Risk Mitigation in Schools

There’s a lot of back and forth on the issue of opening schools right now—which was only to be expected. Moving forward has been increasingly difficult, however, as each side insists on an all or nothing approach. We are spending far more time arguing than we are problem solving.

This issue affects not only the lives and well being of our students, staff, and faculty, but also the greater spread of the virus and the burden on our hospital system. Reopening the schools will cause the virus to spread and it will result in the deaths of both students and teachers. The only point in question is how bad it will be. The virus has already killed 3x the number that the flu and pneumonia average for a year, so even if some of those numbers are misrepresented it still poses significant risk.

However, there is also the important factor of moving our children’s education forward—the stalling of which could have long term and unforeseen consequences. Other issues with children staying home include, but are not limited to, an increased burden on parents without child care, as well as increases in neglect and abuse. Not to mention their overall mental health, which shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The polarization comes where one side refuses to reopen in any way, shape, or form, while the other side refuses to take necessary safety precautions seriously. Consider motor vehicles; thousands die in car accidents every year, but we take steps to mitigate those potential deaths and injuries through safety precautions, law, and regulation.

It would be unrealistic to insist on shutting down all motor vehicle traffic to prevent death or injury, just as it would be equally unrealistic—and irresponsible—to claim a right to drive as fast as you want, not require a license, or not require manufacturers to include safety equipment.

What we need right now for our schools is the equipment, laws, and regulations necessary to provide as much protection as possible without a complete shutdown. The problem is that currently safety precautions seem to be optional and people are not taking them seriously. Laws and regulations are not doing a good job with education or enforcement, to the point that they may as well not exist.

Adopting the methods that have worked for other countries, as well as limiting the number of students and/or faculty inside the school on a given day could both go a long way towards mitigating risk. Right now, however, students aren’t even doing something so simple as wearing a mask. Whether you think it works or not isn’t the issue, if it is required by law or school policy then it should be followed and enforced.

I will be keeping my children home because I have the capability to do so, as I believe everyone with that option should do. By those of us that are able keeping our children home, we reduce risk. Just as having some teachers stay home and exclusively manage online class would reduce risk.

Another simple way is to let the children choose one friend to have close contact with. Rather than telling them zero contact and having them not listen at all. Giving them a person to have legitimate contact with—though not perfect—will reduce the risk that would otherwise be much higher.

We have to find ways to compromise so that we can move forward. There will be risk involved no matter what we do, but this fighting and digging in our heels is only making matters worse. I don’t pretend to have all the answers—and I’m sure that at least some of what I’ve said here is entirely wrong—but my point is that we need to start working together, rather than against one another, regardless of what are own opinion may be. If we can’t do so simple a thing for the sake of our children, how can we even begin to expect them to act like reasonable young men and women?

God’s Wisdom, Not Man’s

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,” Proverbs 3:13

There are many in this world that claim the name of Christian, but simply carrying his name does not instantly make one a disciple of Christ. We must die to ourselves to truly follow his way, which is the way of truth, the way of life, and the way of love (Luke 14:27, Gal. 2:20). One of the greatest difficulties with this is simply understanding just what those three things are, for Scripture defines them very differently than our world. That is to say that God defines them very differently than man.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” he tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9, “neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” We must then seek to understand the truth that God has to tell us, rather than the truth we would invent on our own. We must seek to live our life in the way and the purpose that God meant for us, rather than our own way and for our own purposes. Finally, we must understand what it is to truly love another, which can only be seen in the love of Christ and only accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. All of this requires humility and the willingness to go to God knowing nothing and asking for wisdom (James 1:5).

I have been wrong. I have held to false ideals and been too quick to speak. I have treated others in ways that were not only unloving, but even hateful. We must admit our own arrogance and our own ignorance before we may be taught. Only then will our Father be able to bring us up in the way that we should go. The good news is that God is patient, God is gracious, and God is kind. He will forgive us our faults and guide us in the way of his righteousness, for his name’s sake. Then we will be able to use the gifts that he has given us to do the work of the Kingdom of Heaven amidst the kingdoms of mankind.

