About jasipper

Dr. Joshua A Sipper is a writer who lives in south Alabama. He has written several novels including Runaway Swimmer, The Tower Quail, and Following Durant. Dr. Sipper also writes non-fiction including his latest book titled Soulbook. All of his books are written between the world we live in and the next.

Raca: Christian Contempt in the Public Square

Raca: Christian Contempt in the Public Square

Counseling

Have you ever been in a discussion with a group of people and posited an idea that drew an expression of utter condemnation? Were you shocked by the other person’s or people’s contempt? Does this happen often when you speak to a group of people in person?

The answer to the last question, and perhaps the others as well, is probably “No”. These kinds of situations, especially among ordinary, everyday people who are generally kind and gentle, rarely or never happen. People, who speak in group settings especially, are usually quite civil and reasonable. This is even more true (or at least it should be) with people who are followers of Jesus.

Unfortunately, what many people have observed in most social media environments is a common incivility, condemnation, and contempt coming from people who otherwise would be civil and reasonable. Something about sitting alone in front of their computer, or other, screen makes them susceptible to the idea that they alone exist and they alone have the most cogent answers to most important (or at least controversial) questions. It’s a sort of modern solipsism.

This leads us to the interesting Aramaic word translated as “Fool”, Raca. It is taken from the Aramaic “reqa” which means “empty-headed”. It is considered one of the most insulting terms of contempt in Jewish culture. This word in the context of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:22 reads as follows:

21“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This is a cause for concern in the context of social media. Too many times, Christians find a way to say something like, “You’re a fool if…” or “You’re an idiot if…” indicating that they not only cannot see the other person’s point of view they will not.

This is the thrust of Raca. It means that the other person’s view is worthless to you and you have no problem saying it. It means that you have the superior view in your own eyes and you have no interest in even considering that you are wrong, no interest in a discussion that might bring you closer to truth. It means that you have contempt for another human being, created in God’s image, who has value and feelings. Raca is dehumanizing. It’s the ultimate way or “writing someone off” and dismissing them as nothing. It’s cruelty; a spit in the face.

This is completely counter to the Way. Jesus’ Way is about listening and responding with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. The Way is about loving your human brother and sister (whether Christian or not) so that you can truly love God whom you have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Leviticus 19:17 says it well, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.”

There are many problems with contempt in the life of a Christian, but here are a few important ones:

  1. Contempt drives people away from Jesus
  2. Contempt promotes a very negative stereotype of Christians
  3. Contempt poisons those who feel and show it from the inside and outside
  4. Contempt stops conversation, not only in the middle but possibly for good, causing people to never resolve a matter or get to the truth about a matter
  5. Contempt is completely unnecessary and anti-intellectual
  6. Contempt is based on fear and disdain, not love
  7. Contempt will never win someone over. It only pushes people farther away

Raca should have no place in the hearts, minds, or conversations of Christians, not even toward those who hate us. We have to be ready to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29). This doesn’t mean that a person standing for truth should give up, but it does mean that we must never make a statement out of fear or hate. After all, “Perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Be courageous in love family of God!

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Identity

identity-in-christ

Who Am I?

People wrap their identities in where they came from, who their parents are, or even what sports team they pull for. Their primary characterization of themselves is all about something in this physical reality. But, for a Christian this is a real and spiritually fatal problem.

There are a couple of primary issues that come to mind when we as Christians consider who we are. One, of course, is the fact that we are supposed to be ONE in Christ. This is an issue that has been on God’s mind since before the creation. Just look at what Jesus says in John 17: 23-24:

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

God wants us to have unity in Him! He wants us to identify ourselves as a body of believers who hold Him up as our single point of honor, glory, and praise!

This unity has everything to do with identifying ourselves as His. God wants us completely. He wants us undividedly! This goes all the way back to Ex 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are the center of who we are.

This being said, we also have to understand WHY God is the center of who we are, not just as a body of believers, but as individuals.

For everything else that scripture tells us about who God is and who we are, the one most defining fact that stands out is that we are individually created in God’s image.

But, what does it mean to be created in God’s image?

While both humans and animals are referred to as “nephesh chayyah” (living souls), the Scriptures make it clear that God did something special in reference to man. Genesis 1:26-27 records: “And God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. …And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” Nowhere does the Bible state or imply that animals are created in the image of God. This fact leaves us with the special distinction of a closeness to God that is lacking in the remainder of Creation. As God’s image-bearers, we have souls and spirits that allow us a privileged position within God’s created order. This understanding and ability to not only have dominion over the Creation, but understand it by way of observation and study, allows human beings the envied ability to see the universe for what it is; a physical manifestation of God’s awesome love for us all.

