If righteousness and justice are the heart of the Old Testament Law, they are also at the heart of the dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees.33 At the very outset of His earthly ministry, Jesus set out to contrast His interpretation of the Old Testament teaching on righteousness with that of the scribes and Pharisees. In reality, Jesus did not offer a “new” interpretation of righteousness or of the Law; rather He sought to reestablish the proper understanding of righteousness as taught in the Law and the Prophets. Thus, Jesus repeatedly used the formula, “You have heard it said. . .” (“This is what the scribes and Pharisees teach.…”), “But I say to you.…” (“But the Old Testament was meant to be understood this way.…”).
The scribes and Pharisees thought of themselves as setting the standard for righteousness. They felt that they, of all men, were righteous. Jesus shocked all when He said,
20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
It was clear that if the scribes and Pharisees could not produce enough righteousness on their own, no one could. The standard of righteousness the Law held forth was even higher than that of the scribes and Pharisees. No one was righteous enough to get into heaven. What a shock to the self-righteous who thought they had box office seats in the kingdom.
If Jesus shocked His audience when He said those who appeared to be the most righteous would not make it into the kingdom on their kind of righteousness, He also shocked them as to who would be “blessed” by entrance into the kingdom: those the scribes and Pharisees thought unworthy of the kingdom. Those blessed were not the scribes and Pharisees, but the “poor in spirit,” those who “mourn,” the “gentle,” those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” the “merciful,” the “pure in heart,” the “peacemakers,” and those who are “persecuted” on account of their relationship with Jesus (Matthew 5:3-12).
Jesus taught that true righteousness is not that which men regard as righteous based upon external appearances, but that so judged by God based upon His assessment of the heart:
15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
The Scribes and Pharisees, who thought themselves so righteous because of their rigorous attention to external matters, proved to be just the opposite when judged by our Lord:
28 “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? 34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:28-35).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against externalism and ceremonialism.
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
According to Jesus, true righteousness is vastly different from the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. False righteousness is measured by men on the basis of externalism. True righteousness is judged such by God, in accordance with His Word. Because of this, men need to beware of attempting to judge the righteousness of others (see Matthew 7:1). Those whose deeds seemed to indicate they were righteous were those whom God denied ever having known as His children (Matthew 7: 15-23). Those who appeared to be righteous were not, and those who appeared unrighteous by the Judaism of that day may well have been righteous.
It is no wonder then that Jesus was not regarded as righteous by many of the Jews but was considered a sinner:
16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.… 24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He therefore answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:16, 24-25).
The great division which arose among the Jews was over the issue of whether Jesus was a righteous man or a sinner (see John 10:19-21).
The Old and New Testament leave no doubt in our minds whether the Lord Jesus was righteous. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as the “Righteous One” who would “justify the many” (Isaiah 53:11). Jeremiah spoke of Him as the “righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5). When Jesus was baptized, it was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Both Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19) and the soldier at the foot of the cross (Luke 23:47) acknowledged His righteousness at the very moment when men were condemning Him.
The apostles likewise bear witness to the righteousness of Christ:
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).
29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him (1 John 2:29).
The righteousness of God is particularly important in relation to salvation. In Romans 3, Paul points out God not only justifies sinners (that is, He declares them righteous), but He is also shown to be just (righteous) in the process:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:21-28).
Men have failed to live up to the standard of righteousness laid down by the Law (Romans 3:9-20). God is just in condemning all men to death, for all men without exception have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All men are worthy of death because the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God is just in condemning the unrighteous.
But God is also just in saving sinners. As Paul puts it, He is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). How can this be? God is just because His righteous anger has been satisfied. Justice was done on the cross of Calvary. God did not reduce the charges against men; He did not change the standard of righteousness. God poured out the full measure of His righteous wrath upon His Son on the cross of Calvary. In Him, justice was meted out. All of those who trust in Him by faith are justified. Their sins are forgiven because Jesus paid the full price; He suffered the full measure of God’s wrath in their place. And for those who reject the goodness and mercy of God at Calvary, they must pay the penalty for their sins because they would not accept the payment Jesus made in their place.