Although I could attempt to define truth, the way of life, and the love of Christ, I would be able to only briefly touch on these ideas that are each worthy of volumes. I would also make mistakes, for my own understanding is often faulty or incomplete. Therefore I will recommend a starting point in Scripture. If you do not trust in Scripture then I ask that you would first be willing to pray to God for wisdom and listen to him above all else, including yourself.

The starting point I speak of is that of Proverbs chapter 3. The entire book of Proverbs provides a great deal of wisdom, just as the rest of Scripture lets us see the truth and light and love of God. You could begin with the life and death of Jesus Christ to redeem us all for our sins, or the learning and works of the early Church through the book of Acts and the letters of Paul to the various churches. You could also simply begin in Genesis and read through the entirety while asking God to teach you.

The reason I suggest Proverbs chapter 3 is because it is a starting point that speaks of the blessings of holding to God’s commandments and the foundation of “steadfast love and faithfulness.” It tells us to lean not unto our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge God and he himself will make straight our paths. It tells us that if we turn away from evil, God will be our healing, and that when we face trials we should not be “weary of his reproof,” for the Lord disciplines those he loves.

With these things in mind we can move forward, asking God to teach us what it means to be his disciple and how we may succeed in following him. We will not fall so readily into the snares of the Enemy or the self-righteousness of the anger of man. Only then we will be able to walk the “paths of peace” under the shade of the tree of life. Only then we will be known as the children of God.

Division in Conflict

It breaks my heart that there are Christians choosing sides and issuing accusations during this time. We should be acting as mediators and peacemakers, protecting life, valuing justice, and sowing peaceful communication. Divisive and judgmental statements only push others away from Christ. We are called not to judge one another and especially not to judge the world, and that includes both criminals and criminal police. That does not mean that we should remain silent, far from it, we should be advocates for the weak and the oppressed, the poor and the abused and the imprisoned. In truth, we have been silent for far too long.

Defending the fact that many police officers are valuable, honest, self-sacrificing peace keepers, does not mean dismissing and devaluing the cause of oppressed minorities. It is not one or the other, just as our God sacrificed for all despite the fact that we were his enemies (Romans 5:10). We must do the same if we choose to bear our cross and follow him.

We are called to submit to the authorities placed over us, but not if that authority is acting against God’s will of love, peace, and justice (Acts 5:29, Gal 1:10). Regardless of whether someone has a criminal record, our police do not have the right to execute suspects on the street.

Protesters should not be acting in destruction or violence, but you cannot call someone to peace by threatening them. It is also important to understand that the looters are not protesters, they are thieves taking advantage of a chaotic situation.

After over 400 years oppression, imprisonment, and brutality, a certain amount of anger and retaliation is to be expected. That is not to condone the behavior, but to understand where it is coming from. The protesters are not what need to be changed; once the issues that are being protested are finally fully addressed, the need for protesters will be gone.

Saying that 99% of police are good is an opinion, not a statistic. And in my own personal experience of working along side law enforcement in both civilian and military rolls it is largely an incorrect one. I would say that about 20% of law enforcement that I’ve worked with dehumanized “criminals” and as many as 1 in 10 were eager to deal violence or death, to “get a kill.”

I was on duty the night our MA1 (Master at Arms) shot and killed a young man for stealing a motorcycle. He said he was in danger because the motorcycle was going to run him down, despite the fact that he could have easily stepped behind his cruiser and he had time to fire three shots and then jump aside. He was, of course, cleared of all charges. This is only one of many situations I could personally attest to, despite having worked in security for less than 3 years.

People point out the criminal backgrounds involved in the deaths of black people at the hands of police because they have no idea what it is like to grow up in the ghettos created by white oppression over the last 150 years. If you want facts and statistics, how about the fact that America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world?

Their criminal behavior is not only learned, it is a mode of survival. That doesn’t make it right, but we need to take responsibility for it as a society, not use it as an excuse to justify murder. And that is not even taking into account the “sweeps” where police will randomly arrest young black men (there are laws allowing for “gangs” to be arrested if 3 or more are together). These men are charged with whatever crimes they can be, despite having little to no probable cause, and are often blamed simply because they resemble a suspect. The unjust sentences then take young men and fathers away from the community, leading to a lack of leadership that allows the cycle to continue.

