Month: November 2013

I will Rejoice in “The Lord”

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1 Peter 1:8

New International Version (NIV)
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

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I asked myself today how has God blessed me in the past? I asked that because I heard my spirit say that my wilderness experience is temporary. On Thanksgiving Eve day I have been in constant meditation about my present posture and position in Life. Instead of looking only at my physical lack, I chose to look at my spiritual richness and “rejoice” about what God says I am in His precious word.

I remember the mother of one of my team members from college. She was fearful about the outcome of the surgery she faced. Doctors had not been able to discover the reason for her symptoms, and cancer seemed an undeniable possibility. To add to her concern, she had little in savings, and being self-employed, she had no insurance or paid sick leave.

As the day of her surgery drew closer, she found herself reading her Bible more and more frequently. A passage in Habakkuk that her son and I would read every night we shared it with her and she called and said I am puzzled.

The prophet obviously knew his nation was about to be invaded and ravaged, but he said;

Habakkuk 3:17-18

New International Version (NIV)
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

She began to write us and tell us that she knew God was always with her and always loved her. Instead of asking for healing, finances, or peace, her prayer became simply, ” I love You, Too! I love You, too!”

As it turned out, the surgeons removed a benign cyst. Her recovery passed quickly. Friends helped with meals, laundry, housekeeping, errands, and even a mortgage payment. She reflected later, “This experience made my love for God grow deeper. And that was far more meaningful than a good medical report.”

If you are facing a burdensome situation today, Rejoice, reflect on God’s love for you. remember His faithfulness in the past. Then, with joy in your heart, tell God what I am saying, Lord I love you even if what I presently am enduring doesn’t work the way I feel it should, I love You so much. I don’t have a daisy peddle love with my God.

No prayer of adoration will ever soar higher than a simple cry: “I love You, God! I know You love me…

Feeling Poor?

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Read: Psalms 86

Psalm 86

A Prayer of David.

1 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and distressed, needy and desiring.
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In one way or another, we can all relate to Psalms 86:1 where David says, “I am poor and needy.” Even the richest among us should understand that poverty and need relate more to the spirit than to the wallet. When billionaire Rich DeVos speaks to groups, he often says, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.”

Psalms 86 tells us that the help God provides is not measured by a monetary ledger sheet. When we acknowledge that we are poor and needy, it’s not so God will lavish material riches on us. No, we do so to open the door to other, more valuable treasures.

Here’s what God does for the poor and needy. He will “preserve’ our lives and “save” all those who trust in Him. He will be “merciful” and “ready to forgive”. He will listen to and answer prayer. But we’re not to take God’s blessings without giving back. We have a responsibility to learn God’s ways, walk in his truth, “fear [God’s] name”, praise the Lord, and glorify [His] name”.

Do you consider yourself among the “poor and needy”? If so, welcome to the club. Let’s not forget all the spiritual blessings God has for us and the godly response we should have towards His generosity.

We’re thankful for the blessings, Lord,
You give us day by day;
Now help us show our gratitude
By walking in Your way.

The poorest man is he whose only wealth is money….

Singing Bowl

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Deuteronomy 4:32-40

New International Version (NIV)

The Lord Is God

32 Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? 33 Has any other people heard the voice of God[a] speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? 34 Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. 36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire. 37 Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, 38 to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.

39 Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. 40 Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.

John 3:V;8 (New International Version)
8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]

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Artist and scientist Michael Flynn designed a singing bowl for display in ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The bowl requires no electricity but it does require something that is in short supply; cooperation.

As I observed people trying to make the bowl sing, I was surprised that none of them bothered to read the directions about rocking it gently. Instead, impatient to make music, they kept trying their own ideas. After a few minutes they walked away frustrated and disappointed, as if the bowl was defective.

How many times, I wonder, do we become frustrated that life isn’t working the way we think it should? We keep trying ways that seem right, but things keep turning out wrong. Instead of following God’s Word, we continue trying out wrong. Instead of following God’s Word, we continue trying to find our own way.

The singing bowl reminds us that we can’t expect life to go well if we ignore the instructions of the Designer. Failing to obey divides us from one another and separates us from God. To fulfill His plan for the world and make the way of salvation known, we need to follow His instructions about living and working peacefully together. When life doesn’t go well, it may be that we’ve stopped following God’s Plan.

Sure it takes a lot of courage to put things in God’s hands,
To give ourselves completely, our lives, our hopes, our plans;
To follow where He leads us and make His will our own;
But all it takes is foolishness to go the way alone!

Life is a beautiful song that God is teaching us to sing…..

Is America Desensitized to Human Life?

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These turkeys received a pardon from being Thanksgiving dinner but a felon who by the way is human life never really gets a pardon. A glass bottle, plastic container and aluminum can has more value than human life. It appears to me that America and its capitalistic views find it as a sport to show how desensitized they are about issues associated with these practices.

We all have to live with the decisions we make in life. However, some people are reminded of their decisions daily in the worst possible way. According to a report released this month by the American Civil Liberties Union, 3,200 people are serving life sentences without parole in state and federal prisons for committing non-violent crimes.

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The crimes that land such prisoners in jail for life include acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer, taking a television, circular saw, and a power converter from a vacant house, and making a drunken threat to a police officer while being handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.

The report highlights the stories of 110 men and women who are currently serving their life sentences. The stories are ones that people can relate to and sympathize with. However, due to harsh sentencing laws put in place in the 1980s and 1990s, these people face devastating impacts from their actions.

There is also a staggering amount of racial disparity within the report. Of those serving, 65% are black, 18% are white, and 16% are Latino.

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Dear Aaron–

This year, like most years, I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving back home in Chicago with my parents and my grandmother. We’ll cook and talk and eat together. But while I am enjoying the comforts of home, I’ll spend some time thinking about Clarence Aaron and his family.

I thought Clarence would be out of prison by now. I thought he would be home with his mother, Mrs. Linda Aaron, his sister Katrina, and his other devoted family members who sorely miss him.

I was wrong.

Clarence has already served 20 years of a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug crime. He was 24-years old when he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison; his life had hardly begun. Clarence is now 44-years old and a model prisoner. I cannot think of one good reason for him to sit in prison until he dies. That’s why I’m still hopeful that President Obama will do the right thing and commute Clarence’s sentence to right this wrong – one of many caus ed by our unjust sentencing laws. I hope others serving long sentences will be shown mercy, too. And I really hope that Congress will act and pass meaningful sentencing reform so that future generations don’t face the irrational and destructive mandatory sentencing laws that we have now.

Thinking about Clarence and so many others like him makes me thankful that I can spend Thanksgiving with my family. But it also makes me mad that so many others can’t, and that Mrs. Aaron has spent 20 holiday seasons away from her son. And it makes me even more motivated to get to work each morning to fight for reform.

I hope you’ll join me in this fight by making a contribution to FAMM. In fact, if you make a tax-deductible donation by the end of the year, your gift will be matched by another generous FAMM supporter who is just as outraged as I am that Clarence Aaron is still sitting behind bars.

With gratitude,

Kate
Kate Taylor

Case Research Director, FAMM

Do You Except God’s best or Do You Settle for what you consider a extraordinary act of faith?

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2 Kings 13:18-19
New International Version (NIV)
18 Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. 19 The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.”

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Looking from the posture I now have insight I am guilty of this type of faith. My predicaments sometimes dictate opposite reactions in retrospect of having a full time faith posture. I was rocked to the core today when I realized I operated contrary to my witness before a brother I was trying to disciple. I saw my full feebleness without Jesus being all I need no matter the situation.

