Month: January 2014

No Pain, No Calvary: Thank God For Christ Jesus

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THE SUFFERING SERVANT
Isaiah 42:1-7, Isaiah 49:3-7, Isaiah 50:4-10, Isaiah 52:13 – Isaiah 53:12, Philippians 2:5-11

SCRIPTURE READING: Isaiah 53:3-12

We seem to think of suffering as something foreign and strange. But scripture tells us clearly that those who follow Jesus Christ WILL share in His suffering. A look at the church’s history over the last 2,000 years shows us that this is true. For example,

At the Nicene Council, an important church meeting in the 4th century A.D., of the 318 delegates attending, fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith. Vance Havner.

In this century, in fact, right now, today, thousands of Christians face persecution and pain and even death because they have chosen to name the name of Christ.

The book of Isaiah clearly presents a picture of the coming Messiah as a Suffering Servant. For those of you who are reading Isaiah, you will discover four passages which are often called the “Servant Songs”. They aren’t actually songs, but they are like the Psalms in their poetic and lyrical style. The four Servant Songs the present a portrait in poetry of the one the Lord calls “my servant.”

1.Isaiah 42:1-7; shows the Lord’s delight with his anointed servant and the gentle characteristics of the servant’s ministry.
2.Isaiah 49:3-7; describes the chosen servant of the Lord and the world-wide scope of his influence.
3.Isaiah 50:4-10; Details the obedience of the servant and his vindication after suffering.
4.Isaiah 52:13 – Isaiah 53:12; Explains the atoning sacrifice of the suffering servant who is despised and rejected yet obeys to the point of death and is therefore highly exalted by God.

In the New Testament, the four Gospels give us most of what we know about the life of Jesus Christ here on earth. But the “Gospel of Isaiah” also gives us a portrait of the life of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us in past tense about the Messiah they knew. Isaiah tells us in future tense about the Messiah who in his day was yet to come.

Isaiah foretold Jesus’ character, obedience, and relationship with His Father in amazing detail, 750 years before He came to earth. Let’s look at the Messiah according to the Gospel of Isaiah.

1.The Nature of the Suffering Servant

HIS APPEARANCE:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
Isaiah 53:2

We tend to put a lot of importance on physical appearance. But when God “put on flesh” and came to earth as a man, notice that he did not choose to come as one of the “beautiful people.” Jesus was evidently an ordinary, average-looking person. And yet, all through scripture you find people are drawn to him. The attractiveness and power of Jesus did not come from outward strength or beauty.

Jesus was a man of astounding magnetism and power. But his attractiveness did not come from physical beauty. And his authority did not come from a forceful, assertive personality. Look at this description in Isaiah 42:

HIS PERSONALITY:
42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:1-3

Can you feel the tender gentleness of this Messiah? He will be able to bring justice to the nations without even raising his voice. How unexpected and astounding that the King of the Universe would come so quietly.

This description reminds me of the expression: He wouldn’t hurt a fly. When ALMIGHTY GOD came to earth, he lived with such gentleness that he wouldn’t break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. No wonder crowds followed him. This gentle Messiah was entirely approachable. Little children ran to him. The outcasts, the lame, the sick, all flocked to him. And when they came, he ministered to them:

HIS MINISTRY:

Isaiah 42:7 tells us the Messiah will come to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Isaiah predicted the amazing healing ministry of the Messiah. He also predicted that his teaching ministry would be unparalleled. Look in Isaiah 50:4:

4 The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

Here the Messiah is speaking in first person through the prophet Isaiah. Jesus spoke with wisdom that came straight from His Father, the Sovereign LORD. This reminds me of the words Jesus spoke in John 14:

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing the work. John 14:10

Jesus lived a life of perfect, willing obedience to His God and Father. Let’s look again in Isaiah chapter 50:

2.The Obedience of the Suffering Servant

5 The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.
6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. Isaiah 50:5-7

Just as Isaiah foretold, Jesus NEVER rebelled against the will of God. These words were written hundreds of years before Jesus was beaten and mocked. And yet they not only tell us the specifics of what the Messiah would suffer. They also give us a glimpse into the very MIND and HEART of Jesus Christ.

Jesus consciously offered his back to the whip of the Roman soldiers. He offered his cheeks to those who pulled out his beard. He offered his face to those who mocked and spit on him. And here are the very thoughts of Jesus – foretold hundreds of years before the events. These are the thoughts of Jesus Christ as he was flogged and tortured and mocked: Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

We see here the Heart and Mind of the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied about a messiah full of obedience and courage and faith. And Jesus displayed all those qualities in abundance.

Isaiah 53 gives more details about the suffering and death of the coming Messiah. And more than that, it tells us WHY that suffering was necessary. Look in vs. 5:

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

I want you to think a moment about the wounds of Christ. These were wounds he accepted willingly so that we could be healed. We sometimes see pictures or sculptures of Jesus hanging on the cross. His suffering is obvious in these pictures, but the reality of the wounds of Christ are obscured. We see little marks where the nails went in his feet and hands. We may see trickles of blood on his face from the crown of thorns. Even though the Romans crucified people without clothing, piece of cloth is always added for modesty.

We could not bear to look upon the reality of the wounds that brought us healing. Isaiah foretold how hideous he would look after the terrible beating he endured. He wrote in Is. 52:14, “…there were many who were appalled at him, his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.”
When the Romans hit him in the face and planted a crown of thorns on his head those weren’t playful slaps. The soldiers bruised his face deeply and probably broke facial bones and knocked out teeth. His eyes were probably swollen shut.

Realize that most victims of the Roman 39 lashes with the cat-o-nine-tails did not live through the experience. It was like being skinned alive. Most of Jesus skin and outer muscles on his torso were hanging in ribbons. No wonder he didn’t have enough strength to carry his own cross all the way to Golgotha. Jesus had to be a man of uncommon vitality to even make it to the cross let alone endure it for those horrible hours before he succumbed to death. The torture at the hands of the Roman Soldiers was so intense that he was severely dehydrated and probably in some stage of shock from blood loss. As Isaiah had predicted, “he was marred beyond human likeness.”

If you are ever tempted to under-rate the ugliness of Sin, remember the horrific kind of wounds that were necessary to bring us healing.

3.The Reward of the Suffering Servant

11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:11-12

God has a reward in store for his Suffering Servant. He will see the light of life and be satisfied. Jesus knew all along the reason for his sufferings. He was keenly aware of the atoning work he would do on that cross. When Jesus told his disciples about the cup he would soon drink and the baptism he would soon undergo, he was talking about his suffering and death. (Mark 10:37-38). We know that Jesus was anxious, not to go through the pain of it all, but for it to be accomplished so that his atoning work would be finished once and for all.

His reward in all this is that his sacrifice on the cross enabled him to be the first-fruits of a huge harvest of souls that would follow. Even though Jesus never fathered any human children during his 33 years on earth, he became the progenitor of a vast multitude of spiritual offspring. The church is his inheritance and his reward. For the church he willingly bled and died. Therefore God was delighted to lift him up higher than any other and give him a name that is above every other name. We call Jesus “Lord,” the same name reserved for Jehovah in the Old Testament, and the name the Father was pleased to share with his Son after his atoning sacrifice on the cross.

But remember that Jesus’ lordship came from his willingness to humble himself and come to earth as the Lord’s servant. His willing obedience and humility provide for us an example, for just as he was the Lord’s servant, we are also servants of God, and of Christ our Lord.

God offers that same reward to all of us who are willing to be like Jesus Christ. We, too are called to be servants (sometimes even suffering servants). Look at this challenge in the book of Philippians:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, begin made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8

To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not. Oswald Chambers.

Jesus came the first time as the Suffering Servant, but he will return as the Conquering King. And we need to remember that if we join Him in His suffering, we will also join in His great reward:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Thank God for “The Holy Spirit” It’s Power Is My Comforter

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Hosea 14:5
The Message (MSG)
4-8 “I will heal their waywardness.
I will love them lavishly. My anger is played out.
I will make a fresh start with Israel.
He’ll burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring.
He’ll put down deep oak tree roots,
he’ll become a forest of oaks!
He’ll become splendid—like a giant sequoia,
his fragrance like a grove of cedars!
Those who live near him will be blessed by him,
be blessed and prosper like golden grain.
Everyone will be talking about them,
spreading their fame as the vintage children of God.
Ephraim is finished with gods that are no-gods.
From now on I’m the one who answers and satisfies him.
I am like a luxuriant fruit tree.
Everything you need is to be found in me.”
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My God is like the dew He was to Israel to me. I have been able to understand just a little better what is going on in my season of drought because of His wonderful spirit that’s upon my vessel. The god’s I once depended on are gone and He has filled that vacuum with understanding never to allow a void to occur. I have been made aware that the dew or “The Holy Spirit” is a source of freshness. It’s nature’s provision for renewing the face of the earth and His people life. It falls at night, and without it vegetation would die. It is this great renewal value of the dew that is so often recognized in the Scriptures and used as a symbol of spiritual refreshment. Just as nature is bathed in dew, the Lord renews His people. In Titus 3:5 the same thought of spiritual refreshment is connected with the ministry of the Holy Spirit and referred to as “renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

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Many Christian workers do not recognize the importance of the heavenly dew in their lives, and as a result lack freshness and energy. Their spirits are withered and droopy for lack of dew. Beloved fellow workers, you recognize the folly of a laborer attempting to work all day without eating, but do you recognize the folly of a servant of God attempting to minister without eating of the heavenly manna? Neither is it sufficient to have spiritual nourishment only occasionally. Every day you must receive the “renewal by the Holy Spirit.” You know the difference between your whole being pulsating with the energy and freshness of God’s divine life or feeling worn-out and weary.

Quietness and stillness bring dew. At night when the leaves and grass are still, the plants’ pores are open to receive the refreshing and invigorating bath. And spiritual dew comes from quietly lingering in the Master’s presence. I can remember not long ago when I was toiling in my own strength to obtain employment, I interviewed over 100 times for positions that I prostrated in prayer over only to be rendered the same results time after time. My anxiety level was high and my peace vexed after every attempt. Now that God has established my understanding and whispered into my quiet vessel I am not moved by toil and running after other god’s. It all came by way of seeking His presence and will for my life, It came by way of surrender to His all and my none.

