Celebrating God’s answers

Celebrating God’s answers

Scripture Reference

The Temple’s Dedication

13 Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River, and Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues complied at once with the command of King Darius. 14 So the Jewish elders continued their work, and they were greatly encouraged by the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. The Temple was finally finished, as had been commanded by the God of Israel and decreed by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia. 15 The Temple was completed on March 12, during the sixth year of King Darius’s reign.

16 The Temple of God was then dedicated with great joy by the people of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the people who had returned from exile. 17 During the dedication ceremony for the Temple of God, 100 young bulls, 200 rams, and 400 male lambs were sacrificed. And 12 male goats were presented as a sin offering for the twelve tribes of Israel. 18 Then the priests and Levites were divided into their various divisions to serve at the Temple of God in Jerusalem, as prescribed in the Book of Moses.

Celebration of Passover

19 On April 21 the returned exiles celebrated Passover. 20 The priests and Levites had purified themselves and were ceremonially clean. So they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. 21 The Passover meal was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile and by the others in the land who had turned from their corrupt practices to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. 22 Then they celebrated the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days. There was great joy throughout the land because the Lord had caused the king of Assyria to be favorable to them, so that he helped them to rebuild the Temple of God, the God of Israel.

There is a relief and a comfort that comes from the completion of a thing. When you pray and ask God to do something for you, or you step out in faith and begin a project or a task, there is a blessing when you see the completion and the success of it.

It gives you hope, courage, and strength to keep pushing especially during the times when you are waiting on God. It gives you strength in the seasons which require patience, endurance, and long suffering.

 

  1. Remember, God’s will for your life is continuous. He is always working on something within you to make you better. Look within yourself frequently to see what areas God is desiring to mature and grow you as you wait for the manifestation of prayers you have prayed.

 

  1. Everything God does that manifests as answered prayer, will bring glory to Him. You will always feel drawn to God to appreciate and honor Him.

 

  1. God desires to bless you and answer your prayers. He delights in fulfilling and meeting your needs. It is the will of the enemy to make you think that God desires your continuous suffering. Trust His love for you and believe that He is working it out for your good.

 

In Ezra 6:15, there was a date that the temple was completed. A specific month. We serve a God of specifics. He has scheduled the completion date of every test and trial that you are dealing with today.

Believe again, that very soon, you will be celebrating His goodness, faithfulness, and love towards you. You will rejoice because you will see the completion of a thing, and the power of God’s provision to see it through.

Prayer

Dear God,

There are moments in my life where I have felt a strong sense of loneliness, because I thought you forgot about me. I wondered if you would ever come through for me and bring me victory. Today I believe there is an expiration date to my trial. My answer is scheduled and very soon, by the power of perfect timing and your divine provision, I will see the completion of the promises you have shared with me.

Help me to count the many blessings I have experienced so far. Teach me not to compare myself with others. Let me steward my time, treasure, and talents with great diligence and grace as I expect the breakthrough of answered prayer. I believe this by faith, and encourage my heart to trust you again.

 

In Jesus Name

Amen

Andrew Young, at 90, views his civic, political roles ‘as a pastorate’

Andrew Young, at 90, views his civic, political roles ‘as a pastorate’

(RNS) — Andrew Young, a former civil rights leader, Georgia congressman and United Nations ambassador, doesn’t use “the Rev.” before his name much.

But the man who directed Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s said every stage of his adult life has been a form of ministry.

“I have viewed everything I’ve done as a pastorate,” Young, a onetime small-church pastor, said in a Wednesday (March 2) interview. “I really thought of Congress as my 500-member church.”

Likewise, he recalled making “pastoral calls” and praying with ambassadors representing some of the 150 countries that were then U.N. members.

“My model for almost every job I’ve had has been the model of a pastor servicing a congregation,” Young said. “As the mayor of Atlanta, I just had a million-member church.”