How striking and powerful is the message of these words! Jehoash, king of Israel, thought he had done quite well when he struck the ground “three times and stopped. “To him, it seemed to be an extraordinary act of faith, but the Lord and the prophet Elisha were deeply disappointed, because he had stopped halfway.

Yes, he did receive something; in fact, he received a great deal–exactly what he had believed God for, in the final analysis. yet Jehoash did not receive everything that Elisha meant for him to have or that the Lord wanted to bestow on him.. He missed much of the meaning of the promise, and the fullness of the blessing. he did receive more than any human could have offered, but he did not receive God’s best.

Dear believer, how sobering is the truth of this story! How important it is for us to learn to pray through our circumstances and to fully examine our hearts with God’s message to us! Otherwise, we will never claim all the fullness of His promise or all the possibilities that believing prayer offers.

Ephesians 3:20-21
New International Version (NIV)
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

In no other place does the apostle Paul use these seemingly redundant words: “immeasurably more than all.” Each word is packed with God’s infinite love and power “to do” for His praying believers. yet there is the following limitation: “according to His power that is at work within us.” He will only do as much for us as we will allow Him to do in us. The same power that saved us, washed us with His blood, filled us with the power of His Holy Spirit, and protected us through numerous temptations will work for us to meet evry emergency, every crisis, every circumstance, and every adversary.

Penology,Overcriminalization , Individualization, Frustration, Rehabilitation

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Over criminalization is the act of imposing unbalanced penalties with no relation to the gravity of the offense committed or the culpability of the wrong doer.

pe·nol·o·gy;
The study of the punishment of crime and of prison management.

Individualization;

Discriminating the individual from the generic group or species

Rehabilitation;

The restoration of someone to a useful place in society

frus·tra·tion;

The feeling of being upset or annoyed, esp. because of inability to change or achieve something.
Felons

The plight of a felon is one that doesn’t attract the needed attention required to get legislative change. Penology and Individualization and Rehabilitation and Over- Criminalization are all topics that should render 500,000 signatures on petitions nation wide, but it is not getting the attention needed because just like the crack epidemic, until it hits home in a real fashion to the powers that be family members this plight will only continue to frustrate the individuals that wind up in the teeth of America’s new conundrum.

Although depriving people convicted of felonies of the right to vote has a long history, the modern laws in many states are rooted in racial discrimination. In these states, the laws were enacted after the Civil War and designed to deny the vote to African-Americans, and continue to have that effect today. More than five million American citizens are now denied the right to vote, including 13% of the African-American population, because of felony convictions. Black Americans are imprisoned at 39 times the rate of whites for non-violent drug offenses. In total, more than 60% of people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities, despite being only 28% of the U.S. population.
Every state except Maine and Vermont prevents inmates from voting while in prison for a felony. Once released from prison, voter eligibility depends on the state a person votes in, with laws varying widely. Most states deprive parolees and probationers of the vote, and a few states permanently deny the right to vote to all ex-offenders. Ex-offenders in most states have to go through a wide variety of application processes, and some may never regain the right to vote.

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Events in recent months have justifiably caused Americans to ask whether a powerful, activist, and interventionist government and bureaucracy is good to have. Those who have been looking at overcriminalization, however, have known that government and regulatory agencies have been targeting and oppressing Americans for a long time. And it’s getting worse.

In many criminal laws, the “guilty mind” requirement has been removed or weakened. This means people can go to prison regardless of whether they intended to break the law or knew their actions were in violation of the law.

Traditionally, crimes had two components: (l) mens reu (guilty mind), and (2) actus reus (bad act).

Today, many criminal laws and regulations have insufficient or no mens rea (guilty mind) requirement — meaning, a person need not know that his or her conduct is illegal in order to be guilty of the crime.

An example story is the following:

THE CRIME: Rescuing a baby deer

Jeff Counceller, a police officer, and his wife Jennifer spotted an injured baby deer on their neighbor’s porch. Instead of turning a blind eye to the dying fawn, the Councillors took the deer in and nursed it back to health.

An Indiana Conservation Officer spotted the fawn (named Dani) in the Councillors’ yard — and promptly charged the couple with unlawful possession of a deer, a misdemeanor offense. Fortunately for her, the day that “Little Orphan Dani” was to be euthanized by the state, the deer escaped into the wild. Due to public outrage, the government dropped the charges.

“Overcriminalization describes the trend to use the criminal law rather than the civil law to solve every problem, to punish every mistake, and to compel compliance with regulatory objectives. Criminal law should be used only if a person intentionally flouts the law or engages in conduct that is morally blameworthy or dangerous.”

We have problems like this in Wichita, believe it or not. An ordinance passed by the Wichita City Council in 2010 might ensnare anyone visiting city hall, if they happen to have a broad-tip marker in their purse or briefcase:

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“Possession of Graffiti Implements Prohibited in Public Places. It is unlawful for any person to have in his/her possession any graffiti implement while in, upon or within one hundred (100) feet of any public facility, park, playground, swimming pool, skate park, recreational facility, or other public building owned or operated by the city, county, state, or federal government, or while in, under or within one hundred (100) feet of an underpass, bridge, abutment, storm drain, spillway or similar types of infrastructure unless otherwise authorized.”

“Graffiti implements” are defined broadly earlier in the ordinance.

If you’re thinking about a career in taxicab driving, be advised that the city has ordinances punishing you if you’re found to have violated these standards: “Fail to maintain their personal appearance by being neat and clean in dress and person” and “Fail to keep clothing in good repair, free of rips, tears and stains.”

When criminal laws are created to “solve” every problem, punish every mistake, and compel the “right” behaviors, this troubling trend is known as overcriminalization. Ultimately, it leads to injustice for honest, hard-working Americans at every level of society. […]

Over the next six months, Members of Congress from both parties will study this issue in depth, hold hearings, and—with the right encouragement—take steps to enact real reform.

The recent scandals involving the IRS and other encroaching agencies of the federal government have shed light on just how much the state interferes in Americans’ everyday lives. The Heritage Foundation offers a few examples:

A young girl was fined $535… for rescuing a wounded woodpecker.

A businessman was jailed for years… for shipping lobsters in plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes.

A Maryland father and building engineer faced a years-long legal ordeal… after being unfairly targeted under the Clean Water Act.

In a new project — USA vs. YOU — the conservative organization documents stories of violated liberties and offers advice on how you can help stop this disturbing trend.

States push to provide some ex-felons a second chance; But life as a felon free is still a struggle

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The struggles of a convicted individual are just as severe as a terminal cancer patient, or how about being still incarcerated mentally after being released. There are contingencies set in place within the law that will not render a felon success without a faith in God to succeed. Interviewing for jobs and resources are just the crust of the problem. A felon is denied decent housing as well as resources from the county or state they are trying to re-enter-grate within.

The pain associated with this plight of life is beyond the words I can articulate here. I have made mistakes and I have even second guessed some of the decisions I’ve made like serve my country and tell the truth always only to be condemned and rejected by those who are still practicing their hypocrisy. I refuse to be defeated by the minds that have put this system of disenfranchisement into exsistance. I will continue to fight and advocate for myself and others until the victory I declare and decree is seen in this life I now have.

 

Walter Fortson is a young man with impressive credentials: He graduated with honors from Rutgers University this year and is headed to the University of Cambridge on a prestigious Truman scholarship.

But on a typical job application, the first thing an employer might notice about Fortson is that he’s an ex-felon.

Fortson, 28, served two years in prison for dealing crack cocaine: He got out in March 2010 and has been clean since. Though he’s successfully turned his life around, he says discrimination against those with a criminal record is very real.

