The Challenge of Discipleship

Discipleship is not always a popular word among Christians today. What is involved? What is required of being a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Let’s understand what Jesus requires for true discipleship.
Sermon Plan
We will discuss Mark 9:38-50 and Jesus’ challenge to all disciples.
Mark 9:38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” 39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.
42 “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’
49 “For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”
What about Unauthorized Disciples (vs. 38)?
The disciples had previously failed to exorcise a demon and they had Jesus’ authority. Then along came a fellow who successfully cast out demons, but who had no authority from Jesus. What a puzzle. How would we react? A similar episode occurred under Moses’ leadership and Moses gave a similar answer (Numbers 11:27-29). How narrow is our perspective on the work of God? The Apostle Thomas planted churches along the Indian southwest coast and for 1500 years they were independent of Rome. Portuguese pressure for them to align with Rome began slowly after first contact in 1498, but resulted in many reclaiming their independence in 1653. Were these Christians not a part of the Church before Portuguese contact? Are those who re-claimed independence from Rome now shut out of God’s kingdom? Jesus’ instructions do not seem to indicate that.
How Exclusive are We (vs. 39-40)?
When someone acts in Jesus’ name and their actions are blessed how should we react? Should we be exclusive or inclusive in regard to people of other walks of life who use Jesus’ name? Jesus said, do not forbid him. What about uneducated preachers who seem to speak with authority, but do not speak as educated authorities on the Bible? It is obvious that the person did not have the same level of exposure to Jesus’ education that the Apostles did. It is also obvious that the Apostles were missing one important ingredient in their education, that the man was not against Jesus. The man was against Satan, casting out demons. What about those who believe in Jesus, but worship in a different manner to us? Do we welcome anyone to our side, even when they come from unanticipated backgrounds?
Even a Cup of Water (vs. 41)?
I once worked with a black gentleman between pastorates. It had been a discouraging time. I felt betrayed by various parties. He asked me what I normally did for a living and when I replied that I was a pastor, he said that he had been raised to always show respect to a pastor. I did not know what to say. While many discredit pastors, it was very encouraging to see that someone still showed support. Giving support to the disciples of Jesus is a heaven-blessed activity. What support do we show to a lonely pastor? Even something as small as a cup of water is an act of love, that heaven recognizes. It is an act of kindness that shows faith and love to a disciple of the Lord. Heaven will reward even such a small token of respect.
What did Jesus Mean these Least (vs. 42)?
Can someone who preaches Christ be among the least? Why not? Can someone performing exorcisms in the name of Jesus Christ be one of the least? Why not? Can we cause one of these the least of all preachers, exorcists, prophets to stumble? They may have a long way to go in their education. They may have a lot to learn about Jesus, but they are already acting on what little they do know. Imagine how much more they could do for Christ with a little proper encouragement along the way. Forbidding or stopping their ministry until they reach advanced knowledge might so discourage them that they become ineffective in the future. Is this a problem with our current seminary system? Is it a problem with the way we do things in churches? Do we cause such little ones to stumble?
How ought Disciples to Think (vs. 43)?
Is the competitiveness of the disciples that they had when they were disputing about who would be the greatest, also obvious when it comes to this outsider? Is that the attitude that the disciples, whom Jesus called little children, should have? Little children have not developed a pecking order like adults. Jesus refers to little ones. Are they also children, but perhaps the smaller children? Should they be excluded from the family, especially when they also recognize Jesus’ authority? Should the children of the kingdom cause little ones to stumble who also recognize the authority of the king? Is it such a grievous offense against heaven to offend such a little one, that it would be better to have a huge millstone around our necks and be drowned in the sea than offend one of these that God deems precious?
Cut if Off (vs. 43-48)?
Where are verses 44 and 46? They repeat verse 48 and did not exist in any of the original manuscripts, but were added in later history. Even those who take the Bible overly literally do not take verses 43-47 literally. I have never heard of a church of people who have cut off their limbs because they sin using those body parts. Sin enters when a hand steals, a foot harms or an eye lusts for instance. The cutting off or plucking out of these body parts is symbolic of making extreme efforts to obey God. When something in life tempts us to be unfaithful to God, it is to be cut off immediately.  Martyrs throughout Christian history have been tempted to deny Christ or die. They chose to have their lives cut off rather than be untrue to God.