Born into, raised in and ordained by the Congregational Church — now known as the United Church of Christ — he has been a member of Atlanta’s First Congregational Church, a predominantly Black house of worship, since 1961. As he prepares to turn 90 on March 12, he continues to preach there on the third Sunday of each month.

Young is marking his birthday with a four-day celebration from March 9–12, starting with a livestreamed “Global Prayer for Peace” worship service at the Atlanta church, followed by a peace walk, debut of the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young” and a sold-out gala.

The graduate of what was then called Hartford Theological Seminary spoke to Religion News Service about voting rights battles then and now, religious aspects of the civil rights movement and his memories of working with King.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You intend to preach on peace and reconciliation to mark your 90th birthday. Has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed your planned message?

No, it hasn’t. Russia’s invasion has made my message even more central to the problems we’re having around the world. And Russia’s invasion is tragic and it’s even more tragic because it’s televised. But there are similar situations in many, many countries — in Latin America, Africa and other parts of Europe. And in these United States, we’re having a battle to protect the right to vote here in 2022.

You originally had plans to pursue dental school instead of seminary. What made you change your mind and do you ever regret the route you ended up taking?

My father chose dentistry. I never chose dentistry. Even as a 12-year-old, though I might have been working in a dental laboratory that my father wanted me to learn the business, I knew I didn’t want to do anything that confined me to an office. I’ve always been too full of energy and too rambunctious to stay in one place.

Even though you ended up doing ministry of different sorts, you also didn’t stay in one pulpit as some people pursuing ministry do.

We likened the ministry of the civil rights movement to the ministry of Paul and the apostles. Martin had one church. Most of us were ordained. But we pastored communities, cities, and we saw ourselves as pastors to the nation and to the world.

You were a staffer and later president of the National Council of Churches, which has risen and declined in prominence over the years. What do you consider the state of ecumenical relations now?

We have not been able to worship in our congregation for two years now. But we have (online) services, and I usually preach every third Sunday. And I get calls from as far as Switzerland and Tanzania, California, London, where friends somehow find it.

I don’t know what state the organized church is (in). But I think people are becoming and have become more seriously spiritual than at any time in my life.

The book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young” notes that when you entered the civil rights movement, you wrote, “I’ve had about enough of ‘church work’ and am anxious to do the work of the church.” Is there something about the movement’s religious aspects that many may not know?

That it was grounded in social gospel and in biblical theology. That Martin Luther King did his doctorate in the time of people like (theologians) Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, and he carried Howard Thurman’s little book “Jesus and the Disinherited” in his briefcase all the time. And during the civil rights movement, we had worship every night.

You mentioned voting rights earlier. How do you feel about the state of voting rights, given that you helped lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as it sought improved voting rights and now all these years later, it’s still a topic of contention?

I’m shocked that we still have to struggle for the right to vote.

And I think that the changes in Georgia — they are structured now to steal the election. And the voting rights bills that were sent to, I think, some 30 states, they’re the same bill with the same level of corruption and the licensing of voter control. And we don’t have a Congress or a Supreme Court that’s willing to stand up now.

There’s a lot of photos in the new coffee table book about you. Are there any that relate to your religious life, your ministry, that mean the most to you?

Well, actually the one that shows me getting beat up in St. Augustine. That was probably the biggest test of my faith because I ended up leading about 50 people, mostly women and children, into a group of a couple hundred Klansmen who had been deputized by the sheriff to beat us up. I left them on one side of the street and I crossed over, trying to reason with the Klan. I was doing pretty good until somebody came up behind me and hit me with something, and then I didn’t remember anything.

But that was (shortly) before the Congress voted to pass the ’64 Civil Rights Act. And I got up and I went down to the next corner and tried to talk to the Klan on that corner. And fortunately there, when they swung at me, I ducked. And a great big policeman, biggest policeman I’ve ever seen — he was about six-six, six-seven — he walked up and said, ‘Let these people alone. You’re going to kill somebody.’ And he moved the Klan out of the way, and we were able to march.

