Bible Study Dropout

This week I decided to drop out of my Bible study group, at least for the next few months. I came to this decision after reading one page of the guide for the group’s upcoming 10-week study of Dr. David Jeremiah’s book, Where Do We Go From Here? The woman who recommended this book to our small group warned us that it was political. Even so, I was surprised to find the first page of the introduction laced with Republican buzz words.

“A future pandemic could lead to emerging globalism.”

“The world is full of people who are ready to…cancel anyone who disagrees with them.” This leads “to eroding religious liberty at home.”

“Many professed Christians are abandoning their faith, creating a vacuum for the rising tide of Marxism.”

I have always been independent politically and otherwise. I have no allegiance to a political party. In these troubling times, politics is especially divisive. Meeting with a group of women who are likely to embrace Dr. Jeremiah’s biased teaching will upset me too much.

Globalism. Religious liberty. Marxism. Socialism. Cancel culture. Critical race theory. I believe these words are used to instill fear in the minds of the Republican base. Sadly, this tactic works too often with believers.

I bought the study guide so I am going to read and study it critically. How well does Dr. Jeremiah support his assertions with facts? Does he have a political agenda?

Beauty school dropout. Go back to high school.

Bible study dropout. Go back to the word.

Lord, I pray for wisdom and discernment as I read the study guide to Where Do We Go From Here? Show me your ways, teach me your paths. Give me the courage to share your truth.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Matthew 7:15

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Wisdom walk through Proverbs

Today is the last day of preparation for the 50-state prayer project, If We Will – Then He Will. In December, participants read through the book of Proverbs in search of wisdom. Today, the first day of the New Year, we seek God’s guidance for the next 50 days of prayer.

Lord, if I’m going to be a prayer warrior, make me a wise prayer warrior. I seek your wisdom and guidance as I pray for my country.

Knowledge and wisdom

Father, you are the source of wisdom and understanding. Write your word on my heart. I want to hear your voice. I want to follow you. Teach me your ways. Show me your paths.

I confess that I get distressed about the state of this world and I worry about the future. Help me to not be anxious about anything but to put my trust in you. No matter what happens in the coming days and years, I take refuge in you. May your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (1:7)

For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (2:6)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight (3:5-6)

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (19:21)

Every word of God is flawless;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (30:5)

Fearing the Lord and hating evil

Lord, I hate arrogance, corruption, deception, meanness and greed. Lead me away from the snares of the wicked and deliver me from evil.

Do not set foot on the path of the wicked
    or walk in the way of evildoers. (4:14)

To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behavior and perverse speech. (8:13)

The wise fear the Lord and shun evil,
    but a fool is hotheaded and yet feels secure. (14:16)

In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls,
    but those who would preserve their life stay far from them. (22:5)

Envy of the wicked

Father, sometimes I fret when people seem to get away with evil. I know that they will not escape your justice. They have no hope. When I am tempted to envy them, remind me that my treasure is in heaven.

Do not let your heart envy sinners,
    but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. (23:17)

Do not envy the wicked,
    do not desire their company;
for their hearts plot violence,
    and their lips talk about making trouble. (24:1-2)

Do not fret because of evildoers
    or be envious of the wicked,
for the evildoer has no future hope,
    and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out. (24:19-20)

Evildoers do not understand what is right,
    but those who seek the Lord understand it fully. (28:5)

Testing the heart

Lord, test my heart and show me the offensive ways you find in me. Father, I am your child and I submit myself to your discipline. Help me to be honest about my own sins and to have pure motives, to focus on the log in my own eye and not on the speck in my brother’s eye.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but whoever hates correction is stupid. (12:1)

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord. (16:2)

A rebuke impresses a discerning person
    more than a hundred lashes a fool. (17:10)

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
    but the Lord tests the heart. (17:3)

Lying lips and foolish tongues

Lord, help me to be trustworthy and to testify to your truth. The tongue is small but it can do so much damage, as I know too well. Help me to watch my tongue. May the words of my mouth be pleasing to you.

The Lord detests lying lips,
    but he delights in people who are trustworthy. (12:22)

Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
    but the prudent hold their tongues. (10:19)

A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride,
    but the lips of the wise protect them. (14:3)

Humility

Lord, I fall so short of your glory. Too often, I fail to be the loving person you want me to be. There is so much that I do not know. Help me to be humble.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
    but with humility comes wisdom. (11:2)

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (16:18)

Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life. (22:4)

Justice and mercy

Lord, I know what it is to be poor and I am thankful for those who had mercy on me. Whatever I do for the poor, I do for you, our Maker. Help me to act justly and to love mercy.

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will reward them for what they have done. (19:17)

Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor
    will also cry out and not be answered. (21:13)

The righteous care about justice for the poor,
    but the wicked have no such concern. (29:7)

Watch your temper

Father, forgive me for the times I have lost my temper. I know there is danger in anger. Help me to be calm, forgiving, and patient with others. Where there is discord, may I sow peace

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
    do not associate with one easily angered,
or you may learn their ways
    and get yourself ensnared. (22:24-24)

Fools give full vent to their rage,
    but the wise bring calm in the end. (29:11)

An angry person stirs up conflict,
    and a hot-tempered person commits many sins. (29:22)

Lord Jesus, my heart belongs to you. Guard my heart and help me to love others as you love me. As water reflects the face, may my life reflect your heart. May I reflect your love in all I say and do.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it. (4:23)

As water reflects the face,
    so one’s life reflects the heart. (27:19)

The 50 State Prayer Project

Like millions of other Americans, I have been praying for my country as its citizens become more and more divided. This month, a member of my small group told the rest of us about a call for intercessory prayer. She handed out several copies of the accompanying booklet, If We Will…Then He Will: A 50 State Prayer Project. The project began on the first of December with a 31-day preparation period including daily readings from the book of Proverbs. January 1, 2022 will be a day of prayer and fasting, followed by 50 days of prayer and readings from the book of Psalms.

The inspiration for the project is II Chronicles 7:14. After Solomon dedicated the temple, God appeared to him and made a conditional promise.

[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

II Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

The people behind the 50-state prayer project have taken God’s promise to Solomon as God’s promise to Christians. God’s plans for the people of the United States may be quite different than God’s plans for the people of Israel. Nevertheless, God promised to hear His people and followers of Christ are His people.

God’s promise to Solomon lists the conditions required to fulfill this promise: humility, prayer, seeking the Lord, repentance. As we prepare our hearts to pray for our country, we must humble ourselves, seek Him, search our own hearts and repent from the sins that separate us from Him.

In addition to II Chronicles 7:14, several days of preparation were spent reflecting on Ephesians 6:10-17:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

As Christians come to the Lord to pray for the souls of America, we should prepare for a spiritual battle with the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes fitted with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation.

When I think about the struggles of our country, it is easy to focus my ire on people who stir up trouble, people who spread lies, people who defame others. But Paul reminds me that the real battle isn’t against flesh and blood; it is against the spiritual forces of evil. Satan wants people to be divided. He is the father of lies.

I have been praying for my country since deep divisions became evident during the Obama administration. I don’t pray as consistently and fervently as I should. Praying with others across the country will add some needed discipline to my prayers.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:16 (NIV)

Lord, thank you for the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ, my savior. Thank you for the body of believers who have been called to pray. I pray that you will heal this land, a country that desperately needs You. As I prepare to pray with other believers, I pray that You will search my heart and reveal my sins. Help me to stay humble and to keep my eyes on You. I pray for wisdom and discernment. Help me to see others with grace-filled eyes.

If we will… then He will

Struggling to Write

As 2021 comes to a close, I regret not writing more. Last year, I coped with the pandemic by writing prayers. This year, I’ve really struggled to keep myself blogging. In writing about his own mentor, one of my favorite Christian writers wrote a sentence that resonated with me: I can hardly write if someone shares the same room with me. I also need solitude to write and I need a lot of time to compose my thoughts. If my husband walks into the room and starts talking to me, I can’t write. I become too self-conscious.

It helps to know I am not alone in needing to be alone.

C.S. Lewis has been a constant companion, a shadow mentor who sits beside me urging me to improve my writing style, my thinking, my vision, and also my life….

“[He] affirmed my calling as a writer who works out my faith in print.  We live sequestered lives, those of us who make a living by herding words.  I can hardly write if someone shares the same room with me.  And the results of my work are both slippery and vicarious: when I write I am not actively caring for the poor, ministering to the suffering, feeding the hungry, or even conversing about spiritual matters.  Lewis proved to me that this most isolated act can still make a difference.

“As one who was changed—literally, dramatically, permanently—by an Oxford don who often felt more at home with books than people, I trust that God may use my own feeble efforts to connect with readers out there somewhere, most of whom I will never meet.”

Philip Yancey, What Good is God? In Search of a Faith That Matters

Fortunately, I don’t make a living herding words. It’s much easier for me to herd numbers. But like Philip Yancey, I work out my faith by writing. My faith has been strengthened by writing about it. And like my mentor, Philip Yancey, I trust that God can use my feeble efforts to connect with readers I will never meet.

Thank you to everyone who reads Innermost Being!

Pillars of Caste: Terror and Cruelty

Several months ago, I committed myself to writing about the eight pillars of caste systems identified by Isabel Wilkerson in Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Pillar number seven is one I would prefer not to think about – Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a Means of Control. I abhor the cruel tactics used by dominant castes to exert control over subordinate castes.

The Holocaust and the enslavement of Blacks both provide ample evidence of the dominant caste using its power to cruelly enforce caste hierarchy. To control the subordinate caste, unimaginable horrors were inflicted on human bodies – genocide, kidnapping, starvation, whippings, hanging, branding, rape, etc.

Black slaves were brutally punished for minor infractions or breaches of caste. Wilkerson told the story of a slave owner who criticized a slave for planting a crooked row of corn. When the slave replied by saying that as much corn grows in a crooked row as in a straight one, he was whipped to the brink of death.

Learning to read and write was a breach of the caste system, backed up by anti-literacy laws. Literacy represented power and social mobility. Literacy took away the justification for dehumanizing Blacks. Anyone caught teaching Blacks to read or write was punished. The slave was punished by whipping or amputation.

Making it illegal for black people to learn to read and write reinforced the notion that Africans were inferior to whites. In the antebellum South, literacy was a sign of intellectual development and, potentially, social mobility—in fact, many white southerners were illiterate, so it was imperative to prevent the blacks from learning to read in order to maintain the myth of white supremacy.

Encyclopedia.com, Literacy and Anti-Literacy Laws

It’s hard for me to imagine such cruelty. How can human beings inflict such pain and suffering? How can decent people stand by and do nothing when another person is being tortured?

Evil asks little of the dominant caste other than to sit back and do nothing.

Isabel Wilkerson

Dehumanization (pillar number six) desensitizes people to the pain and suffering caused by inhumane practices. When a human being is seen as less than human, it is easier for some people to excuse cruelty. I personally don’t get it; only a hateful heart callously inflicts pain and suffering.

Wilkerson noted that all civil societies have laws against murder, rape, torture, assault and battery. Yet these acts have been permitted when committed against Black bodies.

Unfortunately, Emancipation did not bring an end to the atrocities inflicted on Blacks in America. Jennifer Rae Taylor, an attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative, wrote an article describing the horrific injustices Blacks faced after Emancipation: A History of Tolerance for Violence Has Laid the Groundwork for Injustice Today.

Often committed in broad daylight and sometimes “on the courthouse lawn,” racial terror lynchings were directly tied to the history of enslavement and the re-establishment of white supremacy after the Civil War. These lynchings were also distinct from hangings and mob violence committed against white people because they were intended to terrorize entire black communities and enforce racial hierarchy.

Jennifer Rae Taylor

Vigilantes targeted Black men, accusing them of sexual assault or other crimes. Blacks “were presumed guilty and dangerous.” Allegations against Blacks were not investigated. Blacks were lynched without the benefit of a trial. Blacks were also lynched for fighting for political and economic equality.

Importantly, these lynchings were not isolated hate crimes committed by rogue vigilantes; they were targeted racial violence perpetrated to uphold an unjust social order. Lynchings were terrorism.

Jennifer Rae Taylor

Reflecting on this pillar of the caste system and America’s history of violence against Blacks helped me understand how we got to where we are today. From the brutal violence inflicted on slaves to vigilante lynchings of innocent black men to violence against Civil Rights activists to the beating of Rodney King by the LAPD, we have a long history of using cruelty and terror to enforce the racial caste hierarchy. Jennifer Rae Taylor helped me see how the “criminalization of black identity” has been used to further dehumanize Blacks and to justify the unjust treatment of Blacks in our criminal justice system.