Day: November 19, 2013

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.