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Getting still before Him is the key, for haste will prevent you from receiving the dew. Wait before God until you feel saturated with His presence. Then move on to your next duty with awareness of the freshness and energy of Christ. Dew will never appear while there is either heat or wind. The temperature must fall, the wind cease, and the air come to a point of coolness and rest-absolute rest-before the invisible particles of moisture will become dew to dampen any plant or flower. And the grace of God does not come forth to bring rest and renewal to our soul until we completely reach the point of stillness before Him.

Drop Your still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease:
Take from our souls the strain and stress;
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Your peace.

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Second Chance Alliance “The Vision” Second Chance Act “The Reality”

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I am very much impregnated with the vision of becoming successful within my community with the model of Second Chance Alliance, my named business for helping disenfranchised felons. I am in search, prayer and faith that this will materialize. If you are a felon who is being denied housing and employment and you have mental illness challenges or are just being alienated or ostracized due to the stigmas associated with being a “felon” have hope, keep hope alive we will prevail in getting you reintegrated with society and your families.

Reentry Matters: Strategies and Successes of Second Chance Act Grantees Across the United States

Judiciary Committee leaders in the House and Senate are renewing the effort to re-authorize the Second Chance Act.

Originally signed by President Bush in 2008, this law funds programs that help ex-offenders who are re-entering the community from prison. In mid-November, bills to improve the current program were introduced in both chambers with bi-partisan support (S.1690/HR 3465).

Language throughout the bill reinforces housing and homeless assistance as important elements of re-entry programming. The demonstration projects that could be funded are expected to target vulnerable re-entering populations such as people with behavioral health conditions and those experiencing homelessness.

The proposed re-authorization would make more nonprofit organizations eligible for grants, along with units of state and local government. Currently, efforts are focusing on adding co-sponsors to the bill.

reentryroadmap

What is a Reentry Council?
Reentry refers to the transition of individuals who are incarcerated in prisons or jails back into the community after release. Currently, there are reentry efforts emerging throughout the US and in California that employ evidence-based strategies focused on comprehensive planning and coordinated service delivery to increase the likelihood that individuals will make safe and successful transitions back into their communities after incarceration.

Reentry Councils, Partnerships, and/or Roundtables refer to groups that are organized to coordinate local reentry efforts. They may focus on: (1) sharing local reentry information and resources; (2) developing directories of local reentry services; (3) organizing collaborative reentry planning and policy development; (4) and/or encouraging public engagement in local reentry efforts. Membership in various Reentry Councils, Partnerships, and/or Roundtables may differ, though most aim to engage multiple community reentry stakeholders including local government agency leadership, community service providers, individuals who have been previously incarcerated and/or their family members, and other community leaders.

California Reentry Council Network Upcoming Events
February 6, 2014 8:30 am
Sacramento County CCP Meeting
February 6, 2014 10:00 am
CRCN Conference Call – AB 218 (Ban the Box)
February 27, 2014 12:30 pm
Sacramento Reentry Council Meeting

I am diligently looking for information from all types of models already in place as to allow my wife and I the maturity needed to get this vision of Second Chance Alliance into action in Riverside County. This is another program started to allow industry to help the disenfranchised of America:

What is the Joint Venture Program?

The Joint Venture Program (JVP) is responsible for implementing the Prison Inmate Labor Initiative, Proposition 139, passed by the voters in 1990. Under its provisions, private businesses can set up operations inside California correctional facilities and hire inmates. This includes only those businesses that are starting a new enterprise, expanding an existing business or relocating within California.

This unique relationship is a cooperative effort of private industry and the state of California benefiting businesses, victims, and the state while preparing inmates for successful reintegration into the community.

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With over 95 percent of people in the nation’s state prisons expected to be released at some point1, officials at all levels of government recognize the need for initiatives to support the successful reentry of these individuals to their communities. For the estimated 60,000 youth incarcerated in juvenile detention and correctional facilities on any given day2, there is a particular urgency to help them avoid crime and improve their prospects for a successful future when released.

The program snapshots in this writing illustrate the positive impact these reentry initiatives can have by focusing on areas vital to successful reintegration back into the community, including employment, education, mentoring, and substance abuse and mental health treatment. Also highlighted are programs that address the needs of a particular population, such as women, youth and their families, and tribal communities. Representing a wide range of populations served, these programs also demonstrate the diversity of approaches that can address recidivism and increase public safety.

ban the box

Head way has been accomplished with this piece of avocation. Ban the Box has great success in California and spreading through out the nation. We were on house arrest ourselves while taking part in this movement. We also introduced this bill to Congressman Takano and ask him to support us in getting it to Washington. Will you do your part to help us in getting change and reform in our communities?

Advocates against Felon Employment Discrimination Act ******************************************************************************SENATE OR HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES) OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
2013 Session
Introduced by: Advocates against Felon Employment Discrimination
Primary Sponsor: Maymie Chandler-Pratt
Secondary Sponsor: Aaron D. Pratt
*****************************************************************************************

1. The purpose of this bill is to stop the employment discrimination of felons throughout the United States.
2. The (Senate or House of Representatives) of the United States of America hereby enacts as follows:
3. SECTION 1:
4. This act shall be known as the Advocates against Felon Employment Discrimination Act
5. SECTION 2:
6. Reinstate people with felonies their right to work, and modify the hiring requirements in
7. companies from the unrealistic term of 7 to 10 years to 2 to 5 years for felons who are willing 8. and able to earn an honest living wage and are skilled in those areas of work.
9. SECTION 3:
10. Require companies to hire people with felonies after a period of 2 to 5 years after said
11. person(s) have finished parole, have successfully complied with terms of release as presented 12. by the parole board; (Drug Rehabilitation, boarding house residency, random drug testing) 13. and have demonstrated a desire to work by enrolling in classes to improve their work skills 14. and moral turpitude.
15. SECTION 4:
16. Require companies to at least have bonding agents and resources within the HR department 17. which will allow companies to be compensated with tax write offs as an incentive to hire felons.
18. SECTION 5: Funding
19. The cost of the implications of this proposal should not exceed the amount of $1,000,000.00 20. dollars. Funding for this bill will come partly from the Advocates against Felon Employment
21. Discrimination Act fundraising committee and participating government programs.
22. SECTION 6: Regulations
23. The EEOC has historically taken the position that an employer’s policy or practice of
24. excluding individuals from employment because they have criminal conviction record is
25. unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unless the policy or practice is
26. justified by a business necessity. If the information was
27. erroneous or the conviction was not job-related, employees and applicants have a right to file 28. a discrimination claim with their state equal employment opportunity agency.
29. The government will impose sanctions on companies which are offering employment that
30. have no direct correlation with the crime that was committed by person’s applying for a job if 31. they don’t hire a person with a felony on their background that is older than 2 to 5 years.
32. All offenders:
33. For most offenders it is difficult to prove that a possible employer illegally discriminated 34. against them even with an expungement. In California an individual’s criminal history is
35. never erased, but rather erases the word “Conviction” and replaces it with “Dismissed in Furtherance
36. of Justice” in the disposition.
37. Constitutional issues:
38. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly permits felon 39.disenfranchisement, but it has been pointed out that constitutional approval of felons’ political 40. powerlessness is not the same as constitutional approval of government prejudice toward the 41. politically powerless. Such prejudice may violate the Equal Protection Clause, which contains
42. no provision authorizing discrimination against felons. A “discrete and insular” minority 42. 43. subject to prejudice, in particular, may be considered particularly vulnerable to oppression by 44. the majority, and thus a suspect class worthy of protection by the judiciary.
45. SECTION 7: Penalties
46. The penalties for not hiring a person with felonies older than 2 to 5 years on their background 47. and who are willing to work and are skilled in that field or position will be a fine of $5000.00 48. dollars and or if the information was erroneous or the conviction was not job-related, 49.employees and applicants information was erroneous or the conviction was not job-related, 50.employees and applicants have a right to file a discrimination claim with their state equal
51. employment opportunity agency. If a felon is bonded by a company and hired on, and is later found to not be in compliance with the bonding agreement he/she shall be terminated.
52. SECTION 8: Definitions
53. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
54. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal law
55. enforcement agency that enforces laws against job discrimination. The EEOC investigates 56.discrimination complaints based on an individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, 57. age, disability, genetic information and retaliation for reporting, participating in and/or 58.opposing a discriminatory practice. The EEOC also mediates and settles thousands of 59.discrimination complaints each year prior to their investigation. The EEOC is also 60.empowered to file discrimination suits against employers on behalf of alleged victims and to 61.adjudicate 58.claims of discrimination brought against federal agencies.
62. Moral turpitude: A legal concept in the United States that refers to “conduct that is 63.considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.” As of 1998, 64. seven states absolutely barred felons from public employment. Other states had more narrow 65. restrictions for instance, only covering infamous crimes or felonies involving moral turpitude.
66. Over inclusive: Relating to legislation that burdens more people than necessary to accomplish
67. the legislation’s goal. Some laws have been criticized for being over inclusive; for instance, a 68. law banning all ex-offenders from working in health care jobs could prevent a person 69.convicted of bribery or shoplifting from sweeping the halls of a hospital. The law in Texas 70. requires that employers consider things like the nature and seriousness of the crime, the 71.amount of time since the person’s committed the crime, and letters of recommendation all be 72. taken into account even when the applicant has a felony.
73. SECTION 9: Effective Date
74. This bill shall take effect approximately and at a minimum of 1 year after passage before the 75. law is implemented.

Trust The Power Within “You”

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As I began my quest for encouragement today I ran across Derrick Coleman new Duracell advertisement. I was immediately energized by this short dialog of his struggles in life. He was always the underdog due to his hearing impairment. But that of what seemed to make him weak was what he said in the video made him an over-comer. He said “I didn’t listen” to the rejection of the naysayers. I would like to imagine that he came from a faith based home with spiritually tenacious parents who believed in his talents and treasures, and that their faith in God’s promises whispered into their spirits by Him about Derricks future.