 

“There have been a lot of times that I haven’t been offered an opportunity because of the stigma,” said Fortson, a Philadelphia native. “A lot of companies have a blanket policy that excludes anyone who’s had any contact with the criminal justice system.”

Fortson is now backing a campaign to make employers remove questions about criminal history from job applications, postponing such queries until a later stage of the hiring process–an initiative widely known as “Ban the Box.”

A growing number of states are coming on board. This week, Rhode Island became the eighth state in the country to pass a statewide Ban the Box law, and it’s one of the most expansive versions out there: The state will require all private and public employers to delay questions about criminal history, following Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Hawaii. Four other states and 51 municipalities have already passed similar measures for hiring public employees, according to the National Employment Law Project. Ban the Box bills are now being considered in New Jersey and California, which passed an executive measure covering public employees in 2010.

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“People who have made mistakes need to be able to move on, to move forward with their lives, and we need to change our laws to allow them, even encourage them, to do so,” Rhode Island state senator Harold Metts, a Democrat, said in a statement last week. “They are not being allowed to do so if every job application they fill out looks like an instant dead-end because of that one question about criminal history.”

Supporters say the change is a simple, cost-effective way to help ex-offenders who face major barriers to getting their lives back on track, making it more likely that employers will look at their qualifications first.

“We’re not even saying don’t ask us the question–we’re saying don’t ask the question as the first thing that you do,” said Dorsey Nunn, director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, an ex-felon-turned-advocate who helped spearhead the movement in the Bay Area. “We are asking for opportunity to compete.”

 

Ban the Box laws generally make exemptions for schools, law enforcement, and other institutions that already require more stringent screening of their employees. But for other kinds of employers, no matter if it’s violent felony, a sex offense, or misdemeanor–They are prohibited from asking about applicants’ criminal histories when they first apply for a job.

The campaign has come at a time when a record number of Americans have tangled with the criminal justice system. About one in three Americans has some kind of criminal record, including arrests that did not lead to convictions, according to the Department of Justice. And NELP estimates that one in four Americans–65 million people–has a record that would show up on routine background check.

Advocates point out that employment is one of the most effective ways to reduce the recidivism rate and support low-income communities–and they insist there’s an upside for employers as well. “In my experience, a lot of times these folks actually make exemplary employees because they work a lot harder and they have something to prove in a way, or that’s how they feel,” said Rhode Island state representative Michael Chippendale, a Republican who spent decades in the manufacturing industry.

Ban the Box supporters stress that employers are under no obligation to hire such candidates and can still conduct background checks and make the usual inquiries, just later in the hiring process. In Rhode Island, for instance, employers can make such inquiries at the first interview, while Hawaii prohibits criminal history questions until employers make a conditional job offer.

Victims’ advocates haven’t rallied to oppose the Ban the Box laws, arguing that it’s more important to ensure that employers follow through with their background checks when they do conduct them. ”Everyone has a right to interview for a job, but there’s an onus on employers to get somebody who’s well fitted,” says Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

 

But many businesses groups say the new rules are too rigid and time-consuming, on top of newly revised federal guidelines employers must follow in using criminal records in hiring. “If you have an applicant who was convicted of murder, and you were never going to hire that person anyway, why would you go through the whole process of doing an interview to discover that information?” said Michael Kalt, a San Diego employment lawyer and lobbyist for the California branch of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Employers also argue that Ban the Box could lead to excessive litigation. According to Michael Egenton, senior vice-president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, “People may say, ‘I didn’t get hired because I was asked that question,’ and then there’s a lawsuit.”

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The effort to downplay criminal records in hiring isn’t new: Hawaii first passed the first statewide Ban the Box law in 1998. But the idea began to spread after 9/11 as employer background checks became increasingly commonplace, at the same time that record numbers of Americans were coming out of prison in many states. Boston and Chicago passed citywide Ban the Box initiatives in 2004, and cities from Carrboro, North Carolina, to Travis County, Texas, have followed suit.

But it wasn’t until the financial meltdown that Ban the Box started to take off at the state level, and the ranks of the unemployed everywhere began to rise.

With far fewer job openings than applicants, employers have been especially picky about who to hire, making it harder for job seekers with any marks against them–let alone a criminal history. Advocates believe this has made it even harder for African-Americans and other minority groups to benefit from the economic recovery, as they’re arrested and convicted at higher rates than the rest of the population.

Such pressures seem to have accelerated the pace of change. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Mexico passed statewide laws in 2010, followed by Colorado, Maryland, and Minnesota, which expanded a 2009 law to cover private employees as well as public ones. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has also promised to pass a directive in banning the box for state employees. “The political atmosphere has changed,” said Nunn, the Bay Area advocate. “My measure in terms of the successfulness of the issue is how many people have begun to replicate this.”

There’s a good chance that California could become the next state to come on board: a “Ban the Box” bill that would apply to public employees just passed out of committee this month, with hopes for a vote later this year. But the idea has received a more lukewarm reception in New Jersey, whose bill would regulate private employers as well.

“We recognize and appreciate the question of whether we should hold a college student who had a keg party at his dorm to the same level that an individual who held up a convenience store and shot the clerk, said Egenton, of New Jersey’s Chamber of Commerce. “But when you legislate something like this, it’s easier said than done.”

While simply removing the box asking about criminal history seems simple enough, the fine print is more complex. According to the New Jersey bill, for instance, employers can consider only misdemeanors committed in the last 5 years and felonies that have been committed within the last decade, although they can ask about murder, attempted murder, arson, terrorism and registrable sex offenses at any time. If they withdraw a job offer after a background check, employers must submit a form to the state explaining why.

Ban the Box supporters say that such measures are necessary because discrimination can be difficult to pinpoint: Applicants aren’t typically told their criminal histories are problematic, they say–they just don’t get a call back.

There’s some research to back up their claims: in one study, Princeton sociologist Devah Pager sent out job applicants with fictitious resumes and found that those with criminal histories received one-half to one-third the number of callbacks for similar kinds of entry-level positions. Black applicants were even less likely than white applicants to get a job interview even when they had the same criminal histories, Pager found.

The Obama administration also has flagged some of the more egregious violations. While employers are not prohibited from using criminal records in hiring, the federal government has long held that the discriminatory use of criminal records is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as such hiring practices have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

The administration has updated its guidelines for Title VII discrimination, but it also hasn’t been afraid to use litigation as well: Last month, it filed suit against BMW for a blanket exclusion of employees with criminal records and against Dollar General for revoking a job offer to a woman convicted for drug possession.

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The new Ban the Box laws have yet to prompt a wave of lawsuits. But supporters admit there also isn’t a lot of evidence right now to show whether Ban the Box has actually made a difference in lowering barriers for ex-offenders. They assert, however, that it’s a welcome step at a time when Americans are increasingly required to disclose any criminal history–not only when applying for jobs, but also for housing, insurance, and other basic life necessities.

For Forton, the Rutgers graduate, talking about his criminal past lets him explain the progress he’s made since then–how he discovered his passion for fitness while in prison, became a certified personal trainer, and ultimately decided to go to college to study exercise physiology, attending classes while he was still in a halfway house.

“I can show and explain how far I’ve come,” he said. “All of which ultimately gives me an actual shot for the position.”

Why You Should Not Adopt

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November is National Adoption Month. Many advocates, and in particular evangelicals, are making the case for why Christians should prayerfully consider adoption. In reading through some of the material I was surprised to find a “hard sell” from one of an influential Christian leader against adoption.