That was one of the times that nonviolence was really on trial.

You are continuing to preach at First Congregational in Atlanta about every month — often at services featuring jazz music. It doesn’t sound like you’re anywhere near just putting your feet up at age 90.

No. There’s a song, old spiritual, that folks used to sing: “I keep so busy serving my Jesus, I ain’t got time to die.”

I just feel blessed. I have lived a blessed life. You can’t earn it, but I’ve tried to be faithful.

The Freedom of Discipline: A Reflection

The Freedom of Discipline: A Reflection

You’re going to rebel once you get to college,” they said to me.

“They” were my high school friends. I was always the Goody Two-Shoes of the group and they always let me know just how weird I was and just how much they hoped I would change my ways. My friends believed that I was a Goody Two-Shoes because my mom was strict. She had very specific guidelines about with whom and where I could socialize when I was in high school. While I thought some of the rules were a little extreme, as all teenagers do, I mostly understood and always respected them.

However, it wasn’t the rules that kept me disciplined. It was me.

Well, it was actually the Holy Spirit. I just didn’t know it back then. 

While I’m grateful for my mother’s rules, and even plan to repeat many of them with my own children to ensure their safety, I wasn’t interested in being a rebellious child in the first place. I had zero interest in parties. I never desired to take a drink. Sneaking out of the house was not on my radar. I loved to study. I was completely obsessed with being in the band and on the speech team. My idea of a good time was diving into a good book and grabbing a white chocolate mocha from the local Caribou Coffee. To put it frankly, I was genuinely uninterested in what a lot of other teens were into. I never understood why kids my age were interested in certain activities and substances that would jeopardize their health and safety for a few fleeting moments of fun. It just wasn’t worth it to me.

Fast forward to college.

To be honest, I was so nervous about college for this very reason. I knew that the college atmosphere was about drinking, partying, and being as irresponsible as possible with your newfound freedom. I figured I’d struggle making friends due to my “Goody Two-Shoes” nature. Who wants to hang out with the girl who would rather read a book than go to a party?

I was right.

When many of my college peers found out that I wasn’t into going to the club on Friday night, they showed no interest in pursuing a friendship. Others befriended me, but they also tried to make it their mission to get me to engage in certain activities that I was not comfortable with. They were convinced that I was too uptight and “just needed to loosen up a bit.” Eventually, I was the one walking away from those friendships.

Thankfully, I found some friends who accepted me for who I was, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was it about me that wasn’t interested in what everyone else my age was interested in?

Let’s be real here. Your college years and your twenties are known for happy hours, going to the club, random hookups, and the like. Yet, not only was I uninterested in the typical idea of fun, it actually made me feel rather uncomfortable and I avoided it at all costs. The big question I couldn’t answer at the time was, “why?” 

When I was 16, I began slowly pursuing a relationship with Christ. I started to learn even more about Jesus as I matriculated through college. During my senior year, I completely surrendered my life to Christ. My heart was all-in and I never looked back. 

The stronger my faith grew, the more disciplined I became in my thinking and my actions. However, I didn’t make the connection at the time between my faith and my personality. I thought my personality was just one that didn’t identify with the same thought patterns and behaviors as many other people I knew.

“Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:4–7, BSB).

The beauty of a relationship with Christ is that we get to walk in freedom. I think sometimes this freedom gets taken for granted. It doesn’t always feel like a super spiritual feeling that we may have imagined it to be. We may not feel like we are floating on air, dancing in the fields with butterflies, and smiling from ear to ear on a daily basis. In fact, many of our days will be challenging, stressful, and mundane. That does not negate the fact that we are still walking in freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from the Law, freedom for our future, and freedom to walk in the fruit of the Spirit.

Walking in this freedom may look like a loss of interest in certain activities as the Holy Spirit reveals to you their sinful nature. Walking in freedom might also look like a newfound discipline in the habits you set for yourself and the goals you desire to accomplish. Perhaps this freedom looks like a care for your future that you didn’t have before. Prior to Jesus, you were living day by day, taking life as it came, without much of a plan for tomorrow. Now, you look forward to the future and align your daily actions with that hope.

I was baptized when I was 16. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but my 16-year-old brain didn’t understand the vastness of the freedom that I was walking in. All I knew was that my thought process and desires were much different than those of my peers. I couldn’t explain why, but I was confident in my choices. While others described my discipline to be restrictive, I found my discipline to be the most freeing thing ever, and I still do. The choices I made 10 years ago have resulted in abundant fruit as I enter middle adulthood. By following Christ, I am not a slave to the consequences of poor choices I could have made when I was younger. Seeing the fruits of my labor motivates me to continue with a more disciplined lifestyle now because I know that I will continue to bear fruit as I get older.

I’m now a 30-something year-old married mama of two little girls and the need for discipline is even more prevalent today than it was 10 years ago, but for different reasons. It’s easy to feel like children, discipline, routines, structure, etc., take away the freedom from your life. Adulthood reminds you that the ways of your younger years just don’t cut it anymore. The donuts you ate for breakfast show consequences around your midsection and at your next doctor’s visit. The late nights you once tolerated in your twenties result in poor job performance the next day when you’re in your thirties. As a parent, your life now revolves around the needs of your children. You lay down your selfish desires to serve your family. You wish you could have more time to yourself, but your children need to eat lunch. All of these realities can, understandably, make you long for those younger years that “felt freer” than the ones you are living in. 

Much like submission to Christ results in freedom from sin, submission to the discipline that is required of adulthood results in freedom from the long-term consequences that lack of discipline will result in.

Discipline is freeing.

The Christian life is freeing.

But we must value the result of freedom more than the short-term pleasures of sin.

The fruit you will bear as a result will always be worth it.

When God is honored

When God is honored

Scripture Reference: Ezra 6:1-12 NLT

So King Darius issued orders that a search be made in the Babylonian archives, which were stored in the treasury. But it was at the fortress at Ecbatana in the province of Media that a scroll was found. This is what it said:

“Memorandum:

“In the first year of King Cyrus’s reign, a decree was sent out concerning the Temple of God at Jerusalem.

“Let the Temple be rebuilt on the site where Jews used to offer their sacrifices, using the original foundations. Its height will be ninety feet, and its width will be ninety feet.[a] Every three layers of specially prepared stones will be topped by a layer of timber. All expenses will be paid by the royal treasury. Furthermore, the gold and silver cups, which were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple of God in Jerusalem, must be returned to Jerusalem and put back where they belong. Let them be taken back to the Temple of God.”

So King Darius sent this message:

“Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River,[b] and Shethar-bozenai, and your colleagues and other officials west of the Euphrates River—stay away from there! Do not disturb the construction of the Temple of God. Let it be rebuilt on its original site, and do not hinder the governor of Judah and the elders of the Jews in their work.

“Moreover, I hereby decree that you are to help these elders of the Jews as they rebuild this Temple of God. You must pay the full construction costs, without delay, from my taxes collected in the province west of the Euphrates River so that the work will not be interrupted.

“Give the priests in Jerusalem whatever is needed in the way of young bulls, rams, and male lambs for the burnt offerings presented to the God of heaven. And without fail, provide them with as much wheat, salt, wine, and olive oil as they need each day. 10 Then they will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the welfare of the king and his sons.

11 “Those who violate this decree in any way will have a beam pulled from their house. Then they will be lifted up and impaled on it, and their house will be reduced to a pile of rubble.[c] 12 May the God who has chosen the city of Jerusalem as the place to honor his name destroy any king or nation that violates this command and destroys this Temple.

“I, Darius, have issued this decree. Let it be obeyed with all diligence.”

There is a powerful thing that happens when God is honored and revered. Honoring God’s presence in a city, country or human life, provokes God to move. King Darius in Ezra 6:1-12 declared the construction of the house of God to be built with his full endorsement.