The cross of Calvary accomplished a just salvation, for all who will receive it. But we also know that only those whom God has chosen—the “elect”—will repent and trust in the death of Christ on their behalf. This raises another question related to divine justice. After clearly teaching the doctrine of divine election, Paul asks how election squares with the justice of God, and then gives us the answer:
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:6-24).
The question assumes that divine election has been taught by Paul as a biblical fact. If it were not so—as it clearly is—the question would not have been raised by Paul. And if there is no such thing as election, Paul could have simply brushed the question aside as illogical and unreasonable. But Paul assumes the truth of election and the possibility that some might object on the grounds that election would make God unjust. Paul first rebukes the one who dares to judge God and pronounce on His righteousness. How presumptuous can a man be? Should God stand before the bar of human judgment? Of course not!
As seen in chapter 3, God is righteous in that He has condemned all, and in Christ, those who are justified have been punished and then raised to newness of life. God is also righteous for judging all those who refuse to accept His offer of salvation in Christ. God would be unjust only if He set aside justice rather than fulfilling it in Christ, whether by His sacrificial death at His first coming or by His judging the unbelieving world at His second coming.
Divine grace, the grace by which God reaches out to save men from their sins, is meted out not on the basis of men’s merits but in spite of men’s sin. Grace, as we shall later emphasize in another message, is sovereignly bestowed. God would be unjust only if He withheld blessings from men which they deserved. Since God is free to bestow unmerited blessings on any sinner He may choose, God is not unrighteous in saving some of the worst sinners, while choosing not to save other sinners. God does not owe salvation to anyone, and thus He is not unjust in saving some and choosing not to save others.
The good news of the gospel is that salvation by grace is offered to all men, and by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, men may be forgiven of their sins and made righteous:
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
If sin is the manifestation of our unrighteousness and we can be saved only through a righteousness not our own—the righteousness of Christ—then the ultimate sin is self-righteousness. Jesus did not reject sinners who came to Him for mercy and salvation; He rejected those who were too righteous (in their own eyes) to need grace. Jesus came to save sinners and not to save those righteous in their own eyes. No one is too lost to save; there are only those too good to save. In the Gospels, those who thought themselves most righteous were the ones condemned by our Lord as wicked and unrighteous.
If we are among those who have acknowledged our sin and trusted in the righteousness of Christ for our salvation, the righteousness of God is one of the great and comforting truths we should embrace. The justice of God means that when He establishes His kingdom on earth, it will be a kingdom characterized by justice. He will judge men in righteousness, and He will reign in righteousness.
We need not fret over the wicked of our day who seem to be getting away with sin. If we love righteousness, we most certainly dare not envy the wicked, whose day of judgment awaits them (see Psalm 37; 73). Their day of judgment is rapidly coming upon them, and justice will prevail.
If we realize that true righteousness is not to be judged according to external, legalistic standards and that judgment belongs to God, we dare not occupy ourselves in judging others (Matthew 7:1). We should also realize that judgment begins at the house of God, and thus we should be quick to judge ourselves and to avoid those sins which are an offense to the righteousness of God (see 1 Peter 4:17; 1 Corinthians 11:31).
The doctrine of the righteousness of God means that we, as the children of God (if you are a Christian), should seek to imitate our heavenly Father (5:48). We should not seek to find revenge against those who sin against us, but leave vengeance to God (Romans 12:17-21). Rather than seeking to get even, let us suffer the injustice of men, even as our Lord Jesus, that God might even bring our enemies to repentance and salvation (Matthew 5:43-44; 1 Peter 2:18-25). And let us pray, as our Lord instructed us, that the day when righteousness reigns may come:
10 “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
I was wondering if anyone else in this great expanse have difficult coworkers or neighbors? It’s trying to exude the righteousness of God while dealing with the trials of life. Keep your eye on the cross as I endure this crucible of trial today I solicit you to follow the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The righteousness of God, one of the most prominent attributes of God in the Scriptures, is also one of the most elusive. Initially, distinguishing the righteousness of God from His holiness or His goodness seems difficult. In addition, the righteousness of God is virtually synonymous with His justice:
While the most common Old Testament word for just means ‘straight,’ and the New Testament word means ‘equal,’ in a moral sense they both mean ‘right.’ When we say that God is just, we are saying that He always does what is right, what should be done, and that He does it consistently, without partiality or prejudice. The word just and the word righteous are identical in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Sometimes the translators render the original word ‘just’ and other times ‘righteous’ with no apparent reason (cf. Nehemiah 9:8 and 9:33 where the same word is used). But whichever word they use, it means essentially the same thing. It has to do with God’s actions. They are always right and fair.
