AN ATHEIST SINGLE MOM SET OUT TO SHOCK THE RELIGIOUS FANATICS AND ENDED UP STAYING
COURTESY OF MCKERNAN FAMILY
SIBYL SENDER 1934–2014
Raised in New York, Texas, and Florida, Sibyl was the only child of upper-middle-class parents. After attending an exclusive school for girls, she enrolled at Radcliffe, the then all-male Harvard’s separate college for women. Her wedding was announced in the New York Times. She was listed in the Social Register, the Northeast’s go-to index of patrician families and members of high society. But in spite of all that, she defied the “stultifying conventions” of her upbringing, most especially the patina of religion provided by her family’s occasional churchgoing, which she denounced as an “utter farce.”
My story is a typical atheist’s story. We come into the world with a preconceived idea. It’s as if we have a pre-birth memory of better days. By the time of my fourth birthday, I knew the place was a mess. Burdened by an image of children lying, fly-covered, in gutters in India, I was sure I could do a better job, and vaguely wished, as I blew out the ritual candles on the cake, that whoever was in control would “make it all better.”
Of course nothing got better. If anything, it got worse. At four and a half I attended my first Sunday school class. Upon being told where we were going, I thought, “At last, a chance to meet God face to face.” Instead, we cut out white sheep and pasted them on green paper. Institutional religion never recouped itself in my eyes.
By the time I was fourteen, I had come to the end of my tether, inwardly. There was an overabundance of badness and, worst of all, I was beginning to see that the goodness was about 95 percent phony. In California, a three-year-old child lay dying in a narrow drainpipe she had fallen into. As men and machines tried to extract her, the entire nation prayed for her safe release. It was time for a showdown. “This is it, God, your last chance,” I thought. “Get her out alive, or we’re finished. Look, if it were left to me, I’d save her without even being worshiped.” She died in the pipe.
Though I smoked hard, and drank hard, and lived hard, I could not suppress a wrenching, clawing feeling that there might be a meaning to life, after all.
So it was all over. The child and my regard for God were equally dead. Now I knew that human beings were nothing but animated blobs of protoplasm.
Then there was the idiocy of morality. It appeared to be deeply rooted in “what the neighbors would think.” And what the neighbors thought depended on where you lived. Morals, ethics, right and wrong, they were all purely cultural phenomena. Everyone was playing the game. I opted for nihilism and sensuality. And lived accordingly. Out with good and evil, out with morality of any kind, out with accepted cultural customs.
A line from Knock on Any Door, a 1949 film, summed it up: “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.” I proceeded to live my beliefs, preaching atheism to any idiot who “believed.” Though I smoked hard, and drank hard, and lived hard, I could not suppress a wrenching, clawing feeling that there might be a meaning to life, after all. In retrospect I see that I was so hungry, so aching for God that I was trying to taunt him out of the clouds.
During high school, my two closest friends and I discussed philosophy endlessly, worked on the God question, reaffirmed our atheism, and read C. S. Lewis so that, in case we’d really meet him one day, we’d be ready to “cut him down.” Attendance at chapel was required, but I refused, as a matter of conscience, to bow my head during prayers. Caught, I was banished to the back row, where I defiantly sat and read Freud.
Radcliffe, she soon discovered, “was as phony as church,” so she dropped out and married Ramón, a student at Brandeis and the son of a dissident Spanish novelist whose mother had been executed by the forces of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
It was not long after this that a baby girl, Xaverie, was born to us. As I looked across the maternity ward of the big Brooklyn hospital where she was born, the absolute innocence and trust she radiated just tore at my heart. I could not understand how something so beautiful could be put into such a horrible, evil, cruel world. I knew I was a part of this world. I could not find the answer.
While I nursed her at night, I steeped myself in the writings of Dostoyevsky. Truths were coming at me, though I couldn’t have defined them then. Ramón and I had acquainted ourselves with various offbeat religions, but none held the slightest appeal for me. It was Dostoyevsky that was the real religious experience. Today I can say that he was the one who delineated, for me, the realization that humans are buffeted and driven by dark forces greater than themselves, and that these forces chain us all – and (as he suggested in the gentlest possible way) that another, stronger, freeing power exists.
By the time Sibyl’s daughter turned one, her marriage was falling apart, and Ramón had left the house. “I knew we bore equal blame,” she later recalled. “If I were him, I would have left me.”
My mode of life descended steadily into the swineherd’s berth. Sometime during what I considered a final separation from Ramón, the man I was currently “in love with” decided I should abort our child. I hoped to the last minute that he would change his mind. But he didn’t. And so, tough atheist that I was, I went through with the most devastating and most regretted ordeal of my life. Why, when I had been dedicated to the proposition that there was no such thing as right and wrong, when no intellectual, believer, or educator had been able to persuade me otherwise – why was I burdened with such guilt?
There soon came a time when Xaverie was all that stood between suicide and me. I had reached as close to the bottom as a person could. Then, on a hot August night in 1957, in surroundings I will not describe, I groaned to a Being I did not believe in, “Okay, if there’s another way, show me.” Two months later I was at the Bruderhof.
