The Word of God, or Just Words?

How the Push to Put the Word of God into Classrooms Will Do More Harm Than Good

The minister stood at the sacred desk, and looking out upon the people with conviction and sincerity, with great dignity he lifted the Bible and solemnly intoned, “I lift before you the infallible Word of God…”

As a young man I can remember that moment; the hand extended from the belled sleeve of the clergy robe, holding the sacred text bound up in black leather, black ink printed on onion-skin paper, trimmed in gold. And I recalled thinking, “Is God’s Word really that small?”

I’m older now – theologically trained, and with more than four decades of preaching under my belt – but the question persists; exactly what is the Word of God? Is it the collection of writings found in the Bible; and if it’s not that simple, then what exactly do what do we mean when we refer to “the Word of God”? Is it the sum of ink on pages, or is it something more?

Tracking God’s Word: Who Heard What, and When?

Let me begin by directly asserting that the Word of God has to be more than the compendium that we commonly refer to as “The Bible” – because the Word of God preceded the Bible! The first of these collections of scriptures, such as   within that leatherbound version lifted by the preacher, were written some time around 1400 BCE, with the book of Genesis.  The Word of God, however, had been around for much longer! While it wasn’t specifically spelled out, the word of God reached Noah  (Genesis 6:13, 7:1). We know that “the word of the Lord came unto Abram”  (Genesis 15:1), and then Jacob (Genesis 32:9). Obviously, the Word of God existed before the first Bible were ever printed!

I believe that we can reach a better understanding of what is meant by “the Word of God” by simply trying to understand what is meant by “word”.

In the scriptures, word is typically interpreted from the Hebrew, “dabar,” or one of two Greek words, “rhema,” and “logos.” Without getting too technical, “word” in scripture refers to some manifestation, or the actualizing, of a thought. In other words (no pun intended), someone’s thoughts (and intentions and purposes, too) are unknown until they are revealed in some manner. The revealing of those thoughts (and intentions and purposes) is done through some form of communication, and in most cases, through “words.” Hence, the “Word of God” is any avenue through which God chooses to reveal the thoughts, intentions or purposes of God.

Therefore God, being God, has at His disposal a lot of options.  God might choose to share divine thoughts by giving someone a dream – like God did with Nebuchadnezzar, in Daniel 2. Or God may show someone a vision, as God did with Paul (Acts 16:9). Or God may speak audibly, using actual language, as was the case with young Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10). But regardless of the method, when God reaches makes the thoughts, intentions, or purposes of God known, then it can be said that “the Word of God came…”.

The Dynamic, Living Word of God

But God’s Word isn’t a static, concrete thing. We are told that “the word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), and alive, dynamic things are hard to capture in a static position. Living things change; just as one cannot capture the wind or a ray of the sun, the Word of God is difficult to capture in a still snapshot. God’s word has the capacity to move and expand! That’s why Jesus would often say, “you have heard it said… but I say to you” – thereby revealing the dynamic potential of God’s Word to look, sound, feel, hit differently as the need demands.

Yet, God still inspired and commission people to write down the many instances when the Word of God came into the lives of men and women, and what occurred as a result.

This is how we came to have the sacred scriptures or, as we refer to them, the Bible – it is the work of holy men of God who were moved by the Spirit to record these dynamic experiences (2 Peter 1:20). These inspired men (the absence of women is a discussion for another time…) faithfully used the words at their disposal to convey what God wished to share.

But we recognize that human words are limited and static; so we must depend upon the Spirit that initially gave the revelation to help illumine and expand our understanding about what God wishes for us to know. This is where we must become careful; because just as the Presence of God cannot be contained in a material building (2 Chronicles 6:18), neither can the fullness of God’s thoughts and intentions be fully captured in mortal words! The words of human beings are subject to time and place, context and interpretation; that’s why the Apostle Paul admonished Timothy to be diligent, “…rightly dividing (i.e., handling) the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Simply Words Coming Out of Your Mouth

So it’s not enough to simply know the printed words on a page; simply repeating words, and quoting scripture alone isn’t enough! Remember, the Devil himself did a pretty good job quoting scriptures to Jesus – but even though he was quoting them accurately, no one would suggest that he was delivering the Word of God!

You see, that is a real danger: we can become so captured by words that we can actually distort the actual thoughts, intentions and purposes of the God that those words are supposed to reveal! Just as the Devil sought to be destructive through the use of Bible words, we, too risk being destructive to the Word of God through the misuse of the words of scripture!

When that happens what was meant to bring life becomes a tool of death. The Holy Scriptures – despite the fact that holy men recorded them for a holy purpose – can become a destructive tool of wounding and injury, when the mere recitation of human words eclipse the true revealing of God’s thoughts and intentions. This is what is meant by the expression, “…the letter kills but the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6,7). It pushes this point even further by saying that even if those words are “carved in letters on stone” – in other words the Ten Commandments, written by God’s finger – used wrongly they can still be a “ministry of death” (vs 7).

Speaking of the Ten Commandments

This brings me to a relevant observation about today’s political push to bring the Bible into the public square…

Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry recently signed a bill that mandates that the Ten Commandments be prominently displayed statewide in public schools, and Alabama and Texas are considering similar measures. Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters pronounced that the Bible will be taught in that State’s public schools, calling the Bible an “indispensable historical and cultural touchstone.” House Speaker Mike Johnson shared that the Bible provides his worldview, and recently convicted presidential candidate, Donald Trump, was recently hawking the Bible like a Fuller Brush salesman.

These politicians fail to recognize that absent a caring and careful handling of those words, pushing the Bible is simply pushing words. These politicians don’t bring the Word of God to people; they simply bring words to people – and those words may tend towards hurt and injury if the context or intent isn’t favorable.

Instead of revealing the life-affirming thoughts and intentions of God, simply pushing the words of scripture – devoid of the proper context and instruction – will tend to do more harm than good.

Many of today’s politicians and civic leaders want to use the scriptures as a tool to condemn certain behaviors, and enforce other behaviors. Worse still, many wish to use the scriptures as a weapon to punish those whom they perceive to be most offensive – to themselves (and they arrogantly assume that God endorses their perspective). But these individuals are no more appropriate in their use of the words of scriptures as were those religious leaders who lifted scripture before Jesus in John 8, saying “Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women!”

Again, “the letter killeth…”

Try a Little Tenderness

We would do well to recognize that simply pushing the Bible does not equate to introducing people to the life-giving power of the Word of God. Like planting a seed, introducing the Word of God requires preparation; you’re got to cultivate the environment before you sow the seed. Simply throwing a Bible into a classroom, or nailing up a poster of the Ten Commandments, will have no greater effect than throwing a pair of pajamas at a cat – interesting things may happen, but the cat will remain unchanged.

Most of these politicians who are chomping at the bit to “bring the Bible back” to American society also deeply revere those who stand at the forefront of this nation’s founding. This current attempt to introduce mere religious words into the public space, would attract condemnation by the Founding Fathers, who wrote as the first guarantee of freedom from tyranny:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Perhaps that’s a word that deserves more attention than the words that they are currently trying to push!




Trump v. United States Ultimately Shows Us Why Character Has to Matter Most

How We View History Matters

History

History matters. Our daily decisions are based on what we know about the past. When deciding where to eat, what do we do? We check the reviews of local restaurants based on their history, on the word of people who have been there. Visiting a medical doctor for the first time? You must complete a form titled “Medical History.” Why? Because your past ailments can affect your present treatment plans and your future well-being. History is inescapable.

Same History, Different Interpretations

History not only affects us at a micro-level in our daily lives but also at a macro-level in decisions that affect us from a distance. Take the Supreme Court’s recent decision on presidential immunity in Trump v. United States, for example. In that case, two justices—one supposedly an originalist (Chief Justice John Roberts), and another justice, widely considered to not be an originalist (Justice Sonia Sotomayor) came to different conclusions about presidential immunity after examining the same history. But how?