God’s righteousness (or justice) is the natural expression of His holiness. If He is infinitely pure, then He must be opposed to all sin, and that opposition to sin must be demonstrated in His treatment of His creatures. When we read that God is righteous or just, we are being assured that His actions toward us are in perfect agreement with His holy nature.
These words by Richard Strauss bring us very close to a concise definition of righteousness. Righteousness, in relation to men, is their conformity to a standard. Unlike men, God is not subject to anything outside of Himself. No one states this better than A.W. Tozer:
It is sometimes said, ‘Justice requires God to do this,’ referring to some act we know He will perform. This is an error of thinking as well as of speaking, for it postulates a principle of justice outside of God which compels Him to act in a certain way. Of course there is no such principle. If there were it would be superior to God, for only a superior power can compel obedience. The truth is that there is not and can never be anything outside of the nature of God which can move Him in the least degree. All God’s reasons come from within His uncreated being. Nothing has entered the being of God from eternity, nothing has been removed, and nothing has been changed.
Justice, when used of God, is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more; and when God acts justly He is not doing so to conform to an independent criterion, but simply acting like Himself in a given situation. . . God is His own self-existent principle of moral equity, and when He sentences evil men or rewards the righteous, He simply acts like Himself from within, uninfluenced by anything that is not Himself.”
We must then say the righteousness of God is evident in the way He consistently acts in accord with His own character. God always acts righteously; His every action is consistent with His character. God is always consistently “Godly.” God is not defined by the term “righteous,” as much as the term “righteous” is defined by God. God is not measured by the standard of righteousness; God sets the standard of righteousness.
23 And Abraham came near and said, “Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep [it] away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are [treated] alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 26 So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” 27 And Abraham answered and said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am [but] dust and ashes. 28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, wilt Thou destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy [it] if I find forty-five there” (Genesis 18:23-28).
The righteousness of God is introduced very early in the Bible in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. This attribute is the basis for Abraham’s appeal to God for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God is described anthropomorphically (in human-like terms) here as having heard the “great outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah” (verse 20). I wonder from whom this outcry came. One likely possibility is “righteous Lot, whose righteous soul was vexed by the wickedness of these cities” (see 2 Peter 2:6-8).
In the judicial terminology of our day, God was unwilling to act solely on the basis of hearsay. It was His intention to “go down” to this place and find out for Himself whether these allegations were true. Now of course we know God is omniscient. He knows all. He did not need to “take a trip to Sodom and Gomorrah” to see if these cities were really wicked. He knew they were wicked. But, from our point of view, God wants us to know He acts justly. He acts on the basis of information of which He has personal knowledge. Thus, when God judges these cities, He does so justly for they were truly wicked.
I find it interesting that verses 17-21 precede the account of Abraham’s intercession for these cities. God knew what He was going to do. What He purposed to do was righteous and just. But God wanted Abraham to be a part of what He was doing. If God was to act justly, He was simply acting consistently with His character. But involving Abraham was also consistent with His covenant with him and the goal of this covenant. God’s purpose for calling Abraham and making a covenant with him is spelled out in verses 17-19:
17 And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 19 For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:17-19, emphasis mine).
God’s purpose for calling Abraham and making a covenant with him was for Abraham to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice and to teach his offspring to do likewise. Righteousness is the divine goal for Abraham and his offspring.
When God informed Abraham He was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham began to intercede for them. His concern was for the righteous in those cities. How could God possibly destroy these cities if there were righteous men and women living in them? If God destroyed both the wicked and the righteous without distinguishing them, then God would not be acting righteously or justly. And surely God, as “the Judge of all the earth,” must act justly (verse 25).
