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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.

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

The “Calling” versus the “Dream Job”

In the prophetic books of the Old Testament, we see many examples of what are termed “call narratives.” A call narrative is when God chooses a person to be His mouthpiece, basically, and speak His words and warnings to His people. Not all of the prophets in the Bible have these narratives; however, Samuel, Jeremiah, and even Moses have clear moments when God sends them on a mission on His behalf. In each instance, the call was so great that the chosen men protested, citing their limitations or background or whatever reason they felt they were unworthy to do the work that God had called them to do.

Samuel was a young boy who was just becoming familiar with the voice of God. When he answered God’s call, he could not have imagined that it would be to bring judgment upon the sons of his own mentor, the prophet Eli (1 Samuel 3:9-21). From Samuel, we get the phrase, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Jeremiah was also young. When the Lord called him, he protested precisely because of his age and lack of experience speaking before crowds, but God told him: “‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.'” (Jeremiah 1:7-8).

Moses actually had a speech impediment. When God called him to liberate the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and to tell the pharaoh to let God’s people go, Moses was absolutely terrified. How could he speak to the pharaoh if, well, he could not speak? Not only that, but the book of Exodus recounts his escape from Egypt after accidentally killing a man. Moses was on the lam. He might still be a wanted man, and God is telling him to go back??? Fortunately, God assuaged his fears by telling him that his brother Aaron would do all the talking, but God would use Moses to show His power and miracles to Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus: the entirety of chapter 3, and chapter 4:1-17).

I thought about the concept of call after a conversation I had with a young man while we were both waiting for the train at Princeton Junction at a quarter to 2 in the morning a few weeks ago. (Yes; you read that correctly. It’s a long story). In the midst of trying to figure out the train schedule, we also conversed about our education and career plans. After I confessed that I was pursuing a career in ministry, the young man made a comment along the lines of “There are more than enough people in the church.”

Of course, that comment stung a bit. But I understood the point of his statement. First of all, he was also a believer, so this wasn’t coming from an atheist attacking the church as an institution. The issue was about what the church can contribute to the community.

Within the church, there are different ministries and different callings. Some people are called to evangelize and impact people outside of the church. Others are called to build up and exhort other Christians. In this more modern age, there has actually been a growth in ministries of social justice where the church intentionally takes up the issues of the poor and marginalised. This young man’s question was more along the lines of, what can I, as a minister (or worship leader…I don’t remember how much I massaged the truth while talking to this stranger), do for the inequalities that plague communities of color?

This is where the concept of calling becomes relevant. I am actually trained as a sociologist. My undergraduate degree is in Sociology, but I am clueless when it comes to social work. Those are like completely different worlds to me. When I think of the work I can do, I think of research that contributes to the creation of social policies that, in turn, influence the impact of social workers.

I contrast the concept of call with the idea of the “dream job”: the career that is well-paying and allows you to use all of your gifts and gives you a sense of fulfillment. It’s the answer to the question, “If you could do anything in the world and get paid for it, what would it be?”

Now, Psalm 34:4 states, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I believe this verse is saying that the more we seek God; the more we find joy in His presence and His person, the more God will transform our hearts to desire what He desires. At first, it may seem as if God will give us whatever our hearts desire if we delight in him, but I don’t believe this is the case.

First, what happens when our hearts desire something that is not good for us? What if, for instance, there is someone that you love or an opportunity that you desire? You go to God in prayer and say, “Lord please let me date X”; “or please let X hire me.” But God may not answer those prayers if a) He sees that X is toxic before you do, or b) X is a job environment that would actually deter you from the purpose that God wants you to fulfill.

I believe this is why Jeremiah tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9) If you tack on to this the effects of the Fall and the human’s sin nature, maybe it would be much better for our faithfulness to God to result in God making us reflect His desires. Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

In the Hebrew of the Tanakh (the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible), the same word is used for mind and heart (lev). For instance, in Deuteronomy 6:5, God tells the newly liberated Israelites to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength (strength meaning material wealth, or ‘means’).” The word used for heart is also lev: “b’kol l’vavcha: with all your heart.”