Roberts considered how the framers of the Constitution designed the presidency. Roberts also considered the Court’s prior cases, which are a type of history, but not the sort of history that originalism contemplates. Roberts’ opinion, then, emphasized precedent—a type of history—over original understanding, which is a different sort of history, more aligned with originalism as an interpretive theory.

Sotomayor was more originalist in her dissenting opinion. Pointing to the Federalist Papers, Sotomayor argued that the Constitution’s authors thought that a former president could be prosecuted for crimes after leaving office. She points to Alexander Hamilton, who wrote that former Presidents would be “liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law.” According to Hamilton, the President, unlike a king, “would be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace.”

Again, how do two Supreme Court justices view presidential immunity so differently? The answer is that they are emphasizing different aspects of the same history to support their respective decisions. Sotomayor put it this way, writing of Roberts’s opinion that “It seems history matters to this Court only when it is convenient.” Roberts says something similar about Sotomayor’s opinion. Interpretation is never clear-cut. Which history matters? Which originalism? Will the real originalist please stand up?

Real-Word Impact

Interpretive questions aside, what are the real-world consequences for the criminal prosecutions against former President Trump? First, the hush-money case for which he has been convicted of 34 felonies in New York will likely remain intact. Trump’s lawyers will argue that because evidence of official acts was introduced against him at trial—his tweets, and his conversations with Hope Hicks, his communications director—the case should be dismissed. This claim is likely unsuccessful, because even if that evidence is excluded, there is still enough evidence independent of it to support the conviction against Trump. This is known as the “harmless error” rule, and Trump’s conviction in New York will likely remain intact on presidential immunity grounds. Trump’s lawyers will make other arguments on appeal if and when Trump is sentenced.

Second, the Georgia case against Trump, which is now in legal limbo because of an appeal over the conflict of interest claims of Trump’s defense team, may be in jeopardy, but it is too early to tell. Trump’s lawyers will probably argue that what he did in pressuring Georgia officials for votes, was an “official act.”

Third, the classified documents case against Trump in Florida will probably remain intact because the alleged criminal conduct in that case occurred after Trump was no longer president.

Finally, the indictment against Trump for his actions on January 6th, 2021 will likely survive. The Supreme Court sent the case back to Judge Tanya Chutkan, who must now determine which of Trump’s alleged actions in the indictment are “official,” and which are “unofficial.” Trump’s use of private lawyers, among other factors, will likely result in many of Trump’s actions in the indictment to be considered “unofficial,” leaving the case against him intact, with prosecutors making some adjustments.

Individual President, Institutional Implications, and Character

Being in the middle of a presidential election season can eclipse the full import of Trump v. United States. We must not fail to appreciate that Trump v. United States applies not just to Trump the individual but also to the presidency as an institution. Although it remains to be seen just how much the presidency as an institution will change as a result of Trump v. United States, one thing is certain: the power the President wields because of Trump v. United States makes the president’s moral character more important now than ever before.

 




Tuesday Truth for Youth: You’ve Had the Physicals. Now’s the Time for Bigger Tests.

So half the year is over already! Wow! Where does the time go?

As summer begins to begin to draw to a close, many of you are planning on gearing up for the beginning of another school year, and that means shopping, packing, and saying “goodbye” to those you love. But for many of you, it also means those dreaded annual physicals. Every year it seems that the list of folks who are required to get them grows larger and larger. Yes, there’s the most common and popular ones: football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, swimming, track and field, gymnastics, golf, and wrestling. However things have changed significantly in terms of the sports that people play—now people are forced to get poked and prodded for such creative past times as: Lacrosse, Pickleball, and yes, even chess! And, no, I’m not making this up! Hey, I don’t make the rules, here!

Bringing Pain brings Them Pleasure!

You can’t mean to tell me that doctors don’t purposely put their stethoscopes in the freezer, and when they get together, they laugh about the look on your faces. Just reading this made you all inadvertently gasp breathlessly.
I know, not cool! Right?!

I can’t imagine that anybody would enjoy going to the doctor to get poked, prodded, or
punctured, but it’s just another hoop you’ve got to jump through to go to school or play team sports these days.
Now, I’m no doctor, but I’ve had doctors tell me that the whole purpose for physical examinations are for two important reasons:
• Preventive medicine: to catch any problems while they’re still small and manageable.
• Track development: to make sure someone’s growing like they should be and meeting all their “developmental milestones.”

God Wants You to be Healthy
God wants to make sure that you are spiritually healthy. He, through the apostle Paul, put it this way:

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:9-12, NIV).

Did you catch that? Paul actually addresses spiritual growth and then gives us several ways in which we can actually measure it; you might call them “developmental milestones.” Let’s break them down individually:

Goal: to live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way.
Developmental Milestones:
• bearing fruit in every good work
• growing in the knowledge of God
• being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might as evidenced by great endurance and patience
• giving joyful thanks to the Father

Whoa! I’m tired just reading that list! Did you notice that being a healthy, growing Christian involves a lot of doing? I counted four verbs/action words.

Spiritual > Physical

Now it’s no secret that your spiritual health is more important than your physical health, so how are you doing? At the beginning of the year I gave you the challenge to define your relationship with God. So, I’ve got to ask: did you do that? Do you have any specific goals that you set for yourself at the beginning of the year? Have you met them? How is your progress? Are you growing in your relationship with God? I know, I know, they’re uncomfortable questions, but you can’t really move forward in your relationship with God if you don’t ask those hard questions.

Commanded to Test

Did you know that if you are a follower of Jesus, that God has actually commanded that you take the time to give yourself a physical, so to speak? The Apostle Paul informed the ones he knew: “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NLT). I don’t know about you but that’s pretty strong (and clear language).

So if you want to test yourself, then how do you do it? Well, in order to pass any test you are required to give information—data. There has to be a period of time where you have to gather truthful information. Now I’m no doctor, but I might suggest three effective ways to get to the truth:

1. Ask God – Go to God first!

Get alone and pray this prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalms 139:23, 24, NLT).

2. Ask yourself:

Take time to think deeply about what you want with your relationship with God and then ask yourself if you’ve met that standard? Record your thoughts with paper, audio, or video—or all three. But the keys are to take time to be still to calm your thoughts; and be honest with yourself; and make sure that you record your findings. A good question to ask yourself would be “how does my life and character measure up with these checklists?: Jesus’ Two Standards “‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets’ ” (Matthew 7:12, NLT).

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matthew 7:15-20, NLT).

The Apostle Paul’s Two Competing Forces

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives (Galatians 5:19-25, NLT).

The Apostle Paul’s Perspective on Perfect Love

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT).

The Apostle Peter’s Path to Spiritual Growth & Maturity

“May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1-11, NLT).

3. Ask Others

Using the same five passages of scripture above as a great standard, ask other people who know and love you to truthfully and honestly rate you on how you rate with these things. Make sure that you ask a minimum of three different kinds of other people: at least one parent; one friend (your own age); and one other adult.

Will some of this be difficult and even embarrassing? Sure, but if your goal is to grow closer to Jesus, then you’ll be willing to do it. And, real talk: I’d rather hear heart-wrenching truths from people who I know will always have my back! “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6, NLT). Jesus’ half-brother had this insight into the power of unloading on a close friend: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16, NLT).

Diagnosis = Terminal!
You don’t have to talk to go to a church, read a Bible, or talk to a pastor to know that you’re a sinner! Hey, don’t get offended—we’re all sinners: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT). And because we’ve all broken God’s standard, we will get death! “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NLT).

Heart Transplant
We should all be headed to death row, but praise God that Jesus stepped in and gave us all a reprieve: “ ‘For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT). Jesus gave all His followers a heart transplant! And because of that, we are literally new people, which means that we don’t have to act like we used to: “Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:14-17, NLT)

Prognosis
As a follower of Jesus, your future is bright and you can confidently begin to make the changes you need to make. (Philippians 2:12). But never forget that it is God who tells you what you need to work on (John 16:8), and it is He who ultimately gives you all the motivation and power to change (Philippians 2:13)!