It all began with Ramón’s startling appearance in my Manhattan office. A year earlier, he had left New York to join the Beats in San Francisco – Kerouac, Ginsberg, and company – and we’d not seen each other since. Meanwhile, I was settled and had a good job as a magazine editor.
At a recent party in Greenwich Village, he had met someone who was on his way upstate to check out a religious community. Ramón had tagged along, and now he was on a mission to get me to visit this community.
Everything in me recoiled from the idea. The Christians I knew wore disapproving grimaces. They worried about their reputations. They were stiff and self-conscious – they waited for you to notice how good they were. Then, there was Ramón himself. I wanted nothing more to do with him. So I told him, “No, I’m not going anywhere with you, and most definitely not to some stupid religious joint.”
The Christians I knew wore disapproving grimaces. They worried about their reputations. They were stiff and self-conscious – they waited for you to notice how good they were.
Ramón left, but only to reappear a few weeks later. The same scene. It happened I don’t know how many times. Once he took me to a restaurant and wept. It wore me down. “Okay,” I finally told him. “I’ll come, next weekend. I’ll hate the Bruderhof and they’ll hate me. And then you’ll stop nagging me about it.”
I picked my traveling clothes carefully: my fire-engine-red knit tube dress. That ought to ensure immediate rejection. Friday afternoon Ramón drove Xaverie and me upstate. All the way, I was cultivating a venomous attitude toward “that place.”
Once she arrived at the community, however, none of Sibyl’s preconceived notions fit the realities that met her. In her own words, “Everything seemed to be turned inside out, and set on its head.” People greeted her, she later remembered, as if she were an old friend. So while Xaverie happily lost herself on a swing set, Sibyl, disarmed by a wave of love, found herself trapped in a life-changing dilemma.
And yet, I wasn’t going to leap into the burning bush, not me. There was always hope that the Bruderhof would reveal itself to be utterly phony.
The heavens and hells I lived through in the next forty-eight hours were as several entire lifetimes. How could I be moved to tears in half my being, while the other half scorned my reaction and told me I was surrounded by seemingly mindless adults trapped in spiritual schizophrenia?
On Sunday morning, I looked forward to surcease in the battle. Surely the “religious service” would cure me of these strange leanings toward “goodness” that I was feeling. It would be like every other nonsensical religious powwow I’d been to. Empty. Nothing there.
But then the service began, and horrors – they were reading Dostoyevsky! “God, don’t do this to me,” I found myself pleading. “Don’t hit me in the literary solar plexus like this!” It was a passage from The Brothers Karamazov, where Ivan, the intellectual, tells Alyosha, the believer, that he, Ivan, refuses to believe in a God who would countenance the torment of even one innocent child. There followed for me the spiritual denouement. Worlds, galaxies collided, and I quietly accepted and embraced a brand new thought: it is not God who torments the innocent. It is Sibyl.
Afterward, Sibyl found herself pouring out the entire wretched contents of her personal life to a complete stranger named Heinrich, a pastor at Woodcrest.
Later it seemed to me that in talking, the two of us had lived through the entire gospel, and that the heart of it was, as I had always suspected way deep down inside, “C’mon in, sit down, and have a cup of coffee.” It had nothing to do with wooden pews. It had to do with goodness’s compassionate love for badness.
At the end, I told Heinrich that this did not mean I was about to join the Bruderhof; I had to return to New York City. He said, “That is death.” I said, “I know.” Still, I was determined to get back home and pick up living again as if nothing had happened. So I did.
I spent the next three months trying to escape God and the call I felt – the call of total commitment, the death of the “old man.” Oh, how the devil tried to lure me – and how I tried to follow him! He offered me money and fame in the strangest ways. But I could not eat the foul dish he set before me. I turned from it in disgust. What had happened to me? My taste buds had changed; my eyes were different, my ears, my nose, my sense of touch. I was Sibyl poured into a differently perceiving vessel. In the end, I had nowhere to go but back to the Bruderhof, until I could decide which way I would go forever.
After returning a second time, Sibyl knew it was for good:
I was as one in love. I was utterly consumed by the life of the community. The struggles of each member – their joys and sorrows, openly shared – seemed to be mine. But it was more like an ongoing adventure in discovering God’s will. And it was punctuated by laughter, of all things! This adventure had nothing in common with a gloomy, introspective mining operation. Life was unutterably beautiful, wonderful. All I had been through – and was going through now, each day in community – was a miracle: of forgiveness, of mercy, of prayer, of God. And that a wretch like me was allowed this!
There was a price to be paid. Sibyl’s relationship with Ramón, which had never been stable or monogamous on either side, continued to crumble. In the end he left her once more, eventually divorcing her and moving to California. Sibyl was now a single mother raising Xaverie on her own.
Years later, when Xaverie decided to join the Bruderhof, Sibyl asked her: “How did you know what this was all about? I never used religious words.” She answered, “Oh, Mama, Jesus was everywhere.” This confirmed something Sibyl had always felt, that “if our deeds don’t bespeak God’s will, then there’s no point talking about him.”