I use this illustration (Figure 1, God’s Image) to describe to the sixth grade Bible class I teach each year how God can be three, but one. As image bearers of God, we also possess three parts of a whole, (1 Thessalonians 5:23). This similarity agrees completely with the fact that we are created in God’s image. If God is three-in-one, then as beings who are modeled after Him, we should maintain the same properties. That is not to give the false impression that we are divine in any way, but to simply draw a parallel between the nature of human beings and a God who desired to make His pinnacle of Creation like Himself.

InHisImage

Figure 1, God’s Image

In the end, we as individuals are three in one, Image Bearers of God! Our entire identity is wrapped up in Him and Who He is! We must never let this escape us, but live each day as people whose identities are indelibly conjoined to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

My Wife’s Impending Surgery

The GoFundMe site is HERE! Thanks so much for praying, Sharing, and helping!

My wife, Rachel, needs a craniocervical fusion and Chiari decompression surgery.  Without this surgery, she experiences extreme pain and disability, and risks sudden death due to stroke, aneurysm, apnea, or as the result of any single whiplash injury.

Rachel’s skull slides back and forth out of place on her spine by 8 millimeters (a safe maximum is 1 mm), damaging her brainstem, arteries, and nerves.  Her cerebellum is blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) at the base of her skull, dangerously increasing the pressure in her brain.  She has temporarily been put in a hard cervical collar to prevent further damage and alleviate symptoms, until surgery can be performed.

We need help raising money for her surgery and associated travel expenses.  The surgery is scheduled for June 20, 2017, at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham, MD.

Rachel’s brain and spine issues are caused by a rare, genetic connective tissue disorder called hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS). Surgery is much more complicated and risky in the EDS population, and specialized knowledge is required to ensure a successful or even safe outcome. There are no EDS-knowledgeable surgeons in our home state of Alabama or even in neighboring states. Dr. Fraser Henderson is the expert in Rachel’s condition, and he is the surgeon we have chosen to trust with her life.

If you would like to know more, you can view a video of Dr. Henderson speaking about her condition (craniocervical instability), associated symptoms, and treatment here:

Dr. Henderson’s Lecture on CCI

About Rachel

Some of you know Rachel, but for those of you who do not, I’d like to tell you a little bit about her.  Rachel is a dedicated mother and wife. She loves her family deeply and fiercely. When she was still able, she took care of our home and two little boys, all while working as a tech support specialist from home. She was active in our church, giving of time, money, and herself.  She coordinated Vacation Bible School for the Dalraida church of Christ for many years. She often volunteered at the children’s school (Redland Elementary School in Wetumpka, AL), teaching art projects or decorating classroom doors.


In her work, Rachel seldom took a day off despite her suffering.  She could often be seen working mobile in doctors’ waiting rooms, even going so far as to take a work call while being put under sedation for a painful procedure.  As a talented artist, Rachel was a founding and active member of the South Alabama Fiber Enthusiasts (SAFE) Guild and a consistent participant in Montgomery’s Atrium art group. In this capacity, she not only made her own art, but encouraged and promoted the work of her friends in the local art community.

Portrait of Elaine, Rachel Sipper 2016

Since she was diagnosed, Rachel’s health has deteriorated significantly, robbing her of her ability to show her talents and be there for others. However, she still reaches out in any way she can through social media, supporting many who are going through similar pain and loss as a support group member and administrator. Rachel uses her mind and heart to help others in any way possible, continuing to show her beautiful love and compassion. Although Rachel hasn’t been able to draw or paint in some time, she has a website where you can see her most recent work:

Rachel’s Charcoal Portraits

Rachel has had a long road in fighting chronic illness.  It began about ten years ago, and in that time she has seen dozens of specialists and surgeons.  She has collected multiple diagnoses and endured treatment after treatment, experiencing countless prescriptions’ side effects and many painful procedures in an effort to treat an ever-growing cluster of symptoms that have encroached on her ability to live a normal life.  Between 2013 and 2014, Rachel had three separate surgeries in pursuit of head and neck pain relief alone.


Eventually, she put together the puzzle herself, discovering that she fit the profile of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to a T.  She requested a geneticist’s evaluation in 2015, and Dr. Descartes at UAB confirmed that she did indeed have hEDS.  By the summer of 2016, Rachel had become homebound and disabled, unable to participate in even the most basic life experiences.  She had to stop making art, because looking down at the paper caused blackouts and nausea.  Her world has now shrunk to the size of our bedroom; she can’t even tuck our children into bed at night, or wash her own hair without my assistance.  She leaves the house only to go to doctor’s appointments, and no longer drives at all.