What is Gehenna?
Better to enter eternal life maimed than enter Gehenna. What is that? Gehenna is literally the Valley of Hinnom which is the steep ravine which is found immediately south of Jerusalem’s Mt Zion. It was at times a garbage dump and is best known for the gross abomination of sacrificing infants to Moloch. In a world where we like to tolerate other religions, this is one religion which should have been stamped out and eventually was. It is a place which came to symbolize being cursed forever in hell. This gives us a picture of “radical obedience in the context of costly sacrifice.”1 What sacrifice are we willing to make in order to obey God? What in our lives are we willing to cut out? What stands in our way? Let’s stay as far from being damned as possible.
A Salt-Sacrifice (vs. 49)?
Jesus says, everyone will be tested with fire, literally salted with fire. This is not the fire of hell but of purification through trials. As salt preserves meat so do trials preserve us for eternity. Christians will be tried in an antagonistic world. Sacrificing a member of the body is small compared to sacrificing our whole selves. Old Testament animal sacrifices included salt. The metaphor of a salt-sacrifice of ourselves is a picture of the salt that makes living a selfless Christian life pleasing to God. When the pope speaks to America he offends both selfish abortion on the left and selfish greed on the right. Has American and European Christianity lost its salt? Have we focused on a false Gospel of selfishness, nationalism and prosperity rather than the Gospel of selfless sacrifice, the Gospel of Christ and the cross?
Are There Examples?
Do we know people who will cut off certain unethical practices that they could pursue with their hands because such practices would rob their neighbors? Do we know people who will cut off setting foot in ways of life where sin is involved? Do we know people who have cut out seeing with their eyes certain kinds of entertainment because it tempts them to be unfaithful to their spouses? I’m sure we do. We all know people who metaphorically cut off their hand or foot from pursuing sin or pluck out their eyes from the temptation to lust. Do we know people who make a radical sacrifice for God, who have given up selfish pursuits in order to help their neighbors? Do we know people who have endured great trials and sacrificed for others? Have we known some true Christians?
How much of our lives are devoted to selfish pursuits versus selfless sacrifice for others? How successfully have we cut off things from our lives which hinder us from entering eternity? That’s Jesus challenge of discipleship. May God have mercy upon us. (10:47)
1 William L. Lane. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1974. 349.

What is True Greatness?

Who are the true greats? You may be surprised who they are because you know many of them by name. They live in your neighborhood.
Let’s find out what the basic ingredient of true greatness is.
Let’s look at Mark 9:30-37 and get help from Jesus.
Mark 9:30 Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, 31 for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” 32 They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” 36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”
What was Jesus Continually Teaching?
In vs. 30 Jesus returns home to Galilee. From here he will go to Capernaum and then on to Jerusalem where he will be “delivered” into the hands of men. The Greek word anthropos in vs. 31 actually refers more completely to Jesus being delivered into the hands of the human race as a whole. He may have been referring to Isaiah 53:6, 12 where it is prophesied that God laid on him our sins. Jesus teaching the disciples is an imperfect verb, meaning he was continually teaching them. It is the same with the verb said; Jesus kept saying these things on more than one occasion. Vs. 31 is the heart of Gospel preaching, Jesus’ betrayal, passion and resurrection. In vs. 32 it is the same with the verb understand; the disciples continually failed to understand him. All this means that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem had an air of loneliness to it.
What is True Greatness?
Vs. 33-50 are a natural packet with the concluding phrase “live in peace with each other,” which obviously points back to the strife of vs. 33-34. Our discussion here ends halfway through this section, leaving the rest for another time. On the road, the disciples had been disputing. Jesus’ question about their “discussion” opens the way for his teaching. The disciples were ashamed and did not answer, because they were arguing over their own greatness, while Jesus had been talking about giving himself. How must Jesus have felt preparing for his death and all the disciples can think of is who is the greatest? But, Jesus knows our human feebleness and patiently instructs them about true greatness. The greatest serves everyone else. Contrast this with the so-called greats of this world who can be demanding and arrogant. Look around at the people we know in our own community. See those who serve. They exhibit true greatness.