“Don’t Adopt!” This is how Dr. Russell Moore began a recent article concerning adoption. Why would Moore, an outspoken proponent for adoption speak so emphatically against adoption? He simply wants people to consider why they want to adopt and how that motive will translate into a life of “cross-bearing love.”

Dr. Moore writes:

If you want your “dream baby,” do not adopt or foster a child: buy a cat and make-believe. Adopting an orphan isn’t ordering a consumer item or buying a pet. Such a mindset hurts the child, and countless other children and families. Adoption is about taking on risk as cross-bearing love.

Moore is saying that if you are considering adoption and approaching it like a consumer then you should stop and go buy something. Don’t adopt. The mindset behind adoption is not about meeting a need for you the parent. Instead, it is about meeting a need for the child.

If we are thinking biblically we would understand immediately what Moore is writing. His point is, “Don’t adopt in order to love yourself. Adopt in order to love someone else.”

We learn in the Bible that love “…does not seek its own…” (1 Cor. 13:5). The Bible also teaches that God is love (1 John 4:8). How does God demonstrate that love? By sending Jesus to lay down his life to save sinners like you and me (1 John 4:10). Love, therefore, is about a willful, joyful sacrifice of ourselves in the service of another for their holiness. Certainly you can hear Dr. Moore saying, “Don’t adopt if you are trying to love yourself through this.” What a disaster for the kids and the parents if this is the case.

His hard sell continues. Moore insists that we should not adopt if we are not ready to be hurt. This goes for all parents of course, but should be considered for prospective adoptive parents also.

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Love of any kind brings risk, and, in a fallen world, brings hurt. Simeon tells our Lord’s mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, that a sword would pierce her heart. That’s true, in some sense, for every mother and every father. Even beyond that, every adoption, every orphan, represents a tragedy. Someone was killed, someone left, someone was impoverished or someone was diseased. Wrapped up in each situation is some kind of hurt, and all that accompanies that. That’s the reason there really is no adoption that is not a “special needs” adoption; you just might not know on the front end what those special needs are.

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Don’t adopt if you are not ready to be hurt. When you give yourself to someone you give yourself to another sinner. This is done in the midst of a world that is cursed for sin. As a result, the stage and the actors, so to speak, are all beset by weakness. We should be surprised when good things happen. We should treasures such times and persevere by grace through the tough times.

Once we have examined our motives, counted the cost, and felt the stiff wind of a cursed world upon our face then we are able to, if God leads, to consider moving forward with adoption. In other words, Moore is arguing, once you have come to steep in the gospel for some time you will remember who you are, that you have been adopted, that you have been lavished with grace, that you have been loved (as defined above) by the One who is love, and that you are now motivated to show that love to others. Christian should never ignore the gospel in anything we do, but especially not in parenting.

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When God Cleans House

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Jonah 1

New International Version (NIV)

Jonah Flees From the Lord

1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

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Ephesians 4:31

New International Version (NIV)

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

God did some fall housecleaning this week. He sent a mighty wind through our neighborhood that made the trees tremble and shake loose their deed branches. When it finished, I had a mess to clean up.

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In my own life, God sometimes works in a similar way. He will send or allow stormy circumstances that shake loose the “lifeless branches” I’ve been refusing to release. Sometimes it’s something that once was good, like an area of ministry, but is no longer bearing fruit. More often it’s something that’s not good, like a bad habit I’ve slid into or a stubborn attitude that prevents new growth.

The old Testament prophet Jonah discovered what can happen when one refuses to get rid of a stubborn attitude. His hatred for the Ninevites was stronger than his love for God, so God sent a great storm that landed Jonah in a giant fish. God preserved the reluctant prophet in that unlikely place and gave him a second chance to obey.

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The lifeless limbs in my yard caused me to think of attitudes that God expects me to dispose of. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians list some of them: bitterness, anger, and evil speech. When God shakes things up, we need to get rid of what shakes loose.

Lord, In the name of Jesus, give me a listening heart and help me to cooperate with you when you point out changes that need to be made in my life. I want to honor you and please you.

Christ’s cleansing power can remove the most stubborn stain of sin…..

Are My Troubles Always from God or Have I Caused Them?

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Psalm 71:20

King James Version (KJV)
20 Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth.

God makes you “see troubles.” Sometimes, as part of your education being carried out, you must “go down to the depths of the earth” (Ps. 63:9), travel subterranean passages, and lie buried among the dead. But not for even one moment is the bond of fellowship and oneness between God and you strained to the point of breaking. And ultimately, from the depths, He “will restore [your] life again.”

Never doubt God! Never say that He has forsaken or forgotten you or think that He is unsympathetic. He “will restore [your] life again. “No matter how many twists and turns the road may have, there is always one smooth, straight portion. Even the longest day has a sunset, and the winter snow may stay quite some time, but it will finally melt.

Be steadfast, “because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain”. He will turn to you again and comfort you. He has shown Himself real to me so many times. And when He does, your heart that has forgotten how to sing will break forth in thankful and jubilant song, just like the psalmist who sang, “My tongue will sing of your righteousness” (Ps.51:14).

Though the rain may fall and the wind be blowing,
And chilled and cold is the wintry blast;
Though the cloudy sky is still cloudier growing,
And the dead leaves tell that the summer has passed;

My face is fixed on the stormy heaven,
My heart is as calm as the summer sea,
Glad to receive what my God has given,
Whatever it be.

When I feel the cold, I can say, “He sends it,”
And His winds blow blessing, I surely know;
For I’ve never a need but that He will meet it;
And my heart beats warm, though the winds may blow.

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A Reason to Fight

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“Don’t tell me from genetics. What’ve they got to do with it?” said Crowley. “Look at Satan. Created as an angel, grows up to be the Great Adversary. Hey, if you’re going to go on about genetics, you might as well say the kid will grow up to be an angel. After all, his father was really big in Heaven in the old days. Saying he’ll grow up to be a demon just because his dad _became_ one is like saying a mouse with its tail cut off will give birth to tailless mice. No. Upbringing is everything. Take it from me.” ― Terry Pratchett, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes

Dear Aaron —

My name is Kevin Ring. For the past five years, I have worked for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). In two months, I will be reporting to federal prison.

My nine-year legal fight ended last week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear my appeal. That night I had the most difficult conversation I have ever had in my life. I told my daughters, ages 7 and 11, that I would be going away to prison. I am very close to my girls because I’ve been a stay at home dad for the past several years. When my legal troubles began, my ex-wife was forced to go back to work and I stayed home and telecommuted.

During these years, we have done everything together from board games, to amusement parks to homework and doctors’ appointments. I might have thought I was a hot shot when I worked on Capitol Hill and at a law firm, but being their full-time dad has been the most rewarding job of my life.

Spending so much time with my girls made me even more desperate to have my conviction reversed so I would never have to leave them. Those dreams were dashed last week. I will never forget my feeling of helplessness as my girls sobbed for nearly an hour straight as the news sunk in. As a parent, you do everything you can to shield your kids from pain, and here I was causing it. It was a pain I would not wish on any other family.

Now, as I’m preparing to leave FAMM and my girls and head to prison, I’m asking you to help FAMM champion sentencing reforms by making a year-end donation. If there’s one thing I know, it’s this: FAMM’s cause is worth supporting, because FAMM supports people like me.

Unfortunately, I know that many families deal with similar grief – and that many have suffered much worse. When my legal troubles forced me out of my job, I applied to FAMM hoping to help out by writing grant proposals or anything else that I could do from home while taking care of my children. I will be forever grateful that FAMM’s president, Julie Stewart, took the time to interview me and to get to know me.