Studies have shown upwards of 80% of inmates have suffered traumatic head injuries! Instead of helping those with drug addictions and head injuries that increase irrational and violent behavior, we excuse their abuse both inside and outside of incarceration because they’re “criminals.” Have we forgotten that each of us were once criminals in the eyes of God? Drop the stone in your hand.

Presidents and powerful men can be accused of rape by scores of women and it is dismissed offhand, but a black man murdered on the street deserves what he gets because of a petty crime. It is time the Church in America stops catering to wolves in sheep’s clothing and takes a stand for those oppressed by our very hand, for those orphaned because their fathers were imprisoned, for those widowed because our justice system is unjust.

The Lord disciplines those he loves. If you truly follow Christ, ask God to search your heart and give you truth in this matter before you raise your voice against one side or another. We are all in this life together and none of us gets out of it alive. Perhaps we should take a closer look at what we ourselves will be answering for when we stand before the throne of God.

The City of God (Has the Kingdom Come?)

I had a conversation with someone that thought the words of Revelation that said “a new Heaven and a new Earth” were “conventional language” and the city of God descending from Heaven was just figurative. He thought that the Kingdom of God had already been established on Earth. I’m not sure what he meant exactly, but I can assure you that the Koine Greek written 2000 years ago contains those words. So I wanted to offer a few teachings from Scripture that talk about it.

As for the Kingdom of God descending, I’m talking about the fulfillment of God’s eternal Kingdom promised throughout Scripture. The Bible does often use figurative language, especially in the visions of the Prophets, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t going to do what he said he would do, just that we might not fully understand what that will look like. Scripture speaks in depth about the Kingdom of God reigning forever in peace.

1 Chron 22:9-10 (This says that the son of David will be a man of “rest” or “peace” and that he will build the Temple of God–since David had shed blood in God’s sight–and he will be “God’s son” and his throne will be established over Israel forever. Obviously, Solomon’s throne did not last forever. It was shattered by his son and then eventually taken away entirely. Most Biblical scholars believe this actually refers to Christ as the son of God whose throne will last forever.)

Daniel 2:44 (All other kingdoms will be cast down and God’s will reign forever)

Matt 7:21 (Notice the words “on that day”)

Jesus’s teachings in Matt 2425 on the end of this world and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven make it clear. As well as his teachings in Luke 13:22-30. He always says the Kingdom is “near” or “in the midst of you,” referring to himself (for where the King is, the Kingdom is).

Before his ascension, the disciples ask if he will then restore the Kingdom. Jesus responds it is not for them to know when, but to do the work he has given them until the Father brings about that time (Acts 1).

Our God promises us peace and life forever with him as our King. That’s not what I see in the world today. I see war and famine, hate and selfishness. A Church broken and divided, full of members who seek after the things of this world and are lead astray be false teachings. Is that what our all-powerful God has promised us? Is this as good as it gets?

I see God’s people moving in power and in grace, proclaiming the name of Christ even in adversity and persecution. I see God working mircales, redeeming his creation and bringing in his sons and daughters. This is the time of trial and the work of the saints, the time to perserve in faith (Revelation 13:10), until the Kingdom is established forever (Revelation 21:1-3).

The Truth and Grace of Scripture Concerning Homosexuality

To begin, I want to make my intent and who I am speaking to very clear; this is an exposition to Christians who follow Scripture and possibly to those who disagree with Scripture at times but wish to understand why we hold to it’s truth and authority in such matters. This is NOT to condemn, or really even to argue, with those who disagree. In truth, this is meant to be more of a tool for those who may be struggling with this issue—either for themselves or for another.

I will look at what Scripture says about the issue of homosexuality (and sexual immorality in general), as well as what it doesn’t say. As with all Biblical controversies, there are many words that have been misquoted and misunderstood by both sides. Finally, I will offer Biblical suggestions on moving forward in a way that promotes truth, but also peace and grace.

(For more on why we believe in the authority and authenticity of Scripture, a good starting point is this sermon from Ben Stuart.)

Scripture clearly states in both the Old and New Testaments that homosexuality is sinful: (Romans 1:26-27, Leviticus 20:13). It is important, though, to remember that we are born with an inherently sinful nature: (Romans 3:23, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 14:3). Even though a person might be born homosexual, that does not then justify the behavior. A person could be born alcoholic and have to struggle to remain sober their entire life. Most men are naturally prone to lustful thoughts, that doesn’t make those things acceptable just because they are “natural.”