Who is a Minister?
In vs. 37 the language of welcoming is mentioned four times. It is the language of inclusion that is central to the Church. It is the language of God welcoming us into his family. This is the essence of the Christian pilgrimage, as we journey to heavenly Jerusalem, we welcome others into the fold. The disciples thought about personal glory. They again missed the point of the cross. The way to true greatness is self-sacrifice. Service is always a sacrifice. Jesus gave his life for everyone and so has the highest place (Philippians 2:5-8). In Aramaic, the same word means child and servant. Jesus illustrates this word-play by placing a child in their midst. When we become like these little ones, we develop the true child-like greatness found among God’s children/servants/ministers. When we receive such little children/servants/ministers in his name, we receive Christ and the Father. Being sent in Jesus’ name is legally the same as Jesus being present. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life for many (Mark 10:45). Who is a minister? Just the pastor? No, everyone who serves is a minister.
Are there truly Great People in your Neighborhood?
Look around you and see the greatest among us. A truly great person is a mother who gives life to a child that many may not want, or who adopts someone else’s child as her own, who spends 20 years of her life putting on diapers, feeding, clothing and educating that child in life’s most important basics, then spends the rest of her life praying for and thinking about her child every day. A truly great person is a father who may work at a job he hates because he loves those at home more than he hates the sacrifice he must make every day, who in tenderness gives himself in loyalty and self-sacrifice to one woman and falls more deeply in love with her every day, who spends time with his family as the most important people on the planet.
Are there Other Truly Great People?
A truly great person can also be single, who because they have the freedom and time may dedicate themselves to military, civil or other service to humanity. A truly great person is loyal to God and country and is ready at a moment’s notice to defend us against all enemies. A truly great person is every police officer who is an honorable guardian of the peace, takes no bribe and shows no bigotry or favoritism. A great person is a nurse who may clean up after grumpy patients with a smile. A great person is a teacher who instructs our children faithfully even when they are too tired to continue. While most of history is written by bullies and those brave soldiers who defended us against them, these mostly anonymous people have a legacy that is pure and a reward in heaven greater than that of greedy and selfish people with money, power and fame. Many of you are among the truly great and I count it a privilege to have journeyed with you for a time.
True greatness comes in all shapes and sizes but always contains one essential ingredient: service to others.

Take up What Cross?

When we focus on prosperity preaching we are only in entry-level Christianity. Jesus first teachings were entry-level. It was only as the cross drew nearer that his disciples were ready to be taught a more mature Christianity, taking up their cross and following him.
Let’s explore what Jesus meant by the message to “take up your cross.”
We will look at Mark 8:27-38 and the message of mature Christianity.
Mark 8:27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.” 29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” 30 But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. 33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” 34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Who do People say Jesus Is?
Jesus asked who people thought he was (vs. 27-28). The disciples replied John the Baptist, Elijah or a prophet. Today, according to Gallup, 80% of Americans believe that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Only about half of them hold the traditional belief that Jesus was God with us. Most of them also admired Jesus’ love, forgiveness, kindness and compassion. They also believe that Jesus was a strong and warm person, brave and sinless. Many believe that he was easy to understand, strong, practical, handsome, divine and not dictatorial. People believe that Jesus helps in difficult times, is a role model, compassionate and gives hope. Only 12% claim they make great efforts to follow Jesus' example, though 80% claim to be part of the Christian tradition and over 90% say that Jesus had some impact on their lives.
Who do We say Jesus Is?
Jesus asked his students who they said he was (vs. 29). Like Peter, most Christians would correctly call Jesus the Christ or Messiah, the anointed one. Many would understand that anointing was for his suffering and death on the cross. Too many would miss the real meaning behind calling ourselves Christians. Most would guess correctly that it means a follower of Christ, but would avoid like a disease the rest of that meaning. It means a follower of Christ who is willing to suffer like he did. In the self-centered and materialistic false gospel of health and wealth there is no suffering like Christ, there is no cross to carry. Peter did not want Jesus to suffer, but Jesus rebuked him strongly for it. Jesus’ example is one of totally giving up the self in order that others may live.