Working at FAMM helped me gain perspective on my situation and enabled me to bring a new point of view to FAMM’s work. I was prosecuted for a white-collar crime, one that did not carry a mandatory minimum sentence. However, because the sentencing guideline that applies to economic crimes suffers from the same problem that plagues many drug crimes, I was threatened with an incredibly long sentence if I did not plead guilty – more than six times longer than the admitted leader of the conspiracy received.

I believed in my innocence, so I turned down the government’s offer – which felt more like a demand – to plead guilty. I would not cooperate against others who I did not think committed any crimes. Instead, I exercised my constitutional right to a trial. The jury in my first trial was divided down the middle on all eight counts I was facing, and the judge declared a mistrial. I hoped that was the end of my nightmare, but the government tried me again and I was convicted of five counts.

At sentencing, the prosecutors first asked the judge to sentence me to 20 to 27 years in prison. When she balked, they asked for five years. In the end, after sentencing many others involved to probation and community corrections, the judge imposed a 20-month prison sentence.

Obviously, I was grateful that the judge didn’t follow the government’s recommendation, but this entire experience has left me disillusioned and angry. The games the prosecutors played had no business in a process that was designed to produce justice. But, through it all, my work for FAMM reminded me that I did not have it as bad as many other people. Not by a long shot.

At FAMM I have met people who would be thrilled to have my 20 month sentence. People like Stephanie Nodd, a nonviolent first time offender like me, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for a one-month stint selling crack cocaine. Or Orville Lee Wollard in Florida, who received a mandatory prison sentence of 20 years for trying to protect his daughter from an abusive boyfriend. Or Lawrence and Lamont Garrison, who spent a dozen years in prison for allegedly selling drugs, despite no compelling evidence of their guilt.

Meeting these individuals taught me two things. First, I learned that I was lucky that my offense did not carry a mandatory minimum sentence. If the prosecutors had gotten their way, like they did with Stephanie, Orville, and Lawrence and Lamont, I would be preparing for a two-decade prison sentence that would have completely destroyed my family.

The second thing I learned is that the individuals and families affected by bad sentencing laws might seem different on the surface, but they really aren’t. Many are black, but many, like me, are not. Some sold drugs, while some, like me, never have. Others got caught looking at dirty pictures on the Internet, and others, like me, did not. And, finally, some were charged with crimes that carried mandatory minimum sentences, while others, like me, did not. In the end, however, we are more alike than we are different:

We’re all being sentenced based on rigid formulas that put too much emphasis on one factor. In drug cases, it’s the weight of the drug; in gun cases, it’s mere possession of a gun; in economic crimes, like mine, it’s the amount of “loss” measured in dollars. With each of these crimes, single factors have a bigger impact on sentence length than the individual’s actual role in the crime.

I’ve also learned that sentences are simply too long. Legislators have too often pushed for longer and longer sentences, even when there was no evidence to suggest longer punishments were needed. Worse, sentence lengths have been increased to keep pace with one another. For example, after Congress passed lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, the Sentencing Commission voted to make sentences longer for white-collar offenders in the name of “fairness.” In other words, if some people were going to get cruel and disproportionate sentences, we might as well make everyone suffer.

This one-way ratchet has kept on turning because the public’s concern was divided and selfish. Twenty years ago, corporate America didn’t care when inner city communities were getting hammered with unjust mandatory minimums. Today, no one in urban America is shedding a tear that upper-class businessmen are receiving longer sentences for economic crimes. For the past five years, I have had a foot in both camps: standing trial in my case while working for FAMM. I have seen firsthand the injustices in both areas.

Everything I have seen and learned has made me grateful for FAMM’s leadership. Only FAMM truly understands how federal and state sentencing laws are failing all Americans. More importantly, only FAMM is working nonstop to build the broadest possible coalition of affected families, legal experts, and policy advocates in order to achieve the common sense reform we need.

In the short time I have worked at FAMM, I have watched them lead the effort to fix the indefensible 100:1 crack sentencing disparity and then convince the Sentencing Commission to make the improved crack guideline retroactive. I have seen them win victories in the states, such as Massachusetts and Georgia, while laying the groundwork for major reform in Florida. And I have watched them spearhead the most significant proposal for federal sentencing reform in a generation, the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which is gaining more support every day.

Part of my job at FAMM has been to write the legal and legislative updates that are sent to our imprisoned members. In a couple of months, I will switch sides and be on the receiving end of those updates. I will be another FAMM member serving a federal prison sentence and looking for hope wherever I can find it. I know one place I can find it is at FAMM.

That’s why I’m writing you and sharing my story. I really want you to contribute to FAMM. I’ve seen how hard they work and how much they accomplish on a bare bones budget. I want FAMM to continue to succeed – and it will with all of our support.

By letting me work as a member of FAMM’s team for the past five years, they have changed my life. But I have seen FAMM change the lives of thousands of others, too.

So, no matter where I am, I will never stop trying to help FAMM advance its mission. Mandatory minimum sentences must be repealed so that judges have the discretion to impose fairer sentences that take into account all of the facts and circumstances of a crime and the offender. Federal and state sentencing guidelines must be rational and flexible so that offenders receive the punishment they deserve – no more, no less. Even those who commit crimes we cannot understand deserve justice, not vengeance.

As I head to prison, I won’t be here to help FAMM in the hands-on way I have for the past five years. But I’m confident that supporters like you will keep FAMM going strong. Please continue to help FAMM fight for sensible sentencing laws so that one day we’ll see an end to irrational punishments.

Thank you for giving as generously as you can.

Sincerely,

Kevin

Kevin Ring, FAMM

George Zimmerman in domestic violence case

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A Florida judge on Tuesday set bail for George Zimmerman at $9,000 and ordered a number of conditions for his freedom — including that he not possess weapons — while he awaits trial on charges he pointed a shotgun at his girlfriend.

Zimmerman, arrested Monday at his girlfriend’s Apopka home, four months after he was acquitted of murdering teenager Trayvon Martin, might post bail Wednesday morning after all the conditions for his release are arranged, a public defender representing him said.

Zimmerman said little as a judge, during Zimmerman’s first appearance Tuesday afternoon in Seminole County court, said he found probable cause for Zimmerman’s arrest on a felony charge of aggravated assault and misdemeanor counts of domestic violence battery and criminal mischief. Zimmerman’s arraignment has been scheduled for January 7.
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A prosecutor revealed a new allegation against Zimmerman while trying to argue for a higher bail — that Zimmerman tried to choke his girlfriend a week and a half before Monday’s alleged shotgun incident, and that Zimmerman had talked about suicide.

Assistant State Attorney Lymary Munoz argued for $50,000 bail, saying that new information should heighten concern for the accuser’s safety, though the alleged incident hadn’t been reported to police.

The new allegation is not reflected in the preliminary charges. But Judge Fred Schott cited the choking accusation when he put the bail at $9,000, saying it prompted him to set it higher than the $4,900 requested by the defense.

Jeff Dowdy and Daniel Megaro, the public defenders representing Zimmerman, told reporters afterward that they hadn’t known of the choking allegation previously.

“That was news to us,” Dowdy said. “… That was not contained in the arrest report, and that’s the first we’ve heard about it.”

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Schott put conditions on Zimmerman’s bail: That he cannot go to two Florida addresses; he cannot have contact with the accuser, Samantha Scheibe; he cannot possess weapons; he must wear a monitoring device; and he cannot travel outside Florida.

The judge initially said Zimmerman could return to one of the banned addresses with law enforcement to retrieve his belongings, but later — at Munoz’s urging — reversed that allowance, saying a third party could get the belongings instead.