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My regrets begin to catch up to me today. All my accomplishments like graduating two top Universities and becoming a Navy Seal who successfully returned home from nine rough campaigns abroad only to have to face being labeled a failure due to the stigmas given non celebrity “felons”. I saw this video and my spirit began to weep until the spirit of “The Lord” said to me Aaron what seems impossible to you will you believe I am capable of achieving “My will” within you? I told my Lord “Yes” I will trust my uncertain future to an all knowing God. “I trust The Power Within Me.

2 Chronicles 20:1-37, When you trust in God, there is no need to fear

“After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. 5 Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the LORD in the front of the new courtyard 6 and said: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7 O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9 `If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’. . . 14 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. 15 He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: `Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.. . . 22 As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 23 The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another…. 30 And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side,”

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When you trust in God, there is no need to fear.

Life can be difficult. Being a Christian in a non-chrisitan world poses all kinds of problems. The world does not know Jesus. The world does not love Him. The world does not understand why He came. You, on the other hand, do know Jesus. You do love Him. And, you do understand why He came. He came to save you from your sins and to give you new life. He came to bring you peace and joy in the Spirit. He came so you might have fellowship with God.

These things you already know. And you also know that though you are saved from sin and filled with the Spirit of God, life in this world still is not perfect. It is still difficult.

The Christian is, in a sense, in a battle with the world. And the world is at war with the Christian — with you. The world offers vices, self-fulfillment, and greed. The world wants to convert you to its paganism, to its ungodly devotion to the unholy. And if you don’t conform, if you don’t bend the knee to its idols and sacrifices, you will be ridiculed, mocked, and attacked.

So the world is against you. The evil one is at war with you. And in the battle there are all sorts of struggles. On the inside, you struggle against sin: pride, lust, greed, boasting, and various wantings. On the outside, you struggle against illness, poverty, marriage problems, job difficulties, an unsure future, and more. Maybe right now you are facing a serious struggle. Or maybe you=ve recently had to deal with a difficult situation. Maybe you fear that one is coming.

As a Christian, what do you do when life is coming down on you hard, when there seems to be no way out, when your relationship with God is being affected? When you are worried or afraid? When you are in distress?

What do you do when you are facing such monumental obstacles? How do you resist temptation, flee from evil, or believe beyond your ability to understand how your problems can be solved?

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The answer lies in the Word of God.

Context: Israel and Judah were divided.

Jehoshaphat was the 4th king of the separated kingdom of Judah around 850 to 875 B.C. He was a zealous follower of the commandments of God. In his 3rd year he sent out certain princes, priests, and Levites, to go through all the cities of Judah, teaching the people out of the Book of the Law. Because he sought the Lord, riches and honors increased around him. “Jehoshophat sought the Lord with all his heart” (2 Chr. 22:9).
Moab, Ammon, and the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat was afraid; and rightly so, for the army approaching him was indeed a mighty one, beyond what he would be able to handle. He was in trouble.
Read 2 Chronicles 20, verses 1-9, 14-15, 22-23, 30

You should trust God and not fear because of who He is. Please look with me at v. 6.
“and he [Jehoshaphat] said, ‘O Lord, the God of our fathers, art Thou not God in the heavens? And art Thou not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Thy hand so that no one can stand against Thee.
A:Jehovah is:
The God of our Fathers”of Adam and Eve, of Noah, of Abraham, of Moses therefore, He is the God of History.
He also lives in heaven;Therefore, He is the God of Holiness. Heaven is the holy dwelling place of God.
Therefore, He is above all things. He is pure, righteous, and incapable of sin. He is also the ruler of all the nations; therefore, He is the God of Sovereignty. All kings and peoples are His. And as such He has the right to rule them as He pleases. He is all powerful; therefore, He is the God of power. He can do as He wishes. He can create or destroy. Raise up or tear down. Who is God to you? Is He big or small? Is He all powerful or is He a wimp?
Does He love you or does He just put up with you? How you perceive God affects how you respond to Him.

The people of Judah knew who God was and that is why they looked to Him and trusted Him. In other words, you should trust God because He is holy; He is a King; and He is all powerful, and because He loves you very much.You should trust God and not fear not only because of who He is but also because of what He has already done.

Please look with me at verse 7, “Did Thou not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Thy people Israel, and give it to the descendants of Abraham Thy friend forever?” God has already accomplished great things:
He gave the land of Canaan to the descendants of Abraham.God chose Abraham and promised him he would be a great nation.God raised up Moses and, through many miracles, delivered His people from the bondage of the Egyptians. He parted the Red Sea; He destroyed the Egyptians.

God raised up Joshua and the Hebrew armies to take the land of Canaan. And there, God planted them in the land that they might bear fruit as His chosen people so they could worship Him, honor Him, serve Him, and prepare the way of the Messiah.The Hebrew could reach down, grab a hand full of dirt, and touch the promise, feel the reality of God’s accomplishments. He could touch the promise! Because the Hebrews knew God and what He had already done for them, they sought Him again. Then look at what they did…

They sought God, v. 12, “O our God, wilt thou not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee.”
They praised God, v. 19, “And the Levites, from the sons of the Kohathites and of the sons of the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel, with a very loud voice.”

They put their trust in God, v. 20, “…Jehoshaphat stood and said, ‘Listen to Me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the LORD your God, and you will be upheld….'”

They gave thanks to God, v. 21, “And he said, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
What do you do when you face trials and tribulations? Do you praise God? Do you put your trust in Him? Do you give thanks to God?

Did you know that a Christian’s true character is often revealed when he faces a real problem? How do you handle your problems? Do you panic? Do you complain? Do you raise your fist in the air and shout at God? Do you begin to doubt and then run for a quick fix (run to a sin, the television, or “not talk about it”)?, or do you go the Lord in prayer, humility, praise, and trust, and refuse to give fear and worry any place?
As you can see, God had already done great things for the Hebrew people. He has already done great things for you as well… and more.

He has delivered you from the enemy called sin, by redeeming you through His Son.
He has brought you out of the land of the Valley of the Shadows of Death and given you a place to rest, and caused you to lie down on green pastures. He has taken your heart, at one time the home of evil, and delivered it into the hands of His Son, Jesus. The cross is the only reason you have for any hope of deliverance from any conflict, problem, battle, or worry. The cross is the absolute guarantee of God’s commitment to you. You will never be forsaken. You cannot be forsaken; you cannot be forgotten by God. They were delivered from the mere threat of mortal death. You have been delivered from the threat of eternal death. They were delivered from an enemy that sought to kill them. You have been delivered from an enemy that has sought to have you damned. The cross, the blood, the pain, the humiliation of Jesus 2000 years ago has bought you peace, safety, and security in the land of promise: eternal life with God.

This battle so long ago was not only an attempt by Satan to destroy God’s people then, but it was also an attempt to destroy you now. No messianic line, no Messiah, no salvation. Then you are lost, too. God has given you salvation.
Will He do any less for you when you face difficulties in your life?
Will He let you be destroyed? No! How do you handle sin, sickness, heartbreak, pain, uncertainty, etc…

Do you trust God or do you doubt? Hasn’t He fed you, clothed you, warmed you? Hasn’t He freed you from your sin?
God has called you not that He might forsake you, but that He might sanctify you, make you holy, and that you might enjoy Him forever. Because He loves you… very much. You should trust in the Lord and not fear not only because of who He is and what He has already done, but also because of what He will do. The people of Judah did not know what would happen. But they trusted in the Lord.

Please look with me at:
v. 15 – Do not fear or be dismayed… for the battle is not yours but God’s.
v. 17 – Stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf (v. 17).
These were statements in the future tense. These were God’s words of Promise!!
So they people rested, they feared not.
v. 30 – So the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God gave him rest on all sides.

Is God any different now? Are His words of Promise any less true?

Jesus said, Come to Me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).
“I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth” (Matt. 28:20).
He said that His words will not pass away (Mark 13:31).
He said that He would raise you up on the last day (John 6:40).
He said that whatever you asked in His name would be give to you. (John 14:14).
He said He would disclose Himself to you (John 14:21).
He said that He would reveal the Father to you (Matt. 11:27)
And He said He would return in the clouds and that every eye will see Him (Mark 13:27).
Because of who God is and what He has already done for you, you can trust Him even more for the future and have no fear that He will continue to uphold you, love you, and continue His wonderful loving plan in your life.

Will you trust Him? How much will you trust Him? How much will you rest in Him? Its up to you.

My strength and Crutch for life Is God’s Promises In His Word

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“Whatever brings you to your knees in weakness carries the greatest potential for your personal success and spiritual victory.”

When I am weak, then I am strong.” These words, taken from Paul’s writings in 2 Corinthians, bring thoughts of contradiction. How can we be strong, when we are weak? How can we function, when it feels as though our world will break and fall apart? Shouldn’t we try to hold everything together, not letting anything slip beyond our control, our rescue, or our grasp?

Some of you who read these words know the pressure that comes from trying to keep everything in check and looking nice and orderly on the outside. But on the inside, a torrential river is raging its way throughout your life.
None of us can escape the pressures of life. Most of us know what it feels like to be disappointed. We know the painfulness of embarrassment, the sting of rejection, and the sorrow of failure. Regardless of the level of control we have over our lives, there always comes a time when the stove top settings end up on high and lids come boiling off the pots and pans.

What pots are boiling out-of-control in your life? Is there a financial need? Maybe there is a relationship problem you are facing, and your prayer each night before you turn off the light is for God’s wisdom and guidance in handling it. Countless people have physical needs that go far beyond what many of us can imagine.
Regardless of what your situation is, you can trust this principle: whatever brings you to your knees in weakness carries the greatest potential for your personal success and spiritual victory.