He covered the full expense from the royal treasury and ensured the work would not stop until completion. As a man of authority, he recognized he was limited to what he could do. We see his humility in Ezra 6:10 where he requests for prayers for his wellbeing and his sons.

Many times, we limit God’s provision because we prepare our hearts to receive rejection. We take on this posture to avoid feeling disappointed. However, there are seasons in our lives when God sends people who have the ability to change our lives completely by their influence, authority and endorsement.

God sent providers are not concerned with how many years you have been dealing with your trial, or test, all they want to see is success move in your life and a fast pace. God desires to send great men and women who recognize His sovereignty but are humble enough to admit their need for Him.

God responds to honor from anyone. Sometimes we struggle with the fact that we serve a God who is not biased. I would dare ask you, would you desire for your breakthrough or blessing to have bias? It shouldn’t matter how God helps you, all you want is the manifestation of what God has for you. That is the power of honor.

Honoring God reminds us that He will use anyone or anything to accomplish His will for our lives. Our posture is to keep our heart and minds in a place of humility, and prepare ourselves to move quickly when the blessing or the answer is provided.

As you believe God to make a way for you, deal with any bias in your life that would make you sabotage answered prayer or quick manifested breakthroughs that show up in an unexpected way.

The answer is coming, the provision is coming, believe God and expect. When it shows up, as an act of faith, move in diligence and watch God be God.

Prayer

Dear God,

I believe, I am in the season of sudden surprises and miraculous breakthroughs. Deal with any fears or disappointment in me that would cause me not to believe you. Remind me that you know where I am and just as you used King Darius to honor you, you will touch great men and women to bless me and turnaround my life. I stand in faith and begin to prepare for that beginning today,

In Jesus Name

Amen

What do students’ beliefs about God have to do with grades and going to college?

What do students’ beliefs about God have to do with grades and going to college?

How do students’ religious lives influence their academic ones? Image Source via Getty Images
Ilana Horwitz, Tulane University

In America, the demographic circumstances of a child’s birth substantially shape academic success. Sociologists have spent decades studying how factors beyond students’ control – including the race, wealth and ZIP code of their parents – affect their educational opportunities and achievement.

But one often overlooked demographic factor is religion. The U.S. is the most devout wealthy Western democracy. Does a religious upbringing influence teens’ academic outcomes?

Over the past 30 years, sociologists and economists have conducted several studies that consistently show a positive relationship between religiosity and academic success. These studies show that more religious students earn better grades and complete more schooling than less religious peers. But researchers debate what these findings really mean, and whether the seeming effect of religiosity on students’ performance is really about religion, or a result of other underlying factors.

My latest research underscores that religion has a powerful but mixed impact. Intensely religious teens – who some researchers call “abiders” – are more likely than average to earn higher GPAs and complete more college education. By religious intensity, I refer to whether people see religion as very important, attend religious services at least once a week, pray at least once a day, and believe in God with absolute certainty. Theological belief on its own is not enough to influence how children behave – they also need to be part of a religious community. Adolescents who see an academic benefit both believe and belong.

On average though, abiders who have excellent grades tend to attend less selective colleges than their less religious peers with similar GPAs and from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds.

The takeaway from these findings is not meant to encourage people to become more religious or to promote religion in schools. Rather, they point to a particular set of mindsets and habits that help abiders succeed – and qualities that schools reward in their students.

Religious landscape

People of any religion can demonstrate religious intensity. But the research in my book “God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success” centers on Christian denominations because they are the most prevalent in the U.S., with about 63% of Americans identifying as Christian. Also, surveys about religion tend to reflect a Christian-centric view, such as by emphasizing prayer and faith over other kinds of religious observance. Therefore, Christian respondents are more likely to appear as highly religious, simply based on the wording of the questions.

Based on a 2019 Pew survey and other studies, I estimate that about one-quarter of American teenagers are intensely religious. This number also accounts for people’s tendency to say they attend religious services more than they actually do.