What are Jesus’ Two Messages?
So far, Jesus has only taught his disciples entry-level Christianity, his authority and power. Now it’s time for deep Christianity, his suffering and death. Prosperity preaching is stuck on Jesus’ entry-level message. We must make the transition to Jesus’ deeper, core message, his call to sacrifice for others. The greatest threat to Jesus was believers? Is the greatest threat to him today among believers? Are we just like Peter? Do we understand the message that Jesus is Messiah, but miss the message of taking up our cross? Do we miss the message that we are called to self-sacrifice, sent into the world to save the world and that means that we must follow him into suffering? This is our Christian calling: Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).
How do we Follow Jesus?
Do we reject Jesus too or do we truly follow him? He gives two simple steps to following him: turn from selfishness and take up our cross (vs. 34). Follow him! But, follow him where? He took up his cross and went to Calvary. Must we also go to our own personal Calvary? Our society tends to focus on self, either self-esteem or self-abasement. We are so selfish that even when we give we do it for selfish reasons. The cross teaches us that real life is not about ourselves at all, but about dying to selfishness in all its forms. Just as Israel’s leaders described Jesus as blasphemous and evil, so too do our national leaders call real Christianity a desecration of the nation’s ideals and wicked. Nationally, we are not willing to take up the cross of self-sacrifice.
May we Continue our Selfish Ways?
Notice that Jesus addressed not just his disciples, but the crowd in calling for a turn from our selfish ways. Though selfish politics, Hollywood, business and advertising may all say with one voice that we deserve to be selfish, the true Good News to any nation is to turn from our selfish ways. Selfish politics says let’s kill our unborn children and let the sick die without healthcare. Hollywood says let’s idolize fiction not love neighbor. Business says let’s idolize greed and not love neighbor. Much advertising says let’s pamper ourselves not love neighbor. Even many Christians are fooled by these deceptive messages. Jesus says let’s be unselfish  (vs. 34-35). Trying to hang on to our souls is an expression presuming the life lived on earth. You will lose it is from an ancient expression meaning to trifle away our lives.
What Really Profits?
Words like profit, gain, loss and exchange (vs. 36-38) are business words that we still use today. They refer to Psalm 49 where those who trust in their riches cannot pay God enough to escape the grave. It is like trusting in the sand to save us from the flood when the only salvation is on the rock. The approval of the whole world cannot make up for the denial of Jesus and the Gospel. The approval of Christ is what we need for eternity. This world is summarized by the words “adulterous and sinful generation.” Many Christians would like to point to some other sexual sin because it makes them feel superior, but from the Ten Commandments to this day, adultery is the sexual sin most often mentioned. In the Old Testament disloyalty to God is also called adultery.
Where do we Find Mature Christians?
Entry-level Christians only know who Jesus is. Mature Christians have met him at the cross. Mature Christians carry their own cross. They sacrifice for others, loving their neighbor. They are feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty. They are hospitable to strangers and have a more welcoming attitude towards most immigrants. They give clothing to the naked and fight for the sick to get health care. They are at a local prison visiting prisoners. If they have an unwanted pregnancy they choose to give the defenseless life instead of death. They come to the aid of the helpless. They sacrifice for others. While others take advantage of them, they know their real inheritance is in God’s kingdom. These wonderful Christians have seen the cross and live it every day. They have learned what it means to live sacrificially.
Many will call Jesus Lord, but that alone is only entry-level Christianity. The cross teaches us mature Christianity. When we take up our cross of self-denial then we are truly following Christ.

Was Jesus a Bigot?

How do we treat people of a different ethnic group, gender, religion, handicap or socioeconomic status?
Let’s learn that in Jesus there is no room for bigotry.
Let’s examine prejudice and the value of all people in the context of Mark 7:24-37.
Mark 7:24 Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret. 25 Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet. Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter.
Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27 Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
28 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.”
29 “Good answer!” he said. “Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone.
31 Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns. 32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.
33 Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” 35 Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!
36 Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. 37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”
What Came out of a Mother’s Mouth?