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No one enjoys feeling weak, whether it is emotionally, spiritually, or physically. There is something within the human spirit that wants to resist the thought of weakness. Many times this is nothing more than our human pride at work. Just as weakness carries a great potential for strength, pride carries an equally great potential for defeat. It cannot co-exist with God’s Spirit of love and humility. Pride was Satan’s downfall, and it is the one element that must be removed if we want to experience the peace that comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
As long as pride is involved, there will be a distance between you and God. This happens because pride resists the loving nature of God. It can’t stand to be humbled, and this is the very thing God calls us to be. (James 4:6; 1 Peter 3:8) Instead of moving you toward God, pride separates you from Him by tempting you to be strong in your own strength and not in the strength of Christ.

Paul learned a valuable lesson in this area. God allowed him to be buffeted by a severe trial in order to humble him and remove the potential for pride. (2 Corinthians 12:7) As a young man he was trained by one of the greatest scholars in Jewish thought and culture. He understood the elements of the law and practiced them with great zeal. Yet when he came face to face with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road his life was changed. He no longer viewed the world around him through human eyes. God gave him spiritual insight that far surpassed anything he had known.
Still, he had to be broken further so that he could be used in an even greater way by God. Like everyone else, Paul faced temptation. He was not spared affliction. One in particular was severe enough for him to pray three times for its removal. Later, he recorded its existence in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

It was through this time of weakness that Paul learned a new principle: weakness is strength. Frailty in a certain area is not something that should bring embarrassment. When we are humbled before God, He sees the meekness of our hearts and sends His strength and blessings into our lives.

Even though Paul could have listed many personal accomplishments, he chose to tell his audience what he believed was the key to experiencing a victorious life, and that was in accepting his weakness so that the strength of Christ might live fully in him. He was writing about living a completely surrendered life to Jesus Christ. “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (v. 9).

We are called to be strong in Christ. Our strength is not within ourselves or our ability. It is in Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:19) God knows until we come to the end of ourselves there is little chance we will turn over the reins of our lives to Him. He has given you a limited free will. This means that at any time He can step in and put a stop to a problem or a certain course you have chosen to take. Many times, He does not do this because He wants you to see that on your own you will struggle and fall, but in Him you will have strength and victory.
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We do not know the trial that Paul was facing. He called it a “thorn in the flesh.” In the Greek, the word thorn means a stake used for torturing or impaling someone. This was not a gentle infliction. It was painful. He writes that he was buffeted by it, indicating that the trial was either ongoing or recurring. When Paul felt he could no longer withstand the blows leveled against him, God reassured him that His grace, the grace of God, is sufficient for anything he faced.

There are several ways you can respond to trials. You can blame others or even God for your circumstances. You can become bitter and resentful; you can give up and end up fighting feelings of depression; grit your teeth and strive to keep all the lids perfectly on the pots, even though the heat is turned up on high; or you can surrender your desire to control your life and let God take care of you.
There is true value in weakness because it helps you view your life under the light of God’s mercy. You may accomplish great things. People amass financial fortunes having never established a close personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. They climb the ladder of success, drive expensive cars, build huge homes, and travel around the world, but without the hope that Jesus brings, their souls are empty.

What the world views as being strong is really nothing more than weakness under wraps. Strength that withstands the stresses and blows of this life comes from one Source, the eternal indwelling presence of God within the life of every believer.

When we accept our weaknesses and the fact that we cannot handle them on our own, God goes to work. He sends encouragement and a sense of creativity, helping you to try new avenues that lead to hope and fresh beginnings.
Are you weary from trying? Has exhaustion made its mark? Are you afraid others will see your weaknesses and laugh? Is there a thorn in your life that could expose your deepest fear? Let it go. Release your fears to Jesus who loves you. Let Him strengthen you. Nothing compares to the freedom that waits for you within His loving arms. Nothing will ever bring more completion to your heart and soul than knowing the unconditional love of God. It is yours today.

The Power Of Our Weaknesses
None of us enjoys feeling weak. We like to think we are strong and can do anything we are given to do. However, it is at the point of our greatest weakness that God comes to us speaking words of hope and encouragement.
Why does weakness work in your favor?
Weakness has the ability to bring you to the end of yourself. It is there you realize your need for Someone greater. Only Jesus Christ can calm the storm that is battering your life. Only He can provide the wisdom you need to stand and not fall in times of temptation.

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Obedience and commitment are two key principles for spiritual success. When we submit our lives to Jesus Christ we are telling Him that we are ready to obey His commands. This is an indication that we are committed to Him and seek to lay down our human desires in return for an eternal perspective. Submission is a tough command, and you cannot do it without the help of Christ.

If we disobey the Lord, He will allow us to hurt until our wills are broken. Painful as it is, experiencing a season of adversity may be the only way many will relinquish their need for control over their lives.
However, trials are not always a result of sin, they come to strengthen us and fit us for God’s service. Submission to Jesus Christ is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of holy allegiance, or great internal strength, power, and peace.

God’s goal is for you to be weak from a human perspective but strong from a spiritual one. It is then that He fills your life with a resilient strength far beyond the comprehension of this world.

A California measure to reduce prison overcrowding reveals how America is, once again, failing some of its most vulnerable.

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I am impregnating myself with the faith required to see Second Chance Alliance, The business God has given my wife and I visions of to come alive for the reason of this article. So many people who are not affected by veterans who are denied mental health and felons who are in need of housing and health care they don’t find compassion for these people. But my wife and I having had to suffer on both ends of this spectrum find it necessary to open a place that will empower disenfranchised people and homeless vets. We find it most imperative to help society help these people.

Please pray for us to get the funding and people who have skills to help us encourage, empower, develop and guide to hope that is everlasting and not just shubbing a pill down their throat without a support system of professionals and recovered individuals who have beaten the odds. That’s what we want Second Chance Alliance for.

When Lockinvar Jacobs stepped off the bus at L.A.’s Union Station last summer, he wasn’t quite sure where to go. The 49-year-old schizophrenic had just been released from state prison, where he’d done a five-year bid for felony drug sales. It wasn’t his first time getting out of the big house; he told me, when we spoke recently, that he’s spent between 16 and 20 years of his life behind bars for drugs and other nonviolent felonies, such as burglary. He couldn’t be sure of the exact number, he said, because the Haldol and other meds have clouded his memory. What he was sure about was that this last time, he was released without his medication.

Jacobs had less than 48 hours to report to a county probation officer; if he failed to appear, he could face “flash incarceration,” meaning he’d get tossed into L.A. County Jail for a week or two. California prisons provide up to $200 gate money for release-es, but Jacobs needed clothes before he left the prison, for which the state had charged him $43. With $157 left over, his first stop would be a Skid Row shelter he knew well. There, he was told the probation office was several miles and city bus rides away. His cash didn’t last long. “I wasn’t very smart at handling my money,” he told me, a coy smile lighting up an otherwise hangdog expression. But he was able to report on time.

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At the probation office, an on-site Department of Mental Health worker gave him a referral to a doctor but no medication. Like approximately half of those who get a mental health referral from DMH, Jacobs didn’t make it to his appointment. Without his meds, he had one of the “nervous breakdowns” he’s been experiencing since the 10th grade, some of which have required long-term hospitalization. Wandering Skid Row for hours in a speechless stupor, taunted by voices in his head, dehydrated by Southern California’s hot autumn sun, Jacobs collapsed to the sidewalk and sat against a wall, nearly catatonic, until someone finally called the cops.

California holds the distinction of having more prisoners than any other state and is sixth per capita (Louisiana tops the list). Even that is no small feat when you consider that the U.S. has the highest per capita incarceration rate of any country in the world, with more than 1.5 million inside state or federal prison walls at any given time. The Golden State, as people like Jacobs have learned, is more like the Gulag State.

Most of California’s prisoners, on whom it spends at least four times as much as it does on its K–12 students, are caged near outposts like Lompoc or Fresno or facilities far enough away from population and media centers that it’s easy to forget they exist. The number of prisoners reached such levels that by 2006, California was embroiled in two class action suits alleging that the overcrowded conditions in which the state was housing its convicts prevented the Department of Corrections from providing adequate health care. This, the suits alleged, violated the ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Brown v. Plata, the case consolidated from the two class actions, went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered the state to thin the ranks of its prisoners to a still-crowded but barely acceptable 137.5 percent of total capacity.

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That was in the summer of 2011. In October of the same year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109, the intent of which was to reduce the state’s burden by shifting responsibility for many prisoners to California’s 58 counties. Contrary to popular belief, A.B. 109 did not call for the early release of prisoners. Rather, state prisoners whose most recent crimes—the ones for which they were doing time—were nonviolent, nonsexual, and nonserious felonies (called N3 crimes) are now turned over to the counties that prosecuted them. (To be sure, this includes N3s who have committed past crimes that were more serious. This glitch in the law has been widely criticized, especially in light of a murder committed by a homeless man on the streets of Hollywood not long after his release.)

Some 18,000 ex-cons have come back to Los Angeles County since the passage of A.B. 109. Of those 18,000, an astonishing 8,300 are in the county’s Department of Mental Health database because of some history of mental illness, be it garden-variety depression or anxiety, PTSD, personality disorders, or schizophrenia.

As A.B. 109ers have surged into L.A. County in the last couple of years, the law has revealed a dirty secret that most in the United States, including its elected officials, would rather not confront: The prison system has become the mental health system. Funding for rehabilitation programs was cut in recent decades amid a frenzy of law-and-order vindictiveness and with little regard for how it might affect recidivism, crime rates, or costs. Meanwhile, mental health treatment is valued less by the health care system than treatment for maladies occurring below the neck. So it should be no surprise that mentally ill criminal offenders, sometimes referred to by the acronym “MICOs,” aren’t getting very good treatment either in prison or after they’ve done their time.

Former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy is the author of 2008’s Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which sought to force health insurance companies to offer better coverage of mental health. “While the old model of warehousing the mentally ill [in psych wards] might seem like ancient history,” he says, “history has in fact repeated itself in the context of prison.”