Concerning sexuality, even our thoughts betray us (Matthew 5:27-28) and sex outside of marriage is no different. Considering this, we should not be so quick to condemn others. Everyone possesses an inherently corrupt sexuality because we are all inherently corrupted with sin (Romans 7:14-25).

There are those that say Scripture condemns homosexuality as “unforgivable.” This is usually based off of a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which says “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Looking closely at this verse, you can see that several sins besides just homosexuality are mentioned—including things like adultery and greed. Since we have already ascertained that Scripture tells us that even lustful thoughts is adultery, then this verse would seem to condemn quite a lot of people (just about everyone really). Paul was not, however, saying that these particular sins would not be forgiven—only “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” will not be forgiven according to Jesus (Matt 12:32).

In the very next verse (1 Corinthians 6:11) Paul makes clear the truth of forgiveness and the removal of our sins. Now, this does require repentance, but any immature disciple is bound to have some wrong thinking and tendencies towards sin that they may not even be aware of. This was certainly true for the early church, which was a big part of why Paul had to write so many letters in the first place.

What he was actually talking about were those who gave only lip service to becoming Christian and then ran back into willful sin. In the society of the time, these things were largely accepted. They had gods that accepted drunken, sexual debauchery as worship. Homosexual relationships between mentors and mentees was not only acceptable, but expected. Paul was pointing out that those who went back to this lifestyle with little care for discipleship or sanctification had never really accepted the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven in the first place. He was telling believers that they couldn’t be citizens of Heaven and citizens of this world at the same time (Hebrews 10:26-27).

This is an altogether different issue, and one that is worth delving into, but it is not a condemnation to hell of anyone that practices homosexuality. That then leaves us room to be more understanding and turn this into a conversation rather than condemnation. It is important to stand on the truths of Scripture and allow God to qualify what is right and wrong instead of ourselves, but we are not meant to judge non-believers (1 Corinthians 5:12) and—in my opinion—those believers who go against Scripture not because they are being willfully sinful, but simply out of ignorance or disagreement with the Word should not be looked at as outcasts.

We are to pray for our brothers and sisters who sin (1 John 5:16-17) and remember that forgiveness was purchased for us on the cross (1 John 2:1-2). Even looking at the Old Testament, which has such strong language against homosexuality, we see forgiveness. Leviticus chapter 4 outlines what to do for unintentional sin and each time it ends with forgiveness. That which would normally end with being outcast or even death was instead met with forgiveness by a loving and merciful God (Lamentations 3:22-23). If a person truly does not believe what they are doing is sinful, how can it be said that their sin is intentional?

Matt 18:15-20 outlines how to deal with an individual’s sin within the Church. In each of the three steps, it begins with a conversation. First, we meet person to person, which is meant to be full of grace rather than calling a person out in front of everyone. Then, if that fails we are to bring in others—not to gang up, but to show that neutral third parties agree with the understanding of Scripture and whatever issue of sin is at hand. Then the church leadership is brought in to mediate and only then, finally, is an unrepentant person treated as a non-believer. And even this is done with love and with grace. As I have already opined, I do not believe it necessary to completely reject those who simply have differences in ideas or Biblical interruptions. That is what has lead to such great division in the Church world-wide.

So long as we are standing on the truth of Scripture, it is not necessary to force others to believe it. We can act in peace and in love to everyone, as a humble servant, without requiring them to believe what we do. This is what Christ did for us. This is how God handled our own sin and rebellion against him, and it’s how we should handle others.

Scripture is clear that we should be careful not to allow the Church to be lead astray (2 Peter 2:1, Matthew 7:15-20, 2 Timothy 4:3), but as long as we we remain open to conversation we can move forward together. It is important to remember that no one has a perfect understanding of Scripture, God, humans, this world, or Heaven. One thing is certain, that our understanding will not grow without open communication—both with one another and with God.

A Simple Understanding of the Lord’s Prayer

When asked how to pray, Jesus gave us what is now known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” It teaches us how to pray in a way that aligns our hearts and minds with the perfect will of God. Every prayer that we ever pray could use this prayer as a framework.
Matt. 6: 9-13

(Note: This is all 100% based on Scripture, but I have not added verse references because it is based on 100% of Scripture. If you are interested in exploring the truth of these words further, I encourage you to prayerfully read the Word of God yourself (James 1:5).

Our Father
We get to call God abba, father. He invites us into a close personal relationship with him that is founded on the love of a father for his children.

Who art in Heaven
God’s throne is in Heaven, above all creation. He is not dependent on creation, nor is he held to its laws, having been the one to create them in the first place. His way is higher than our ways, and his thoughts higher than our thoughts.

Hallowed be thy name
God’s name is holy, separate, greater than anything in existence. We proclaim the glory of that name and praise his holiness.

Thy Kingdom come
We pray for the Kingdom of Heaven to come and restore this broken world. We look forward to the day when all of creation kneels before the King and all evil is cast out forever.

Thy will be done
Though we may pray for our own heart’s desires, we recognize that God’s will is perfect and good. So when we pray, we are really trying to get our own hearts into alignment with God’s.

On Earth as it is in Heaven
We see that the Earth is not what it should be. We ask that God in his graciousness would move and act to change this world according to his perfect will and that we would follow it the same as the hosts of Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread
We recognize that God is our provider in all things and that his truest provision is not earthly things, but himself. The body of Christ and the Word of God is our bread.

Forgive us our debts
We admit our sin, reject the condemnation of the Enemy, and accept the forgiveness of God bought for us on the cross.

As we forgive our debtors
Just as we have been forgiven a great debt, we forgive those who have wronged us. We recognize that our sin against God is far worse than anything another human could do to us, since he is perfect and holy and we are not.

Lead us not into temptation
We recognize that we are prone to wander from God and indulge in sinful things. We pray for God’s own hand to lead us as a shepherd leads his sheep, in order to protect us from those temptations.

But deliver us from the Evil One
We see the Enemy for who and what he is, that he condemns us, tempts us, and wishes our destruction. We pray for God and God alone to be our protection from evil.

(Some translations don’t include the following because it was most likely a catechism added by the early apostles. Regardless, it is still found within Scripture, from King David’s blessing in 1 Chron. 29:11)

For yours is the Kingdom
We recognize God as King over all creation, above any power or authority we may follow on Earth.

The power and the glory
Just as God is the King, he is also the only one who grants humankind power, wealth, or glory. All that we have, even our own talents, skills, and faith are gifts from God. Anything that we give to him we are giving from what was already his.

Forever, amen.
God is eternal. As is his love, mercy, and grace. He offers us the chance to share in eternity through the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ, to be co-inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Truth About Women in Ministry

I’m going to try to keep this short and simple, since it’s a crying shame that we still have an issue with it in this day and age. I suppose we must remember that the Enemy is always looking to subvert and corrupt God’s word. That’s why it is so important to have a holistic approach to the Bible. To study and to pray for wisdom concerning all of Scripture, not just a few snippets here and there. Imagine you had a father who only ever communicated with you via cliché sayings like “work smarter, not harder.” They never sat down and had a heart to heart or any meaningful conversation, just the little clichés. That wouldn’t be a very meaningful relationship would it?

So here’s the issue: women in ministry. Some look at 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as the defining Scripture that says women should be silent and let the men preach. This is not only a misunderstanding of the true meaning of the text, but also completely ignores what Paul also said in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (emphasis mine). This is shown best in Romans 16 where he says “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [or deaconess] of the church at Cenchreae.” He also mentions Priscilla and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia in equal standing as ministers and apostles, as well as several individual females doing significant work for the Lord.

What then, is Paul and his protege Timothy saying in their other texts? They are speaking specifically to husbands and wives. It is important to note that the word for “man” (aner) is the same as for “husband.” So although Timothy’s verse is often translated as “man,” it still echoes Paul’s words to husbands and wives. Think about this: the husband is supposed to be the spiritual leader of the relationship (Eph 5:22-25), where the wife looks to him for wisdom and he looks to God. Although this, of course, does not mean that the wife shouldn’t have her own meaningful relationship with the Lord; this speaks to leadership decisions. Just as the Pastor may lead the Church, but each individual still has their own relationship with the Lord (1 Cor 3:16).