The decade of doctors’ visits, treatments, and surgeries has cost our family tens of thousands of dollars.  Rachel lost her job when she lost the ability to drive.  Our high medical costs every month, combined with the loss of Rachel’s job, have caused us extreme financial hardship.  We are relying on family and friends to get her the medical help she needs now.

This upcoming brain and spine surgery is the most promising treatment we have found for Rachel’s symptoms.  It cannot take away her genetic condition, but it can relieve the worst of its symptoms for her.  By stabilizing her spine, decompressing her brainstem, and making room for her CSF to flow freely, Dr. Henderson hopes to restore a great deal of function to Rachel’s life and relieve the incredible pain she has to endure on a daily basis.

Cost Breakdown

We will need an estimated total of $13,516 to get Rachel the surgery she needs and stay in Washington, DC for two weeks.  We were hoping to raise about half of that amount here: $6,758.

Unbelievably, we reached that amount in less than one week of fundraising! Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. Since we planned to keep the GoFundMe up for six weeks (up to the surgery date), we are now going to shoot for the full amount (plus the 8% that goes to GoFundMe). If we make it, we won’t have to go into debt borrowing that other half. Again, we are in awe and so very grateful for the generosity we’ve already been shown!

Below is the breakdown of our cost estimate, so you can see where all the money is intended to go.  The children will only be with us in the DC area for one week in order to reduce our costs, accompanied by Rachel’s parents since they cannot stay overnight in the hospital with us.

Medical: $10,266

Deposit for Dr. Henderson- $7,326
Estimated durable medical equipment cost- $2,100
Hospital Copays and Rx- $840

Travel: $3,250

Food & Kids’ Lodging- $2,170
Transportation & Incidentals- $1,080

Update: Since GoFundMe charges an 8% fee, we’ve adjusted our fundraising goal to $7,300 to absorb that charge.

A Note from Rachel

Hi everyone, and thank you so much for taking the time to get to know my story.  I understand that not everyone can donate.  Even a few dollars can really add up when many people come together, so please consider helping us out with any amount at all.  My dearest hope is to get back to any level of “normal” at all, one where I can participate fully in all the beautiful moments life has to offer.  I want to play with my children, go out on a date with my husband, participate in my community, and maybe even get back to my passion, making art.  I have a stack of canvases, a set of oil paints and brushes, and a brain full of ideas just waiting to be something amazing.  Please help me make it happen.  Love to you all.  -Rachel

The Sacrifice of God: How God Himself Was Torn Apart

eloieloilamasabacthani

The Sacrifice of God: How God Himself Was Torn Apart

Covenant was the highest of all agreements in the Bible and remains so today. The act of making a covenant consisted not only of ceremony, but of blessings, curses, and blood. One of the most instrumental passages for explanatory power of God’s covenant is found in Jeremiah 34:17-20:

“Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts— the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.

In this passage, the curse of the covenant is highlighted. When the halves of the calf were divided, the people making the covenant would walk between the parts as a promise that if they broke the covenant, then they themselves should be torn in half as a curse for breaking it. They effectively walked a straight and narrow path in order to uphold the promise. This is seen in an elevated way in Genesis 15 when God Himself makes His eternal covenant with Abraham as a promise that ALL people would be blessed through him.

In verses 9-10, Abraham obeys God’s instructions to bring a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. He then cuts each of these in half, but instead of passing between these himself, something else amazing and unheard of happens in vss 17-21.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

God Himself passes between the parts! He makes a promise that if He does not fulfill this covenant, then God, the God of all creation, would be torn in two.

And that is exactly what happened.

In Matthew 26:26-27, see what Jesus says about this same covenant promise made in Genesis 15:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

When Jesus tore the bread in half and said, “This is my body.” He was saying, I am about to be torn in two for you. But, He wasn’t being torn in half for us because of anything He had done. We know this from 2 Cor 5: 21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God Himself was about to take the curse for us all. In Mark 15:33-34, we see God Himself being torn in two:

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In that three hour period for the first and only time in human history and for eternity, God Himself was torn apart. The Father turned away from His Son because of the sin of all mankind, for our sin! God Himself tore Himself apart like the calf in Jeremiah and the animals in Genesis 15. He tore Himself and between Heaven and Earth, a straight and narrow path of the New Covenant Jesus instituted in His blood (Matt26:27) was made for you and me and His Spirit walked the path between (Gal 4:6) as the Spirit of God in the form of the fire pot did in Gen 15. And now Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me!” Matt 16:24.