Declaring all foods clean, Jesus includes Gentiles, as later revealed to Peter in Acts 10. Clean and unclean laws highlighted outdated ethnic division, but there are still unclean spirits, which use filthy language or cause people to live in filth. A little girl has an unclean spirit. Jesus challenged her Greek mother’s faith using the word dog (metaphorically unholy, enemy, sorcerer, idolater, sexually immoral, a people who killed their own unwanted babies). Jesus was not bigoted. He just fed a large crowd including Gentiles. Jesus’ words indicate that because of her answer, the child was healed. The previous passage emphasized what comes out of a person. What came out of the mother’s mouth revealed the humility, faith and perseverance required in prayer. Neither ethnicity, nor gender, nor our past sins stand in God’s way when we ask in faith-filled persistence.
Is this a Case for Open Communion?
Jesus words would be called politically incorrect today. But, correct words can come from a wrong heart. His politically incorrect words came from the heart of a loving creator. Her answer of faith and humility caused Jesus to heal her daughter. Some churches do not allow non-members to take communion. We are all pagan sinners in some ways. To exclude the unbaptized from supper with Christ arrogantly forbids those he might invite. Here we see an outsider’s faith, whereby she was granted the “bread” of divine healing. Do we invite non-Christians to imbibe of the preaching meal and then refuse to let them eat the Lord’s Supper? Allowing the unchurched to experience Christ in the Eucharist draws them. Jesus ate with both sinners and the righteous. Does he not do the same today? It is the Lord’s Table not ours.
Do we Have Taboos?
In ancient society a Jew did not speak with a Gentile and a man did not speak with a woman in public. They were so concerned about religious purity that they acted like some exclusive Christian sects do today. They refused to have anything to do with a Gentile. Speaking with a woman other than your wife or sister, could be a temptation. It could also damage your reputation, because those women who spoke openly with men in public were suspected of being prostitutes. What are our social taboos today that need to be trespassed. When was the last time we spoke with a person of a different ethnic group or someone else in public that everyone knew had an unpopular sin, when maybe our sins are commonly accepted? When was the last time we crossed the lines of prejudice on purpose?
What Came out a Man’s Mouth?
In Sidon, Jesus continued his sabbatical. Sidon was a Gentile city never conquered by ancient Israel. It had a long history of the worship of pagan gods like Baal and Astarte. There a man with a speech impediment was brought to him. The man obviously had difficulties with articulating what came out of his mouth, again tying this story into Jesus’ previous instructions about what comes out of our mouths. Like the man, we too need healing of our speech so that what comes out of our mouths is pure.
Is there Bigotry against Poor Workers?
Jesus healed a Gentile child and a handicapped man, breaking straight through the barriers of bigotry, including barriers of ethnicity, gender, religion and handicap. In James 2:1-17 we are warned against another form of bigotry against the poor working person. Labor Day honors workers. A good reputation is more important than wealth. Those who plant injustice harvest disaster. Blessed are the generous who feed the poor. Don’t rob or exploit the poor just because you can. The Lord defends them. He will ruin anyone who ruins them (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23). Laziness is a mental disorder cured only by work. Work heals us. Yet, the Bible has many positive things to say about the blessing of being an ordinary worker. It is honest and honorable work that provides a deep sense of satisfaction and a good night’s sleep.
Does Work Heal?
Our society often undervalues workers, exploits them and pays them lower wages. Some people are bigoted against people who work, but the Bible highly honors those who labor. People who work hard, sleep well (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Do not make hired workers wait to receive their pay (Leviticus 19:13). You have six days for work (Deuteronomy 5:13-14). Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers (Deuteronomy 24:14). Take a lesson from the ants; they labor hard gathering food for winter (Proverbs 6:6-8). Work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically (Romans 12:11). Elders who work hard should be respected and paid well (1 Timothy 5:17). Lazy people are soon poor (Proverbs 10:4); those who work hard will prosper (Proverbs 13:4). Those unwilling to work will not get to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Do we honor those who work hard? Do we honor those of a different ethnicity, gender, religion, or status in our society? Society may devalue some people and honor others, but God highly values all people?