Abraham proceeds to intercede with God on behalf of the righteous. Beginning with 50 righteous, Abraham petitioned God not to destroy these cities if 50 righteous could be found. Eventually, Abraham was able (so it seemed) to lower the required number of the righteous to as few as ten (verse 32). But there simply were not ten righteous in these cities. There were but four (if one includes Lot’s wife). But God, in His justice, would not deal with the wicked in a way that punished the righteous as well. He did not spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but He did spare Lot and his family by rescuing them from the city of Sodom before the angels destroyed them.
We see here in the Book of Genesis God’s purpose in calling Abraham and his offspring: to raise up a people characterized by righteousness and justice. God not only showed himself to be righteous and just, He also worked in Abraham’s life to show he was a man who loved righteousness and justice.
God’s Righteousness and the Nation Israel
God’s righteousness was to be seen in His every dealing with the nation Israel:
6 Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers up from the land of Egypt. 7 So now, take your stand, that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous acts of the LORD which He did for you and your fathers” (2 Samuel 12:6-7).
God’s righteousness in His dealings with the nation Israel has various manifestations.
(1) God reveals His righteousness by revealing His will and His word to the world through the nation Israel.
5 “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6 So keep and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? 8 Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; see also Psalm 33:4).
God deals with men on the basis of what He has revealed to them. He often tells men what He will do well in advance of the event so they will know God is God and that He has accomplished what He promised:
21 “Declare and set forth [your case;]. Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me” (Isaiah 45:21).
(3) God reveals His righteousness by fulfilling His promises.
8 “And Thou didst find his heart faithful before Thee, and didst make a covenant with him to give [him] the land of the Canaanite, of the Hittite and the Amorite, of the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite—to give [it] to his descendants. And Thou hast fulfilled Thy promise, for Thou art righteous” (Nehemiah 9:7-8, emphasis mine).
(4) God reveals His righteousness by judging the enemies of Israel.
27 Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and said to them, “I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones” (Exodus 9:27).
13 Before the LORD, for He is coming; For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, And the peoples in His faithfulness (Psalm 96:13).
God likewise shows Himself to be righteous when He judges the nation Israel for their sin and disobedience:
1 It took place when the kingdom of Rehoboam was established and strong that he and all Israel with him forsook the law of the LORD. 2 And it came about in King Rehoboam’s fifth year, because they had been unfaithful to the LORD, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem 3 with 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen. And the people who came with him from Egypt were without number: the Lubim, the Sukkiim, and the Ethiopians. 4 And he captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem. 5 Then Shemaiah the prophet came to Rehoboam and the princes of Judah who had gathered at Jerusalem because of Shishak, and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, ‘You have forsaken Me, so I also have forsaken you to Shishak.’” 6 So the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, “The LORD is righteous” (2 Chronicles 12:1-6).
15 “O LORD God of Israel, Thou art righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as [it is] this day; behold, we are before Thee in our guilt, for no one can stand before Thee because of this” (Ezra 9:15).
7 “Righteousness belongs to Thee, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near by and those who are far away in all the countries to which Thou hast driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against Thee. 8 Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against Thee” (Daniel 9:7-8).
(5) God reveals His righteousness in the way He rules.
6 Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Thy kingdom (Psalm 45:6).14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Thy throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before Thee (Psalm 89:14, see also Psalm 97:2).
(6) God reveals His righteousness in His hatred and in His anger.
5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates (Psalm 11:5).311 God is a righteous judge; And a God who has indignation every day (Psalm 7:11).
(7) God reveals His righteousness in His protection of the poor and the afflicted.
(8) God reveals His righteousness when He shows mercy and compassion.
5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate; 6 The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me (Psalm 116:5-6).
18 Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. The LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are those who long for Him (Isaiah 30:18).
(9) God reveals His righteousness in saving sinners.
2 The LORD has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God (Psalm 98:2-3). 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11).