If you want to get involved with God and live a joyful, powerful, and peaceful life to be able to share His love with others, then you’ve got to be honest and ask yourself the spiritual physical. And, praise God, you can pass His physical.

He promises: “ . . . that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, NLT).

Take the time to do the hard work and let God’s laser-beam microscope of His Holy Spirit investigate you. I know that you’ll be better off for it. Here’s to your good health.




Top 5 Black Jobs in the Bible

What are Black jobs?

So a presidential candidate got people talking about “Black jobs.” Are immigrants coming to take our Black jobs? What are Black jobs? Are they the same jobs a certain governor implied enslaved people should have been thankful for, because they taught them valuable skills? Since TheGrio compiled a list of Black jobs, why can’t Message add a few more?

Shouldn’t there be at least a few Black jobs in a Black Bible?

Here’s a few Black jobs we found in the Bible, which shouldn’t be surprising since much of the Bible’s events occur in and around, to and from Africa – beginning at the beginning. In Genesis 2:13, one of the four river-heads emanating from the Garden of Eden runs throughout the land of Cush in the New International Version, which is also known as Ethiopia in the King James Version, and also known as Sudan in God’s Word.

So no, we didn’t need Transatlantic Slavery to teach us agriculture.

Got anymore of them Black jobs?

Before we begin our countdown, we invite you to add to the list on Message’s social media.
Here we go!

5) Musicians – Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ (Genesis 4:21, KJV).

As George C. Wolfe said, “God created Black people and Black people created style.”
Now, I haven’t met a “Jubal” yet, but who doesn’t know a brother named Jamaal, Jabari, or Jelani? Trust me, somewhere there’s a 21st century Jubal jamming “straight from yard,” “jamming in the name of the Lord,” and proving that jamming isn’t “a thing of the past.” From the mood music performed by David for King Saul, to the blues sang by the Hebrews in Babylonian captivity, to the democratic improvisation of the multi-instrumental jazzy praiz-a-thon of Psalm 150, to the harpers harping on Mt. Zion in Revelation, we are there.

4) Cooks – In his latest book, Michael Harriot argues the culinary and cultural distinctions between soul food and Southern cuisine. The following story illustrates the power of soul food, which we might dub “stole food” for the occasion. Then again, ever heard the saying “fair exchange ain’t no robbery”?

Anyway, if Jacob would’ve packaged that seasoning that enticed his brother to basically sell his soul, we never would’ve heard about Lawry’s!

“Now Jacob cooked some stew, and… Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff… because I’m starving!”
But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear an oath to me now.” So Esau swore an oath to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew (Gen. 25:29-34, NET).

3) Rope & Confined Space Rescue Specialists – Yes, RRS and CSRS are real certifications for real jobs. You may have seen these specialists in the movies or on the news, but they go way back to biblical times.

“An official in the royal palace, Ebed Melech from Sudan, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the cistern… So Ebed Melech took the men with him and went to the royal palace, to a room under the treasury. He took rags and torn clothes from there and lowered them with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. Ebed Melech from Sudan said to Jeremiah, ‘Put these rags and torn clothes under your arms to protect you from the ropes.’ Jeremiah did. They used the ropes to pull Jeremiah up and lift him out of the cistern.” (Jer. 38:7-13, GW).

2) Biblical authors – Isn’t it amazing that Christianity has been maligned as a White man’s religion when two of

the Bible’s most influential writers were mistaken for Egyptians?

And isn’t it interesting that speaking Greek didn’t lead a soldier to mistake Paul for a Greek or Roman, but for an Egyptian? Moses was also mistaken for an Egyptian—by his future wife (Exodus 2:19). Although history is sometimes taught in a way that removes Egypt from Africa in our minds, Egypt is geographically in Africa.

What did ancient Egyptians look like?
Thanks for asking.

The Encyclopedia Britannica credits the ancient Greek Herodotus (484-420 BCE) with authoring “the first great narrative history produced in the ancient world.” This renowned historian wrote, “The men of the country [referring to Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt] are black because of the heat,” and added that Egyptians “are dark-skinned and woolly-haired.”

1) Cross-bearers – “As they led him away, they seized Simon of Cyrene [a city in Libya], who was coming in from the country. They placed the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:36, NET).
The late James H. Cone argued in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that cross-bearing didn’t end for Black people when Simon served as Christ’s companion to Calvary. Crosses were Rome’s lynching trees, part of the law and order that preserved their celebrated Pax Romana (Roman Peace). Although Jesus’ atonement is unique, Roman lynching was quite ordinary. Since Roman citizens couldn’t be crucified, this state sponsored terrorism was to keep non-citizens submissive – even if resentful.

Similar to how Isaiah 53:5 says our Savior was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of the empire’s peace was upon the colonized as it sought to heal itself through their stripes.
Consider this as Christian Hip Hop artist Swoope builds on slam poet Crystal Valentine’s rebuttal to a certain news reporter:

If you don’t see God in the folks put down
Then you should pull his book out, take a look now
Christ died in the blackest way possible
With his hands up and his momma there watchin’ him.




Tuesday Truth for Youth: Long, Hot, Summer–at Home

Abuse Has a Season, but Can End Now

The downstairs door slammed hard enough to shake the house. Jeff lay on his bed, wide-awake, counting the heavy steps as his father climbed up to the second level. In the next room, Jeff’s little sister Suzie laid asleep—at least, Jeff hoped she was asleep.
Dad was drunk again—that was nothing new. Most nights he came home drunk, long after midnight. The good nights were when he just stumbled to his bedroom in a drunken stupor and fell asleep.

Jeff could hear him angrily cursing as he entered the hallway…tonight was not going to be a good night.

When the door to Jeff’s room loudly slammed open, Jeff sat up. He didn’t look forward to what was coming, but it was better to make himself the exclusive target of his dad’s anger than to allow Suzie to be hurt. For years he had tried to protect his mom and his little sister from his dad’s drunken outbursts of anger. Now Mom was gone—she had just disappeared a few months ago. Maybe the strain of living like this had finally been too much for her, Jeff wondered. Jeff, at fifteen, was left alone to both try to protect his sister and confront his dad.

Dad was already taking off his wide leather belt, slurring his words as he accused Jeff of something—it didn’t really matter what. Tonight it was forgetting to take the garbage out. Last week it had been leaving the kitchen in a mess. Whatever Jeff did was just an excuse for his father’s rage.

He cringed as his father dragged him from the bed, and he cried out as the belt tore into his back, still sore from the last beating. Someday, he thought, someday I’ll be big enough that I won’t have to take this anymore. I’ll take Suzie with me and we’ll get away from here…for good!
Only a few weeks ago he’d found out that he wasn’t protecting Suzie as well as he’d hoped. Dad didn’t beat her like he did Jeff, but Suzie had finally confessed that late at night, while Jeff slept, Dad came to her room and sexually abused her. The discovery made Jeff hate his father even more!

He stood in his dark room, struggling to break free from his father’s grip, but he knew he was trapped. Their whole house was a trap, and Jeff didn’t see any way out for any of them.

What’s the Problem?

Tons of studies have been done, but nobody truly knows what causes an adult to abuse a teen. We do know, however, that people who grow up in abusive homes are more likely to become abusers themselves, unless they get help to break the damaging cycle of violence. Parents sometimes have such poor parenting skills and coping abilities that they lash out at their children in anger and frustration. Drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems also contribute to family violence.

Young people are often afraid to report violence in the home. They may fear that the abuser will treat them even worse once he/she finds out that they have spoken out. They may be afraid that their family will be broken up and they will be sent to a foster home, as is the case in many places when abuse is reported. They may be afraid of having to face their abuser in court. In many cases, the abused are simply super embarrassed and have a lot of shame and blame themselves for the abuse and feel that, somehow, they’ve brought the abuse upon themselves. For many reasons, most crimes of abuse are not reported to the police or authorities. Young people just…suffer in silence.