Megaro told reporters he was confident Zimmerman would be acquitted. Dowdy said Zimmerman would post bail perhaps by Wednesday, “regroup and try to address the charges.”

“He’s maintained his innocence, I’ll tell you that,” Dowdy said

Megaro was asked about Scheibe’s alleged claims that Zimmerman talked about suicide.

“He’s back in jail. Obviously that causes a certain amount of anxiety and stress on somebody. I would not characterize him as what the state attorney has said, meaning he’s suicidal and volatile. We did not get that impression from him,” Megaro said.

Zimmerman claims dispute arose over alleged pregnancy

Zimmerman was arrested Monday afternoon at Scheibe’s Apopka home after she called 911, said Dennis Lemma, chief deputy with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

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Zimmerman accused of domestic violence

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Girlfriend to 911: Zimmerman has a gun

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What’s next for George Zimmerman?
Zimmerman told police the argument erupted after he tried to leave because Scheibe was pregnant and wanted to raise their child by herself, though police say Scheibe disputed the account.

“She told me it was better if we co-parented and she raised the child on her own,” Zimmerman said to a 911 dispatcher in a separate call. “I said, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ She said, ‘Yes.'”

Zimmerman continued, “As soon as I started packing up my stuff to leave, she just completely changed.” Asked to elaborate, Zimmerman said he wanted to leave amicably, but Scheibe “just started smashing stuff, taking stuff that belonged to me and throwing it outside, throwing it out of her room, throwing it all over the place.

“I guess she thought I was going to argue with her, but she’s pregnant. I’m not going to put her through that type of stress.”

In a question-and-answer session after Monday’s news conference, Lemma told reporters, “At this time, the victim has disclosed to us that she is not pregnant.”

Differing 911 calls

According to a police report about the incident, Scheibe said that after an argument, Zimmerman broke a table with a shotgun and then pointed it at her “for a minute.”

Scheibe called 911 at 12:30 p.m. ET, Lemma said.

On a 911 call recording released by police, a woman can be heard telling authorities: “He’s inside my house breaking all my (things) because I asked him to leave.”

The woman then says to someone at the house, “I’m doing this again? You just broke my glass table. You just broke my sunglasses and you put your gun in my freaking face and told me to get the (expletive) out.”

A man is heard telling her to calm down, but then she tells the dispatcher that the man just pushed her out of the house and locked the door.

In his 911 call, Zimmerman says that his girlfriend was, “for lack of a better term, going crazy on me” and throwing his things out. He says the woman is outside with police.

Asked why he is calling, Zimmerman says, “I just want everyone to know the truth.”

He says he never pulled a firearm and that it is in a bag, locked. He says she was the one who broke the table.

When deputies arrived at the house, Scheibe gave them a key. When they pushed open the door — which was blocked by several small pieces of furniture — they found Zimmerman, who was sitting and unarmed, Lemma said. He was passive and cooperative, Lemma said.

The sheriff’s office was seeking a search warrant to look for two guns deputies believed were inside the home, he said. According to the police report, Zimmerman had locked up the guns before police arrived.

Zimmerman’s wife has doubts about his innocence

Scheibe ‘in a safe place,’ mother says

Scheibe’s mother, Hope Scheibe, said on Monday, “My daughter is doing good, and she’s in a safe place.”

Scheibe and Zimmerman have been friends for 11 years, and Zimmerman has been living with her for the past several months, her mother said.

Zimmerman’s estranged wife, Shellie Zimmerman, filed for divorce on September 5. Days after the filing, Shellie Zimmerman called 911 and alleged that her husband had threatened her — one of several brushes that George Zimmerman has had with law enforcement since he was acquitted in July of murder and manslaughter in the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.

Recent contact with authorities

Police detained George Zimmerman on September 9 after his estranged wife told a 911 dispatcher that he had threatened her and her father at her father’s house in Lake Mary, Florida. But earlier this month, Lake Mary police said no charges would be filed, saying there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the case.

In late September, Shellie Zimmerman told NBC’s Matt Lauer on the “Today” show that she had doubts about her husband’s innocence in the Martin case.

Zimmerman also has been stopped for speeding twice since his July acquittal. He was pulled over the first time in Forney, Texas, in July and told the police officer he had a concealed weapon permit and a gun in his glove compartment. The officer wrote on his incident report that he gave Zimmerman a verbal warning.

Zimmerman was pulled over in early September going 60 mph in a 45-mph zone in Lake Mary and received a $256 ticket. He was not carrying a weapon at the time.

National headlines

Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the Sanford neighborhood where Zimmerman and Martin’s father lived in February 2012. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, had a confrontation with the unarmed African-American teen after calling police to report a suspicious person, and he said he shot Martin, 17, in self-defense.

Zimmerman was acquitted by a six-person jury in July on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

The high-profile case sparked a heated nationwide discussion of race as well as debate over Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

His attorney in the murder trial, Mark O’Mara, no longer represents him.

Zimmerman’s public defenders said Tuesday they were appointed to the case because Zimmerman said he couldn’t afford an attorney.

Gay Rights, Religious Liberties

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Two titanic legal principles are crashing on the steps of the church, synagogue and mosque: equal treatment for same-sex couples on the one hand, and the freedom to exercise religious beliefs on the other.

The collision that will play out over the next few years will be filled with pathos on both sides.
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Act One: A Love Story

Harriet Bernstein, mother of two and grandmother of six, realized a few years ago that she was drawn to women. She lives in Ocean Grove, N.J., a quiet beach town known as “God’s Square Mile,” because the land is owned by a Methodist retreat center, formally known as Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.

Eight years ago, she went on a retreat with Jewish gay men and lesbians in the Poconos Mountains and met her future wife.

“I took a chance and went up for a weekend of cross-country skiing and ice skating,” Bernstein recalls. “And I saw this lovely lady across a crowded room, as they say in South Pacific, and immediately decided she was somebody I wanted to get to know. And I did.”

“We came together like magnets,” Luisa Paster adds. “We had all our meals together. We went cross-country skiing. And we exchanged phone numbers at the end of the weekend.”

Bernstein and Paster formalized their union last year, a few months after New Jersey legalized civil unions.

Bernstein fetches the wedding album and flips past photos of the rabbi, the cake (adorned with two brides), and various shots of the two outdoorsy, gray-haired women smiling as they stood on the boardwalk in their white tunics and pants.

Paster then reads the invitation to their civil union, emphasizing the ambiguous wording.

“Location to be announced,” she reads. “That’s because we had to send out the invitations before we had final word on whether we could use the pavilion.”
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Paster and Bernstein look through their wedding photo album. Instead of marrying at the pavilion, the couple wed on a pier in New Jersey.

The Coming Storm?

Same-sex couples are challenging religious organizations’ policies that exclude them, claiming that a group’s view that gay marriage is a sin cannot be used to violate their right to equal treatment. So far, the religious groups are losing.

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Act Two: The Conflict

The pavilion in question is an open-air building with long benches looking out to the Atlantic Ocean. It is owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.

“A building very similar to this has been on this site since the late 1800s,” says the Rev. Scott Hoffman, the group’s administrator.

During the summers, Hoffman says, the pavilion is used for Bible studies, church services, gospel choir performances and, in the past at least, weddings. Heterosexual weddings.

When Bernstein and Paster asked to celebrate their civil union in the pavilion, the Methodist organization said they could marry on the boardwalk — anywhere but buildings used for religious purposes. In other words, not the pavilion. Hoffman says there was a theological principle at stake.

