Dissembling, Deception, and Disobedience

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:16, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Painting of Shiphrah and Puah, Unknown Artist

Continuing our series on Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited, today, I would like to take a look at deception, or lying.

Thurman writes that deception is used as a tool by the disinherited in order to “protect themselves against the strong” (58). Not only is this done by humans, but also by different species of animals, most notably through camouflage, the phenomenon through which an animal that has evolved with the ability is able to blend into its surroundings so that it is invisible to predators. This deception is specifically used to preserve one’s life or the life of another (Thurman, 69).

How many instances of deception can you think of, either in the Bible or throughout history? Thurman gives some examples, such as animals that play dead before they can be killed by predators, students who distract their teachers so that they forget to assign a quiz or homework or take another action that would be unfavorable to them, and the African-American minister who, knowing he would be punished for preaching a “social justice” sermon at the funeral of a blind African-American man who was killed by police, prayed instead. The police couldn’t arrest him if he was praying, even if he was saying everything he would have said in a sermon (Thurman, 58-60).

Additional examples I can think of are Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, who, when commanded to kill newborn Hebrew boys in Egypt, instead let them live, and lied to the Egyptian officials by turning what may have been a stereotype against them. In Exodus 1:19, the midwives tell Pharaoh that they did not kill the baby boys because:

…the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.

Exodus 1:19, NRSV

This lie allows the midwives to save lives, just as Thurman argues.

Two other examples are similar: the people who lied to protect escaped slaves hiding in their homes during the antebellum period, and the people who lied to protect Jews–and probably other persecuted groups as well–hiding in their homes during the Holocaust.

How do we determine when a lie is ethical?  The Ten Commandments command us not just against lying, but specifically against lying on other people: “bearing false witness against our neighbors” (Ex. 20:16, NRSV, edited). Does it matter how we interpret this? Does this mean that all lies are bad, or only the ones that we tell about other people in order to harm them? 

In the examples given above, lies were told in order to protect people from the enforcement of wicked laws by corrupt government officials. This reminds me of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s approach to civil disobedience. He did not advocate for the disobedience of all laws; only those that were illegitimate. A protest movement grounded in nonviolence would ensure that legitimate laws against murder were not broken. However, sit-ins at restaurants that did not serve African-Americans were acts of disobedience that defied and confronted illegitimate laws based on a false sense of racial superiority and inferiority. 

To “Christianize” this a little more, let’s take a look at what Paul says in Romans 13:

All of you must obey those who rule over you. There are no authorities except the ones God has chosen. Those who now rule have been chosen by God. 2 So whoever opposes the authorities opposes leaders whom God has appointed.

Romans 13:1-2a, New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

Yet, as the civil disobedience example shows, such obedience is complicated when the rule of law established by the authorities is one that denies the humanity of a particular group of people–the disinherited–or that requires them to break one of God’s commands, i.e. Shiphrah and Puah. In choosing which law to disobey, to lie to the officials or to kill the babies, surely they must have determined that it was better to obey God than the evil command.

Thurman makes a moral argument against deception. According to Thurman,

A man who lies habitually becomes a lie, and it is increasingly impossible for him to know when he is lying and when he is not.

Thurman, 65.

This person has lost the ability to determine right from wrong; they have no moral compass. Instead, Thurman argues for complete honesty and sincerity. Using Psalm 139, which describes God as omnipresent and omniscient, he argues that even as we lie to other people, it is impossible to lie to God. In contrast, being honest with other people equates to being honest with God (Thurman, 71-72). This honesty is then used as a weapon against the oppressor, in the place of deception.  Thurman concludes that when the disinherited operate from an ethic grounded in sincerity, it breaks down any power dynamics that may have existed:

…there is merely a relationship between human beings. A man is a man, no more, no less. The awareness of this fact marks the supreme moment of human dignity,

Thurman, 73.