In her late sixties, before moving to Bellvale, where she spent her last years, she told the Woodcrest community:
It’s no good if we live by traditions, or what other people think of us. It’ll be the death of our life together. In love there is total freedom. If we love our brothers and sisters, we can be totally free. If we don’t love them, we are going to become uptight, watching for rules and doing what you think people want you to do. Don’t let that happen or else I’m going to come back and raise HELL.
By Rebecca Barlow Jordan on Sep 03, 2020 07:45 am
Prayer for teachers is important at all times, but especially right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, as school starts again. Whether you are teaching students online or in the classroom, or you know a teacher, here is a prayer for teachers that might offer encouragement to you:
Prayer for God’s Protection and Presence
Lord, as school gets underway again, bless every teacher in every classroom around our world. Place your shield of protection around them as they teach and encourage our children. Give them a sense of your presence and reinforce your plan for their lives. Especially guard the older teachers and those who may have underlying conditions which could endanger their health and well-being. Calm their fears and fill them with the knowledge of Your faithfulness.
Prayer for Online Teaching
For those who are teaching online as well, we ask that You would give them exceptional wisdom to understand the technology needed. Empower both the introvert and extrovert teachers so they can focus entirely on the students, rather than on their performance. Help them work out any technical glitches that may bring frustration and slow down the process of learning.
Prayer for Passion, Influence, and Joy
Continue to give them a passion for learning and for those they teach. Help them to see the powerful influence they carry by being Your personal representatives—at all times, but especially now in this uncertain season. Give our teachers a creative ability to engage their students and truly make learning a joy.
Prayer for Sensitivity, Confidence, and Courage
Increase their sensitivity to the ones who need extra encouragement and motivation. Bless them with confidence, courage, and a cooperative, enthusiastic spirit that is contagious to their entire teaching team. Speak Your encouragement to them deep in their spirits, and help them see the tremendous value they add to our kids.
Prayer for Peaceful and Calm Spirit
Lord, fill our teachers with a peaceful spirit and the ability to calm any anxious hearts in their classrooms. Give them a tender but firm presence that invites respect and honor from their students. Keep them spiritually tuned to Your Word and Your leading so they can mirror Your heart and teach with Your sound principles. Build their character, even as they face challenging situations. And nurture their sense of gratitude for the privilege of teaching and growing kids in truth and wisdom.
Prayer for Strong Convictions
When our teachers confront differing opinions, whether from co-workers, parents, or students themselves, give them a listening ear and a gentle answer. Help them refrain from anger, but give them a strong conviction of what is right or wrong. Allow them to speak the truth with freedom and love and trust You to work all things out for them and their students’ good.
Reward Their Faithfulness and Sacrifices
Reward our teachers for their faithfulness, and for their sacrifices of time and love. Guard them from false guilt, misplaced expectations, or unrealistic responsibilities. May Your “well done” motivate them as much as their desire to teach. Keep them focused on You and the needs of their students. You are the great Provider of all their needs as well as their students. And You are the only One who can really change lives.
Prayer for Balance, Rest, and Encouragement
Bless them with balanced schedules that include rest and play, along with time for their families. Encourage those who are discouraged; lift up those who are downhearted, and restore joy to those who may have lost their passion for teaching due to all the changes and confusion COVID-19 has brought. Let nothing formed against them prosper; instead, make our teachers strong and resilient. Bring good out of this year—and every year. Thank You, Lord.
In Jesus’s name,
Bible Promises to Remember
A wise teacher makes learning a joy. Proverbs 15:2 TLB
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5 NIV
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Psalm 5:11 NIV
‘“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26 NIV
“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper.” Isaiah 54:17 NASB
*If you missed these posts, you might also enjoy: 3 Back to School Prayers for Students, and Five Back to School Prayers for Kids and Grandkids.
It’s Your Turn
What about you? Will you join me in praying for our teachers this year What would you add to the above prayers for teachers? I love to hear from readers. You can always write me through my contact page. Just fill out the basic name and address info, and then the email will come to me. Your name or info will never be shared with anyone without your permission.
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By Rebecca Barlow Jordan on Sep 17, 2020 08:00 am
Ever feel like a tree that’s been uprooted? Does hope seem like a distant reality? Maybe the following verse describes you.
He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree (Job 19:10 NIV).
When Job was tested beyond imagination and found no relief for the loss of his children, his possessions, and his health, he felt like an uprooted tree whose hopes had been torn from him on every side.Like Job, maybe you, too, could use a little encouragement.
Encouraging Quotes about Hope
Through the years authors, poets, and leaders have tried to encourage us by defining and explaining hope:
Hope means expectancy when things are otherwise hopeless. – G. K Chesterton
We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope. – Martin Luther King
Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. – from E. C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes, March 2000, Hendrickson Publishers
Hope itself is like a star–not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity. – Charles H. Spurgeon
In spite of all that Job lost through his time of severe testing, he refused to give up:
Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him. (Job 13:15, NIV)
Do You Need Hope Today?
Where are you today? Are you looking for a promise from God to sustain you? If so, here are some encouraging Bible verses and promises that might help:
Encouraging Bible Verses and Promises to Give You Comfort:
The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147:11 NIV).
We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:20 NLT).
Why am I discouraged ? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again–my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:11 NLT).