Had someone like Lockinvar Jacobs committed a crime in certain other countries, things would have been different. In England, for example, he’d have been sent to one of many new “diversion sites,” where proper treatment is available. In a country such as Finland or Denmark, a mentally ill offender would have received a different sentence in the first place, or no sentence at all, and been sent to a treatment center.

Jacobs was lucky enough to be taken to a hospital after he collapsed on Skid Row, where he got his prescription filled and received IV nutrition during a 15-day stay for observation. On release, he could have wound up in any number of scenarios: the street, a shelter, a halfway house with full services for the mentally ill (called a step-down facility), or, if things had really spiraled, a lockdown psychiatric ward. The Department of Mental Health referred him to the Amity Foundation, which houses and feeds some 50 A.B. 109ers among its clientele of 200 other destitute individuals.

Four days a week, Jacobs makes the hour-long round-trip bus-and-foot journey to Project 180, a treatment center that receives funding through A.B. 109 and provides programs in basic life skills such as hygiene and use of public transportation, as well as individual and group therapy.

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Janet, who’s spent half her life in prison, hears voices in her head when she’s off her medication. How could she be expected to show up for appointments, stick to her meds, and stay out of trouble without regular therapy and guidance?

While Amity can be lenient with time limits, other providers have to send clients away after six months. Jacobs could soon be on the street, where he’s less likely to get his meds, more prone to schizophrenic episodes, and more likely to re-offend. If he slips up, he’ll be sent to L.A. County Jail. There, he’d get his meds, but on release he’d be out on the streets again, this time with nothing but the clothes on his back and a paper prescription, which he’d then need to have filled.

Amity Foundation’s California vice president, Mark Faucette, arranged for me to interview half a dozen mentally ill A.B. 109ers. Gathered around a boardroom table, they told me their criminal and mental health histories. There was Janet, a 45-year-old Latina who’d spent half her life in prison, serving six terms for drug possession or sales charges. She told me she hears voices in her head when she’s off her medication, and by her vacant stare, I didn’t doubt it. We spoke about her many transgressions, which had earned her a term in prison, followed by a recent stint in L.A. County Jail for selling dope to feed her habit. (She certainly wasn’t feeding herself; Janet looked life-threateningly thin.) “When I got out of jail this time I still didn’t have no medication,” she said. “I [couldn’t] see a psych doctor until a month later. I don’t think that shouldn’t be like that.”

It may be easy to dismiss the claims of a mentally ill drug addict who’s spent so much time in prison, but even if Janet was bending the truth, it was clear that the odds were against her. Getting out of prison can be a challenge for the most able-minded among us. Marginalized or locked up long ago, many have no family, no resources, and no home.

Troy Vaughn, chief program officer at Lamp Community, a homeless-services provider, explained it to me this way: “If I’ve been incarcerated for a period of time, even if it was a year, I come out and society looks different,” he said. “That’s one barrier that I have to address.” Making things more difficult, A.B. 109ers must now navigate county red tape, rather than state agencies they’ve grown accustomed to while cycling through the system. Mental illness compounds these challenges, says Vaughn, a former Marine who was homeless and addicted to drugs and spent nearly a year in L.A. County Jail in the early 1990s. Anyone whose sanity has been challenged by a trip to the DMV can relate to that idea.

Hearing Janet talk underscored what Vaughn had told me. She seemed to barely understand the difference between state parole and county probation, and without help from Faucette, her explanation of how she’d navigated various state bureaucracies would have been incomprehensible. How, I wondered, could someone like Janet be expected to show up for appointments, stick to a regimen of meds, and stay out of trouble without regular, maybe even daily, therapy and guidance?

Antoinette had a slightly easier time. As instructed, she went straight to the probation office after her release; she told me she was put on a two-week waiting list to get an appointment to re-up her meds. With nowhere to go, she managed to find housing through a friend until she was referred to Amity.

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Troy Vaughn, himself an ex-con with mental health and substance abuse disorders, now directs programs at a community advocacy organization. He says he’s “living proof” that rehabilitation and treatment are preferable to incarceration for the mentally ill.

I also met Anthony, a schizophrenic with a history of crack addiction who had a hard time remembering the most basic recent events of his life.

So old and co-occurring were George’s disorders that he wasn’t sure if the meth caused the voices in his head or if he used the drug to quiet them.

As recently as the early 1960s, MICOs like the ones Amity is trying to help would have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward, the type of place that was famously, and accurately, portrayed in the book and film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That began to change in 1963, when John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, the intent of which was to fund local services so those in need could avoid such a fate. The mentally ill, JFK memorably said, had for too long been “alien to our affections.”

Similar congressional measures followed, but funding didn’t, leaving few resources for the mentally ill. With the best intentions, California in the late 1960s passed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which practically did away with involuntary commitment in the state. Trouble was, it left many vulnerable Californians to depend on a disintegrating mental health care system. Suddenly, the streets became a de facto mental hospital—with no staff. What happened next is no surprise. As the psychiatrist Marc Abramson wrote, law enforcement began to “regard arrest and booking into jail as a more reliable way of securing involuntary detention of mentally disordered persons.”

Under President Reagan, federal funding for mental hospitals dwindled and the cycle continued. With fewer community services in place, mentally ill criminal offenders began finding themselves on the street and then behind bars, where a culture of chaos, stigmatization, and abuse by prisoners and guards would exacerbate their afflictions.

I Can’t have Positive Esteem Without Jesus….

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How can I develop a better self-image?
On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, sitting for a portrait when he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. The “Unfinished Portrait,” as it is called, remains on its easel looking out on the world much like it did when artist Madam Elizabeth Shoumatoff laid her brush down at the sight of the President’s collapse.

The watercolor likeness of the President shows a man of inner strength and calm. However, photographs taken days before and placed alongside the artist’s canvas for reference reveal a much different view. In them we see a national leader who was worn emotionally and physically from the political load he bore.
Later, Madam Shoumatoff returned to her work on the President’s portrait. However, she did not choose to complete the watercolor she originally began. It was complete in its own right. Instead, she painted a new portrait – one of oil and one that was finished. It is a handsome rendering of President Roosevelt with no visible flaws.
Have you ever wondered how God views your life? Do you worry that He sees your flaws and mistakes and loves you less? God knows you perfectly and loves you completely just the way you are. You are His masterpiece–His workmanship of grace and love–His work of art. He continues to paint the colors of your life in such a way that you will glorify Him.

In Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells us: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:10).

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It is by God’s loving grace that we are created in the image of Christ. Though our lives, from a human perspective, are still on the canvas, God has seen the final portrait. He has eternal eyes, and He knows exactly what part of our lives need His greatest attention. Every frustration, every disappointment, and every joy has a purpose. (Romans 8:28)

For many this is a hard concept to grasp. They see their lives as being incomplete, much like the unfinished portrait of President Roosevelt. But God views you from a totally different perspective. When He sees your life, He sees a person of worth and promise.
In the book Tramp For The Lord, Corrie Ten Boom told of the time she visited a hospital where polio patients were being treated.

The doctor in charge asked her if she would like to speak with the patients. The sight of the suffering deeply touched her. “No,” she replied, “I think I am unable to talk. I just want to go off somewhere and cry.”
A moment later she changed her mind and ended up beside the bed of a man who could barely breathe. She told him about Jesus Christ and how God had allowed His Son to suffer for each of us.
Corrie writes: “I finished speaking and from my bag took a small embroidery. On one side was stitched a beautiful crown. The other side was quite mixed up. ‘When I see you on this bed,’ I said, ‘not speaking, not moving, I think of this embroidery.’ I held up the back side of the embroidery. ‘Your life is like this. See how dark it is. See how the threads are knotted and tangled, mixed up. But when you turn it around then you can see that God is actually weaving a crown for your life. God has a plan for your life and He is working it out in beauty.’
“He picked up [a] pencil and wrote [in a shaky handwriting]: ‘Thank God I am already seeing the beautiful side.’ What a miracle!”

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God has pledged His love to you. (Jeremiah 31:3) He walks with you through disappointment and is never disillusioned by your wayward acts. This is because He has seen the finished portrait. He knows that on your own, you can do nothing, but through Christ you can and will succeed. (Philippians 4:13)
You are His masterpiece, and He has given His Word as a testimony to the love and joy He has for you. Zephaniah 3:17 says: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”

God rejoices over you though He knows your life is in process of becoming all that He has planned for you to become. You are not yet what you will be when you step into the eternal presence of God. (1 Corinthians 13:12) Until that time, God is patiently molding and shaping your life to the image of His Son’s.
There is never a reason for you to give up. (Galatians 6:9) You are not alone. Jesus is with you cheering you on to victory. He is at your side to strengthen and encourage you. When your eyes are “fixed” on Him and not on your circumstances, you begin to see life differently. Instead of thinking negatively, the Holy Spirit teaches you to think on the things of God, which are pure and honoring to Jesus Christ.

This does not mean that you won’t suffer or feel pain. Jesus felt these, and yet He did not give up. The goal of accomplishing the Father’s will was always before Him. He knew that in order to complete His mission He would have to endure until the end. For Jesus this meant the Cross and physical death.
How could He possibly bear the weight of all our sins and still remain victorious? God had given Him an eternal perspective. He knew the resurrection was a completed fact. And after three days He rose to walk in victory. This is the same strength and power God gives you through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

You can walk in victory because Jesus is your example and His Spirit lives in you. Every frustration, fear, feeling of hopelessness, even temptation, is used of God like colors on an artist’s palette to bring you closer to Himself. Trials remind you of your need for Him.
Nothing is wasted in the kingdom of God. The brush strokes may seem deep and hard to bear at times, or the colors dark and muted. However, one day we will see the wonder and splendor of His work revealed as we step into His presence. Like the weaver turning the tapestry over to display the beauty of His design, He will unveil our lives as His greatest masterpiece.

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How can you apply this thought to your life?