Here is where I am tempted to disagree with Thurman, though this disagreement depends on how I interpret his argument, for I seem to be interpreting it in two different ways. The first interpretation is that it is solely the responsibility of the disinherited to practice sincerity in engagements with their oppressor/the group that holds power. This action enables them to feel an inherent dignity within their persons. The second interpretation is that, while the disinherited are responsible for being honest and sincere, this act serves as a mirror of sorts, reflecting onto their oppressors the wickedness that they have done. There is no longer any excuse or justification for their behavior, because the disinherited have done nothing to provoke them. Perhaps this turn towards sincerity and away from deception comes from a sense of dignity instead of evoking one.

Clearly, I’m still thinking through this, but I will push back a bit against Thurman with the words of Trinidadian-American activist on behalf of the African-American/Black American civil rights movement, Kwame Ture, born as Stokely Carmichael. Speaking specifically of Dr. King, Ture stated: 

His major assumption was that if you are nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That’s very good. He only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience….

Kwame Ture, formerly/also known as Stokely Carmichael

Ture’s words were the first that popped into my head after reading the conclusion to Thurman’s argument. Sincerity is great, but what if your opponent refuses to fight on the same ground as you? I think it’s a beautiful idea to think that consistent nonviolence/sincerity/transparency will change the hearts and behaviors of our enemies/oppressors/opponents. 

If our current climate has taught me anything, it is not necessarily that taking the moral high ground produces results, but exposure of the truth of what’s really going on. Now, if this is part of the sincerity that Thurman is advocating, I can get behind that.

“Who Do You Say I Am?” – On Fear

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

“Who do you say I am?”

Matt. 16:15, New International Version

This is the theme verse to this series on hermeneutics: the interpretation of scripture. Whether directly or indirectly, our individual and communal hermeneutics answer the above question. Who do we say Jesus is, in our words and actions?

Continuing our engagement with Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited, this week we are addressing the question: How does fear influence the development of our hermeneutics?

Fear is a motivating factor in human behavior, and we adjust our behaviors and practices in order to avoid that which we fear. For instance, I am afraid of the dark, so I have a pretty night light in my room that projects the moon and stars onto my ceiling and walls in different colors.

There. I said it.

The night light reduces the amount of darkness in my bedroom, which, for some unknown reason–unknown to me, at least–allows me to fall asleep in what I believe to be a safe environment.

While many people experience fear, Thurman connects it specifically to the experiences of the disinherited and the oppressed. People who are powerless to defend themselves against violence, especially violence that is approved or sanctioned by authority figures, understandably live in a state of heightened fear, or at least vigilance.

Thurman asks in each chapter, almost as a reminder to the reader,

Is there any help to be found for the disinherited in the religion of Jesus?

Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, 47.

What does Jesus–what does Christianity–mean to the individual or community who is fearful of violence and authority? Not because they are criminals, not because they have done anything wrong, but because by virtue of who they are, they know that they will not be protected by the system (Thurman, 45).

Actually, what does Christianity mean to the family of Breonna Taylor?

There are many cases in which unarmed African-Americans were killed by police officers and did not receive justice. Breonna Taylor’s is one of those cases. In Louisville, Kentucky, during an alleged drug raid by plainclothes police officers late at night more than one hundred days ago, Breonna was shot in her sleep. She bled out until she died. Breonna was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), an essential worker, and despite the lifesaving work she was doing for others, she had no one to protect her. Since her death, several protesters have been arrested, but the police officers who killed her–Jon Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove, Brett Hankison, and Joshua Jaynes–have not been arrested or charged in her murder.

Breonna Taylor’s murder came at a time when the country was–finally–collectively reeling with rage because the camera footage of the murder of George Floyd brought to light what many African-Americans have known for a long time: that a police officer can feel confident and brazen enough to kill a person of African descent in public without consequence.

Is there any help to be found for people like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the way American Christianity is currently set up?

It is important that I distinguish between my use of the term “Christianity” and my use of the term “Jesus,” because it would be inaccurate to, as Thurman does, describe Christianity as “the religion of Jesus”. Christianity is the product of several centuries of interpretations of scripture; councils and summits at which a select group of individuals met to determine which books of the Bible were legitimate and which were not; creeds and confessions of faith that come out of specific historical and cultural milieus.