I am counting on the LORD; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word (Psalm 130:5 NLT).
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).
“And his name will be the hope of all the world” (Matthew 12:21, NLT).
And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has give us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:5, NLT).
…to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27, NASB).
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire is fulfilled, it is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12, Amplified Bible).
Today I couldn’t stop with one encouraging Bible verse or promise from God’s Word. There are so many! His Word brings so much more comfort and encouragement than any words I could add. No matter what you face today, I pray these promises will encourage your heart and lift your spirits today.
My Prayer for You Today
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, NLT).
It’s Your Turn
What do these Bible promises mean to you? How does God encourage you and give you comfort? I’d love to hear from you anytime. You can always write me through my contact page. Just fill out the basic name and address info, and then the e-mail will come to me. We will not share your name or info with anyone without your permission.
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It’s back-to-school time! Whether your family is virtual learning, homeschooling, attending class in-person (or dreaming of it), interested in Christian higher education, or simply engaged in lifelong learning – this week, we have something for you.
“It isn’t that we’re being asked to do something unexpected. It’s that they’re asking us to do something unnatural,” writes Italian teacher Enrico Galiano on the difficulties of the surprise transition to virtual instruction in the spring. This is how he and his students rose to the occasion – an occasion that so many this fall must rise to once again. “Is there a word capable of expressing what we’re feeling right now? My first answer: No. Today we should only have silence. Out of respect. But then it occurred to me maybe there is a word.”
For parents contemplating home education but unsure where to begin, veteran homeschooling mother of four Sally Clarkson is here to the rescue. In an excerpt from her new book Awaking Wonder, she details the secret at the heart of her children’s school day, around which all the rest was built: family reading time. “If we gave our children great food for thought, and gave them an appetite for how satisfying learning could be, they would be able to access anything they wanted to learn for the rest of their lives.”
Saint Macrina, oldest of nine, was teacher to her younger siblings, among them Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Basil the Great. Susannah Black and Jason Landsel portray her as “the heart of the family, as well as its keenest mind; the one who taught them all, the one who drew them all, through her sheer delight in Christ, to lives that shook the world.”
“The home is our first school” even when it isn’t, writes Doug Sikkema at Breaking Ground. The atmosphere that is created there conveys its own lessons in “how to talk, how to think, how to behave, how to love.” As distance learners strategize how to make a more school-like environment at home, those lessons in turn contain insights for better ways to design in-person school.
The word kindergarten means a “garden of children” – an image that animates this educational philosophy for students of any age, as described by Johann Christoph Arnold in Their Name Is Today, a free ebook this week. “We need to allow children to be children for as long as possible. They need time to breathe in and breathe out. They need to play. Children are not computers or robots that can be programmed according to our wishes; they have a heart and soul, not only a brain.”
Vivarium (“place for a living thing”): Is it a fishpond, or liberal-arts monastery? Both, of course, writes Richard Hughes Gibson, for passing on the faith is a life-giving enterprise – indeed, a necessary one. “Our present circumstances already demand fresh thinking about how to do the essential work of preserving, transmitting, and joining the Christian intellectual tradition.” Cassiodorus’s ancient Vivarium offered a vision of “a grand investigation of the Christian God, occurring through multiple channels, and resting only when that God is finally and blissfully beheld face-to-face.”
Till next week,
P.S. Even when more classes met in classrooms, the setting was a poor fit for many students: energetic boys. Sally Thomas recalls the upside-down experience of having a son “who at three was expelled from, of all things, a church nursery, because he refused to sit at the table and color quietly with everyone else.” By contrast, she describes another son’s experience with a preschool where he was understood “as a person of intellect and interest on his own developmental terms.”
In this school, the teacher’s role was far less oriented toward instruction than toward support and observation of the children in their pursuits. Teachers were there to mix paint colors, to find the end of the roll of tape, or to buckle on a firefighter’s hat. They were also there to observe the children as they played, and to chat casually but purposefully with parents when we arrived at the end of the day. It was in informal conversations with his teachers that I discovered many things about my son. I learned, for example, that like many little boys he was a kinetic learner, who formed and communicated his thoughts about, say, interplanetary travel while hopping on one foot. Or that he was generous: once he’d spent his entire outdoor time pulling a wheelchair-using classmate around the covered pavement in a wagon. Or that he was imaginative and perhaps unusually historically literate for a three-year-old; the dig for the Roman city had clearly bemused the teacher who beheld its progress. At any rate, daily I came away with an illuminated view of my child as a person who was thoughtful, interesting, imaginative, kindhearted, able, and good. Inevitably, it seems to me now, he came away from nursery school with a similar impression of himself. In hindsight I can see that this early vision of himself shaped and empowered him, as a student and a human being, in lasting ways.
