Month: January 2014
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
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.
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:
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:
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
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!”
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.
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.