Prayer for personal discernment

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Prayer for personal discernment

John 8:31-38

True Disciples

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”

The third prayer we pray is a prayer of personal discernment. As we listen to God’s guidance we begin to begin to compare our actions first, but eventually our very character with the truth that god speaks to us.

This prayer reaches from God, through our own spiritual ears, and into our hearts and leads us into what those following the 12 Steps refer to as a “moral inventory”. Jesus led His disciples in this practice routinely, often in debriefing moments after healing and teaching the crowds around Him. He tested them even as He led them to learn to test themselves.

Here in John’s gospel we are shown the important link between our disobedience and sin. We sin, not only out of rebellious choices, but perhaps even deeper, because we are slaves of sin. The popular song below reminds us that in Christ we have freedom from that slavery to sin and death, or more specifically as the song suggests, to fear. What does fear have to do with slavery to sin? Fear keeps us from looking at it.

From the bloody cinema classic, The Usual Suspects, we get the line: “The greatest trick the devil every pulled was convincing the works that he did not exist.” This article, from Heathwood Press examines the progression of such a notion, but ends up in a form of self-condemnation, tripping over the concept of the devil “myth”. Mythos does not mean make believe. It means does not describe the truth or falsity of a claim. It refers to the format it is communicated – specifically, as a story. (For example, any explanation of the creation of the works that begins “thousands of years ago, in a place far, far away” is told as myth whether it is followed by the story from Genisis, the Big Bang, or Star Wars. Scientific, verifiable evidence would be video footage of the actual event.) When we make an external evil non-existent, we lay the blame squarely on ourselves. While in one light, this provides motivation to change, it also begs the question: Why haven’t we learned to overcome evil as a society? if the answer to that is that we are unable, it logically determines something (or someone) holding a dominating power over our will. Hence, as Jesus says, if we win, we are slaves to it. Fear holds us back from confronting that fear – and our refusal to confront it leads to an inability to change.

One last example from the pagan works on the importance of naming the enslaving forces in our lives comes from Plato in his Allegory of a Cave. Truth that we cannot see has power over us. Truth that we will not see has just as much power, but it is more tragic. What Jesus gives US is the ability to see, little by little, that power that enslaves us, so that we, in turn, can return and ask Him for help.

What sin has enslaved you?

God and Slavery

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God and Slavery

Titus 2

2 But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2 Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.

3 Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.

9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

15 Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Tt 2:1–15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Proof-texting may well be the death of us all. Some people have looked at passages like this one, noticed the word “slaves”, observed the way Paul does not denounce it as the most vile thing imaginable, and then proceeded to throw out the entire bible as being irrelevant at best and sometimes calling it the root of all social evils in the world. Jesus, once pointed out that it is important to judge yourself first before judging others, something which applies to cultures of the past as well as those of the present. So, if slavery is a hot button issue for you (and it probably should be), here is some of the present data on how well your own culture is doing at eliminating it.

Now that we have taken a sobering look at the problem and realize that there are more slaves in our world today than there were back in the Roman Empire to which Paul was writing, lets look again at what Paul is asking Christians in general, and Titus in particular, to do.

  1. Teach consistent, sound doctrine. Don’t make it up as you go. Contexts may change, but the values and the mission of God does not.
  2. Older men should be temperate (balanced), serious, prudent, and solid in Faith, Love, and Endurance. (It was probably possible to technically be a slave owner in first century Rome and do all these things, but from our perspective, it would probably look more like someone who worked in exchange for housing. By that standard, there are some church pastors, living in parsonages, who would technically be slaves in America today. You could not be abusive to anyone and even be considerate “temperate”, let alone sound in faith, love, and endurance. If your goal is only to abolish slavery, you are setting the bar too low. It is a good start, but it is nowhere near enough.
  3. Older women are taught to be reverent. This means your actions and words should teach others around you how to act… because, whether you want them to or not, they do just that. We can complain about the younger generations but many were raised by parents, and a growing number have been raised by grandparents that taught them everything they know, either intentionally or unintentionally. Do our words and actions shine so clearly that our enemies are frustrated trying to say anything bad about us?
  4. Slaves. What do you tell someone who is a slave to do? Stop being a slave? Stand up for yourself? What if their slavery is paying for the survival of their families? What do we say to the people who have escaped abusive slavery, only to go back and buy slaves of their own to profit from? Paul here says slaves have the unique role of being an “ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior”. I think this points to the fact that Jesus became our slave, took our abuse, and did not retaliate. If you suffer in such a situation, you have the possibility of truly exemplifying Christ in a way that those of us who are free from such suffering are unable to do. Honestly, I’m not sure I could do that myself. I have too much of the impious, rebellious spirit of worldly passions raging inside of me. I may not be enslaved to any one person or institution, but I’m not immune to worldly temptations, addictions, or any other spiritual slave master out there. Too many times I have thought or said, “I don’t have any other choice.”, thus revealing the true master I serve.

What would it look like to be a slave of God, I wonder?
I imagine, as the story of the Prodigal illumines, God treats His slaves better than we treat our own children sometimes.
I wonder if I could do it? I wonder how my perspective on everything would change if I understood and believed that I belonged to God and no one else?

For those who slavery is an unredeemable word, maybe it is time we quit talking about it, stop waiting for our governments to do the work we are unwilling to do, and be like Jesus, paying the debts of those millions of slaves and freeing them from that bondage and abuse, because one way or another, that is what it is going to take… putting our own money, service, and lives where our mouths are.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Third Priority – Find the Root

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“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” – ‭‭Mark‬ ‭1:21-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It is only after preparing yourself (Priority #1) and recruiting a team to help you (Priority #2) will you be ready to start making waves in the world. So, once you get yourself ready, how do you go about bringing about the change the world needs?Jesus faced many oppositions in the course of His ministry, but Mark proposed a particular order of priority in which Jesus engaged those foes. The first foe He faced was spiritual oppression.

Moses, in the days of the Exodus from Egypt, faced many challenges in trying to lead the Hebrew people from a place of slavery in Egypt to being faithful servants of God – a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They had lots of changes to make to get to that point, but the first and foremost was freedom from the oppression of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Not much else could be done before that was accomplished. Jesus faced a similar foe in his attempts to bring Israel (and through His disciples, the rest of the world) back into that role of kingdom of priests and holy nation. He was not facing a foreign king and army though. Jesus faced Satan and all of his fallen angels that had the people in another kind of bondage – sin.

A person who is truly enslaved has no ability to choose for themselves. Not only is it impossible for them to change themselves, it may actually be rather cruel to ask them to do so. The standards to which Jesus was asking His people to live by were, and are, impossible for those who are slaves to demonic spiritual oppression. So, whenever his teaching was challenged by those under spiritual oppression, Jesus did not chastise the challenger – He delivered them from bondage. More than simply asking people to change – Jesus made change possible for them.

Jesus looked at all the mess in this world and located the root of all of it and cut out the root first before trying to clean up the fruits of evil. As we work to make a difference in this world, if we have not discovered the root of the problem, we need to do more digging before we start cutting things down. If the experience of Jesus is any kind of guideline for us, we may have some spiritual battles to win before we can make any lasting change in this world.

This may drive us right back to Priority #1 if we find ourselves unprepared and unequipped to handle the root cause of the problems we face, and that could be quite frustrating. Think though of the cost of moving ahead while leaving the root of the problem to fester. The same problem will only crop up again somewhere else, perhaps somewhere nearby. How many political rebellions against tyrant dictators have resulted only in a new tyrant dictator on the throne? What is truly saddening is the number of times those who raise up the revolt end up being as bad or worse leaders once they win. If you truly want to bring change into the lives of others, sin must be factored in, and until you can give people freedom from it, any change they experience will be short-lived at best.

The Second Circle

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With sequestered trends the highlit hollyply

cut our hours, leash our eyes

cap our ears with cheap, chalky sand

set us marching in a ring, and sing

a sleighing song, with cracking quips

and two-bit foremen

with a lark

will lead their escorts

to the ark

They’ll cull them out and comb their hair

to frame our faces, stain our skin

spin our heads ’round a plastic lens

kept for turning our yearn to learn

a burning dance, the twisting hips

to rugged beats

we’ll take our chance

with a bottle of shame

and cheap romance