Even today, Christianity means different things to different Christians. I once had an acquaintance in seminary who would take care to distinguish the “true Christians” from everyone else who called themselves Christians. Her definition was more than just a simple interpretation of the Gospel; it applied to the boundary between progressive and conservative Christians. In her eyes, progressive Christianity as we see it today is a false version of Christianity, while a more conservative version that holds to biblical values is the “truth”, except, of course, those who don’t believe in female preachers, despite that clearly being a “biblical value.”

Because of this, I would prefer to ask what Christianity has to offer to the oppressed. If I phrase it that way, it is much easier to see its shortcomings, whereas “the religion of Jesus” evokes an ideal image, a WWJD “What Would Jesus Do” utopia.

Thurman writes:

There are few things more devastating than to have it burned into you that you do not count and that no provisions are made for the literal protection of your person.

Thurman, 39.

When an individual knows that no matter where they go or what they do, they will not be protected from any potential or imminent danger, fear must haunt them at every turn. Cloaked in a shroud of fear, they develop a hermeneutic in which Jesus is a protector, someone who is purely good, someone whom they can trust.

Thurman recounts a discussion he had with his mother when she took him outside their home to see Halley’s Comet. When he asked his mother what would happen if the comet fell to earth, she answered him,

Nothing will happen to us, Howard; God will take care of us.

Thurman, 57.

Thurman’s mother’s hermeneutic is based on a deep faith in the goodness of God. 

People like Thurman, Taylor, Floyd, and all people who are part of disenfranchised and disinherited communities must rely on Christianity as representative of a God and a Savior who cares for them. Who do they say Jesus is? A God and a Savior who is ever present in times of trouble. One who counsels them not to be fearful, but to take courage, trusting that God will always be with them (Joshua 1:9).

People who are fearful need to know that they have a Savior who is not only present and protective, but who is also opposed to the threats that they face. Fortunately, the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible are replete with examples in which God expresses disdain, even disgust, for injustice and the victimization of people who are unable to defend themselves. 

If the Psalms are the questions, I believe the prophetic writings are the answers. In the Psalms, David, Asaph, and others cry out to God about God’s apparent invisibility and disregard for the plight of God’s people:

Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In his arrogance, the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.

Psalm 10:1-2, New International Version

Yet, God would answer:

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31, New International Version

This is only one example of many, but I believe that as long as we know that God is with us, and that God renews our strength so that we may persist through not just spiritual trials, but also the difficulties and injustices of life, we need not fear. Thurman writes that as long as we understand that we are children of God, we can carry ourselves without fear, but with confidence in our identity (54).

I hope that we are able to work through our own fears by trusting in God’s presence and goodness. I hope that we are able to reclaim and be assured of our dignity as children of God regardless of how we may be represented by the authorities.

I haven’t done this in a while, but, true to my nature, I suddenly have a song to share:

“Stand In Your Love” by Josh Baldwin

BONUS:

“No Longer Slaves” by Jonathan and Melissa Helser

I. “Who Do You Say I Am?” Hermeneutics and Christian Social Activism

I kid you not when I say this will be the title of my dissertation (or, maybe just the theme).

This post is my first in a series in which I attempt to connect the theologian Howard Thurman to the concept of hermeneutics.

Chapter One of Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited concerns this very topic, “Jesus: An Interpretation.” How we interpret who Jesus is and what He stands for affects how we believe we should engage with the world as Christians.

I open this post with Jesus’s words in Matthew 16:13-17:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

Matt. 16:13-17, NRSV

Who do we say that Jesus is?

I believe that this question is not only the foundation of the sermons that we hear (or preach) and the ways that we worship (including hymnody, liturgy, and even the language that we use), but it also deeply influences how we live our lives; specifically, how we interact with other people, how we interpret other people, and how we engage with our societies and communities.

The different between liberal and conservative Christians is based on a fundamental difference in the answer to that question. Even Simon Peter’s (or Peter’s) statement that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” is interpreted differently. (In other translations, Peter says that Jesus is the “Christ”).