I believe this to be a very significant aspect of God’s righteousness. God is righteous in saving sinners. So often we think God’s righteousness is revealed in His judgment of sinners and His mercy by His salvation of sinners. The Scriptures teach that God’s righteousness is the cause of both condemnation and justification. He is righteous in saving sinners, as well as merciful and compassionate. God is righteous in all His dealings with men, indeed in all His dealings.
The righteousness of God and the justice of God are not secondary matters; they are primary. The righteousness or justice of God is to be the guiding principle for the people of God. When the Old Testament prophets sought to sum up the essence of the Old Testament teaching regarding man’s conduct, it was that men practice righteousness or justice:
21 “I hate, I reject your festival, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).
6 With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8).
When summarizing the very essence of what the Old Testament Law was about, Amos and Micah both spoke first of justice and righteousness. God is not interested in a legalistic keeping of the Law, as though one might make himself righteous by so doing. God is interested in men seeking to know the heart of God and pleasing Him by doing that in which He delights and that which He does.
“My 17 year old son lies all the time,” a mother said to me recently. “He lies about his schoolwork, what he ate for lunch and whether or not he’s brushed his teeth. He also exaggerates to make his stories more dramatic or to make himself sound bigger. It’s come to the point where I don’t take anything he says at face value. He’s not a bad kid, but I just don’t understand why he lies so often, especially when telling the truth would be easier. What should I do?”
By acknowledging the lie without moralizing or lecturing, you are sending a powerful message to your child that being dishonest won’t get them what they want.
Dealing with lying is frustrating and confusing for many parents. Unfortunately, teens and pre-teens often lie or tell only part of the truth. James Lehman explains that kids lie for many reasons: to cover their tracks, to get out of something they don’t want to do, and to fit in with their peers. Sometimes kids tell white lies to protect other people. I’ve heard my stepson claim a “bad connection” while speaking to a relative on the phone, rather than simply telling them, “I don’t want to talk right now.” When asked, he says he doesn’t want to hurt that person’s feelings by saying he wanted to get off the phone. Simply put, it was just easier to lie.
Some teens develop the habit of telling half-truths or exaggerating about things that seem completely irrelevant or unnecessary. They might think it will get them what they want, or get them out of a sticky situation. Like many adults, kids can also be less than honest at times because they think the truth isn’t interesting enough. They may lie as a way to get attention, to make themselves seem more powerful or attractive to others, to get sympathy or support, or because they lack problem-solving skills.
Lying about Risky or Dangerous Behavior
It’s important to differentiate here between lies that cover up for drug use or other risky behavior, as opposed to “every day lies” that some teens tell just as a matter of habit or convenience. Make no mistake, lying that results in, or covers for, unsafe or illegal behavior must be addressed directly. If your child is lying about things that might be dangerous, involving drug or alcohol use, stealing, or other risky behavior, seek resources and support in your local community.
Why Doesn’t My Child Care that Lying is Wrong?
Adolescence is such a tough time: trying to fit in, feeling unfairly judged or limited, wanting to be seen as powerful even while you feel completely powerless. Teens and pre-teens are navigating some pretty challenging waters. For some, lying can seem like an easy way to deal with the stress of being a teenager. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, an occasional fib from a child is nothing to get too concerned about. Chronic dishonesty and exaggeration, on the other hand, should be addressed – but maybe not in the ways you think.
We talk with many people on the http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Keep-Cool-When-the-Kids-Push-Your-Buttons.php who feel that lying is a moral issue. But even so, as James advises, treating it that way is not likely to help solve the problem. When your child tells a lie, giving a lecture about why it’s wrong is probably not going to help them change their behavior. Most of the time, they’re tuning out our words of wisdom anyway! On the other hand, if you feel that your child is making a habit of lying, you need to acknowledge what you see happening. Open a discussion with them and find out what problem they are trying to solve. Are they trying to avoid trouble? Do they think it’s easier to lie than to risk hurting someone else? Do they believe that saying something dishonest helps them fit in? When they answer you, listen to what they have to say carefully. When Kids Lie to Get out of Trouble
Kids often don’t understand how hurtful lies can be.