Recently I have encountered a term that encapsulates everything I treasure in my memory of that nursery-school experience. In Oh Boy! Strategies for Teaching Boys in Early Childhood, educator Francis Wardle invokes the phrase goodness-of-fit to describe, as he puts it, “a match between a child’s unique behaviors, characteristics, and dispositions, and the social and physical environment in which the child develops and learns.” Goodness-of-fit, in other words, suggests an educational experience that acknowledges both the fullness of the child’s personhood and the fact of his developmental stage. In this paradigm, his education is oriented toward the reality that he is a person, here and now, with particular abilities and needs, not an eventual product inching toward completion down an assembly line. Goodness-of-fit, for young children, recognizes and validates the ways this age group learns and knows: hands-on, experiential, concrete, social, physical. A pedagogy based on goodness-of-fit presumes that when a child is allowed to learn and know in these ways, he will naturally prepare himself, in intellectual, emotional, physical, and social ways, for the challenges of his education’s next phase.
Written for educators, but accessible to and useful for parents, Oh Boy! describes in detail what goodness-of-fit looks like, and what makes it good. Though the book’s focus is little boys, the principles and solutions it proposes point to good early learning experiences for all children. As Wardle notes, preschool-aged children learn best through largely self-directed avenues of play and exploration, engaging both mind and body. The child’s intellect, still apprehending the concrete world, is developing toward abstract reasoning, but hasn’t reached it yet. The child’s emotions, like his body full of impulsive energy, are developing toward self-regulation, but haven’t reached it yet, either. The most successful educational models will work with, not against, these realities.
Anne Graham Lotz: When God Shakes a Nation
Our nation is being shaken by COVID-19, an economic collapse and violent unrest in our streets. There are endless conversations, discussions and opinions voiced by friends and family, educators and scientists, politicians and pundits—discussions about all the causes as well as the effects. At the same time, many people are being shaken by job loss, isolation, loneliness and the stress from all of the above.
But I wonder … Is God using this time of great unsettledness to shake our nation? Is God trying to get our attention?
When God shakes a nation, what should His people do?
I. LOOK AHEAD
- What are some reasons that God shakes a nation? See Haggai 2:6-9; Psalm 18:7; Isaiah 2:17-19.
- How does the Bible describe the days immediately preceding the return of Jesus? See Mark 13:24-26; Luke 21:25-28.
- As you look ahead, what encouragement do you receive from Hebrews 12:25-29?
II. LOOK ABOVE, ISAIAH 6:1-4
- How was Isaiah’s nation shaken in verse 1? Describe it in a contemporary setting.
- When his nation was shaken, what unique revelation did Isaiah have? See verse 1.
- Who specifically did Isaiah see seated on the throne? See John 12:41.
- Put into your own words each phrase that describes the Lord in verses 1-3.
- Match the following verses with a phrase from verses 1-3: Ezekiel 1:25-28; Revelation 4:2; 5:13; Genesis 14:19-20; Numbers 24:16; Job 22:12; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Exodus 15:1; Acts 5:31; Ephesians 4:8; 2 Chronicles 6:18-21; Revelation 4:8; 15:4; 1 Peter 1:15-16.
- Do you think Isaiah would have looked up if his nation had not been shaken?
- How are you being shaken? What difference has it made in your life?
III. LOOK WITHIN, ISAIAH 6:5
A. REPENT OF YOUR SIN
- What impact did the vision of the Lord have on Isaiah? Read verse 5.
- Give phrases that indicate a similar impact from Job 42:5-6; Luke 5:4-8; Revelation 1:17; Ephesians 5:13-14.
- How is this impact affirmed in Psalm 51:17? Isaiah 57:15? 2 Corinthians 7:8-11? Revelation 3:19?
- Rending your heart is a Biblical phrase for repentance. Is it an option according to Joel 2:13? Matthew 4:17? Luke 13:3? Acts 3:19?
- Use the following references to pinpoint possible sin in your own life from which you need to repent: Romans 1:21; Hebrews 3:19; Matthew 23:28; 1 John 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Corinthians 3:3; Malachi 3:8.
- Is anyone exempt from the need to repent, according to James 2:10; 4:17; Romans 3:10, 23; 2 Peter 3:9?
- When was the last time you wept in grief over your own sin?
B. RETURN TO THE CROSS, ISAIAH 6:6-7
- When the seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with the burning coal, what did this represent? See John 16:8.
- What did the altar illustrate in verse 6? See Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:14, 22; 1 John 1:9.
- What hope does God offer ruined sinners like you and me? See Isaiah 1:18; Acts 10:43; 26:18; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Romans 8:1.
- What is hindering you from returning to the cross and repenting of your sin? Whatever it is, what do you need to do to overcome it? Would you do it now?
C. RECOMMIT TO SERVING GOD, ISAIAH 6:8
- What bearing do you think Isaiah’s repentance and return to the cross had on his experience in verse 8?
- How were the calls in the following Scriptures the same? How were they different? Isaiah 6:8; Nehemiah 1:1-4; Exodus 3:1-10; Luke 5:4-11; John 21:16-18; Acts 9:1-6; 13:2.
- What is your calling, according to Romans 1:6; 8:28-30; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 9; 7:15; Galatians 5:13; Philippians 3:14; Colossians 3:15; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 2:9, 20-21; 3:9; Revelation 1:5-6; 17:14; John 21:19-22?
- How does your response to God’s call compare with Isaiah’s in verse 8? Simon Peter’s in Luke 5:10-11? Matthew’s (or Levi’s) in Luke 5:27-28?