Not all abuse occurs at home. In many countries, cases have been brought to light where children have been physically and sexually abused in places where teens tend to hang out; at school, by teachers; or at church, by pastors or church members, and away on traveling games or at the ball-field , by sports coaches. Any adult who is in a position of power and authority, and uses that authority to hurt a teenager, is simply an abuser.

Summertime Increase

Logically speaking, I end up discovering more incidents of abuse during the summer times, simply because the typical “first line of defense”, which are usually people like teachers, school counselors, principals, people at after-school programs, etc. don’t have regular and consistent access to the teens. I end up seeing them more during this time of the year, and something really interesting happens after about the first two weeks when school is out; there is usually a “honeymoon period” where the teens are usually pretty stable and things are generally okay. Simply put, for those first two weeks or so, they’re out and about getting school out of their system, so to speak; but then I tend to see a shift happen, in that reports of abuse start to sky rocket, because the teens are basically spending the majority of their time living in their abusive and toxic home environments with little to no additional emotional and physical support or relief.

It’s not that they don’t have the support, but the nature of abuse makes someone who’s being abused tend to feel and think that they are alone and have no one—and that they are basically a piece of garbage and don’t deserve to have safety or feel safe. I know, it’s a really messed up and sad reality, but that’s why I want to share it with you, because if I’m not talking about you, chances are you know someone who’s exactly in an abusive situation. I want to inform you and give you the tools for you to feel sure that you know how to respond. No matter who you are, I want to tell you that, when everyone is celebrating independence, you too can be free from abuse!

By the Numbers

More than 600,000 children are abused in the U.S each year. An estimated 600,000 children (unique incidents) were victims of abuse and neglect in 2021, the most recent year for which there is national data. The actual number of children abused is likely underreported because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

What You Need to Know

“Abuse means treating another person with violence, cruelty, hate, harm, or force. Abuse is never OK. No matter who’s doing it or where it happens. And it is never the fault of the person who is being abused.”

It is called physical abuse when someone does things like hit, beat, shove, shake, or choke a person. This can leave marks or bruises. Physical abuse includes hitting with an object like a belt. Or throwing an object at someone to injure them. Or pushing into a person’s space to threaten or make them feel unsafe.

It is called emotional abuse when someone uses harsh or cruel words or treats the person with scorn. This can tear people down, or make them doubt their worth. Some abusers act mean or possessive. Some use fear or threats to control a person. Some try to shame a person for who they are. Some target people because of their looks, race, or because they identify as LGBTQ+. They might harass, use hate speech, or threaten harm. Emotional abuse can happen in person or online.

It is called sexual abuse when an adult (or much older teen) forces, pressures, or tricks a young person into sex acts of any kind. This includes sexual touching, grabbing, or kissing. It includes showing the young person private parts of their body, or asking to see theirs. It includes showing sexual or nude pictures, or asking them to pose for pictures like this. It includes giving money or gifts for doing sexual acts. Sexual abuse can happen in person or online.

It’s called grooming when an adult [or other age] abuser tricks someone into trusting them, admiring them, or depending on them. They try to use this false sense of trust to trick someone into sexual abuse. This can happen in person or online. If you feel uncomfortable about the way someone is getting personal with you, talk it over with an adult you trust.

Sexual abuse might also be called sexual violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape.
If any of kind of abuse has happened to you, tell an adult you trust right away.

Most Common Abuse

I have found that absolutely the most common type of abuse (and the most difficult to identify) is emotional abuse. The different types of emotional abuse can tend to include gaslighting, which is when a person or a group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories.

Other types of common emotional abuse are:

• Rejecting or ignoring: telling a child they are unwanted or unloved, showing disinterest in child; little or no affection, not validating the child’s feelings
• Shaming or humiliating: calling a child names, belittling, demeaning, berating, mocking, using language or taking action that takes aim at child’s feelings of self-worth
• Terrorizing: accusing, insulting, punishing with or threatening abandonment, harm or death, setting a child up for failure, manipulating, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults, slandering, screaming
• Isolating: keeping child from peers and positive activities, confining child to small area, forbidding play or other experiences
• Corrupting: engaging child in criminal acts, telling lies to justify actions or ideas, encouraging misbehavior

Very common among teens who are dating is the teen equivalent of adult domestic violence, which is basically when you have someone who the teen is dating, who is physically abusing them. By physical abuse, I mean, hitting, kicking, throwing them up against things, throwing things at them or choking, pushing, or any other type of physical aggression at them. In fact, for someone to be physically abused there doesn’t technically even have to be any actual physical contact being made between the abuser and the abused; just having the abused be anxious, nervous, or fearful about the threat of the physical aggression is enough to count as physical abuse.

What the Bible Says

Jesus cherished and valued children and teens. He said:

“Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea . . . . See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:5, 6 & 10, NIV).

The apostle Paul had good advice for parents: “Parents, don’t be hard on your children. Raise them properly. Teach them and instruct them about the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, CEV).

Some people use Bible verses about discipline to support their belief that it’s OK to abuse their children. They look at verses like: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15, NIV). They suggest that this means it’s OK to beat your children with an actual rod. However, some Bible scholars think this refers not to beating with a rod, but as a metaphor of using a rod like a shepherd’s rod—to wisely train and guide them.

While many Christians believe that occasional spanking is an appropriate form of discipline, nothing in the Bible supports beating, harming, or otherwise abusing children. The family is a place for love and gentle guidance, and children are to be cherished. “Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3, CEV). Children and teens are valuable in God’s sight. He does not intend them to be hurt or harmed—ever!

Make the Call!

Simply put: if you are being abused, in any way, or know of someone who is being abused, pick up the phone and call “9-1-1”! Will it, in the short-term, make things more complicated and bring more attention to an already bad situation? It certainly will—and that’s exactly what needs to happen.

Will your friend initially be angry with you and feel like you broke your promise to not tell? Yes, but I’d rather they be angry at you, and trust me, they’ll likely get over their anger, rather than you keep their secret and keep them in an abusive relationship that just continues to pile on the trauma—or worse off, that they get seriously and permanently injured or even killed, due to an abusive situation gone wrong. And, unfortunately, I’ve seen my share of abuse situations gone horribly wrong! Can you imagine the guilt and regret that you would feel if you knew that you could have done something to help stop the abuse? Trust me, you don’t want those sorts of traumatic memories.

The problem with any sin, especially this one, is that it only grows in it’s sin-i-ness (yes, I made up that word…but you get the idea), if left to itself. In the dark it just continues to grow and gain power of all that it touches.

The Apostle Paul, who definitely had his share of abusing people (Galatians 1:13 & Acts 26:9-11), wrote this to the Christians in a church in the city of Ephesus. They were struggling to know and do and live out what they knew to be the truth in a sinful and corrupt culture. I share this final piece of guidance with you in the hopes that you will take this command as a spiritual and an emotional alarm:

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5: 1-14, NLT).

You Can Be Free!

Love shouldn’t hurt. No matter what anyone tells you, being in any sort of relationship should help the person to be a better version of themselves, not less of who they are. Jesus makes it clear that “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10b, NLT). Let this be the summer that you or, someone you know and love, declare your freedom from abuse. In this time of celebrating independence, Jesus promises: “If the Son gives you freedom, you are free!” (John 8:36, CEV)

Additional Resources
Abuse Help for Teens
How Adults Can Help Abused Teens
Healthy Relationships
Statements on Abuse and Family Violence from the Adventist Church
Ten Ways to Prevent Child Abuse
How to Spot Child Abuse
Intervene 

 




Money Monday: Growing Wealth, part two

Flipping Houses May Not Be for Everyone. Find out if You Can Do it.