The abider advantage

In my book, I examined whether intensely religious teens had different academic outcomes, focusing on three measures: secondary school GPA; likelihood of completing college; and college selectivity.

First, I analyzed survey data collected by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which followed 3,290 teens from 2003 to 2012. After grouping participants by religious intensity and analyzing their grades, I found that on average, abiders had about a 10 percentage-point advantage.

For example, among working-class teens, 21% of abiders reported earning A’s, compared with 9% of nonabiders. Abiders were more likely to earn better grades even after accounting for various other background factors, including race, gender, geographic region and family structure.

Then working with survey measurement expert Ben Domingue and sociologist Kathleen Mullan Harris, I used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to see how more and less religious children from the same families performed. According to our analysis, more intensely religious teens earned higher GPAs in high school, on average, even compared with their own siblings.

But why?

Scholars like sociologist Christian Smith have theorized that increased religiosity deters young people from risky behaviors, connects them to more adults and provides them more leadership opportunities. However, I found that including survey measures for these aspects of teens’ lives did not fully explain why abiders were earning better GPAs.

To better understand, I went back to the National Study of Youth and Religion, or NSYR, and analyzed 10 years of interviews with over 200 teens, all of whom had been assigned individual IDs to link their survey and interview responses.

Many abiders made comments about constantly working to emulate and please God, which led them to try to be conscientious and cooperative. This aligns with previous research showing that religiousness is positively correlated with these traits.

Studies have underscored how habits like conscientiousness and cooperation are linked with academic success, in part because teachers value respect. These traits are helpful in a school system that relies on authority figures and rewards people who follow the rules.

A teenage boy in a blue shirt works on an assignment in class.
Traits like cooperation can play an important role in students’ success. Will & Deni McIntyre/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

Post-graduation plans

Next, I wanted to know more about students’ college outcomes, starting with where they enrolled. I did this by matching the NSYR data to the National Student Clearinghouse to get detailed information about how many semesters of college respondents had completed, and where.

On average, abiders were more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than nonabiders, since success in high school sets them up for success in college – as also shown by my analyses of siblings. The bump varies by socioeconomic status, but among working-class and middle-class teens, abiders are more than 1 ½ to 2 times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than nonabiders.

Another dimension of academic success is the quality of the college one graduates from, which is commonly measured by selectivity. The more selective the institutions from which students graduate, the more likely they are to pursue graduate degrees and to secure high paying jobs.

On average, abiders who earned A’s graduated from slightly less selective colleges: schools whose incoming freshman class had an average SAT score of 1135, compared with 1176 at nonabiders’.

My analysis of the interview data revealed that many abiders, especially girls from middle-upper-class families, were less likely to consider selective colleges. In interviews, religious teens over and over mention life goals of parenthood, altruism and serving God – priorities that I argue make them less intent on attending as highly selective a college as they could. This aligns with previous research showing that conservative Protestant women attend colleges that less selective than other women do because they do not tend to view college’s main purpose as career advancement.

Grades without God

Being a good rule follower yields better report cards – but so can other dispositions.

My research also shows that teens who say that God does not exist earn grades that are not statistically different from abiders’ grades. Atheist teens make up a very small proportion of the NSYR sample: 3%, similar to the low rates of American adults who say they don’t believe in God.

In fact, there is a strong stigma attached to atheism. The kinds of teens who are willing to go against the grain by taking an unpopular religious view are also the kinds of teens who are curious and self-driven. NSYR interviews revealed that rather than being motivated to please God by being well behaved, atheists tend to be intrinsically motivated to pursue knowledge, think critically and be open to new experiences. These dispositions are also linked with better academic performance. And unlike abiders, atheists tend to be overrepresented in the most elite universities.The Conversation

Ilana Horwitz, Assistant Professor, Fields-Rayant Chair in Contemporary Jewish Life, Tulane University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.