We tear ourselves from this world and die to ourselves to follow this path and in doing so, we are joined to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever!

Jesus Works Chapter One Jesus – A Man of Many Talents: Upper Echelon Jesus

Jesus Works Chapter One Jesus – A Man of Many Talents: Upper Echelon Jesus

Jesus the Son

JesustheSon

I understand how being a son might seem to be outside the bounds of work. But, it’s important to realize that not only was the position of son in the first century an occupation, it was an elevated position in society. Inheritance and the transfer of power and wealth in first century Jewish society was very similar to what we see throughout the Old Testament. The firstborn son basically inherited the greatest share of the father’s wealth and then carried on the family name. In Jesus’ time, He as a Son was doing this very same thing. He had all the inheritance, he was the firstborn, and He was expected to rule in His Father’s house and learn how to be just like Him. Not only was this a huge responsibility, it was very hard work and carried with it dominion over hundreds (or in Jesus’ case all of humanity for all time). This brings us to the upper levels of work in society. In a wealthy and powerful family of that day, the place Jesus occupied would have carried with it great wealth and influence. Not only did Jesus understand this extremely important position, He excelled at it! We’ll look at Jesus’ as the Son later, but keep in mind that as The Son, His work was and still is pivotal to our understanding Him and His Kingdom as well as our place in His Kingdom as heirs and sons.

Jesus the Prophet

JesustheProphet

While the position of Prophet in the Old Testament was definitely one of power and exaltation, it was also one fraught with danger and rejection. However, in the manner of highly favored prophets like Samuel and Nathan, Jesus was able to bring information from the Father to the world and make a difference that was immediate and eternal. In the God-centered governments of David and Solomon, prophets were seen as not only respected, but absolutely vital to doing God’s will. As God’s special Prophet, Jesus was placed in the highest position of being a prophet that any prophet ever had been placed.  We don’t have a modern day equivalent to that of the Old or New Testament prophet, but we do have those who are in today who advise those in positions of power. In His infinite wisdom, Jesus perfected the work of the Prophet to such a degree that no other prophet before or after Him could even touch His insight and power.

Jesus the Priest

JesusthePriest

Priests also were included in the higher levels of society in the first century as well as the Old Testament. They were very powerful, usually to their own spiritual detriment. But, those who humbly carried out God’s will were counted as those who were closest to God, not only in proximity, but in heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus’ position as our High Priest is absolutely singular in all of history. His place of importance as intercessor cannot be overstated. But, how does this position of priesthood apply to us and to our own work? When we look at Jesus the Priest, we see someone who doesn’t hide that power or keep it from those who follow Him. There’s a place of work and importance in the priesthood for us all and we need to know what that is.

Jesus the King

JesustheKing

The highest level of work anyone could think of if asked would have to be King. Even during this epoch of history when the office considered as the “most powerful in the world” is occupied by one man, it’s really not a position of power anything like what a king wields. Kings don’t answer to anyone. They rule completely and without need for advice or instruction. At least, that’s how a true Kingship should be. This is the kind of King we have in Jesus. He is perfectly loving, just, kind, and powerful. There is no comparison anywhere else or at any other time in human experience. But, do you know what is the most amazing part of Jesus’ Kingship? He shares it with everyone in His Kingdom! We are princes and princesses in an eternal Kingdom.

Work Application

WorkApplication

All of us do different jobs and have to make various decisions about how we are going to work for God. Working for God isn’t just about the work we do for Him in His Kingdom, but the way we accomplish our daily jobs. Working with love, kindness, and deferential treatment toward our coworkers, supervisors, and subordinates must be a part of how we conduct our Christian walk. We think of Colossians 3:17 many times when we consider how we work. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” But, what does Paul say immediately preceding this verse? “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (vss. 12-14).  Working in Jesus name is more than just saying it; it’s a change of heart and mind where we live it! This is where Paul ties up the loose ends with verses 22-24: “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Wow! Isn’t that freeing? Isn’t it great to know that we are serving the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Himself? I can think of no better motivation to do a good job.

Questions for Thought

  • If a supervisor, coworker, or subordinate approached you in anger about something you did or did not do at work, how would you react? What if it was not your fault?
  • How do you accomplish your work as “working for Jesus”?
  • What kinds of conflicts might we come across when working for the Lord in our secular occupations?