Today’s Money Monday is the second in the growing wealth series . Last week I opened up the series with building wealth through real estate. However, if you are going to build wealth through real estate it is important to focus on one or two areas initially or become a specialist in those areas if you are going to be successful. One of those areas would be purchasing property, fixing them up, or rehabbing them, and then selling for a profit. In real estate language that is called flipping or flips. Let’s look at fundamentals of building wealth through flips.

Flip Investor Mindset

What type of places should you consider when building your wealth through flips? Generally investors identify hot areas where you can purchase low and there would be instant equity built into those locations. While there is nothing wrong with that approach and those locations, the question is if you are depending on appreciation only to make a profit are you investing or speculating? Investors would not only consider appreciation, but also purchasing a property at a good price, adding targeted intentional strategic value and dispensing with the property for profit.

Flip Investor Factors

If you are pursuing flipping with the correct mindset, then you will have to make certain determinations, such as would you purchase property very far from your current location, or where you reside? Because as a flipper investor, proximity will matter as you will need to frequently engage and visit your property. Travel can play a significant part with your time investment.

Sales activities play an important part in areas where you invest. Most of your sales activities of neighborhoods and locations can be obtained from your realtor MLS system. While the system can provide lots of reports, some of the key data you need to obtain are, the price per square footage, property taxes, days a property remains on the market, and the number of days property sells in the location under consideration for investment.

The age of a property is another significant factor and MLS data point worthy of obtaining. Older houses or locations tend to have lots of built in equity in those neighborhoods. However, they may come with significantly more fixer- upper costs and time delays. In the flipping investment business time is truly money! The sooner you can have the repairs made and the property ready for sale,  the greater your profit margin. Here appreciated property verses turnaround time is the key.

Sources of Properties

Everyone in this business is looking for the same thing you are looking for, and that is property to flip. In today’s market and world, some sources are not as valuable as they once were. For example, the real estate classified ads in your local newspaper may not be a significant resource as it once was. Not that you should not look there for opportunity, but that the world of finding property to flip has changed. Perhaps your two most rewarding sources will be networking with others and the MLS from your real estate agent.

Takeaways

Building wealth through flipping can take some time and you have to manage several factors, some of which are entirely out of your control such as obtaining local permits and licenses. It is also time consuming as all serious investments are. Even more than finding money to purchase, repair, and sell, is your time commitment. If you’re not serious, this wealth building option is not for you and you should explore another path to wealth.

WHAT’S UP!

Today’s What’s Up is about new laws in effect from July 1st, 2024. You may not have been paying attention, but did you know that many new state laws take effect on July first? Well if you didn’t know, here are a few you need to know about.

In New Jersey there will be an increase in the gas tax; in Minnesota there will be a fifty cent retail delivery fee tax on transactions greater than $100 for retail delivery within the state; in Maryland some tobacco products will increase from 53% to 60%. The advice here is to check with your state to know if any changes in the law will impact your finances and thus impact your budget. And that’s what’s up!

Ruthven R. Phillip, Esq., is a tax attorney, Stewardship and Philanthropy Ministry Assistant, and CEO of Give2Getrich, LLC. Give2Get Rich, LLC 2024. All Rights Reserved. Any distribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited.

 




Thousands of Faith Leaders, Union Members, Activists Rally for Poor

The Rev. William Barber addresses a crowd at a demonstration organized by the Poor People’s Campaign outside the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2024. (RNS photo/Jack Jenkins)
June 29, 2024
By Jack Jenkins

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Thousands of clergy, union members and activists rallied on behalf of the poor near the U.S. Capitol on Saturday (June 29), with faith leaders calling for lawmakers to embrace a slate of policies and for low-wealth Americans to make their voices heard in November as the nation’s “largest potential swing vote.”

The Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the organizing group the Poor People’s Campaign, declared to the sprawling crowd Saturday morning that poor people — who, he stressed, represent members of both major parties — are one of the largest untapped voting blocs in the country. Citing studies compiled by the Poor People’s Campaign, Barber argued poor and low-wealth people do not vote to their full potential, despite making up around 30% of the national electorate and close to 40% of voters in battleground states.

Were the poor to vote with full strength, Barber said, they could potentially elect lawmakers who support policies focused on the wide range of topics that impact the poor, such as voting rights, raising the federal minimum wage, housing issues, LGBTQ+ rights and climate change.

“Like the Prophet Moses, honored by Jews, Muslims and Christians, led the people out of bondage of Egypt, it’s time to rise,” he said. “Like the dry bones in the valley of Ezekiel’s vision, we’ve got to rise. Like the ancient vision of the prophet, when the stones that the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone of a new reality, we have got to rise.”


A crowd gathers at a Poor People’s Campaign event outside the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2024. (RNS photo/Jack Jenkins)

Speakers at the demonstration, which has been planned for months and recently promoted by Barber on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” grappled with two major political happenings that took place this week: a Supreme Court decision upholding bans barring homeless people from sleeping outside in certain cities, and the presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Barber, who personally endorsed Biden ahead of the 2020 election and preached at the president’s inaugural prayer service, seemed dubious of calls for the president to halt his re-election bid in the wake of his widely panned debate performance, which included moments when Biden paused for long periods of time or lost his train of thought. Noting that an array of issues that impact the poor are at stake in the 2024 election, Barber — who walks with a cane and has been public about his own health struggles — suggested Biden’s poor performance shouldn’t be seen as disqualifying.

“In my tradition, Moses stuttered, but he brought down Pharaoh,” Barber said, to cheers. “Jeremiah: depression, but he stood up for justice. Jesus was acquainted with sorrow. Harriet Tubman had epilepsy. People getting caught up on how a candidate walks — well, let me tell you, I have trouble walking, but I know how to walk toward justice.”

Even so, Barber and other speakers lamented the lack of conversation about poverty this campaign season. Barber voiced similar frustrations during the 2020 election, when Biden and several other Democratic nominees participated in a Poor People’s Campaign candidates forum. On Saturday, Barber announced his group would send statements to major networks imploring them to bring up the poverty issues at any future televised debates.

“In politics, there is a dirty, ugly, open secret that the word ‘poverty’ — the topic of poverty — is a taboo subject,” said the Rev. Adam Taylor, president of Sojourners. “We saw that displayed in the first presidential debate on Thursday night where the candidates spent more time debating their golf game than they did debating what would help all of us.”

Other religious speakers included Wendsler Nosie Sr., founder and leader of the Apache Stronghold; the Rev. Terri Hord Owens, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Rev. Leslie Copeland Tune, senior associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches; the Rev. Theresa Lewallen of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia; Sheila Katz, head of the National Council of Jewish Women; the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, advocacy director for the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Office of Public Witness; and the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, a Unitarian Universalist minister who also represented Hindus for Human Rights.

The Supreme Court’s decision was also a subject of scrutiny, with Poor People’s Campaign co-chair the Rev. Liz Theoharis blasting the justices’ ruling on Grants Pass v. Johnson from Friday, which ruled that cities may ban homeless residents from sleeping outside.

“It is wrong for the highest court in the land to criminalize homelessness, to rule that you cannot breathe in public — on a bench, in your car or in a park — if you do not have a home,” Theoharis said.

 

The Rev. Mira Sawlani-Joyner, the Minister for Justice, Advocacy and Change at New York’s historic Riverside Church, attends a Poor People’s Campaign event outside the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2024. (RNS photo by Jack Jenkins)

The SCOTUS ruling was also on the mind of participants in the crowd, such as the Rev. Mira Sawlani-Joyner, the minister for justice, advocacy and change at New York’s historic Riverside Church.

“We can see that our country is moving in the direction where we are no longer caring for the people who are most impacted in our nation by poverty,” she said, adding: “Shelter and housing is a right for everybody.”

Sawlani-Joyner also rejected what she described as efforts to divide Americans against each other, pointing to heated debates over immigration.

“We say things like, ‘We have an immigration problem in this nation, look at these immigrants coming in and taking all our resources,’” she said. “The thing is, those resources weren’t there to begin with: They’re all being hoarded by the people at the top, and we need to have equitable distribution of our resources.”