First, a word study. On the most basic level, the word Messiah comes from a Hebrew word called Mashiach. This word means “anointed” or “consecrated” (Strong’s Concordance, 4899). Although this word was used generally to refer to those who were anointed, such as kings and priests, beginning in the New Testament, it came to be specifically associated with Jesus.

The alternative word, “Christ,” comes from a Greek word called “Christos”. This word also means “anointed” (Strong’s, 5547).

We have two different words used for the same individual. The word Messiah comes from Hebrew-speaking Judaic culture, and the word Christ comes from the Hellenic/Greek culture.

In addition, Jesus’s actual name, a common Hebrew name “Yeshua,” comes from the Hebrew root formed from the letters yod, shin, and ayin, which would be the equivalent of y, a “sh” sound, and the vowel sound “ah” (though, technically, the ayin is a consonant that can take on the sound of any added vowel, which I will not discuss in detail here).

I mention the root of Jesus’s name (yasha: to deliver) because it is similar to the sound of the word “Mashiach.” Yeshua, and its Greek counterpart, Iesous, means “salvation”, or “deliverance.”

On the most basic level, we can say Jesus is the Son of the living God, who is an anointed deliverer, or an anointed savior. (Except most traditions would probably capitalize the words “Deliverer” and “Savior,” because Jesus shares in the Divine nature of the ‘Father’).


So, who do we say Jesus is? The answer comes down to our idea of what the Messiah is meant to do, what salvation looks like.

Howard Thurman is part of a theological camp that believes that salvation includes delivering people from their current lived conditions, especially if they are poor, marginalized, or victimized for reasons that are outside of their control: those with their “backs against the wall.”

There is another theological camp that would argue that salvation primarily consists of delivering people from sin so that they can live a holy life and go to heaven. (Though, technically, we don’t go to heaven; heaven comes to us.) The evidence of salvation is a “changed” life in which we don’t engage in sinful behaviors anymore.

The problem with this view, although it is the most widely accepted and “orthodox” view, is that it only focuses on a portion of sin: personal sins vs. corporate sin. Personal sin consists of those sins which we commit as individuals, while corporate sins are committed by a group of people.

I think the only time many Christians think of corporate sin as a sin is when their pastors preach on Sodom and Gomorrah….

This misconstrued view of sin results in a misconstrued view of salvation. So it becomes okay to say that Jesus comes to save us from behaviors and attitudes such as lying, jealousy, rage, and rebellion, but the outcomes of economic and social inequality are not for a savior to fix, but for the underprivileged to “pick themselves up by the bootstraps” and attempt to solve their own problems.

What does this have to say to the children of God who are backed up against a wall? Especially when their social position is no fault of their own?

Thurman writes,

“To those who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail.”

Thurman, 11

Is it any wonder, then, that Christianity has lost whatever social influence it may have had?

Those who deliver sermons are tasked with speaking God-given messages. Preaching or otherwise communicating a Gospel that emphasizes a transcendent, spiritual, “deny yourself” or “don’t sin” approach while neglecting to address the injustice that is reflected in generational poverty, segregated neighborhoods, and public education systems tied to property taxes, is an act that communicates to a congregation that God is more concerned about our perfection and cleanliness than our ability to live long enough and well enough to do God’s will.

At Bethany, when Jesus was anointed by an unnamed woman, some who were present complained that the ointment she used was wasted on Jesus when it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus responded:

…”Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me.

For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.”

Mark 14:6-7, NRSV

Jesus spoke these words before his death. At that time, no one knew that he would be resurrected after his death, or even that he would send his own Spirit to be with us after he ascended to heaven. However, now we can say that Jesus is with us. If the Spirit of God is in this world, Jesus is with us.

Therefore, if Jesus is with us, we now have the time to show kindness to the poor. In fact, it is Jesus himself who gives us the desire and ability to do so.

I don’t believe the poor are suddenly going to miraculously go away. I don’t believe that injustice is going to miraculously go away. I do believe that it is our responsibility to faithfully continue to remedy that through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just because we always have the poor with us, it does not mean that we should find excuses for society to stay that way. And I believe that the duty falls upon all of us to contribute to this work. This means not just missionaries and churches and charity organizations, but also legislators and political representatives. Those who have the power to help should do so.