“The principle was a strongly held religious belief that a marriage is between a man and a woman,” Hoffman says. “We’re not casting any aspersions or making any judgments. It’s just, that’s where we stand, and we’ve always stood that way, and that’s why we said no.”

The refusal came as a shock to Bernstein, who says Ocean Grove has been revived by the gay community.

“We were crushed,” she says. “I lived my whole live, fortunately, without having any overt prejudices or discrimination waged against me. So while I knew it was wrong, I never knew how it felt. And after this, I did know how that felt. It was extremely painful.”

Luisa says that initially, they walked away from the situation. “We were so stunned, we didn’t know what to do. But as we came out of our initial shocked stage, we began to get a little angry. We felt an injustice had been done,” she says.

So the couple filed a complaint with New Jersey’s Division of Civil Rights, alleging the Methodists unlawfully discriminated against them based on sexual orientation. Attorney Lawrence Lustberg represents them.

“Our law against discrimination does not allow [the group] to use those personal preferences, no matter how deeply held, and no matter — even if they’re religiously based — as a grounds to discriminate,” Lustberg says. “Religion shouldn’t be about violating the law.”

The Methodist organization responded that it was their property, and the First Amendment protects their right to practice their faith without government intrusion. But Lustberg countered that the pavilion is open to everyone — and therefore the group could no more refuse to accommodate the lesbians than a restaurant owner could refuse to serve a black man. That argument carried the day. The state revoked the organization’s tax exemption for the pavilion area. Hoffman figures they will lose $20,000.

Now, with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Christian legal firm, Hoffman is appealing the case to state court. He says religious freedom itself is in jeopardy.

“And that potentially affects every religious organization in America, not just Christian organizations, but every religious organization. And I get calls from Jewish rabbis who are equally concerned — people from across the spectrum who think it’s a battle worth fighting. And we agree,” Hoffman says.

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Act Three: A Nationwide Story

As states have legalized same-sex partnerships, the rights of gay couples have consistently trumped the rights of religious groups. Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, says that does not mean that a pastor can be sued for preaching against same-sex marriage. But, he says, that may be just about the only religious activity that will be protected.

“What if a church offers marriage counseling? Will they be able to say ‘No, we’re not going to help gay couples get along because it violates our religious principles to do so? What about summer camps? Will they be able to insist that gay couples not serve as staff because they’re a bad example?” Stern asks.

Stern says if the early cases are any guide, the outlook is grim for religious groups.

A few cases: Yeshiva University was ordered to allow same-sex couples in its married dormitory. A Christian school has been sued for expelling two allegedly lesbian students. Catholic Charities abandoned its adoption service in Massachusetts after it was told to place children with same-sex couples. The same happened with a private company operating in California.

A psychologist in Mississippi who refused to counsel a lesbian couple lost her case, and legal experts believe that a doctor who refused to provide IVF services to a lesbian woman is about to lose his pending case before the California Supreme Court.

And then there’s the case of a wedding photographer in Albuquerque, N.M.

On January 28, 2008, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission heard the case of Vanessa Willock v. Elane Photography.

Willock, in the midst of planning her wedding to her girlfriend, sent the photography company an e-mail request to shoot the commitment ceremony. Elaine Huguenin, who owns the company with her husband, replied: “We do not photograph same-sex weddings. But thanks for checking out our site! Have a great day!”
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Willock filed a complaint, and at the hearing she explained how she felt.

“A variety of emotions,” she said, holding back tears. “There was a shock and anger and fear. … We were planning a very happy day for us, and we’re being met with hatred. That’s how it felt.”

Willock declined to be interviewed, as did the owners of Elane Photography. At the hearing, Jonathan Huguenin said that when he and his wife formed the company two years ago, they made it company policy not to shoot same-sex ceremonies, because the ceremonies conflicted with their Christian beliefs.

“We wanted to make sure that everything we photographed — everything we used our artistic ability for, everything we told a story for or conveyed a message of — would be in line with our values and our beliefs,” he said.

The defendants’ attorney, Jordan Lorence at ADF, says that of course a Christian widget-maker cannot fire an employee because he’s gay. But it’s different when the company or a religious charity is being forced to endorse something they don’t believe, he says.

“It’s a very different situation when we’re talking about promoting a message,” Lorence says. “When it’s ‘We want to punish you for not helping us promote our message that same-sex marriage is OK,’ that for me is a very different deal. It’s compelled speech. You’re using the arm of the government for punishing people for disagreeing with you.”

In April, the state human rights commission found that Elane Photography was guilty of discrimination and must pay the Willock’s more than $6,600 attorneys’ fee bill. The photographers are appealing to state court.

In the meantime, they wonder whether all the hassle is worth it and whether they should get out of the photography business altogether.

Georgetown University professor Chai Feldblum says it is a compelling case of what happens in a moment of culture clash. Feldblum, who is an active proponent of gay rights, says the culture and state laws are shifting irrevocably to recognize same-sex unions. And while she knows it’s hard for some to hear, she says companies and religious groups that serve the public need to recognize that their customers will be gay couples.

“They need to start thinking now, proactively, how they want to address that. Because I do think that if a gay couple ends up being told their wedding cannot be filmed, five couples will not sue, but the sixth couple will.”

And as one legal expert puts it, the gay couples “would win in a walk.”

Becoming Bilingual

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We’ve heard the church bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world: Peter and the apostles speaking boldly before the Sanhedrin. Peter preaching Law and Gospel on the Day of Pentecost. Stephen bearing witness to Christ and becoming the first martyr of the church in the process. The church giving verbal testimony to the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling people to repentance and faith in his name–this is what we see in these readings from Acts.

But all of those examples that I just cited involved the early Christians bearing witness to their fellow Jews. We have not yet seen how the church bore witness when speaking to Gentiles, that is, to non-Jews, pagans. Today, we do. It is the story of Paul preaching in Athens, moving from the Jewish synagogue to the Gentile, pluralistic marketplace of ideas. And so this has great relevance for us today, for this is the world we live in. Thus our theme this morning: “Making Known the Unknown God: Paul at the Areopagus.”

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So Paul is in Athens, the great intellectual center from Greece’s glorious past. This was the city of the philosophers–Socrates, Plato, Aristotle–great names from the golden age. Athens was Greece’s “University City.” And the Areopagus was the place where the professors and the intellectual avant-garde would gather, always eager to hear the latest thing.

But that’s not where Paul goes first. Our text says that “he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews.” Remember, the Jews had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean world for centuries. In every city of any size, there was a Jewish synagogue. And so the first stop in most any city Paul went to was the synagogue. “To the Jew first and also to the Greek,” that was Paul’s pattern. Why? Because at the synagogue Paul found a ready-made audience for the gospel. They were already familiar with the Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. What Paul then did was to show how Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of those Scriptures, that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah promised from long ago.

For example, earlier in Acts 17, Paul was in Thessalonica, where, it says, “there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded.”

Acts 17:28

King James Version (KJV)
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

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It is possible–in a society that seems increasingly indifferent to the gospel–to communicate the good news to people who don’t share our faith?

One way to connect with people who are unfamiliar with the things of Christ is to become “culturally bilingual.” We do this by communicating in ways people can easily relate to. Knowing about and discussing music, films, sports, and television, for example, can offer just such an opportunity. If people hear us “speak their language,” without endorsing or condoning the media or events we refer to, it could open the door to sharing the timeless message of Christ.

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Paul gave us an example of this in Acts 17. While visiting the Asparagus in Athens, he spoke to a thoroughly secular culture by quoting pagan Greek poets as a point of reference for the spiritual values he sought to communicate. He said, “In Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ “(Acts 17:28). Just as Paul addressed that culture by knowing what they were reading, we may have greater impact for the gospel by relating it to people in terms they can readily embrace.

Are you trying to reach a neighbor or a coworker with the gospel? Try becoming bilingual.

To earn your neighbor’s ear
And prove you really care,
Use terms he/she understands
To show you are aware.

The content of the Bible must be brought into contact with the world.

Are You Troubled and Confused Over Offenses?

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Truth is Exclusive and Absolute

Some people are offended by truth because of its very nature— it is exclusive and it is absolute, not relative. The absolute nature of truth means that it does not depend on, nor is it changed by, people’s opinions. For example, if someone says, “There is no God,” that does not affect the existence of God. It only shows that the person is ignorant. Truth is also exclusive, meaning that it is “narrow” because it excludes anything contrary to it. Unfortunately, in the spiritual world, some people view the narrow nature of truth as “narrow mindedness.” We all recognize the narrowness of truth when it comes to the physical world. People do not put water in their gas tanks or jump from tall buildings if the elevator is full. We train our children to do what is “right” (like looking both ways before crossing a street), and not to do what is “wrong” (like running with a knife) so they will live safely in our “narrow minded” world.
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There is a false belief held by some Christians, sort of a Christian myth, that if you are a good Christian you will not offend anyone. In fact, a Christian who offends people is sometimes considered to be just one more arrogant, insensitive, narrow-minded Christian, because it is thought that “true” Christians are sensitive and considerate, and never offend anyone.

To be sure, there are Christians who offend others by their tone of voice, overbearing manner, or by insistence on things that could be called “dogma” rather than truth. This article is not intended to excuse prideful Christian behavior, attitudes, or hardheartedness. History shows that there have been and still are many Christians who do not act very Christ-like. Much could be said about the great need for Christians to walk in love, have good character and demonstrate the fruit of the spirit.

Luke 7:23 (King James Version)

And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
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It is sometimes very difficult not to be offended in Jesus Christ, for the offense may be the result of my circumstances. I may find myself confined to narrow areas of service, or isolated from others through sickness or by taking an unpopular stance, when I hoped for much wider opportunities. Yet the Lord knows what is best for me, and my surroundings are determined by Him.Wherever He places me, and my surroundings are determined by Him. Wherever He places me me, He does so to strengthen my faith and power and to draw me into closer communion with Himself. And even if confined to a dungeon, my soul will prosper.

The offense that causes me to turn from Christ may be emotional. I may be continually confused and troubled over questions I cannot solve. When I gave myself to Him, I had hoped that my skies would always be fair, but often they are overcast with clouds and rain. But I must believe that when difficulties remain, it is that I may learn to trust Him completely–to trust and not be afraid. And it is through my mental and emotional struggles that i am being trained to tutor others who are being tossed by the storm.

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The offense causing me to turn away may be spiritual. I had imagined that once within His fold, I would never again suffer from the stinging winds of temptation. Yet it is best for me the way it is, for when I endure temptation His grace is magnified, my own character matures, and heaven seems sweeter at the end of the day. learning to trust a righteous God that has proven Himself faithful, wonderful, marvelous and excellent is a painful but worthwhile endeavor to encounter in this life. Once I arrive at my heavenly home, I will look back across the turns and trials along my path and will sing the praises of my Guide. So whatever comes my way, I will welcome His will and refuse to be offended in my loving Lord.

Blessed is he whose faith is not offended,
When all around his way
The power of God is working out deliverance
For others day by day;

Though in some prison dark his own soul does fail,
Till life itself be spent,
Yet still can trust his Father’s love and purpose,
And rest therein content.

Blessed is he, who through long years of suffering,
Not now from active toil,
Still shares by prayer and praise the work of others,
And thus “divides the spoils.”

Blessed are you, O child of God, who does suffer,
And cannot understand
The reason for your pain, yet will gladly leave
Your life in His blest Hand.

Yes, blessed are you whose faith is “not offended”
By trials unexplained,
By mercies unsolved, past understanding,
Until the goal is gained.

I am experiencing the trial of my life at this very moment as I write this post. I cannot understand how any of this is working out for my good. I cannot see the victory coming or even piercing the doom and gloom I am faced with, but by faith I believe God is here and will make a way out of what seems to be no way. Our Father is forever acquainted with His permissive will and will see us through every storm. The pain is I believe to burn away our reliance on self.
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I am going to cloth myself in His clothing, I am going to walk in the spirit, I am going to give thanks for Him trusting me to stand in His finished work and declare and decree victory though it seems so far away from reality. He will rescue me and receive His glorious praises from my unworthy vessel.

Will I be Remembered? Happy Veterans Day!!!!

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From Armistice to Veterans, as one veteran to all, I salute you all!! We should honor ourselves’ for keeping our flag free and secure, we are the courageous men and women who fought and died for the idealism of liberty and freedom for all.

I thank you veterans for not being selfish with your lives and believing in our nation’s freedom.

And, for those in the tomb of the unknowns, thank you for the historical significance you’ve made. We will celebrate and honor our unknown American veterans of all wars and for their patriotism, love of nation, and sacrifice you and your families have made for the common good of our nation.

May we laugh, cry and remember on this day, November 11th, our experiences and memories.

It was the veteran, who saluted our flag, who served under our flag and who will be remembered under our nation’s flag.
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I salute all my fallen and still living comrades of seal team 5. I salute all vets today who gave and sre still giving. This is a painful day for me. I have suffered so much while serving and even more when I got home. This is a guy who funeral was today and he had no one to come to his funeral. A blast went out to all through several news papers and I am elated about the comrades who showed their support.
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A Captive’s Prayer

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Tonight I find myself perplexed and disillusioned by the trials that have assailed my life all of a sudden. I know from reading and studying the gospel that nothing over takes us by His surprise. I know God loves us and I know that I am His child, but when I look at this clip and my life I can’t help but ask why Lord? Why do we have to wait to be delivered from oppression and the harassments of an enemy that has chosen his direction and purpose for life?
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Revelation 3:19
The Message (MSG)
19 “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!

I really feel that God selects the best and most notable of His servants for the best and most notable afflictions, for those who have received the most grace from Him are able to endure the most afflictions. In fact, an affliction hits a believer never by chance but by God’s divine direction. He does not haphazardly aim His arrows, for each one is on a special mission and touches only the heart for whom it is intended. It is not only the grace of God but also His glory that is revealed when a believer can stand and quietly endure and affliction.

If all my days were sunny, could I say,
“In His fair land He wipes all tears away’?
If I were never weary, could I keep
This blessed truth, “He gives His loved ones sleep”?
If no grave were mine, I might come to deem
The life Eternal but a baseless dream.
My winter, and my tears, and weariness,
Even my grave, may be His way to bless.
I call them ills; yet that can surely be
Nothing but love that shows my Lord to me!

I need you everyday like the deserts need rain and the morning needs the sun. Help me tonight Lord to believe although it looks bleak and doomed. I need you to help my unbelief Lord, because It seems like I am fainting fast. Christians with the most spiritual depth are generally those who have been taken through the most intense and deeply anguishing fires of the soul. If you have been praying to know more of Christ, do not be surprised if He leads you through the desert or through a furnace of pain.
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It is my prayer tonight that The Lord doesn’t remove my cross from me. Instead, comfort me by leading me into submission to His will and by causing me to love the cross. I pray that You Lord only give me what will serve You best, and may it be used to reveal the greatest of all Your mercies: bring glory to Your name through me, according to Your will.
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