Sawlani-Joyner was echoed by the Rev. Brett Wilson, pastor of Georgetown Lutheran Church in Washington, who stood nearby. She often sees people at her church’s drop-in center for the unhoused, she said — sometimes more frequently than rank-and-file parishioners.

“That’s my congregation and community, and I see their struggle — I know that homelessness is not a crime,” she said. “We’ve got to stand up and speak out.”

She added: “I think it’s not time to go to church. It’s time to be the church.”

 

Mary Pendergast, from left, Terri Bednarz and Lamar Bailey, advocates with the Sisters of Mercy, attend a Poor People’s Campaign event outside the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2024. (RNS photo/Jack Jenkins)

Several Catholic groups, such as the Sisters of Mercy, had representatives at the event. Among them was Mary Pendergast, a nun from Rhode Island who said she attended the gathering to offer a “moral witness,” and was among those who addressed the crowd.

“We have about 1,600 homeless people (in Rhode Island), and there are some shelters, but they’re not safe,” Pendergast said in an interview, referring to dynamics that advocates argue prevent unhoused people from using shelters. “There are about 600 people a night in encampments and on the street. And they’re there because of policies.”

The event also included speeches from labor leaders as well as a number of people impacted by poverty. But in some cases, speakers identified with several of the categories at once: Gabriela Martinez, an associate of campaigns for Franciscan Action Network, first noted that “we are all children of God, no matter your color or where you live or how much money you make.” She then recounted her experience as a child growing up near pollution, which researchers have long argued disproportionately impacts the poor and leads to higher rates of various diseases.

Martinez recalled smelling rancid odors while playing in playgrounds near industrial centers outside Philadelphia as a child and was later diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. When her family moved to Ohio, she drove by foul-smelling petrochemical plants that blackened the sky on the way to school and was later diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. She now lives across the street from a Superfund site.

“My whole life I’ve been running, only to find that there is nowhere to run in this country that is not contaminated by the disease of injustice,” she said, her voice wavering with emotion. “Meanwhile, a three month supply of my insulin, that is medically necessary, retails at $1,600. At the federal minimum wage, someone with diabetes has to work 28 full days full time (to afford that). The child in me screams: Why?”

She then looked up at the crowd, closing with a call to action.

“I look at all of us and I know that we’re the solution to our problem,” she said. “Forward together!”

The crowd shouted back: “Not one step back!”

Gabriela Martinez, associate of campaigns for Franciscan Action Network, addresses a crowd at a demonstration organized by the Poor People’s Campaign outside the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2024. (RNS photo/Jack Jenkins)




Clergy, Parents File Suit Against Louisiana Ten Commandments Law

This is religious favoritism, and it is not only dangerous, but runs counter to my religion and faith,’ said the Rev. Jeff Sims, a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and a plaintiff in the case.

by Jack Jenkins, (Religious News Service)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — A group of public school parents, including some clergy, have filed a lawsuit against Louisiana’s new law mandating the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools, arguing the statute unfairly privileges a specific version of Christian scripture in addition to impinging on the rights of the nonreligious and those of other faiths.

The complaint — which was filed Monday (June 24) by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and offices of the ACLU — singles out a bill signed into law last week that requires public schools to post copies of the Ten Commandments in classrooms, paid for by donations. Plaintiffs argue the law violates their First Amendment right to religious freedom as well as the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against establishing a state religion.

“This simply cannot be reconciled with the fundamental religious-freedom principles that animated the founding of our nation,” reads the complaint, which notes no federal court has upheld the display of the Ten Commandments in a public school setting.

The Rev. Jeff Sims, a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and a plaintiff in the case, blasted the law during a press conference on Monday, saying it “sends a message to my children and other students that people of some religious denominations are superior to others.”

 

The Rev. Darcy Roake. (Photo via Tulane University)
The Rev. Darcy Roake. (Photo via Tulane University)

 

“This is religious favoritism, and it is not only dangerous, but runs counter to my religion and faith,” said Sims, who is one of at least three Christian clergy who have signed on to the case.

Also among the plaintiffs — which include religious and non-religious parents — is the Rev. Darcy Roake, a Unitarian Universalist minister who told reporters that among her faith tradition’s seven principles is a call for “the right to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

“By subjecting my children to permanent displays of scripture in every classroom, the Ten Commandments conflicts with this principle,” she said.

Roake added that her husband, who is also a plaintiff in the case, is Jewish and that they have raised their children in a multi-faith household.

“My husband believes this state-mandated version of the Ten Commandments does not conform with his Jewish faith either, because the displays misappropriate and alter the text of the Ten Commandments as they are set out in the Torah,” she said.

The complaint argues that by mandating the display of the Ten Commandments, Louisiana effectively “requires a specific, state-approved version of that scripture to be posted, taking sides on theological questions regarding the correct content and meaning of the Decalogue.” It notes the diversity of opinion regarding the scripture in question, including a wide array of religious traditions that do ascribe to the Ten Commandments, but their translation, numbering and wording of the passage varies widely.

The arguments outlined in the complaint echo those voiced last year when state lawmakers in Texas launched an unsuccessful attempt to pass similar legislation. At the time, Jewish leaders noted that the bill required the Ten Commandments to be listed in English (both the Louisiana law and the Texas bill use the same translation, which is based on the King James translation of the Bible popular with some Protestants) and not the original Hebrew.

During Monday’s press conference, Rachel Laser, head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, pointed out that several other states — Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina — have introduced similar bills, calling such efforts examples of the “Christian nationalism that is on the march across this country.” She noted Texas has also already passed a law allowing public schools to enlist chaplains and that other states are primed to do the same.

Rachel Laser. (Photo by Rick Reinhard)
Rachel Laser. Photo by Rick Reinhard

“These Christian nationalist laws violate the religious freedom principles that are core to this country’s founding, that everyone should be free to live as themselves and believe as they choose, so long as they don’t harm others,” she said.

The legal team behind the effort expressed confidence they would prevail should the case rise to the U.S. Supreme Court. Patrick Elliott, legal director for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, told reporters he believes the issues in the case are “already covered by clear Supreme Court precedent” and that justices may not even take up the case.

Supporters of the law have argued otherwise, with Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry reportedly telling attendees at a GOP fundraiser, “I can’t wait to be sued.” And at least two conservative justices have signaled a fundamentally different understanding of the separation of church and state than their colleagues on the bench: In 2020, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch signed on to a concurring opinion that suggested the establishment clause only applies to the federal government and not the states.

But even if justices decide to rule on the case, Elliott said he was confident his team would win.

“I think looking at many, many years of Supreme Court precedent, there’s extreme concern about coercive religious practices on children,” he said. “So I don’t really think even for the current makeup of the court (that they) would rule against our plaintiffs in this case.”

 




Tuesday Truth: What Does it All Mean? How Your Worldview Can Help You

“I can’t believe it! He’s really gone…I mean we were just hanging out yesterday, and then…I mean…how can he…be…dead?!”
The question, of course, was totally rhetorical, but it hung in the chair about as thick as the heat during the summer in the South. Darnell had just learned that J.J., his best friend, since Kindergarten, had suddenly died. I purposefully didn’t break eye contact with Darnell, an incoming high school Freshman. I knew better than to try to say anything, so I just was there with him and let the pain and grief of this horrible loss wash over him.

I could tell that he was fighting back tears. He tried to open his mouth to say something, but the sound, locked in his throat, came out more like a whimper. I reached across the coffee table and put my hand on his shoulder—and that’s all it took. The emotional dam broke and he cried hard for half an hour. After he got done, he blew his nose, wiped his eyes, sighed deeply, looked me right in the eyes, and asked me “ I mean…what’s the point of all this?”