When I was in college, I was part of an organization that existed to produce Christian leaders in America. They would say things like, “America’s leaders should be shaped by Christian values.”

However, Christian values are as diverse as the members of that organization. They don’t only include the preservation of life from the womb and traditional family units, but they also ensure that once born, the child can thrive, no matter what type of household they are born into. They ensure that health insurance and other benefits are not limited to those who have the privilege of being legally married. They ensure that generations of poverty and the inability to acquire wealth are remedied by equal access to affordable higher education and employment opportunities.

Our answer to Jesus’s question, “Who do you say I am?” is reflected in our engagement with these issues.

Last scripture:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-36, 40

I am glad that I attend a church where our leadership encourages us to love others as Jesus does and to stand up for people who either cannot stand up for themselves or are ignored and spoken over when they do. I am also glad that I live in a country that has the resources to solve many of the above issues. I only wish their budgetary allocation was in line with what their values allegedly are.

Imagine if instead of it being the church’s responsibility to do charity and food drives, laws were passed that made sure that every household had access to enough income to be able to ensure that each member could eat well, have a roof over their heads, electricity and running water, clean clothes, and maybe even cable? Imagine if insurance companies couldn’t overcharge on premiums or doctors couldn’t charge exorbitant prices for potentially life-saving procedures like MRIs, CAT scans, and surgeries? Imagine if, more than just visiting people in prison, we made it possible for them to live fulfilling lives when they got out and solved the issue that made them go to prison in the first place?

What a wonderful world it would be!

Photo by Levent Simsek on Pexels.com

Introduction: Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” and the Subjective Nature of the Human Hermeneutic

Hello dear ones

Dear friends

Hi again,

(One day I will come up with an appropriate greeting for potential readers. Alas, today is not that day.)

I must have been out of school for far too long, because I have assigned myself a book report…


As an academic person, my research interest has always been Hermeneutics–the interpretation of the Bible–and how it influences the everyday manifestations of the Christian faith in life and worship. (I.e. the connection between Hermeneutics, Practical Theology, and Social Behavior).

I am going to begin a series on a book called “Jesus and the Disinherited,” written by an African-American theologian named Howard Thurman. In this book, Thurman seeks to answer the question, “What benefit does Christianity offer to people who are oppressed?” In his words? How does Christianity help people who have their “backs against the wall” (Thurman, 11)? How does the message of Christianity resonate with people who are poor or who experience discrimination?

When I was in seminary, many of the books I studied were by White men like Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Thomas Aquinas, and Friedrich Schleiermacher. These men wrote eloquently, persuasively, and one might argue, “truthfully,” about the nature of God. They addressed concepts such as pneumatology (the person and work of the Holy Spirit), and soteriology (the work of salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection). I learned that there were multiple theories of what Jesus was meant to accomplish. Was He a blood sacrifice meant to atone for our sins? Was He the substitute, killed and punished in our place? Or was He the recipient of God’s wrath against sin, which again, should have been unleashed upon us?

These are all important questions, and they are the reason I loved seminary so much. If my degree program allowed me to have majors or concentrations, they would have been Systematic Theology and Practical Theology, specifically Worship and Liturgy. I enjoy wrestling with these questions.

However, the issue with these concerns is that they are primarily lofty and transcendent, aloof from the everyday concerns of the average person. The individual whom Thurman depicts as having their “back against the wall” is less concerned with the very specific task, whether atonement or substitution, accomplished by Jesus, and more concerned with what God has to say about their inability to feed their children, the discrimination they experience, or the fact that they are one paycheck away from homelessness.

The truth is that the gentlemen I named above are situated in a very specific position of privilege that allows them to spend their time asking these abstract theological questions. Over time, these questions and those asked generations before them have become a theological standard, resulting in the application of creeds and statements of faith, which in some cases do determine whether one is an adherent of the “true” faith.