In The Total Transformation Program, James points out that most kids lie because it’s expedient—it seems like the best decision at that time. Once you understand what your child is hoping to gain from lying, you can help them come up with a better problem-solving strategy. If your child is being untruthful to get out of trouble—for example, telling you that they took out the trash when they really didn’t—clearly state the rules of your house, and the consequences for breaking those rules. Remind them that they don’t have to like the rules, but they do need to comply with them. You might also tell your child that if they break a rule and lie about it, there will be a separate consequence for lying. (For more information on how to do this, please see James Lehman’s article Why Kids Lie and What To Do About It.)
Exaggerating and Lying for the Sake of Lying
If your child isn’t simply lying to keep out of trouble, you might have to dig a little deeper to find out what’s going on. Start by saying, “I notice that you often lie about things that seem strange to me. For example, when I asked you where the phone was, you said ‘I don’t know, I don’t have it,’ and then I found it in your room. You wouldn’t have been in trouble if you’d told the truth. Can you tell me why you lied about it?” If your child is exaggerating a story, you might ask, “I was interested in your story, and then it seemed like you started to add things to it that weren’t true. Can you tell me why you decided to do that?”
Now I realize you may not get a great answer from your child. From some teens, a shrug is the best response you can hope for. But by acknowledging the lie without moralizing or lecturing, you are sending a powerful message to your child that being dishonest won’t get them what they want. You are also letting them know that you are aware of the fact that they were being less than truthful.
Kids often don’t understand how hurtful lies can be. Still, you need to remind them that not knowing doesn’t make it okay. Start a discussion with your child about honesty and dishonesty, and why they choose to lie. And remember, focus on the problem your child is trying to solve instead of on the morality of lying. You may not be able to stop your teen from creating those every day lies, but you can send the message that there are other options available.
1 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Recently I read Psalm 131, one of my favorite psalms. In the past, I viewed it as an encouragement to understand that mystery is one of the hallmarks of God’s character. It challenged me to let my mind be at rest, since I am unable to understand all that God is doing in His universe.
But then I saw another side of David’s calm spirit: I am unable to understand all that God is doing in me, and it is impossible to try.
David draws a comparison between a weaned child that no longer frets for what it once demanded, and a soul that has learned the same lesson. It is a call to learn humility, patient endurance, and contentment in all my circumstances—whatever they are—though I do not understand God’s reasons. Divine logic is beyond the grasp of my mind.
I ask, “Why this affliction? Why this anguish?” The Father answers, “Hush, child. You wouldn’t understand if I explained it to you. Just trust Me!”
So, I turn from contemplating David’s example to ask myself: Can I, in my circumstances, “hope in the Lord”? (v.3). Can I wait in faith and patience without fretting and without questioning God’s wisdom? Can I trust Him while He works in me His good, acceptable, and perfect will?
It may not be for me to see The meaning and the mystery Of all that God has planned for me Till “afterward”! —Aaron Pratt
In a world of mystery, it’s a comfort to know the God who knows all things.
Lately, there has been a passage of scripture that has been echoing in my mind. I can’t think of any reason at all for this except to say that perhaps God is wanting me to focus on it. The passage of scripture is Phil. 1:1-6 which says, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (KJV). I am drawn to the final verse; and as I think about it, I am encouraged.
We need the confidence of knowing that the Lord is working in us, that He has not left us alone, and that He is very concerned about us. Sometimes we experience that stale and dry season where we seem to have reached a stone wall in our spiritual development. Of course, this could be true for many due to sin or rebellion of some sort. But, for those who simply seek God and desire to experience Him more and more and yet find themselves wondering and waiting, this verse is for you. It has three main parts:
First, the work that was begun in you was regeneration. When you trusted in Christ and were born again, you were changed. This is the beginning of the work of God in your hearts. God saves us as we are, but He does not leave us as we are. He changes us. Initially, when we are saved, we are justified; that is, we are declared righteous in God’s eyes. That is the easy part because it is all done by the Lord. The hard part is the changing part. It is called sanctification and is the process God puts us through to conform us more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus. It is this second part, this sanctification, that is hidden in the phrase of Phil. 1:6 where it says, ” . . . will perform it . . . ” In other words, the Lord is “performing” (KJV), “perfecting” (NASB) us. This perfecting will proceed until ” . . . the day of Jesus Christ.” This is a reference to the return of Christ. By design, the Bible leaves us with the impression that the return of Jesus can be accomplished at any time. This work will continue in all Christians in all places and in all times until the return of Jesus. Once He has been revealed, we will all be with Him (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2); and we will no longer as a whole church or as individuals need to be perfected since the full manifestation of our salvation has been realized in the resurrection and/or change of our bodies to the incorruptible state.