- Is it possible that God is shaking our nation as a means of getting your attention? Is He even now recalling you to serve Him at this critical time?
As God shakes not only our own lives, but also our nation and our world, look ahead! Jesus is coming! Look up. He is in control, seated on the throne! Look within. Make sure everything in your life is right with God. ©2020 ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ
This article is adapted from a study originally published in March 2006 titled “Wake-up Call.”
Anne Graham Lotz has proclaimed God’s Word worldwide for more than 40 years. Her newest book, “Jesus in Me: Experiencing the Holy Spirit as a Constant Companion,” is available from major booksellers online.
More than 2K Christians gather in ‘worship protest’ after they are shut out of Seattle park
More than 2K Christians gather in ‘worship protest’ after they are shut out of Seattle park
More than 2,000 Christians gathered in the streets of Seattle in a “worship protest” Monday in defiance of public officials, who shuttered a local park to prevent them from participating in a prayer rally organized by missionary and political activist Sean Feucht.
The rally was supposed to take place in Gas Works Park by Seattle Parks and Recreation but officials abruptly announced the park would be closed all day Monday “due to anticipated crowding that could impact the public health of residents.”
“They shut the park, so we took the WORSHIP PROTEST to the streets!! The church of Seattle WILL NOT be silenced! Over 2000 took to the streets and GOD LIT THE PLACE UP with miracles, baptisms, salvations, racial reconciliation (with the police!) and HOPE!!” Feucht wrote.
Feucht, who has helped local pastors host 19 prayer rallies in defiance of coronavirus guidelines in 19 cities over the last eight weeks, told KIRO 7 that he believes the shuttering of the park to his gathering was “blatant discrimination.”
“If this was about COVID that would be one thing,” he said. “But this is about a blatant discrimination against Christians because the same questions were not asked and are still not asked about protesters.”https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fsean.feucht%2Fvideos%2F601987183823563%2F&show_text=0&width=560
Park officials explained in a statement Friday that the decision was made to shutter the park because they anticipated that people would gather and flout social distancing protocol. Previous attendees at Feucht’s rallies reportedly did not wear masks or practice social distancing.
“Out of concerns for the safety of all those who visit Gas Works Park we have opted to close the entire park for the day,” park officials said.
One man who attended the rally but did not give his name to KIRO 7 agreed that Seattle officials were not being fair when they shuttered the park to the Christian group.
“The opposite side of it is the CHOP,” he said. “They open it up and let them do whatever they want but they don’t let Christians come here and peaceably assemble. I don’t understand the hypocrisy of that.”
Kelly Seiben told KOMO News that she believes the city was targeting Christians, and others like Joyce Seiben agreed.
“We were not there to cause any harm but just to lift the name of Jesus,” Seiben said.
Pastor Michael Lee, who leads All Nations Community Church in Bellevue, said regardless of the actions of protesters, Christians needed to do the responsible thing and not gather in large numbers.
“I feel like it’s a responsible thing to do for a Christians to minimize the spread and risk of COVID,” said Lee. “You can do all of those things in smaller group contexts.”
How Should I Vote November 3rd?
Seven Guidelines for Jesus Followers
Recently, a committed Christian friend on Facebook opened up about her concerns over the coming presidential election, posting:
I have a heaviness in my soul today. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt it. A weight. The heaviness is because my heart is breaking. Plus, my disillusionment. It seems like so many Christians are willing to toss all morals aside when it comes to supporting any candidate that reflects their political agenda. Why are so many choosing to turn a blind eye to behaviors that are completely, blatantly in opposition to the heart and character of Christ?
Frankly, I’m hearing that same level of anguish among other Christian friends as they wrestle with how to decide on the leadership options before us, both locally and nationally, come November 3rd.
Of course, all Jesus followers claim that our primary leader is God’s Son, who is Lord of all, both in this world and the world to come. As we’re told in Revelation 11: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.”
Even so, one pressing question remains for us in terms of any kingdom of this world:
Of all the candidates vying for our votes this year, which ones come closest, not only in policy but in lifestyle and values, to exhibiting what Jesus’ kingship is all about?
Jesus 2020, anyone?
Have you seen the yard signs springing up all over the country that announce: “JESUS 2020”? Initiated by a small rural church in Texas this spring, the campaign has quickly spread beyond expectations.
The message it’s meant to send is that in the end, the only leader our nation should be looking to this fall is the “Ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1). After all, Jesus is not waiting to be crowned king; he already is king. He’s simply waiting to be recognized and welcomed as king, to exercise the blessings of his reign—in 2020 and beyond.
It’s like the picture at the top of this blog post humorously suggests: When you get right down to it, the candidate our nation needs right now is “none of the above”—not a Donkey or an Elephant. What we need to do is surrender to the Lamb on the throne (Revelation 5).
That’s why, here at ChristNow.com, we labor daily to foster and fuel a “nationwide Christ Awakening movement” wherein God’s people begin to give God’s Son his rightful place among us—which in turn will extend the gospel of his saving grace and power into the wider American community.
There’s no question about it: At this critical hour, the ultimate hope for our nation’s deliverance—both socially, morally, and spiritually—is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet, on the other hand, as faithful citizens in a vibrant democracy, we remain responsible for voting in November. So, how do we vote in a way that most faithfully represents and reflects the active lordship of Jesus today?
The guidelines I outline below will help you sort out your options—and lift some of the heaviness of soul like that which my Facebook friend is experiencing this fall.
But first, a brief primer on biblical leadership
Dr. Kenneth Gangel, one of the most influential Christians in the past half-century, taught on biblical leadership in forty academic institutions and published 57 books on the subject. In 2007, he wrote in Christianity Today:
We should paraphrase John’s words at the end of his gospel and say: If every leadership principle available in the Gospels or Acts were written down, the whole world might not have room for all the books that would be published!
In the article, some of the most important characteristics of godly leadership that Dr. Gangel suggests include servanthood, stewardship, shared power, caring, and modeling. Before concluding his insights, he quotes John Stott, a British Anglican and the world-renowned father of the modern global evangelical movement, who wrote:
Christian leaders serve not their own interests but rather the interests of others. This simple principle should deliver the leader from excessive individualism, extreme isolation, and self-centered empire building.
Here’s why I share this primer: For me, a good place to start when trying to determine the person I will vote into a political office is to weigh each candidate against biblical standards—even if the person is not a believer.
That’s where these seven principles come from—the Bible. They are godly clues to help Christians make serious choices on November 3rd.
Seven voting guidelines
for Jesus followers
To make them easy to remember, I use keywords that begin with “C.” In each case, I suggest synonyms that represent a few facets of each that are most important to me.
- CHARACTER: As I look at a candidate’s life, do I observe uprightness, truthfulness, nobleness, teachability, dignity, empathy, humility, principled moral standards—to name a few qualities to look for. What else would you add?
- COMPETENT: Is the person capable, proficient, gifted, skillful, intelligent, experienced, proven, productive, energetic. In other words, are they up to the job?
- CONSISTENT: Have they shown themselves to be solid, firm, dependable, stable, steadfast, resolute in their convictions? Do their private and public lives match up? Do they keep their promises?
- CONCILIATORY: Are they predisposed toward building bridges, peacemaking, and mediating for conflicting parties whenever possible? Does their leadership style bring healthiness to a group or situation as they calm, disarm, diffuse, affirm? Do they show respect toward the opposition—even as they lobby for the agenda they believe in?
- COLLABORATIVE: Similarly, do they put a high premium on working with others toward the common good? Are they active listeners, open-minded, transparent, reasonably flexible, conducive to seeking compromise, and willing to share credit for successes? Are they convinced that to achieve the best results we need one another? Do they entertain creative alternatives that might result in win-win outcomes?
- COURAGEOUS: When faced with challenges or opposition—or temporary setbacks—does the candidate continue to display boldness, bravery, fearlessness, even audacity, as they pursue what they feel is right? In “struggles” that arise in any political arena, have they shown themselves to be resilient and persistent? Do they instill similar courage in those around them? But, even as they stand their ground, do they regularly show kindness and respect toward those who disagree with them?
The most important “C” of all: CHRIST
- CHRIST: I hinted at this seventh guideline above. Obviously, for Jesus followers, the overriding touchstone in any decision—and certainly in our decision about who to vote into office—must be the person of Christ himself.
To start with, consider this: In his earthly ministry, Jesus confronted people in leadership more often than any other segment of the population in his nation.
Recall that the Sadducees and Pharisees were similar to our national leaders because, under the watchful eye of Rome, they took responsibility for both government and religion, which were melded under one authority. So, the insights we gain from Jesus’ words to them hold useful relevancy for our leaders in local, state, or national government today.
That means the people we choose to lead us retain equal priority today in Jesus’ eyes since he remains Lord of them all.
Therefore, just listen to this sample of his evaluation of those in charge in Matthew 23 (from The Message), and ask yourself: Would Jesus say anything similar to any of the candidates on the ballot this fall—especially at the federal level—if he confronted them personally, face-to-face here and now?
“You [leaders] are hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.” (vs. 23-24)
“You [leaders] are hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ . . . A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.” (vs. 16, 22)
“You [leaders] are hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” (vs. 27-28)
That’s very sobering language from the One before whom all nations will one day stand at the judgment! And note, it is all about revealing who they are as people—at their heart level.
Then, look at how Matthew 23 ends: Jesus weeps over these leaders and their fellow Israelites. Why? Because so often, he wanted to draw them to himself as their Master and Savior, but they refused his offer. Instead, they stuck to their wayward patterns. Consequently, as Jesus knew, in forty years (in 70 A.D.), God would send the entire nation into a millennia-long exile.
That outcome is worth pondering for America in 2020 as we select our leaders at the polls in a few weeks, wouldn’t you agree?
Many are claiming this will be the most critical presidential election in US history. Without a doubt, therefore, having the proper leadership in America right now also must be a defining issue for King Jesus.
With that background, let me suggest four applications of the seventh guideline—the “Christ” principle:
- Does the candidate ever openly indicate in some fashion that they have been “Christ-conquered”? In our secularized culture, most are not. But some have. There are candidates on the ballot this fall who have given their whole lives over to God’s Son as their sovereign Redeemer. Potentially, those who have will bring so much more kingdom ways into their approach to leadership. “Those who confess me publicly I will confess before my Father,” Jesus promised. What if we had people like that in office?
- At a less demanding level, do they at least seem to be somewhat “Christ-aware”? In the prophetic words of Psalm 2, pagan rulers are called upon to exhibit such sober reverence toward Christ himself and take him seriously. So, ask: Have any current candidates shown a measure of what Scripture terms “the fear of the Lord”? That means they have some concern that their leadership, their policies, and the ultimate outcomes will be “pleasing to the Lord”—at least as best as they know who Jesus is and can determine what God wants, even if they are not conquered (and saved) by him.
- Even if not aware, at least do they exhibit a way of life that is “Christlike” in how they act, how they treat people, with the values they promote, and in the influence they hold? They may not yet have put their faith in Christ; still, they may manifest Christlike qualities. And if so, those qualities hold out promise for godlier, more effective service to the community or nation.
- Finally—and this applies to every single candidate whether Christian or not: Is their approach to leadership—both in terms of style and substance, and certainly in terms of policies—at least “Christ-compatible”? To say it another way: How many of their policy initiatives are moving in directions supportive of, and not in opposition to, the goals of the kingdom of God? How many of their priorities, knowingly or unknowingly, line up with the righteous values and standards of the reign of Christ? Of highest importance, will their leadership be conducive to allowing and even encouraging the free spread of the gospel in our land?
Of course, it goes without saying: When it comes to applying any of these guidelines, there are NO perfect candidates on the ballot this year—or ANY year.
For sure, not one candidate in November fully measures up. Each politician is equally frail, finite, and fallen. None of those at any level asking for your vote matches all seven marks flawlessly.
After all, need I remind us, we have not yet arrived at “the new heavens and earth” (Revelation 21)! Even the most appealing candidates we may choose will give us, at best, only a glimmer of the leadership the whole creation is yearning for but won’t experience until Christ returns. Philippians 3:20-21 states it like this:
We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ . . . He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him. (The Message)
So how will you vote on November 3rd?
Until that glorious day, however, we do have to vote! If we choose not to vote, that very act itself actually is a “vote.”
In just a few weeks, you will be stepping into a voting booth or filling out your mail-in ballot. How will you respond at that critical moment?
Of course, before marking your choices, you want to be sure you know something of the platform and policies your candidates already embrace and what their track record is regarding pursuing those issues. So, be sure you do your homework.
But this blog post argues that there is something even more important than party platforms and policies—something prior, something more fundamental.
In addition, we need to ask: What kind of character does this candidate exhibit? Does she or he lead with a measure of competency and consistency? Do they tend to be fairly conciliatory and collaborative in their approaches? Are they courageous, holding firmly to certain convictions?
But above all: Which candidate comes closest to being either Christ-conquered, or Christ-aware, or Christ-like, or at least Christ-compatible?
In the end, from a kingdom perspective, any election is far more about the quality of the persons than about the precision of their politics.
As Scripture warns all of us in Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your HEART, for EVERYTHING you do flows from IT” (emphasis added).
VOTE, even though you know whomever you choose won’t be perfect or in perfect alignment with every one of your top priorities and values. Still, try to vote for the leaders you believe have a heart that will help secure kingdom-type outcomes for your communities and our nation.
VOTE. Soberly. Boldly. Prayerfully.
VOTE as an act of worship. Do it as unto the living, reigning Lord Jesus Christ, King of the ages, whose will, ways, works, and worth will prevail throughout the earth long after every other authority has passed away.
After all, apart from our passionate and unceasing intercession for a spiritual and moral revolution in our nation, what more strategic option than our vote do we possess this fall for securing a better future for America?
As a follow-up to this blog post: Listen to David Bryant’s 30-minute CHRIST TODAY Podcast, episode 3: “The Lion Speaks. Every Word Matters. Listen.”
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.
Verse of the Day
Thoughts on Today’s Verse…
A lot of people have their opinions about Jesus’ identity. The real issue, however, is what you believe about Jesus. What you decide about God’s Son means everything for you and for those you influence. So listen to Jesus’ question to his disciples as if he is asking it of you: “Who do you say I am?” I pray that your answer is the same as Peter’s: “The Christ (Messiah) of God.”
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus, who is my Lord, Savior, friend, and older brother in your family. I praise you for sending him to reveal yourself to us and I thank you for your love demonstrated by him on the Cross. I do believe that Jesus is the Christ, your chosen Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and the only Savior who can bring freedom, pardon, cleansing, and complete salvation. Thank you! In Jesus’ mighty name I pray. Amen.
Passion for Praise: ‘All Wisdom’
SEPTEMBER 20, 2020
Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt
Human peace, in which the nations give up war “for a while,” is never enough. The peace of Christ is greater than all our understanding and cultural achievements; for even where we work hard for harmony, strife among us and in our families breaks out far too easily. What we need is deep-rooted reconciliation in Jesus Christ – God’s peace for us all, changing this earth into heaven.
Source: When the Time Was Fulfilled