Before I could respond, his words exploded out of his mouth: “I mean, he was my boy! We had both just made the J.V. football team! This was gonna be our summer! We were gonna hang out! I mean, what’s the point of it all? All the parties, all the music, all the movies, all the fun, all the girls, all the sports, all the clothes, and the shoes, and the money…I mean what’s the point of it all if in the end we all just end up like…” he angrily crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it in the garbage.

I thought that he was going to start crying again, but he gathered himself, cleared his throat, and seriously asked: “what happens when we die? I mean, you know, like my parents would, like, force me to like go to church and stuff, but we never took it seriously. I mean, we never really paid any attention. But I’ve come to realize that all this God stuff’s for real. It’s all really important, and I really need to figure out what it’s all about, cause, next, it might just be me!”

Darnell looked up at me and waited for a response. I just sat still and quiet, trying to be respectful and give him the emotional space that he needed to unload and express whatever he was dealing with. He was slouched over, and suddenly sat up like someone shocked him. He reached out his hand to hit my knee but instead spontaneously kicked my foot with his (I love working with teenage guys!) while simultaneously blurting out: “Hey Mr. O, what do you think? What happens when we die? What do you believe? I mean, you’re a pretty serious Christian guy. You seem to take all this Jesus stuff pretty serious and you’re still pretty chill!”

I stammered. And I never stammer. I politely declined to answer his questions about my personal perspectives on God, faith, life, death, and Heaven and hell. I clearly explained to him that I was his counselor and if he wanted those specific questions answered, then he would have to speak with his pastor. He insisted, stating, that he didn’t know or trust any of his church’s pastors, because, up until this exact moment, he hadn’t taken any of that—or anything important–very seriously.

“But now all this has really got me wanting to be sure about being sure.”I knew exactly what he meant, because I had a similar experience my Freshman year of high school. At the beginning of my Freshman year I had a classmate in my Freshman class die in a freak car accident, and it caused me to ask a lot of the same questions that Darnell was asking. So, I took a deep breath, and I made a deal with Darnell, that I would gladly and happily answer any and all his questions about life, death, God, religion, Heaven, hell, and anything else related to this issue, but only under two very specific conditions:

1. I had to be able to honestly inform his parents of his wishes to speak with me specifically about these issues.
2. Darnell had to read all the Bible verses himself, while we were together. I’ve had tons of Bible studies with tons of people, and sometimes, when people are hit with life-altering truths—or even the prospect of it—they tend to procrastinate; and I didn’t want that to happen with Darnell. God would do the rest: “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (Isaiah 55:11, NLT).

It’s super-cool to be able to experience someone coming into a spiritual situation with uncertainty and no peace, to then have them emerge on the other end with certainty and peace. His parents couldn’t stop thanking me over and over and over, because of the positive life change they saw in Darnell. But I couldn’t take any credit for any of it. As a Christian, I was just doing my job, because: “ . . . if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.” (NLT, 1 Peter 3:15, 16).

Pandemic Pandemonium

Admittedly, the pandemic has caused teens more than any other people group, to be pushed deeper into the search for meaning, that we all have at some point in our lives. After all, King Solomon, with all his wisdom was only able to scratch the surface of our soul’s longings, when he wrote:

“He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT).

Translation: each of us knows that we were made for something better and bigger than each of us. And each of us must do the work of searching for and finding the truth.

The big difference I’ve seen is that it seems that usually the teenage years are when people begin to feel that truth itch, so to speak, and begin to get a sense that there’s something more to life than what they can see, touch, taste, smell, or hear; they search for meaning in all the wrong places and ways, by making poor life decisions based upon a temporary or passing external problem that shocks them and “wakes them up” so to speak. But the consequences of this generations’ search tends to be a lot more serious than any previous generation I’ve ever worked with.

Frankly, I think a large problem is that social media and a smartphone promises freedom, connection, emotional intimacy, and happiness, but it delivers none of those things. In fact, just the opposite happens.

People who use technology as a tool to build and maintain relationships will find that it doesn’t deliver. It tends to leave them with a bad emotional taste in their collective mouths and a lot of soul scars.

This issue has become such a problem, that the U.S. Surgeon General, in a June 17, 2024 New York Times  editorial, called for social media to have warning labels on them, like those put on cigarettes and alcohol, in order to alert young people of the danger social media poses to their mental wellbeing and development.

Whoa! This is an epidemic and it will only continue to get worse! This is exactly why the topic of apologetics is so critical to rightly comprehend, because if you’re a Jesus follower, I’m convinced that God will put you in a position where either you can share Jesus and His message of love, grace, salvation, and mercy with others (evangelism), or you’ll be thrust into a situation where you’ll have an opportunity to defend your views and perspectives about who Jesus is in your life, how and why you follow Jesus, and most importantly, why others should do the same (apologetics).

Unapologetic about Apologetics

The term “apologetic” is a fancy name for the legitimate arguments or the defense we make about Jesus and His gospel. We not only inform others of the good news of the gospel (evangelism) but also defend it in a way that is true, correct, kind, respectful, intelligent, and logical.

In every case, when we begin the process of arguing our position, it is God and only God who ultimately brings around the heart, working through us (1 Corinthians 3:4-9). In the study of apologetics we confirm our faith–both for ourselves and for others who are truly searching for the truth. And we never know what life situations God will use as a catalyst to “drive someone over the edge” so-to-speak in order to get them to the point where they’re ready to have that conversation.

Worldview Wars

The term “worldview” might be new to you. What does that mean? A worldview is, well, how you view the world.
The apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2:8: “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (NLT).

We need to be very careful that we don’t think ourselves out of our faith. I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t study different faiths and what others believe; after all, how else are we to win people over (Acts 17:16-34) if we don’t know where they are coming from? All I’m saying is that you need to be careful so that you are well grounded in your Christian faith, constantly praying for wisdom when reading and studying, and have several people grounded in their Christian faith with whom you can bounce all this information . I speak from experience: I spent the better part of 10 years being fooled by “empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense.”

So what are worldviews all about? Well, every human being has a worldview, a framework for understanding and interacting with the physical world, other humans, and the Divine. Every worldview tells a story—an explanation of life and our place in it—that makes sense to the one who holds it.

The story line of a worldview typically answers five questions: Where did we come from? What kind of beings are we? Why are we in our condition? How do we improve our condition? Where is all this headed?

In the Christian worldview these answers come to us by revelation from God, as He speaks to us from His Word, the Bible:

• Where did we come from? God made us and all things.
• What kind of being are we? We are His creatures, and human beings are His image-bearers.
• Why are we in our condition? The creation suffers, and so do people, because of the fall into sin.
• How do we improve our condition? The only way out of our sinfulness into a renewed, restored, and abundant life is through the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ.
• Where is all this headed? Ultimately Jesus will bring His followers home to dwell with Him in a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells.

So why is understanding what we believe and what others believe so important? Well, the simple answer is that our thinking controls our beliefs, and both these elements control our behavior.

Do the Reading

Here are the most influential worldviews. As Christians our worldviews are often so different from those in the secular culture. Thus we should know at least something about the worldviews, especially as they may conflict and collide with our own worldviews.

Look, let me be honest with you: this is going to be like attending a TED Talk or like reading a textbook, and I won’t apologize for it, because I want you to understand that if you want to reach other people with the gospel, you’ve got to do some “homework” to understand who they are and what they believe. There, I’ve said it, and I feel better.

The most influential worldviews are (in no particular order): Christian theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, and New Age pantheism or New Consciousness.

  • Deism, an important worldview during the eighteenth century, has almost entirely left the scene. The deist believes that God exists, but He created and then abandoned the universe. A famous deist we all know well was Benjamin Franklin. And William Miller, a founder of the Advent movement in the 1830s, was once a deist.
  • Nihilism, a more recent worldview, is alive among many young people and some intellectuals. Nihilists see no value in reality. To them, life is absurd. Famous nihilists are philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Existentialism is prominent and can be seen frequently, even among some Christians who don’t think they are existentialists. The existentialist, like the nihilist, sees life as absurd, but sees man as totally free to create himself in the face of this absurdity. Here we see Satan’s Garden of Eden lie rearing its ugly head: “You shall be like God” (Genesis 3:4-6). Probably the most famous existentialist was Plato.