First, yield your life entirely to Jesus Christ.
In the book Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray wrote: “Oh, I want to encourage you, and I want you to cast away every fear. Come with that feeble desire; and if there is the fear which says: ‘Oh, my desire is not strong enough, I am not willing for everything that may come, I do not feel bold enough to say I can conquer everything’ – I pray you, learn to know and trust your God now. Say: ‘My God, I am willing that [You] should make me willing.’ If there is anything holding you back, or any sacrifice you are afraid of making, come to God now, and prove how gracious your God is, and be not afraid that He will command from you what He will not bestow.”

Second, rest in the Lord.
The book of Hebrews tells us we can enter His rest at any time. (Hebrews 4) When we abide in Him, God takes the unsightly and makes it something of beauty. The abode of His presence is a place of abandonment where we don’t have to worry about the trials facing us. This does not mean that we forsake any connecting responsibility. Instead, it means that we are looking to Christ to complete His perfect working, knowing all along that He is working good even in times of sorrow.

Third, commit yourself to seeking a deeper spiritual walk with Christ.
There is no way to counterfeit intimacy with God. It is in time of intimacy with the Savior that God richly colors your life with truth and hope for the future. Nothing can duplicate His personal love for you. It is this love that is at work within you painting and creating a masterpiece of your life.

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EEOC: Employers can’t refuse to hire convicts

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At one time, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fulfilled an arguably important role in enforcing anti-discrimination laws against people who really faced unfair discrimination. Now, it appears the EEOC has declared war not just on unreasonable and unjust discrimination, but on all discrimination in hiring — even reasonable choices by employers. In a page updated ten days ago at the EEOC, the commission warns employers that basing decisions not to hire people based on background checks may violate their notion of fairness, even if the law doesn’t actually cover it:

There is no Federal law that clearly prohibits an employer from asking about arrest and conviction records. However, using such records as an absolute measure to prevent an individual from being hired could limit the employment opportunities of some protected groups and thus cannot be used in this way.

Since an arrest alone does not necessarily mean that an applicant has committed a crime the employer should not assume that the applicant committed the offense. Instead, the employer should allow him or her the opportunity to explain the circumstances of the arrest(s) and should make a reasonable effort to determine whether the explanation is reliable.

Even if the employer believes that the applicant did engage in the conduct for which he or she was arrested that information should prevent him or her from employment only to the extent that it is evident that the applicant cannot be trusted to perform the duties of the position when

considering the nature of the job,
the nature and seriousness of the offense,
and the length of time since it occurred.
This is also true for a conviction.
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Actually, no, it’s not also true for a conviction. With a conviction, an employer can assume that the person committed the crime and make hiring decisions based on that information, in whole or in part. The point about arrests is a good one, but most background checks done by hiring companies only include convictions (and in some cases, civil actions as well); arrest records that don’t lead to court appearances are not usually that easy to acquire.

The hiring process involves a series of value judgments, with only a few objective measures. For employers who conduct background checks, conviction records supply one of the few objective measures in the process. If an employer has a choice between two equally qualified applicants and one has a conviction for fraud or theft, it would be absurd to tell the employer that the hiring decision cannot rest on that data. And yet, that’s exactly what the EEOC argues in this “advice” on compliance with its regulations — which in this case the EEOC acknowledges doesn’t exist on this topic. The EEOC is making a recommendation based on its own opinion rather than actual law.

It’s impossible to tell for certain when this advice was first offered; the last page revision came on August 6th of this year, according to the HTML source code. However, I’d be willing to bet that this advice is recent [see update below], because it would have been unnecessary when unemployment was low. Competition for labor would have forced employers with open entry-level positions to consider people with criminal records for some roles. The glut of labor on the market means that anyone with a record will find it very hard to find a job, and the EEOC apparently has decided to run interference for them by intimidating employers into treating convicts as a protected class.

But here’s the real question: if truly unfair discrimination has become so rare that the EEOC has to attack reasonable and rational choices in hiring based on the actual record of the applicant, hasn’t the EEOC argued for its own dismantling?

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Empower A Felon

Most Americans Commit Three Felonies a Day — and Here’s What Happens If They Get Caught

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Most Americans Commit Three Felonies a Day — and Here’s What Happens If They Get Caught

Well for one, the 13th amendment to the constitution of the US which abolished slavery – did not abolish slavery for those convicted of a crime.

Angela Davis

Just because you’re convicted in a court room doesn’t mean you’re guilty of something.

Charles Manson

Senate Votes to Make Misuse of TSA Scanner Images a Felony:
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The United States prison system is a blight for the country. The International Center for Prison Studies estimates that America imprisons 716 people per 100,000 citizens (of any age). That compares (unfavourably) with Russia (484), China (121) and Iran (284). Over two and a half million American children have a parent behind bars. A whopping 60% of those incarcerated in U.S. prisons are non-violent offenders, many of them in prison for drug charges (overwhelming African-Americans). Even while our crime rate has fallen, our incarcerated population has climbed.

Politicians win elections by being tough on crime and portraying all prisoners as violent and subhuman. Convicted felons are not allowed to vote in America, disenfranchising them and preventing them from wielding any political influence. Nearly 6 million Americans, or 2.5% of the voting age population, cannot vote because they have a felony on record.

Harvey Silverglate, a civil libertarian, has noted that with the broad laws on the books, especially those relating to technology, most Americans commit three felonies a day. These are the laws that allow the DOJ to harass people like Aaron Swartz with trumped-up charges. Silverglate argues that an overzealous prosecutor could charge almost anyone with one of the many absurd, archaic or overbroad laws on the books. Silly laws, like the infamous “three strike laws,” create the illusion of safety at a high cost: the American prison system is bad for society and dehumanizing for those who are incarcerated.

High rates of incarceration, and our inability to deal with recidivism (partially a result of high rates of incarceration) are bad for society. In 2008, the federal, state and local prison system cost a whopping $75 billion dollars. It’s estimated that the total cost of the drug war over the last 40 years could be over $1 trillion. And that doesn’t include opportunity costs: investments that could have been made with that money, humans that could be innovating and increasing GDP, etc. There are further, unquantifiable costs in the form of less social cohesion, the breakdown of neighborhoods, and fatherless children.

Those who are incarcerated are ostracized, but also face a cruel dehumanization. Consider the widespread rape of prisoners, which remains unacknowledged in wider society except for a joke now and then.

An estimated 217,000 American prisoners are raped each year. That’s 600 new victims every day, and the results are horrifying and traumatizing. In 2010, the Department of Justice released a report about abuse in juvenile detention centers. The report found that 12.1% of all youth held in juvenile detention reported sexual violence; youth held for between seven and twelve months had a staggering victimization rate of 14.2%.

Dr. James Gilligan told ABC News that “the more violent, powerful inmates — are in effect being given a bribe or a reward to cooperate with the prison authorities . .. as long as they cooperate, the prison authorities will permit them to have their victims.”

Worse, state, local and federal authorities who are aware of the problem do nothing to stop it. Back in 2009, the National Rape Elimination Commission released a set of proposed standards to reduce rape, including: make data on sexual assaults behind bars public; improve staff training, supervision and protection for vulnerable detainees; limit cross-gender searches and supervision, particularly when prisoners are undressed; and make it easier and safer for prisoners to report abuse. Here are how some correction departments responded.

The New Mexico Corrections Department submitted this in response to the proposed standards: “A simple cost-benefit analysis shows that when weighed against the twelve million dollar cost of compliance, non-compliance would be much cheaper.”

“To be clear, the Department has every intention of complying with whatever standards are ultimately approved, but the fact remains that compliance with the currently proposed standards would be very expensive.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections estimated that implementing these standards would cost the state $58 million dollars, but that the state could cut costs by keeping the definition of “prison rape” limited:

“We strongly recommend the use of the statutory definition of ‘rape,’ as directed by PREA. The term ‘sexual abuse’ is much too broad and encompassing of incidences such as verbal harassment which is not the intent of PREA.”

There is some hope for detainees. The Department of Justice released its new standards May of last year, to praise from Human Rights Watch. Prisons have until August of this year to comply, and then the Justice Department will conduct a round of audits. The new standards are welcome, but they come far too late for the far too many abused prisoners.

The saddest thing about the entire saga is what Jesse Lerner-Kinglake from Just Detention International tells me: “This abuse is preventable. Indeed, the BJS studies showed that some facilities have all but eliminated this abuse.” The problem is that no one cares enough to demand stricter standards.

The American prison system should be our greatest source of shame. The only country that imprisons more people per capita may be North Korea (estimates are obviously tough to find). That’s not a good comparison. I’ve noted here some of the causes and singled out one perncious problem, but I could have noted others. Consider the fate of the detainees held in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in the weeks after Katrina:

“As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests …

Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.”

Or take East Mississippi Correctional Facility, run by the private corporation GEO Group, Inc. The ACLU has recently filed a federal suit on the behalf of the prisoners alleging that prisoners defecate into Styrofoam trays and plastic trash bags because they lack functioning toilets, the cells lack working lights, prisoners are often left naked, the cells are rat-infested, medical attention is limited, and that rape, stabbings, and beatings are often committed against mentally handicapped prisoners. Gawker has obtained the letter of one prisoner who was raped and robbed at the private prison.

It’s time for reform. The voiceless and voteless prisoners and former prisoners in America need us to demand reform.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

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Ephesians 3
The Message (MSG)
The Secret Plan of God

3 1-3 This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.

4-6 As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.

7-8 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

11-13 All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!

14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!
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According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.

The principle is at work in our spiritual lives. When the Holy Spirit begins to convict us of sin, the idea of starting a self-improvement plan immediately comes to mind. We put forth our best efforts to defeat our worst habits. But every attempt to get rid of unclean thoughts, attitudes, and desires is destined to fail because getting rid of one creates a vacuum in our souls. As soon as we empty ourselves of one vice, others move in to take its place, and we end up just as bad or worse than when we started.

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I was sitting on the edge of my bed today thinking of this concept. I was searching scripture for answers to my worrying and anxiety and as soon as peace arrived about those issues lust sprang up and anger sprang up and I began to really notice my need for God to render me whole by way of worship and a continues study of His Word.