So, Phil. 1:6 carries with it the past, present, and future work of God in us and for us because of what Jesus has done on the cross. Remember, it is because of Jesus and only because of Jesus that the Lord will and is working in us. If you are having problems of some sort, doubting your salvation, unsure about your growth, let the Lord speak to your heart by spending time in prayer and reading His word. He uses these things to “perfect” the work that He has begun in you. Remember that the Lord will never forsake you or leave you. He cannot be unfaithful, and His love for you cannot fail. To the Lord be the glory.
The Public Safety Realignment Act (AB109) makes fundamental changes to California’s correctional system, shifting from the state to counties certain custodial and supervision responsibilities for individuals convicted of low-level non-violent offenses. As of October 1, 2011 those individuals released from prison whose convictions were for non-serious, non-violent felonies and who are not deemed high risk sex offenders will be placed under supervision by Riverside County Probation. Additionally, within Riverside County most individuals sentenced for non-serious, non-violent and non-sex-register-able felony offenses will remain under the jurisdiction of the County – in jail or under supervision -rather than being sent to state prison. In conjunction with Mental Health services, the Substance Use New Life Program offers outpatient groups (16 weeks), MOM’s treatment and residential services.May and I are blessed to have silent partners that have been instrumental in our recovery and realignment within society. New Life and it’s staff are compassionate and well rounded with knowledge about re-entry and substance abuse.
In my deepest, darkest moments, what really got me through was a prayer. Sometimes my prayer was ‘Help me.’ Sometimes a prayer was ‘Thank you.’ What I’ve discovered is that intimate connection and communication with my creator will always get me through because I know my support, my help, is just a prayer away.
This is a logical and very necessary first step. Before you can learn how best to help a struggling addict or alcoholic, you need to understand the nature of addiction. There are several models of addiction that attempt to describe what it is and why it affects people, but none of those models are entirely accurate. Many people have heard of the disease model, which does a fairly decent job of describing what we see in the real world. For example, even addicts or alcoholics who have stayed clean for several decades can relapse and be right back to their old level of consumption within a matter of days.
Also note that addiction can affect potentially anyone, including those who:
Have no apparent genetic predisposition for addiction or alcoholism
Have very little environmental risk
Have no moral shortcomings or laziness about them
Even if you do not believe in the disease model, learning more about how it works is a necessary foundation in learning about how you can potentially help a struggling addict or alcoholic. If you want to know how to help alcoholics then you need to learn about the condition.
Get Help Yourself In Order To Help The Addict
We cannot control a drug addict or an alcoholic, but we can control our own behavior, including how we behave in relationship to a sick and suffering (and possibly manipulative) addict or alcoholic. Therefore, the best thing that you can do if you want to help someone in your life is to get yourself to an Al-Anon meeting. The people there can listen to your situation and give you the best specific advice on how to go about handling things. Educating yourself on how to set limits and boundaries is one of the most important things that you can do in this case.
Establish Boundaries And Set Limits With The Addict
One example of setting a boundary is telling a close friend that you prefer they not be around you if they are drunk or high. Notice that it is specific, and you have to sit down and communicate this type of request explicitly with someone. Setting a boundary like this is difficult because there is this tendency to hurt other’s feelings. But that is part of what is keeping you sick, caring more about this person’s feelings than your own personal well being. Setting boundaries is about putting your own personal well being first, and letting that be a guiding example of how to live. You know you are setting effective boundaries when you are taking back control of your own life and starting to regain your own sanity, instead of being all wrapped up in the problems of a struggling drug addict or alcoholic. This is a crucial distance you must learn to keep when learning how to help a recovering drug addict.