Christian theism, naturalism, and New Age pantheism are currently the most influential worldviews in the United States. We’ll look more closely at each of them:

  • Christian theists believe that an infinite, personal God created the universe out of nothing. Man was originally created good in God’s image, but chose to sin, thereby infecting all of humanity with what is called a “sin nature.”So man is endowed with value by his Creator, but his sinful nature causes rebellious behavior.  Death is the gate either to eternal life with God or to eternal separation from Him. The destination is dependent upon the response we give to God’s provision for our sinfulness. The guidelines for our conduct are revealed by God, and God is the only being who can tell us what is ultimately right or wrong. Our reason and our experience through the five senses can be legitimate teachers, but an immutable, transcendent source (someone or something outside of ourselves that never changes) is necessary. We know the most important things only because we are told of them by God, mainly through the Bible and His Holy Spirit. History is linear (goes in a straight line) and is a meaningful sequence of events leading the human race to the fulfillment of God’s purposes.

Christian theism has a long history in Western culture. However, this does not mean that all people who have ever lived in Western culture have been Christians. It simply means that this worldview was once the most influential and dominant, even among non-Christians. But this is no longer the case. Western culture has experienced a transition to a worldview called naturalism.

  • Naturalism in various forms is ancient, but we will use the term to refer to a worldview that has recently risen to considerable influence in a relatively short time within Western culture. The seeds were planted in the seventeenth century and began to flower in the eighteenth. Most of us have been exposed to naturalism through what is called secular humanism.  Under this world view, God is irrelevant. This idea is the direct opposite of Christian theism, which is based on supernaturalism (whatever is outside of the natural).  Progress and evolutionary change are inevitable. Man is autonomous, self-centered, and will save himself.  Education is the guide to life; intelligence and freedom guarantee full human potential. Science is the ultimate provider for both knowledge and morals.

These principles have permeated our lives. They are apparent, for example, in the media, government, and education today.

Remember what Paul said to the Colossians? “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Colossians 2:8, NLT). We should be constantly alert and on guard for the influence of naturalistic principles.

After World War II, postmodernism began to replace naturalism. Postmodernism is the idea that truth, in any real and absolute sense, doesn’t exist. This appears to be the next major worldview that is taking hold of our culture. It is very popular in high schools and on college campuses.

At the same time, though, the past few decades have brought to us another ancient worldview, dressed up in Western clothing: New Age pantheism.

  • New Age pantheism, and various forms of pantheism have been prominent in Eastern cultures for thousands of years. But it began to have an effect on Western culture more in the 1950s. It took the form of what became known as the New Age movement. When I learned and taught martial arts, I was introduced to and involved in a lot of this type of thinking and philosophy, and for many years I struggled to combine these beliefs with Christian theism, and couldn’t. I ended up getting entangled in the New Age ideas of pantheism.
    What are the basic principles of the pantheist worldview? All is one. There are no ultimate distinctions between humans, animals, or the rest of creation. Since all is one, all is god. All of life has a spark of divinity.  If all is one and all is god, then each of us is god. Humans must discover their own divinity by experiencing a change in consciousness. That’s why a lot of people do things such as yoga and transcendental meditation. Humans must travel through unending cycles of birth, death, and reincarnation in order to work off what is called “bad karma.” New Age disciples think in terms of gray, not black and white. Thus they believe, like the postmodernist, that two conflicting statements can both be true.

On the popular level, these tenets of belief are presently asserted through media such as books, magazines, television shows, and movies. Perhaps the most visible teacher is George Lucas in the Star Wars movie franchise. But these beliefs are also found increasingly among intellectuals in fields such as medicine, psychology, sociology, and education.

Next Steps

See, reading that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now that you’ve been informed about the major worldviews, what will you do with the information?

I’m hoping that as you interact with others, read stuff, or watch TV, you’ll be more alert to how sneaky the devil is, but even more important, learn how you can bridge the differences between you and another person in order to share the life-saving meaning, and answers. This is what Darnell was looking for, the awesome hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Additional Resources
Apologetics for Students




Money Monday: Growing Wealth

Part 1: Why You May Consider Real Estate Investing

Today’s Money Monday is the first in a series called growing wealth. You might be familiar with the names Taylor Swift or Shaq O’Neal from the sports and entertainment worlds; but did you know that they have also earned a significant amount of wealth from investing in or growing their wealth through real estate transactions? Sure!

I know your income or wealth may not be as significant as theirs, but why not consider real estate as a vehicle for wealth building? You have acquired stocks, bonds, Certificate of Deposits, Money Market and retirement plans, but what is your perspective regarding real estate and investing? Let’s take a look.

Choose Your Adventure 

Regarding real estate and investing, who do you want to be in relation to this asset or what role do you want to own? Do you want to be the person who wants to find, fix and sell houses for profit? How about becoming a landlord and renting property to create wealth and passive income. Perhaps you dislike interacting with people so you therefore opt for the role of investing in Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). Finally, would you consider wholesaling property? These and other options are available but you must first decide  what strategy you will pursue.

Two Real Estate Realities

Property rentals will never go out of business. Whether that’s Airbnb or other more traditional forms of renting property, people will always need a place to live. Let’s also note that with the climbing cost of education, increasing student loan debt, and the rising cost of affordable homes, fewer people have access to home ownership, and thus the need for rental property.

The second reason I would suggest real estate is for the potential for passive income. There are several financial principles and concepts that if you can learn, understand and implement in your financial journey, your finances can be transformed in significant ways. One such concept to is that of passive income- the ability to earn income while being absent and compound interest. Earning income while you sleep is very powerful in growing wealth.

Three Real Estate Investing Perks

Positive cash flow comes in very handy. Who among us does not want to make extra money? Projecting cash flow from a rental property does not have to be a guessing game, or one in which you lose money. Knowing the historical data and industry average data are important in your analysis when it comes to acquiring investment rental property. You want to acquire rental investment properties that will provide positive cash flow immediately.

Tax benefits from investing in real estate will not make a bad deal good. However, it can make a good deal even better. In case you did not realize this, the United States Tax Code rewards real estate investors. For example your property tax deduction is limited when it comes to your residential property. On the other hand, your full property taxes are deductible on rental property.

And, finally, you already know that real estate generally appreciates. A simple explanation of appreciation is the increase in value of an asset over the original cost or purchase price of that asset. Your real property can appreciate just because prices have increased . Your real property can also appreciate by making capital improvements to the property. Either form of appreciation from real estate will grow your wealth. Post Covid-19, we have seen a steady escalation in real property prices which has translated into significant  gains for real estate investors and homeowners.

Takeaways

I am certain many have considered real estate investing as a strategy to increase income and grow wealth, but there are reasons why many have failed. Among the reasons would be not building a solid, personal educational foundation before investing; failing to understand the numbers before purchasing the property. In other words, “the math needs to be mathing”; and finally, understand that risk is a powerful but dangerous tool, so proceed with caution. Despite those challenges, there are many sectors of the business from which you can grow your wealth. You can engage in tax sales, liens on properties or auctions if owning a physical structure does not fit your skill set or meet your risk tolerance level. But if you want to invest financially, considering real estate is still a viable option.

WHAT’S UP!

Today’s What’s Up is about booking flights.  According to CheapAir.com the best time to purchase a domestic flight is 42 days before you travel. Typically flight prices change in their life cycle some $98 per rotation. The cheapest day to travel is Wednesday, while the most expensive day to travel is Sunday. And that’s what’s up!

Ruthven R. Phillip, Esq., is a tax attorney, Stewardship and Philanthropy Ministry Assistant, and CEO of Give2Getrich, LLC. Give2Get Rich, LLC 2024. All Rights Reserved. Any distribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited.