of what I wanted. But then when I became a parent it became clearer what they were doing. God wants me to grow up. Again the Apostle Paul puts it succinctly regarding God’s agenda for me: “… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” But do not look for some magic wand, formula or way of worship to accomplish this. It takes an act of commitment and just like moving from childhood to adulthood, it takes work and learning ‘how stuff works.’
I think the problem is simple and yet difficult. We are invited by Jesus to grow up. We are invited to related to God not as children but as son and daughters. Ask yourself, do you pray as a son or daughter. Do you talk to God the Father as a son or daughter who know their position in the family of God? That is what Jesus was trying to tell His twelve close followers that gave up everything to be like Him. The Apostle relates that one time Jesus told the group that He alone has overcome the opposition in the world: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. … In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” John 16:24 & 27 In living out life here on earth, we move from childhood to adult. Somewhere in that journey we need to understand and make sure that we are really children of God, related to Jesus by blood and not just by some ecclesiastical name. King David recorded this insight: “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.”
We have in our culture a conundrum. On the one hand, written into the core values document of our nation [constitution] we say all humans are created equal. By that the original framers of the constitution meant that all humans are deserving of freedom, dignity and equal rights under law. Today, we demand and are guaranteed these rights as adults. However, unborn babies have no such guarantee. They are the ones in our society that are at risk. They are denied freedom if an adult says so. They are denied the dignity of living if it seems inconvenient to an adult. They have unequal rights under the law. In other words, they are considered expendable and of much lesser value to the adult population in our society, who wield power over them.
The statistics are staggering if we stop to actually think about it. I have read that abortions are the most common surgery performed on women. In 2011, 1.06 million abortions were performed. From 1973 through 2011, nearly 53 million legal abortions occurred . Those are big numbers and are hard to visualize. I lived in Loveland Colorado years ago, a town at the time of 35,000 souls. A million deaths would equal three towns of Loveland’s size wiped off of the map. We think horrible tragedy if an airliner goes down killing two to three hundred people. Yet each day over 2700 babies are killed equating to six 747 airliners carrying 450 passengers each, crashing every day. Would our society tolerate such massacre? No.
So how did we as a nation move from “all are created equal” and therefore protected under the law to only some are protected? I think that the answer is based on where we, as individuals, see life originating. Abortion is not just a non-Christian issue. The congregants of the Church at large [Protestant and Catholic] are severely divided on this issue. This article is written from a Christian perspective. My source material is unashamedly the Bible. And I am going to state right up front that I believe that God is the originator of all life. I do not believe that we evolved out of some primordial slime pit from a one celled-organism into the complicated entity that we are today. God was there when each of us had our start. Hold that thought…
Here is an interesting question: Does God believe that humans He creates are equal in status – babies and adults? In order to answer that, I have to go to the source where God speaks to that issue. I have found five ways that God speaks to the issue of equality of human life. Here they are:
FIRST: God cares for the unborn. When God was forming the nation of Israel, He told them that “If men fight and hit a pregnant woman and … there is serious injury, then you will give a life for a life.” [Exodus 21:22-25] God is expressing a deep moral code here. Even human life that seems to have little or no value to us humans is invaluable to Him. In other words, God is telling us that He expects us to respect life from the very beginning, both of the mother and of the child. Precaution should be taken to insure that no hurt might occasion a miscarriage.
SECOND: We are to protect the helpless. Jesus Himself told said to the Disciples: “It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” [Matthew 18:14] What are amazing are the contradictions we have within the boundaries of the law. In many states, the law says that it is illegal to distribute drugs to a minor. That includes ingesting drugs when a woman is pregnant. If caught, they will be prosecuted under the law. That means that it is illegal to do harm to the baby a woman is carrying. However, it is perfectly lawful to kill it! All alcoholic drinks carry the federally mandated warning: “In accordance with the Surgeon General, woman should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.” So the government is insistent that women should be warned that alcohol can harm their baby but there is no warning about the risks of abortion to the baby; it is killed. We live in a conflicted society because we refuse to protect the helpless from perishing as God intended.
THIRD: Children are from God. “Children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” [Psalm 127:3] Here is the problem. Our society has moved away from acknowledging God. Therefore we have no reason to see babies as a blessing from Him. We no longer see babies as something to value but more of a commodity.
FOURTH: God forms every child. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” [Psalm 139:13-16] Of course, if one believes that they evolved from an ape or some lesser form of life, what God has to say is meaningless and foolish. For me, knowing that there is Someone who is intimately concerned about me rather than my beginnings being chance evolution in a swamp is a source of great comfort. It gives me a reason for my name and for being. There is a future for me. I have a destiny. This life is not all there is to my existence.
God plans the future of every child. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you …” [Jeremiah 1:5] God has a distinct purpose for each life He creates. Our goal is to discover and work out His plan.
We have in our culture a conundrum. Our society, including a large segment of Christians, have opted to question God. It happened in the Garden first when the Tempter asked Eve “Did God really tell you …?” It takes a radical commitment to listening and adhering to the principles God has laid down for our welfare to follow a different path than society. But that is the only path that leads to emotional and physical health.