We now have the divisions of “High”, “Middle”, and “Low” Christologies, which skew quite clearly against these people who have their “backs against the wall.” For the higher the Christology, the more it attests to Jesus’s salvation as a lofty spiritual event worthy of divine intercession, while the lower the Christology, the more “earthly” it is; the closer it is to the human experience. Thus, people like Howard Thurman or Gustavo Gutierrez would be cast under the light of theological suspicion, whereas a Timothy Keller or John Piper would pass with flying colors.

In some cases, I consider myself a moderate. I believe it is most likely that each group has 50% of the message. The transcendent nature of God and the immanent nature of God need to be married in a way that shows that even though God is divine, heavenly, holy, and mysterious, God also deeply cares about our suffering and is not just with us in a type of spiritual sympathy. As someone who came to earth enfleshed in Jesus Christ, as a social minority (a poor Jew within the Roman social majority), how can God not have answers to the questions of the oppressed?


Next up:

“Who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15

My theory is that an individual’s response to this question varies depending on how they have seen–or how they believe they have seen–Jesus intervene in their life.

Also, what does the apostle Paul have in common with what the mainstream media calls the “White Evangelical”?

Christ, Class, and Coffee is now H. Rebekah Keazer, M.Div

What’s up? So long, no write!

I decided to change this blog’s settings so that the content automatically posts to my professional/theological Facebook page, which I normally wouldn’t post about, except it will result in a significant departure from the content I usually post.

My hope has always been to write more in-depth theological posts, less like devotions and more like serious answers/responses to real-life questions.

So from now on, this will be a page that grapples with the question of the Gospel’s response to issues and phenomena such as feminism, racial justice, and theodicy (i.e. why bad things happen to good people, which we’ll probably never have an exact answer to, but it doesn’t mean I can’t theorise about it).

I am trained as a sociologist and my interests lie at the intersection of sociology, history, and theology. Hopefully, as I explore my true interests and connect them to the Gospel, I will have more regular content, because I’ll have more ideas and inspiration.

I’m excited about the new direction this blog is about to take.

Acts 26:14 – “My Way’s Cloudy”

Acts 26:14b, NLT – “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.”

In Acts 26, Paul faces King Herod Agrippa II, Festus (the procurator of Judea), and a host of Roman and Jewish nobility for a trial before he finally defends himself before Caesar’s court. Paul recounts the transformative encounter he had with Jesus on his way to Damascus, Syria, in which Jesus told him, “It is useless for you to fight against my will.”

(First of all, I’m glad for the New Living Translation, because the first time I read this, they were talking about “goads” in the New King James Version).

But also, how can we fight against God’s will when we rarely even know what it is? I know there are levels to this. So a Christian can argue that God’s will for all Christians is to spread the Gospel, and that was God’s will for Paul. It would have been useless for Paul to avoid that. (Though, at the time, Paul was a Pharisee who was pretty much blindsided into Christianity, so, even then, he had no idea what God’s will was until God revealed it to him.)

I think a lot of times, we put too much pressure and focus on God’s will for our lives. If we take this verse and interpret it in a deterministic manner, then, it doesn’t matter what we do; God’s will will come to pass anyway.

Let’s consider this example. I believe that if it is God’s will for me to continue my education, it will happen. In that sense, I can trust God and seek God’s wisdom as I do research, make my decisions, and wait patiently while opportunities open up.

On the other hand, if God’s will is for me to become a preacher, then that is also something against which it would be useless for me to fight. I didn’t like public speaking for a portion of my life and my career path was nowhere near preaching, or even pastoring–God forbid! (Actually, maybe I should take that last part back, you never know…) But God guided me into that. In that sense, it was useless for me to fight.

I love this, because now it brings up the question of, “Do humans have free will?” And I still think there are a plethora of ways to answer that question. For instance, I don’t believe it is “God’s will” that I wear a particular outfit on a particular day or change my hairstyle. Those things are left to chance and free will. But I do believe that God’s will plays a part in our ultimate purpose, whether it is what we do, why we do it, or how we do it. And I think that looking back on our stories and how everything is connected gives us a clue as to where God’s hand was and where we were a little more free to make our own decisions.


In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.

Proverbs 16:9, New International Version

Hebrew: THE HEART OF A MAN [DEVISES HIS WAY], BUT THE LORD [DIRECTS HIS STEPS].

Heart: reminds me of a person’s desires

“devises (their) way”: to devise means to think, dream, design, concoct, plan, etc.

The LORD: reminds me of authority and wisdom

“directs (their) steps”: basically shows us where to go


Passages like Proverbs 16:9 make so much more sense now. As a child, my heart desired to serve God through music. I dreamed of all the different ways I could accomplish that. Many of the decisions I made were in an attempt to achieve that desire. But the LORD–the wisdom and authority of God–ended up directing me and showing me where to go (literally). It was not a direct, linear path, and I developed other skills and gifts along the way. So my next step is to keep the desire in my heart, but see what steps the Lord leads me to take.

*”My Way’s Cloudy” is a lyric from a song (and the title) by the cast of Langston Hughes’ musical “Black Nativity.” I use this as the title for this post because it reminds me that even if we can’t see our way, we can trust God to guide our steps so that we get where we’re going safely.

Photo by Vidyagauri Jadhav on Pexels.com

Saved by Grace Through Faith in Jesus Christ – Acts 15

Acts 15:10-11: “So then, why do you now want to put God to the test by laying a load on the backs of the believers which neither our ancestors nor we ourselves were able to carry? No! We believe and are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.”

Peter says this to the Jewish believers who were Pharisees when they got saved. (Remember, there were lots of different sects in Judaism at the time. The Pharisees are the ones who preached about obeying the Torah–the Law of Moses).

These Pharisees wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. The problem with that, Peter noted, is that we “are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus,” not by our works, or what we do.

I see a theme of inclusion in the Book of Acts. The Holy Spirit levels the field between Jews and Gentiles, so that all are equal before God. Not only that, but it shows that we had nothing to do with this to begin with, so why would we have to do something in order to keep it, or to belong?

God is pleased simply by our faith. On the most basic level, faith is all God requires of us. And I believe that it is our faith in God’s story, the Gospel, that will make everything follow–the hope, the love, the obedience, etc.

Fasting, Prayer, and Discernment: “Seek the Lord for Wisdom”, Pt. 2

Hello readers!

I promise I didn’t mean to make this another series. But fasting, prayer, and discernment seem to be a theme in the book of Acts. Here are some verses:

Acts 13:2-3: “As they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.”

Acts 14:21-23: “After they had preached the gospel in that town (Derbe) and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’ When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”

This theme of fasting reminds me of the post I wrote about Joshua and the Gibeonites. As leader of the Israelites, Joshua did not seek God before accepting the Gibeonites into his camp, which resulted in their not knowing the Gibeonites’ true identity. In Acts 13, the apostles prayed and fasted–“worshipped” and fasted–to ensure that they were hearing from God before they sent Barnabas and Saul out on a mission. Similarly, in Acts 14, it was after prayer and fasting that the apostles were able to confidently appoint elders to the churches.

Fasting and prayer are essential to the discernment process. This is what I’m learning. Prayer is communication with God. We can’t–or, we shouldn’t–make decisions without discussing them with God first, because God can help us see whether or not we are about to make a good decision, or a decision that is aligned with God’s will for us.

Fasting is the act of denying yourself of the things that you would normally depend on (like food), or, in modern times, be distracted by (like social media). I know that fasting is also supposed to help us hear God more clearly, because there is nothing to take up our time, so we can spend that extra time in prayer.

I can think of a couple things I need to seek the Lord about. What about you?

I wonder if fasting might help.

If you have never fasted before and are interested, here is one resource that I have found useful:

  1. “Fasting Guidelines and Information,” International House of Prayer, Kansas City (IHOP KC), https://www.ihopkc.org/about/fasting-guidelines-and-information/

I know there are many more, but I would only share something that I have actually used or read.

[And, of course, here’s the legal disclaimer that I’m not a doctor and I can’t give any medical advice about fasting.]