I believe that the more we seek God, the more He will give us the ability to transform our minds (and our hearts) through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God leads us in the direction of our dream job. Our dream job and our calling should be similar. God gives us the ability to impact our communities and nations, and maybe even the world, by using the gifts that He has already given to us. When our God-given gifts converge with our God-given passions and meet a need that exists in the world, we find our calling. This is a concept allegedly as old as Aristotle, who is quoted as saying, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”

So, my calling is not social work. It’s not to be a sociologist or a political commentator. For me, I have to start with the need and work my way down. Regardless of what society looks like; whether it is a time of peace or war, or a time of inequality or a utopian equality, people will always need Jesus. My passion is the prophetic proclamation of God’s word, in whatever form or context it may be. (Prophetic meaning that both liberal Christians and charismatic Christians are correct. Yes, prophets were speaking out against injustice, but that was also the word from God for their day. If God is still speaking to our social conditions today, I believe it will come in ways we don’t expect). As to my gifts…*Scooby Doo ruh-ro sound*…I think God will help me develop them.

If you’ve ever experienced doubt about your calling or purpose in life:

  1. Breathe.
  2. Don’t overthink it.
  3. Do think about what you love to do. What gives you joy?
    1. For me, that’s pretty much anything in the church. The presence of God, worshipping God, studying God’s word, speaking the words of God…
    2. I also work pretty well with kids, which is not something I would have expected.
  4. Alternatively, what grieves you? What will you stand on your soapbox for? Or die on a hill for?
    1. Something that bothers me is seeing broken families. For any reason. Whether a parent is imprisoned, or parents were separated/divorced, a child was lost (either intentionally or unintentionally). I’ve considered researching pro-life organizations because many of them are concerned about all aspects of a child’s life after birth. Once someone has made the decision to keep a child rather than abort him/her, how do we make it easier to care for the child and help him/her to thrive and live a healthy life?
  5. What feedback have you received from other people? Maybe everyone says that you’re more loving than the average person, or extremely intelligent.

Think about where these categories intersect. And get input from a spiritual director or pastor. Spiritual direction is an amazingly helpful resource. Spiritual directors are like therapists, except they help you with your prayer life/spiritual life/calling, etc. Here’s an article from Christianity Today: What Is Spiritual Direction?

Jeremiah 29: Dealing with the Stigma of Exile

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This blog post is, like many of my theological insights, completely spontaneous. I was re-reading Jeremiah 29, the passage that my pastor preached on this past Sunday, and I got an additional insight. Unlike most exegeses of Jeremiah 29, this one does not include Jeremiah 29:11, in which the Lord tells the exiled Israelites: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This exclusion wasn’t on purpose. My brain just took a different turn.

Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had taken many of the Israelites into exile/captivity. All they wanted was to go home (see Psalm 137: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”). However, through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells them to get ready to stay for seventy years; to plan to settle down and get comfortable (Jer. 29:5-10):

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper….This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.'”

exile

(Photo credit: http://treasureboxmy.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-babylonian-captivity-exile-2.html)

Unfortunately, the people did not want to hear this message. In fact, a man named Shemaiah from Nehelaim accused Jeremiah of being a false prophet. Surely the Lord would not want us to endure exile! He will come and save us, just like He saved us in Egypt!

(Author’s Note: How long were y’all in Egypt, again? *insert quirky, motivational message about waiting on God through our circumstances*).

Shemaiah then asked Zephaniah to punish Jeremiah, like they had been punishing all of the prophets who spoke unfavorable prophecies:

“The LORD has appointed you priest in place of Jehoiada to be in charge of the house of the LORD, you should put any maniac who acts like a prophet into the stocks and neck-irons. So why have you not reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth, who poses as a prophet among you? He has sent this message to us in Babylon: It will be a long time. Therefore, build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (29:27-28).

(Invoking the Lord’s name to do something the Lord did NOT command you to do? Hmm…this should end well…)

Re-reading this passage could not have come at a better time for me. Even though I have no plans to move, a thought that keeps running through my mind is that I don’t want to learn how to drive or buy a car because such a major purchase implies that I am ready to settle down somewhere and stay; I wanted to always allow for the possibility of packing up and leaving without too many personal items. It’s an irrational thought, because I have nowhere to go, yet I think it quite often.