Thinking about vacuums helps us to understand the importance of what Paul was saying to the Ephesians when he prayed that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith and that they would “Know the love of Christ…that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God”.

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The only permanent solution to the problem of sin in our lives is to replace it with the love of Jesus, which fills the vacuum. The more we are filled with His love, the less room there is for any evil thing.

Father, thank you for your Spirit
Fill us with His love and Power;
Change us into Christ’s own image
Day by day and hour by hour..

We don’t need to put our house in order before Jesus comes in; He puts it in order after we let Him in.

Driving In The Dark…..

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Psalm 119:105-112
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Nun.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
106 I have sworn and I will confirm it,
That I will keep Your righteous ordinances.
107 I am exceedingly afflicted;
[a]Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word.
108 O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord,
And teach me Your ordinances.
109 My [b]life is continually [c]in my hand,
Yet I do not forget Your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
Yet I have not gone astray from Your precepts.
111 I have inherited Your testimonies forever,
For they are the joy of my heart.
112 I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes
Forever, even to the end.

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I”ve always thought that I could get through just about anything if the Lord would tell me what the outcome will be. I believe that “all things work together for good” in the end (Romans 8:28), but I’d do a lot better in dark times if I knew exactly what the “good” will look like.

BUt God usually doesn’t show us where He is taking us. He just asks us to trust Him. It’s like driving a car at night. Our headlights never shine all the way to our destination; they illuminate only about 160 feet ahead. But that doesn’t deter us from moving forward. We trust our headlights. All we really need is enough light to keep moving forward.

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God’s word is like headlights in dark times. It is full of promises we need to keep us from driving our lives into the ditch of bitterness and despair. His Word promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us(Hebrews 13:5). His Word assures us that He knows the plans He has for us, plans to prosper us and not for evil, to give us “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). And He tells us that our trials are there to make us better, not bitter (James 1:2-4).

So the next time you feel as if you’re driving in the dark, remember to trust your headlights–God’s Word will light your way.

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The Word of God provides the light
We need to see the way;
It shows us what we need to know
So we won’t go astray.

You won’t stumble in the dark if you walk in the light of God’s Word….

Where can I Find Peace and Rest?

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Genesis 26:24
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
24 The Lord appeared to [Isaac] the same night and said,

“I am the God of your father Abraham;
Do not fear, for I am with you.
I will bless you, and multiply your [a]descendants,
For the sake of My servant Abraham.”

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It was the same night Isaac went to Beersheba. Do you think this revelation from God was an accident? Do you think the time of it was an accident? Do you believe it could have happened any other night as well as this one? If so, you are grievously mistaken. Why did it come to Isaac the night he reached Beersheba? Because that was the night he reached (rest). In his old land he had been tormented. There had been a whole series of petty quarrels over the ownership of insignificant wells. There is nothing like little worries of small permissions tempting you, even after strife was offer, the place held bad memories for Isaac. Therefore he was determined to leave and seek a change of scenery. He pitched his tent far away from the place of his former strife. That very night the revelation came. God spoke to him when there was no inner storm, He could not speak to Isaac when his mind was troubled. God’s voice demands the silence of the soul. Only in the quiet of the spirit could Isaac hear the garments of his God brush by him. His still night became his shining night, Hallelujah!!

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My soul, have you pondered these words: “Be still, and know”(Ps.46:10)? In the hour of distress, you cannot hear the answer to your prayers. How often has the answer seemed to come much later! The heart heard no reply during the moment of its crying, its thunder, its earth quake, and its fire. But once the crying stopped, once the stillness came, once your hand refrained from knocking on the iron gate, and once concern for other lives broke through the tragedy of your own life, the long awaited reply appeared. You must rest, O soul, to receive your heart’s desire. Show the beating of your heart over concerns for your personal care. Place the storm of your individual troubles on God’s alter of everyday trials, and the same night, the Lord will appear to you. His rainbow will extend across the subsiding flood, and in your stillness you will hear the everlasting music.

My wife and I had this encounter occur for us after Christmas, we were relocated into a peaceful place of our own. We begin to pray, God let’s exchange our weakness for your strength, here’s our worship O Lord, please hear our prayer for your presence in our situation. Lord bless the hearts of our enemies and friends, allow us to hear your garments brush against our hearts, give us an encounter with your precious spirit. Lord please allow us to move in spirit rather than our flesh in relationship with you and your people. The Lord has been faithful in all His ways associated with His favor and promises. We are truly blessed to have Him so near and I would imagine you feeling the same way. Smile beloved when you encounter storms, because all you have to do is lift your voice to your God and get still and He will answer you.

Freedom at Alcatraz

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Philemon 1:4-16
New International Version (NIV)
Thanksgiving and Prayer

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[a] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

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“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” — Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom)

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As my wife and I were touring the federal prison on Alcatraz island in San Francisco Bay we were left with some unforgettable images. As our tour boat pulled into the dock, we could see why this now-closed maximum-security federal prison was known as “The Rock.”

Later, inside the legendary Big House, we stared at shafts of light coming through heavily barred windows. Then we saw row after row of cagelike cells that housed well-known inmates such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

But another image made a deeper impression. Stepping into an empty cell, we saw the name “Jesus” scrawled on a wall. In another, a bible lay on a shelf. Together they quietly spoke of the greatest of all freedoms. Paul knew such liberty while waiting to be executed. Regarding himself as a”prisoner of Christ,” he used his incarceration to help other inmates discover what it means to be an eternally forgiven, dearly loved member of God’s family (Philemon 1:10).

Barred windows and doors represent one kind of confinement. Physical paralysis, inescapable poverty, and prolonged unemployment, being disenfranchised are others. Perhaps you endure another. None are to be desired–yet who would trade “imprisonment” with Christ for life “on the outside” without Him?

My heart and soul imprisoned lay,
Not knowing Christ the Lord;
But since the day He set me free,
We live in one accord.

To be under Christ’s control is to have true freedom….

Only God Is Good!!

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I find myself feeling down trodden this morning due to my in ability to get to church. I am searching for answers to why I feel that God is teaching me something in this forced be still mode. I went to church yesterday and had a wonderful worship experience. My finances seem to be what dictates my ability to serve God in a corporate nature. I looked at my countenance and said “Only God Is Good”. I said that because I didn’t like how I appeared to myself due to this matter and began to worship God for His goodness, for His giving, for His provisions, For His will and purpose for my life.

I am blessed with the God of the universe in-dwelling spirit and for that I have been thankful that I can’t beat God’s providence for my life nor His giving. The sovereign God knows what’s best for me and I say thanks that moments of despair don’t conquer me they renew me time and time again. If you are troubled about something today look to the Heaven’s and check your reflection to see if you can find God still in the mist of your trial.

JOHN 3:14-18
[14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
[15] That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
[16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
[17] For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
[18] He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

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Are you a Christian?

Do you like to give?

Giving is the attitude of God.

God is the generous Giver.

Let me share another text this morning,

not usually considered a “Christmas” passage.

Romans 8:31-34 (NLT)
“What can we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since God did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for His own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with Himself. Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for He is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us.”

Pete Richards was the loneliest man in town.
Pete owned and operated a gift shop.
It had come down to him from his grandfather.
The little front window was loaded with old-fashioned things:
bracelets and lockets worn in days before the Civil War;
gold rings and silver boxes;
images of jade and ivory,
porcelain figurines.

On Christmas Eve, a little girl was standing outside.
It appeared that she was looking for something very special.
Finally, she entered the store.
Behind the counter stood Pete,
a man in his 40’s
but with hair already turning gray.
“Mister, would you please let me look
at that string of blue beads in the window?”
Pete took the string of beads out of the window
and spread it out on the counter.
“They’re just perfect,” said the child.
“Will you wrap them up pretty for me, please?”

Pete asked, “Are you buying these for someone?”
“They’re for my big sister. She takes care of me.
This will be the first Christmas since Mother died.
I’ve been searching for the best Christmas present
for my sister.”

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Consider with me this morning God’s giving, and notice that:
Point #1
WHEN GOD GIVES, HE GIVES HIS BEST:
[16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
A.He gave His Son, Jesus.
He didn’t just give an angel,
not even the Archangel, Michael.
He gave the best He had to offer!

B. Aren’t you glad that God did not:
1.Cut corners, hold back, hesitate?
2.Consider our need too unimportant?
3.Consider the cost of his only Son too great?
4.Do what many of us would do and write off sinners as hopeless and not worth saving?

C.Now, when it comes to giving,
some are willing to give the cheapest,
the least demanding,
the insignificant.
But cost was no consideration to God!
Let’s get back to our story about Pete Richards!
Jean Grace wanted to buy the best gift for her big sister.
That blue bead necklace would be the perfect gift for her!
“How much money do you have?” asked Pete.
She took a small paper sack out of her coat pocket
and poured out a handful of pennies on the counter.
“I emptied my piggy bank,” she explained .

Pete Richards looked at her thoughtfully.
Then he carefully drew back the necklace.
The price tag was visible to him… but not to her.
How could he tell her that she didn’t have enough money?
“Just a minute,” he said and went to the back of the store.
Over his shoulder he called:
“What’s your name?”
“Jean Grace”, she replied

When Pete returned to where Jean Grace waited,
a package lay in his hand,
wrapped in red paper and tied with a green ribbon.

“There you are,” he said. “Don’t lose it.”
She smiled over her shoulder as she ran out the door.
Through the window Pete watched her go,
while sadness flooded his thoughts.
Something about Jean Grace and her string of beads
had stirred him to the depths of grief
that would not stay buried.

The child’s hair was wheat yellow, her eyes sea-blue!
Once upon a time, Pete had been in love with a girl.
That girl had hair of that same yellow
and with large eyes just as blue.
And that necklace would have been her Christmas present.

But there had come a snowy night—
a truck skidding on a slippery road—
and the life was crushed out of his dream.

Since then, Pete Richards had lived in isolation with his grief.
His world seemed forever empty.
The blue eyes of Jean Grace
jolted him into remembrance of what he had lost.

When the last customer had gone on Christmas Eve,
Pete sighed with relief.
It was over for another year.
But for Pete Richards the night was not quite over.

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POINT #2
WHEN GOD GIVES, HE GIVES AN APPROPRIATE GIFT:
[17] For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Unless we just want to buy and get it over with,
we usually try to consider what would be
a fitting and appropriate gift for each recipient.
1.We consider the age of the recipient:
We wouldn’t give a shotgun to a 3 year old.

2.We consider the gender:
You wouldn’t give a pink frilly dress to Joe.

3.We consider the durability:
We don’t want something that breaks easily.

4.We consider the practicality:
Is it something you can use?
The stores are loaded with useless gifts!

We consider what is appropriate
and so does God!

He knew that what we needed was a Savior!
Not a good example…
Not a religious teacher…
Not a counselor – a Savior!
That’s appropriate to our need because:
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23 (NIV).

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (NIV)

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6 (NIV).
None are so good they don’t need this gift
And none are so bad they can’t have it!
So the angels proclaimed: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11 (NIV).

What an appropriate gift!
Let’s return to our story about Pete Richards ob Christmas Eve:
Just as Pete was getting ready to close up the shop
the door opened and a young woman hurried in.
Her hair was golden yellow and her eyes were blue.

Without speaking, she drew from her purse
a package loosely unwrapped in its red paper
and a bow of green ribbon with it.
She opened the box
and place the string of blue beads on the counter.

“Did this come from your shop?” she asked.
Pete answered softly: “Yes, it did.”
“Are the stones real?”
“Yes. Not the finest quality–but real.”
“Can you remember who it was you sold them to?”
“She was a small girl.
Her name was Jean.
She bought them for her older sister’s Christmas present.”

“How much are they worth?”
“The price,” he told her,
“is always confidential between the seller
and the customer.”

“But Jean has never had more than a few pennies.
How could she pay for them?”

Pete answered the young woman’s question this way.
“She paid the biggest price anyone can ever pay,”
“She gave all she had.”

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Point #3
WHEN GOD GIVES, HE GIVES TO THOSE WHO WILL ACCEPT THE GIFT:
[18] He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
God loves everyone!!
He wants everyone to accept His gift!
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to Me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David.” Isaiah 55:1-3 (NIV).

“The angel reassured them. ’Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ’I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!’Luke 2:10 (NLT).

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB).

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, Who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV).

When God gives, He gives to all –
but not all receive the gift!
Some think they are good enough without a Savior.
They say: “I’m as good as that person, and better than most!

Some think they are too bad for a Savior!
They say: “I’ve sinned so much and been so rotten!
“Not even God can help me.”
Some don’t know that there is only One Savior!
They say: “Jesus can’t be the only way to get to heaven!
So they follow some other religious leader.

Some think they will receive the gift later –
They say: “I’ll become a Christian when it is more convenient.”
“I’ve got too many things I want to do now!”

Some think they are saved because they believe in God.
They say: “I believe there is a god! That’s all that matters!”

Some let other things be more important that God.
They say: “I don’t want to waste my time now in church!”
“I like to go fishing or hunting or shopping on Sunday!”
“I have to many things to do around the house on Sunday!”

Yet God still wants all to come to Jesus and to eternal life.

He still urges the negligent and careless:
“Seek the LORD while you can find Him. Call on Him now while He is near. Let the people turn from their wicked deeds. Let them banish from their minds the very thought of doing wrong! Let them turn to the LORD that He may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7 (NLT).
So…what’s going to happen next to Pete Richards?

Let’s find out!

There was a silence that filled the little gift shop.

In some faraway church steeple, a bell began to ring.
The sound of the distant chiming,
the little package lying on the counter,
the question in the eyes of the young woman
and the strange feeling of renewal
struggling in the heart of the man!
It had all come to be…because of the life of a child.

“But why did you do it?”
He placed the gift in her hand.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” he said.
“And I have no one to give anything to.

Will you let me walk you home
and wish you a Merry Christmas at your door?”
The pretty young girl smiled and said “yes”.
And so, to the sound of many bells,
Pete Richards and a girl whose name he had yet to learn,
walked out into the beginning of Christmas…
that brings hope into the world for all of us.

CLOSING

How happy God is when someone receives His gift.
God is still the giver of every good and perfect gift.

He offered life in Jesus Christ.

Will you receive His gift?

Will you take what He offers?

Here’s how: believe that Jesus Christ is His Only Son!

Confess that belief!

Turn from sin!

Commit your way to Him from now on.

God still gives, who will receive?

God at Work

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John 14:15-23
New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

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As I stood on the Golan Heights, with the sea of Galilee sparkling in the distance, I listened to our Jewish guide tell about his participation in the 1967 Six-Day War. His vivid accounts of Israel’s victories over bigger, more powerful enemies reminded me of Bible stories I learned as a child.

Even though I believe that God has been moving individuals and nations down through history to accomplish His purposes, sometimes I get the idea that God stopped working in people’s lives when He finished writing the Bible. Now that He’s less visible, I conclude that He’s also less involved. But that’s not true. Even though God has finished His book, He hasn’t finished telling the story; He’s simply using a different form of media to tell it.

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In bible times, God often communicated in tangible, visible, and audible ways-tablets of stone, a pillar of fire, a still small voice, to name a few. But when Jesus came, that changed. He told His followers that God’s Spirit would live not only among them but also within them (John 14:17). When I long for God to communicate in ways I can see and hear and feel, I need to remember that He is doing something even better. He is living in me, so that through my life the world will be able to see and hear and feel Him.

By this shall every person know
That we serve God above:
His Spirit dwells within our hearts
And fills us with His love.

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God’s Spirit lives in us in order to work through us…..

God’s Goodness and Blessings Are Showering Us

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Ezekiel 34:26
New International Version (NIV)
26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing.[a] I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.

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What is your season today? Are you experiencing a season of drought? Are you being overcome with slanderous comments by friends and family? Are you unable to get to and fro because of fuel shortages? Are you not grateful about having just bread and some beans to eat? Are you not content with having a roof but all the utilities are off? Are you going through a season of great heaviness with dark clouds? Then that too is the season for showers. “Your strength will equal your days”( Deut. 33:25). “I will send…showers of blessing.” Notice that the word “showers” is plural.

God will send all kinds of blessings. And all His blessings go together like links in a golden chain. If He gives you saving grace, He will also give you comforting grace. God will send “showers of blessings.” Look up today, you who are dried and withered plants. Open your leaves and flowers and receive God’s heavenly watering. Last year my wife and I saw God’s word perform what we declared out of it in our life. We are living in the abundance of those blessings today. Our season is still being watered by the grace of God. Let your heart become a valley low, And God will rain on it till it will overflow.

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You, O Lord, can transform my thorn into a flower. And I do want my thorn transformed into a flower. Job received sunshine after the rain, but was the rain all wasted? Job wants to know, and I want to know, if the rain is related to the sunshine. Only You can tell me–Your cross can tell me. You have crowned Your sorrow. Let this be my crown, O Lord. I will only triumph in You once I have learned the radiance of the rain.

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The fruitful life seeks rain as well as sunshine The landscape, brown and dry beneath the sun, Needs but the cloud to lift it into life.

It’s How High You Bounce!!!

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Psalm 3:3-4
The Message (MSG)
3-4 But you, God, shield me on all sides;
You ground my feet, you lift my head high;
With all my might I shout up to God,
His answers thunder from the holy mountain.

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How can I let God turn my troubles into triumphs? Last year I was perplexed with this question more so than I was at peace. I found out while looking at 42 years of imprisonment for something I didn’t do that God can only move you into victory when you position yourself for acceptance of His will and a unmovable faith. I have been blessed in my life on several occasions to see the hand of God move on the battlefield as a soldier, in the courtroom as a criminal, on the sick bed in a hospital, in drug addiction and shear life persecutions. He is real and lives within the vessel that seeks Him and confesses they need Him.

Max Cleland was a typical, all American boy, who starred in sports and was voted his high school’s most outstanding senior. At age twenty-four, he volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam as a first Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. One month before his return home, Cleland noticed a grenade that had been dropped accidentally. Moving to retrieve it, he was thrown backward by its explosion. He looked down in horror to find his right hand and leg missing and his left leg badly mangled. he tried to cry out, but shrapnel had ripped his throat.

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No one expected Cleland to survive. But as he recovered from a triple amputation, he recalled two things: Paul the apostle had said that hope did not disappoint, and General George Patton had said, “Success is how high you bounce after you hit bottom.” Upon his return to civilian life, Cleland entered politics, learned to drive a special car, and traveled extensively, mobilizing support for veterans’ causes. At age thirty-four, he became the youngest man ever to head the Veterans Administration and was later elected Georgia’s secretary of State. Max says, “Life doesn’t revolve around an arm and a leg. People look at you the way you look at yourself.”

I have found in my life that effort is the supreme joy. Success is not a goal, but a means to aim still higher.

Truly Amazing

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Romans 5:6-11 (New International Version)

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6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

I read these words on a young woman’s personal Web site: “I just want to be loved-and he has to be amazing!” Isn’t that what we all want–to be loved, to feel cared for by someone? And so much the better if he or she is amazing!

The one who fits that description most fully is Jesus Christ. In a display of unprecedented love, He left His father in heaven and came to earth as the baby we celebrate at Christmas ( Luke 2). Then, after living a perfect life, He gave His life as an offering to God on the cross in our behalf ( John 19:17-30).

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He took our place because we needed to be rescued from our sin and its death penalty. ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Then three days later, the Father raised Jesus to life again (Matthew 28:1-8).

When we repent and receive Jesus’ gift of amazing love, He becomes our Savior, Lord, Teacher and Friend. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1 ). Looking for someone to love you? Jesus loves us so much than anyone else possibly could. And He is truly amazing!

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Amazing thought! that God in flesh
Would take my place and bear my sin;
That I, a guilty, death-doomed soul,
Eternal life might win!

The wonder of it all–Just to think that Jesus loves me…..