Another disclaimer: I’m not the type of person who says “Promotion of X is not a statement of agreement with X.” I’d rather not get entangled with all of that. I will only post and share content from ministries and organizations that I trust theologically and ethically (unless later, self-directed research proves otherwise).

 

Acts 11/Joel 2: Pouring Out the Spirit

Joel 2:28-29: “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”

Acts 11:15-18: “‘And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life’.”

In Acts 11, Peter tells the Jewish believers about how the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentile Cornelius and his family. The Jewish believers were surprised, and said, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Later in the chapter, the church in Antioch was formed by persecuted believers who escaped after Stephen was killed. The Gentiles who were with them–“men of Cyprus and Cyrene”–decided to preach the Gospel to the Greeks as well–the “Hellenists” (Acts 11:20). Cyprus is a highly-populated island nation in the Middle East today, located to the south of Turkey, and Cyrene is an ancient Libyan city that was controlled by both Greeks and Romans at different times.

At a time when the Jewish apostles and believers were only spreading the Gospel to other Jews, maybe these Gentile men felt it their responsibility to include the Gentiles in that number. After all, someone converted them; shouldn’t they, too, convert others? Thanks to the work of these men, many Greeks were converted, and the believers in Jerusalem commended their faith. Antioch was also the first place where Jesus-followers were called Christians.

Through this, I see that God intended to reach the whole world. God never intended to save just one people group. After all, in Genesis 22:18, God promised Abraham that through his descendants, the whole world would be blessed. But we never knew the specifications of that blessing until now. It is through the spread of the Gospel and the faith of the Israelites–later “Jews”–that the rest of the world gained access to this blessing. God used the Jews to reach the Gentiles and everyone continued to spread the news about Jesus everywhere. And God continued to pour out the Holy Spirit on all people. That way, everyone had “the repentance that leads to life.” The favor that the Israelites were shown in the very beginning, i.e. Torah times, was for this purpose. Now God has revealed that His favor extends to all without bias–that God is not a “respecter of persons.”

I am glad that this Gospel and the Holy Spirit are available to everyone.

Joshua 9 – Seek the Lord for Wisdom

Joshua 9:14 – “So the leaders partook of their provisions, and did not ask direction from the LORD.”

Just for a little background, my church is doing a study on Joshua and Acts right now, which is why most of the reflections I write will be from either of these two books. I’m just writing what I think about/wherever my brain takes me during my reading.


In Joshua 9, after the Israelites had won the battle at Ai, many of the kings united to fight against the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, but the Gibeonites decided to be deceptive so that the Israelites would not kill them. They made their clothing, shoes, and food appear much older and more worn-out than they really were, pretending to be from a far away country, and asked the Israelites to make a treaty with them. The leaders of Israel, including Joshua, agreed without consulting God first. Later, they found out that the people were actually Gibeonites and that they lived on the land with them as their neighbors. However, because of the treaty, the leaders of Israel had to keep their word to the Gibeonites and not harm them. Instead they allowed the Gibeonites to be their servants in the temple.

The leaders of Israel agreed to the treaty proposed by the Gibeonites (and “partook of their provisions”) without consulting God first.

My first question is, why would the Israelites partake in moldy food? My second question is, did they not notice while eating it that it was actually pretty fresh, and doctored to look moldy? Were they not suspicious?

Okay, but my actual question is, how often do we do the same thing? Rush into making a decision without seeking direction from the Lord? Without praying about it? How can we be sure to make wise decisions when we aren’t consulting the God of wisdom?

If Joshua and the other leaders of Israel had sought God, they would have known that the Gibeonites were being deceptive and not to trust them. This applies to almost everything. How many poor decisions could we have avoided if we had sought God for ourselves? I would even add that in addition to relying on the prayers and advice of other people, we need to seek God for ourselves so we are sure that God is speaking a consistent message. But when we go into these situations without godly counsel, we end up unprepared.

The leaders of Israel couldn’t go back on their word to the Gibeonites; it was too late. It’s so important to seek God so that we don’t make decisions we regret later on. I believe that God can redeem our mistakes and get us back on the right track, but what if we just listened to Him to begin with?