If the husband is meant to lead, how then would he feel if his wife is asking spiritual questions? He would feel like he had failed to instruct her himself. We must also remember that Scripture contains personal opinions. Paul shows this himself in 1 Cor 7:12. Furthermore, the commandments to go out and spread the Word, be a light to the world, and testify in general never mention anything about male and female being different. These two mentions from Paul and Timothy are the only places in all of Scripture that one might even begin to make that conclusion. [please leave a comment and correct me if I’m wrong here.]

But don’t take my word for it. Pray. Ask the Lord to instruct you himself and then when the time comes to speak to others you will find that “The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them.” (Luke 12:12)

Last Days Edification

Whether the final days come within the next few decades or the next few centuries, Scripture provides us the truth to walk through them along the narrow path. I will let Scripture speak for itself, since this is an edification for those that trust in Scripture. I will add only some relevant emphasis.

The “end times” began when Jesus arrived. The last two thousand years has been a working out of sanctification, that as many as possible may be saved. We continue as Jesus began: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

2 Timothy 3: 1-4
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,

2 Timothy 4:3-5 ESV

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Matthew 24:10-20 ESV

And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:23-27 ESV

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so…

LUKE 21 (Read entire chapter)

Luke 21:9-11 ESV

And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

Luke 21:12-19 ESV

But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and…

AFTERWARDS:

Micah 4 ESV

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Revelation 21 NIV

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

1 Corinthians 15:54 ESV

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Know your Gifts of the Spirit (Romans 12:4-8)

Most Christians have one primary gift from those listed in Romans 12, but will often lean towards one or two others as secondary gifts. There are other spiritual gifts, such as that of healing, intercession, or praise music. But the gifts of Romans 12 are often the primary way that the average disciple is able to do God’s work, spread His love, and build up the Church.

These gifts are empowered by the Holy Spirit of God and enable us as apostles of Jesus Christ to go out and do the work that he said we would do (John 14:12). Therefore, they always do more when we are in a constant and meaningful relationship with God and His Holy Spirit within us through discipleship and prayer.

You can think of it this way:

Christians with the gift of…

  • Prophecy are the eyes of the body of Christ.

  • Service are the hands of the body of Christ.

  • Teaching are the mind of the body of Christ.

  • Giving are the arms of the body of Christ.

  • Exhortation are the mouth of the body of Christ.

  • Administration are the head of the body of Christ.

  • Mercy are the heart of the body of Christ.

What the spiritual gifts of Romans 12 are:

  • Special abilities God gives YOU to do His work in the world.

  • Gifts given to all believers. No one gift is given to everyone, and no one has them all. We are meant to work together.

  • A powerful way for an individual disciple to express the love of God.

  • Important roles for building up and maintaining the Church.

  • Equal. No one gift is more important than any other. It takes all of them working together to make a functioning body.

What they are NOT:

  • For your private benefit. They are meant to be used for the common good.

  • Natural talents or acquired skills. They are gifts from God.

  • Roles or positions in the Church. Not everyone who serves will have the gift of Service. Not every pastor will have the gift of Teaching or Leadership. A person’s gift will often help them in their role within the church, but there will be different gifts among those in the various roles throughout the church.

Prophecy/Insight – Believers with the motivational gift of prophecy are the “seers” or “eyes” of the body. They have insight, foresight, and act like watch dogs in the church. They warn of sin or reveal sin. They are usually very verbal and may come across as judgmental and impersonal; they are serious, dedicated, and loyal to truth even over friendship.

  • They are often given insight into Scripture and the hearts of others in order to share revelations from the Holy Spirit or to warn away from sin.

  • It is important for someone with this gift to have frequent times of confession and the acceptance of forgiveness for sins. A prophet struggling with sin—and especially shame and condemnation—will be unable to use their gift in any significant way.

  • Someone with Prophecy will of often be given Mercy/Compassion as well, since it helps provide balance.

  • This gift will often come with struggle and suffering that is necessary for instruction and the building up of personal discipleship. Because of this and the strict examination of personal sin, it is important for someone with Prophecy to have a good support structure and preferably have another with the gift to guide them. Although the Lord himself will also be providing this guidance. The person with Prophecy should rely heavily on their relationship with the Holy Spirit to get through from day to day.