I am not in exile. I am in a town where I spent most of my childhood before going away (not that far away) for college and seminary. But I can relate to the Israelites. There is a stigma attached to many places in the United States, and, like the Israelites, I just want to go home. But I have nowhere that I could call home. At least not anymore.

So I have to take to heart the words of Jeremiah to be content where I am, whether on a national or local level. To make my mom’s old apartment into a home of which I can be proud and where I can be the domestic hostess I’ve always dreamt of being; to participate in the social life of my community instead of always running off to “the best old place of all”; and, especially, to seek the welfare of my city (and country) through prayer, civic engagement, and political participation.

God has a purpose for us where He has put us. Acts 17:26 states, “From one man [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”

The English Revised Version states: “God began by making one man, and from him he made all the different people who live everywhere in the world. He decided exactly when and where they would live.”

A “60-minute” reflection (1 Corinthians 7:32-35) and my experience at IHOP, the International House of Prayer, NOT Pancakes

 

 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Today, out of a desire to find a quiet and peaceful space to read, pray, and reflect, I decided to go to the International House of Prayer (IHOP). IHOP is a church model that started in the 1990s, based off of the temple worship in the Old Testament. Their mission comes from Leviticus 6:9, which states: “‘Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the burnt offering. The burnt offering must be left on top of the altar until the next morning, and the fire on the altar must be kept burning all night.” (New Living Translation)

IHOP has multiple locations. Its headquarters are in Kansas City, Missouri, where it was founded. I visited the house of prayer in New Jersey. Unlike the Kansas City location, which operates 24/7, the NJ location does not–at least, not yet. However, the same motivation applies. People volunteer to lead worship whenever their schedule allows. They have musicians, worship leaders, devotional leaders, intercessors, and people who offer other types of prayer. Anyone can apply as long as their church leadership approves and they are willing to abide by IHOP’s standards of purity, which are pretty much traditional Christian standards of “holiness” and “set-apart-ness.”

I spent a few hours there. My usual devotion schedule involves reading and interacting with a pre-written YouVersion Bible devotional and then just journalling anything that comes to mind. These can be anything from prayers to word studies. Since I had already completed my morning reading, I decided to resume my attempt to read through the Bible in a year. (I don’t know how well I’m doing if I’m in Job and 1 Corinthians at the end of July, though). I read 1 Corinthians 7-14 and focused on 1 Corinthians 7:32, 34-35. Let’s look at it together:

“I want you to be free from the concerns of this life….A woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” –the Apostle Paul, New Living Translation

I’ve always known that I want to serve God, since I was six years old. I suppose if we’re speaking “Christianese,” we could say that I received a call from God to ministry when I was a child, about 18 years ago, but I still haven’t received the professional “call” that happens when someone finally settles into the specific church, missions base, or community that God wants them to serve.

I wanted to be like Anna in the temple, or like David, when he wrote in Psalm 27:4-5 that the one thing he sought from the Lord was to dwell in His house and to “seek Him in His temple.” I wanted to be like an IHOP worship leader. There was something about being in church that I never wanted to leave when I was six. At the time, I think I was associating church with the presence of God. (Now I know that the presence of God is everywhere God’s people are and everywhere He is welcomed).

So, I’ve always wanted to serve God. I’ve always wanted to seek God’s presence. BUT, I’ve also really wanted to be married. Now, considering Paul’s words above, do you see my dilemma?

I’ve had this image in my mind for years–probably since college, maybe even my senior year of high school–of myself and my husband serving God together and raising all 3-5 of our children to seek Him as well. (Yeah…I want a lot of kids. God willing, I hope I can be a good mom). I’ve always admired the couples who lead ministries or do missions together.

What about you? Have you ever planned your family around your call to ministry?

Considering these desires I’ve had since childhood, I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship if it will distract me from my sense of call, which is also my source of joy and fulfillment. If I start dating, and my person of interest doesn’t share my values or my commitment to raising God-fearing children and seeking God together as a family–he ain’t the one.

So, my prayer for myself and any ladies who may come across this blog entry is this:

God, please send us men with whom we can serve You. Men who share our devotion to You and who also prioritize a strong Christian home. We don’t know what You will have us do specifically, where we are called to go, or if we are called to work with a partner. But we pray that You will help us to serve You singlemindedly and wholeheartedly, “with as few distractions as possible.” And for those of us who are not called to marriage, we thank you for the grace to truly give our hearts, bodies, and spirits to your service. Whichever way you would have us serve, we say “Here I am!” Amen. 

God’s heart for you: “Better is One Day” – Trey McLaughlin Cover

How do you envision God?

(Wednesday, July 17, 2019)

I had the opportunity to discuss theology on Tumblr after receiving the above anonymous question: “How do you envision God?” I ended up answering the question at least a month after it was asked; I was going through a lot and didn’t have the energy to devote to answering a theological question. My mother had passed away from cancer, and I was busy moving out of my dorm after graduation and preparing to travel home to plan her funeral. Again, not the best time to sit down and write a theological treatise. However, yesterday, I looked at the lone unanswered question in my inbox–I’m not exactly “tumblr famous”–and the words began to flow. I want to share with you what I wrote in my response. In retrospect, I think I should have included more specific Bible passages, but this was really more stream-of-consciousness.

“Q: How do you envision God?

A: I envision God:

1)non-corporeal: God doesn’t have a physical body. I imagine that God is a great big pillar of bright, shining light that just consumes everything. Takes up all the space.

2) Compassionate and merciful: God reminds me of what a parent, specifically a father, should be to his children. God is loving, caring, and forgiving. Kind of like Cory Asbury’s song “Reckless Love,” God is someone who would pursue the people He loves until they are convinced that they are loved unconditionally and that they are not alone, even if it may look and feel that way. (P.S. look up the song on youtube. I think it will bless you).

3) Just: God values justice. God is the only person/entity who can accomplish perfect justice, even though the world looks like hell right now. God’s justice, especially since Jesus’ Resurrection, is not retributive. God cares about oppressed people. The Bible specifies widows, orphans, and immigrants/foreigners. But I also believe God cares about the lives of anyone who is marginalized and not valued in society.

4) Selfless and loving: I am a preacher, and what my heart always goes back to–the core of my message–is the Gospel. John 3:16 says that God loved the whole world so much that God sacrificed His own son, Jesus Christ, for multiple reasons. It makes no sense for a father to give up the one child that he loves, but God did. There’s so much evil in the world, and God didn’t want to punish everyone anymore, so he made Jesus to embody all of that sin, almost like a scapegoat. Jesus was perfect and sinless, because not only was He God’s Son, but He was filled with God’s Holy Spirit during His life and when He died, He sent us the Holy Spirit to be with us as a comforter and advocate.

(More 4): That sacrifice is one of selfless love. It means that we don’t have to work to earn God’s love and forgiveness. We don’t have to work hard to go to Heaven. We only need to believe in that sacrifice. That Jesus Christ (whose name means “Anointed Savior”) died for our sins and God brought Him back to life after three days. During this time, he defeated all the powers of evil. Even though there is so much evil in the world, Christians believe that because of this victory, it will not last forever. The war has already been won, even though we may engage in little battles through prayer, protests, etc.

I’m sure I strayed from your question a little bit, but theology and the Gospel are things that I am passionate about and will inevitably write an entire essay about, like I just did here. I would encourage you to read the books of Genesis and Exodus in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and the Gospels in the New Testament/50% of the Christian Bible: the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The OT tells you about the history of the Jewish people and God’s covenant with them. The NT tells you the story of Jesus and how he relates to that story. Easy translations to read are the New Living Translation, The Message, and the New International Version.

I also like The Bible Project on Youtube. They have videos about all the books and concepts and stories in the Bible. Ravi Zacharias is a good person to listen to if you want to learn about apologetics. Apologetics is a defense and explanation of Christianity. C.S. Lewis is an author who wrote fictional books with Christian themes. I think the allegories/metaphors in his books might also be useful.”

What I forgot to include:

Tim Keller, The Reason for God

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy