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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Teaching/Sermon Article

Sacrifice, Improve, or Help Others: New Years through Lent (Lent begins Feb. 17)

Lectionary: February 15, 2010 - Isaiah 58:1-12

Copyright © 2009 Dorian S. Cole


Is the process we begin at the New Year of setting resolutions, followed in February by giving up something for Lent, really constructive? Does it result in change in our lives? Or is there a more positive and more effective way to bring change, through helping others? This teaching series article aks us to think less in terms of sacrifice and more in terms of setting realistic goals, and real service, plus provides some helpful service links.

Context: The Prophets commonly looked at leader's and people's behavior, and compared it with what was really asked of them. Often behavior and what was asked of them were in different worlds. The people and their leaders thought that they were God's chosen and that by practicing their rituals such as worshiping, sacrificing, and religious feasts, they were pleasing God. Far from it. God had something else entirely in mind for them to do.

Isaiah said to these people in Isaiah 58:1-12 (NIV):

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

We all know the jokes about New Years resolutions that disappear on January 1, and about giving up something we really don't need any way for Lent. Sometimes we actually succeed. We all want to be better people... but we don't necessarily want to do the work required to get there, so we often fail.

We all want to think that we will make sacrifices when God asks it of us, as we demonstrate during Lent, but when the time comes we find many reasons, often legitimate, to escape getting involved. Often I suspect we simply don't know of things to do to help others. We're busy in our daily lives. We have some things that we do, and we don't feel like we can do more, or even think about it. It's easy just to keep doing what we are doing. And there is nothing essentially wrong with that unless we are ignoring any new responsibilities that we have the time to do.

When Isaiah spoke of "yokes" he wasn't talking about breaking eggs. He was talking about some really serious stuff. Isaiah mentioned yokes of oppression, injustice, poor and wanderers who have no food, clothes or shelter. Do we have these same problems today?

What are the yokes of oppression today? Joblessness that prevents people from helping themselves. Lack of educational opportunities for job training or training for new jobs, including the inability to read. Those who can't get an education because they are too poor. Poverty stricken areas that encourage crime, gang activity, and teach a lifestyle of living off of others. Rising high costs of products that rob from food and transportation budgets. Starvation in the US and other countries. Teens who get pregnant because they equate sex with love See Hooking up. Godsey: Sex, sexuality often not addressed in Christian community. Isolation and loneliness. Credit card, and title or payday loan, interest that squeezes all of the money out of needy people.

Do we have among us the poor and wanderers? Yes: The homeless. Those who lose their homes during a difficult economic downturn. Those with mental problems who live on the streets because they can't coexist with others. Those who live on the streets by choice. Those who can't get jobs to support themselves or their families. Some problems occur at random to people, but often people's inabilities just are - a thing the world has to deal with.

Working with people who are needy usually requires the guidance of someone experienced with this field, such as a social worker. Otherwise people get in over their heads or quickly burnout.

Some problems just require a voice: A voice of moral guidance. A voice against injustice. A voice against poverty. A voice for cleaning up impoverished areas and providing venues for business and jobs. The steady drumbeat of voices is what leaders listen and respond to.

This New Years and Lent, perhaps it's time to think outside the box - the box of ourselves - and turn our goals and sacrifices toward actually helping others. It is a positive way to think about our "religion" rather than thinking about making ourselves sacrifice and suffer.

How to set goals

How we set our goals has a lot to do with our success or failure in achieving them. I have learned several important lessons in life about setting goals and achieving them. Here are three tips:

1. Set the goal and then find a realistic mechanism for making it happen, and make sure you have the funding. It is easy to get discouraged and quit at the starting gate if you can't see the race track or you just remembered that you can't run. Many goals fail because people run out of money or because they have no realistic way of achieving the goal.

2. Set a realistic goal. It's better to start small, be successful, and expand. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the immense size of a project, such as "ending world hunger." But small projects take care of a few people, which is much better than nothing. And these small projects often resolve the problems involved and develop the mechanism for addressing larger problems. For example, many food programs help people grow their own food rather than shipping food to them, thus bringing a permanent solution to the problem.

3. Limit the number of goals. It is much better to be successful at one thing, than to be swamped and get nowhere with many things. For example, perhaps this year you would like to lose weight, get a better job, help with world hunger, stop swearing, help with Habitat for Humanity, become a volunteer hotline counselor, and have a garden for fresh vegetables. Chances are, if you are like most people, none of these will get done if you try to do them all. Focus your time and energy on three at the most. The chances are much higher that one to three will get done.

Following are some links to ways to help others:

20 Ways for Teenagers to Help Other People by Volunteering

25 Ways to Help a Fellow Human Being Today

Share ways to help others At the (Experience Project.)

Simple Ways to Help Others for Christmas

7 Simple and Free Ways to Help Others on Your Journey to Happiness

3 Ways to Help Others Even If you’re not Rich


Culinary Corps: 10 Unique Ways to Help Others

Do your own search on "Ways to help others"

Over 1 billion people are starving in the world today:

Area food pantries are struggling to keep up with the needs as unemployment hovers around 10%. They need donations of common food items (usually non-refrigerated), common personal care items, and cash.

Heifer International: An entire catalog of gifts for those in need, and a mechanism for giving

Freedom From Hunger

Child Fund International

United Nations: Preventing Hunger program

Yours in Christ,

- Dorian Scott Cole

Author's Books

The Prophetic Pattern: Discussion Guide for Ancient and Modern Prophecy

Are we all going to die on Friday, December 21, 2012? My new book critically examines that question. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.

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On Friday, December 21, 2012, are we all going to die? Are there really signposts to the world's end? Does modern prophecy really merge with ancient prophecy? Will all of the Christians suddenly disappear? The answers may surprise you.

Millions of Americans are anxiously waiting for December 21, 2012 to see if the world will end. Despite the fact that signs seem to be everywhere in all ancient and modern prophecy and even science, the major sign pointed to by both Daniel and Christ is overlooked by prophecy interpreters. And interpretation of modern prophecy overlooks intent. Like a scary movie, prophecy is great fun until it starts affecting people's lives.

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Subjects to explore include:

  • History, and the situations surrounding prophecy
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  • Are faith and prophetic belief blind?
  • Societies that go bad - are they destroyed?
  • Social change - saving ourselves
  • The challenges of the 21st.Century

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

Reading type: Mainstream, nonfiction.

Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.

My recent book, Ontology of God, looks at what we can learn through the ages regarding the history of several aspects of religious development as affected by the ancient societies they were in, including law, mercy, and love. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.

This study follows the thread of the basic religious concepts of law, mercy, and love that are prominent in many religions. Major religions around the world are investigated up to the launch of the Common Era when most religions had been developed, including religions that later developed independently such as the Mayan.

These are messages refined by the fire of experience through the ages. The repeated messages collectively bear the tests of validity.

This study also looks at the many methods we use to try to understand God and religious literature. Is the nature of God reflected in what he asks of us? The premise is that it is.

By understanding the nature of God, perhaps we can filter out the many competing voices that tell us that God stands for such things as the murder of innocents and destruction.

The very nature of religion is illuminated in the light of the voices from the ages. But is ancient religion a path that we have lost, or does history hammer out newer voices to bear the truth of new experience as people try to understand their relationship with God?

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist

Distribution notice:

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