Ministering/Serving/Helpers – Those with the motivational gift of serving are the “hands” of the body. They are concerned with meeting needs; they are highly motivated, doers. They may tend to over commit, but find joy in serving and meeting short-term goals.

  • A server will often be drawn towards physical work, but should be careful not to over-commit and burn out.

  • It is important for a server to follow the leadership appointed over them, so that the service works smoothly. They should be careful, however, not to serve blindly when there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

  • Someone with Service will often be given the gift of Giving, since they often go hand in hand. i.e. Serving at fund raisers.

  • Someone with Service will genuinely enjoy serving and honoring others, even when it is difficult work.

Teaching – Those with the motivational gift of teaching are the “mind” of the body. They realize their gift is foundational; they emphasize accuracy of words and love to study; they delight in research to validate truth.

  • Those with the gift of Teaching are naturally drawn to lead Bible study, speak as pastors, or teach in children’s ministry.

  • They will spend much of their time in study and validation of the truth. Their prayer time will often begin with asking the Lord for wisdom.

  • It is important for someone with Teaching to have an outlet to actually teach, so that their studies are not in vain.

  • Those with this gift should not become discouraged if their teaching seems to be ignored. Often those seeds that are planted take time to sprout and bear fruit.

Giving – Those with the motivational gift of giving are the “arms” of the body. They truly enjoy reaching out in giving. They are excited by the prospect of blessing others; they desire to give quietly, in secret, but will also motivate others to give. They are alert to people’s needs; they give cheerfully and always give the best that they can.

  • Someone with the gift of Giving will be good at planning and maintaining a budget, setting up fundraisers, and finding those in need.

  • It is important for a giver to remember that all things belong to God and He is the ultimate provider.

  • A giver will often be the supporting figure for those who have the gift of Service, since it is difficult to serve without the funds to do so.

  • Those with Giving may also be given Mercy/Compassion as they often deal with those in need.

Exhortation/Encouragement – Those with the motivational gift of encouragement are the “mouth” of the body. Like cheerleaders, they encourage other believers and are motivated by a desire to see people grow and mature in the Lord. They are practical and positive and they seek positive responses.

  • Someone with the gift of Encouragement will be dedicated to seeing believers grow in spiritual maturity and non-believers come to understand the life-giving qualities of God.

  • They are often drawn towards positions of counseling, teaching, and discipleship. They may be given Mercy/Compassion, or Teaching as secondary gifts.

  • It is important for someone with Encouragement to be grounded in prayer and the sovereignty of God. Remember to fill your own cup before overflowing into others.

  • It is helpful for someone with Encouragement to have someone they can speak to about any difficulties they face in attempting to help others so that they themselves do not become discouraged.

Administration/Leadership – Those with the motivational gift of leadership are the “head” of the body. They have the ability to see the overall picture and set long-term goals; they are good organizers and find efficient ways of getting work done. Although they may not seek leadership, they will assume it when no leader is available. They receive fulfillment when others come together to complete a task.

  • Someone with the gift of Leadership will naturally set others about the tasks that need to be done.

  • It is important for the leader to offer encouragement and praise accomplishment, so that they do not seem to be callously giving orders.

  • Similar to the gift of Service, someone with Leadership should beware of burn-out.

  • The support structure for the one with Leadership is more important than for any other gift. If the leadership role is small they should at least look for a second in command that can help them.

  • They will often be given the gifts of Encouragement or Mercy/Compassion because the role a leader plays in the lives and struggles of those they lead.

Mercy/Compassion – Those with the motivational gift of mercy are the “heart” of the body. They easily sense the joy or distress in other people and are sensitive to feelings and needs. They are natural prayer warriors. They are attracted to and patient with people in need, motivated by a desire to see people healed of hurts. They are truly meek in nature and avoid firmness.

  • Those with the gift of Mercy/Compassion will often be drawn to positions of counseling, although the gift may simply express itself in everyday encounters.

  • A believer with this gift should have a good support system to help them deal with the pain that they empathize with on a regular basis. It is also important to lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross and remember that Jesus is the Savior, not us.

  • They will often deal with both emotional needs and spiritual growth needs. Those with this gift will often participate in discipleship building.

  • As in all counseling, it is important for the person with mercy not to develop improper relationships with those they counsel. As well as maintaining privacy and confidence of what others confess when there is no danger of harm.

  • Those with this gift will often be given the gift of Encouragement as a natural compliment.

  • Those with Mercy/Compassion may also be drawn towards service in missionary work and/or praying for those who suffer around the world.

Finally, we should be aware that the Enemy wants nothing more than to undermine our gifts so that we are unable to do the work that God has put before us. Ways he may do this are:

  • Accusing you of sin and pouring out shame and condemnation.

  • Telling you that you’re not good enough or you’re doing it wrong.

  • Pushing you to over-commit and burn out.

  • Minimizing your efforts or making it feel impossible.

  • Making it seem as if God is not providing what you need to do the work that He has given you.

  • Highlighting any failures you may have in attempting to use your gift.

We must be diligent in renouncing the attacks of the Enemy in the name of Christ, and in helping one another. When the body of Christ works together—each using their allotted gifts to do the work set before them, helping and encouraging one another, and offering up heartfelt prayers—then the Church will truly increase the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.

Where To Begin With Fasting

Would you ask someone new to the faith to pray for someone dying of cancer? Certainly not! Unless they were particularly gifted in the area of healing prayer it would be a great disservice to everyone involved. Neither would we expect someone that had yet to read much of the Bible to teach a class on it, or someone struggling with trusting their safety to God to go on a mission trip in a hostile country.

While God will often urge us to leave our comfort zone and take that “leap of faith,” it is only after we have been built up more than we realized. He does not set us up to fail. Our God is a creator God. He molds, builds, teaches, grows. And he is far more patient than we. God does not snap his fingers and magically turn us into some super-being. So then when we come to the spiritual disciplines, we should do so with a heart that is willing to start small and work our way up. Do not be discouraged by the difficulty of reaching where you think you should be, but be encouraged to take the next step where you are.

I bring this up in this season of fasting because I often see people make this mistake when Lent comes around. The Lord does not expect us to fast for 40 days and 40 nights without food and only a little water when we’ve not fasted all year long. Do not be discouraged by the thought of the difficulty of fasting; there are ways to start small and, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, build up to greater levels. Of course, this also applies to other disciplines, such as reading Scripture or praying out loud, but it is especially important with fasting because of the physical difficulty that comes with it.

Fasting is vital to a healthy discipleship. We fast because our Lord fasted; when the disciples brought food, even though Jesus was hungry he told them “I have food that you know nothing about.” Fasting turns our focus away from the most primal of our physical needs, the need to eat to survive, and looks instead to the Lord our God to be our daily bread. It is truly a gift from God and should not be viewed as some sort of penance or hardship that God asks us to endure. Your prayer life will never be as connected with God as when you are fasting!

So then let us use some of these ways to start small and build up our fasting life to something that is joyous and life giving.

  • Before you even begin your fast pray and ask God to instruct you on how best to do it, what you should be focusing your prayers on, and exactly how long the fast should be. Get all the details straight before you begin.

  • Begin with short fasts: Eat a small breakfast and then fast through lunch. Set aside a quiet time for prayer before you eat again.

  • Drink herbal tea and/or a vegetable broth (you can easily make some yourself) in order to keep your electrolytes up. This is especially important when fasting during summer or while doing physical labor.

  • Establish a meditative prayer for when it becomes difficult. Pray “You are my daily bread” or remember the words “I have food that you know nothing about,” or “Think first of the Heavenly things.” Remember that the Holy Spirit is with you.

  • Try to focus your thoughts on God throughout your fast. Listen only to worship music, or rest in silence. Attempt to pray continually throughout your fast. Fixing the image of kneeling at the cross in my mind has always been helpful for me.

  • If you accidentally break your fast do not be discouraged! Simply continue the fast from that point and finish normally. The Lord is patient with us, especially as we are attempting to come nearer him. Never let shame and condemnation from the Enemy separate you from God in your failures.

Let us pray: Holy Father God Almighty we praise you, you are good, faithful and true. You Lord are our daily bread. Help us to focus on the heavenly things and trust all earthly things into your capable hands Lord, remembering that you are sovereign and in control. Guide us through your Holy Spirit God, keep us from stumbling and protect us from the enemy, Lord. Thank you for the gift of fasting, let it encourage us until that day when our fasting will be broken with the great rejoicing of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven once and for all!