The Apostle Paul Struggles with Sin: If anyone could overcome sin, surely it was the great apostle Paul. He wrote more books in the New Testament and founded more churches than any other apostle. Even though this great man of faith was a spiritual giant, he struggled with sin too. Don’t let anyone tell you that you will not struggle with overcoming sin in this life after you are saved.
15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” What Christian has not battled with the flesh? We end up doing just what we don’t want to do…but we do it anyway. You are not alone. You are in good company – with Paul.
16 “And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.” Paul is saying that I agree with the Law of God…that it is good. The Ten Commandments say we should not bear false witness, but Christians are still not fully sanctified…..it is a lifelong work of sanctification and we are still prone to lie.
17 “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” What Paul is saying is that it’s not really him anymore, but the old man or woman rearing its ugly head. Even though we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), we are still not without sin (1 John 1:8).
18 “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” It’s like Paul said that he knows better, yet he falls into sin. The only thing is that he doesn’t stay there. He acknowledges it and gets back up. He has the desire to do the right thing but guess what: He still can not carry it out…in his own strength that is. This takes the very power of God: God the Holy Spirit (Rom 12:2).
19 “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” That is me in a nutshell. A train wreck, a sinner, a wretch but the good news is that Paul realizes that the good he wants to do is what he is not doing…and he keeps on doing it! The good news here is the fact that he understands that it’s wrong. This is strong evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in him, convicting him of his sin. A person who is not born-again has no true desire to do what is right nor are they convicted when they do evil things.
20 “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Paul is cutting himself some slack. He understands that he is battling the old nature. The pre-conversion person. The Saul is still in there but Paul is not settling for it now, neither is he allowing to let is slide.
21 “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” This “although I want to do good” is because God has given him His Spirit to show him his sin and even though evil is there with him…he recognizes that he wants “to do good.” That is hopeful because he understands that the law is at work. The Law is a mirror, showing us our sins and he recognizes the evil being there with him (James 1:23). He wants to do good and that is a sentence full of hope, not despair.
22-23 “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” There is a battle for the mind…the battle is ultimately through Jesus Christ but it is a war nonetheless. We might lose battles but the war has truly been won already. The law was made clear to Paul by his conscience (Rom 2:15).
24 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Paul finally admits defeat in his own frail, feeble, human strength. He needs rescuing. He is subject to eternal death without a rescuer. What can this wretched man do?! What can we do!?
25 “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Paul falls on his face, being a wretched man and admits defeat (Rom 7:24) and gives thanks to God Almighty, our Mighty Savior, Who delivered him and Who will also deliver us.
Victory in Defeat
You can not overcome sin on your own…you can not conquer your marijuana addiction on your own…you can’t overcome the addiction to pornography by your own strength…you can’t defeat the enemy of alcohol, gambling, overeating, depression…just name it: You just can’t do it…..but God can! He wants to help you overcome the powerful sins of your life and your strong addictions, the mighty fortress where we have no chance at all. God desires to help us and He is more than able and He is absolutely willing to. Imagine the God of the universe. He created the entire universe, all the stars, the galaxies, the sun…everything! He knows the 100 trillion times 100 trillion number of stars all by name. Now is anything really to hard for God?! No! We have no power in ourselves but the Holy Spirit is God and the very power of God working in you. The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge to God that you can not overcome this by your own power. That is exactly what He has been waiting to hear. Victory will only come in defeat. You are in over your head but God is over all things. When we tell God “I just can’t beat this thing God”, He must say, “Finally…now, maybe I can send my power to help them.“ He will be your strong tower.
Pray day and night for the help you need. God can deliver you…He did me! But it took time. Don’t lose heart. You will slip and fall but get back up, pray for forgiveness and ask God to cut off all the sources of your drug addiction, if you are addicted to pornography, get rid of the Internet. Jesus said, speaking in hyperbole, “If your hand offends you, cut it off“(Matt 5:30). What He is saying is to cut off the source of your addiction or sin. If you can’t get rid of the Internet, then have a friend put a password protected filter on it. If you are addicted to drugs, turn in the illegal drug dealers. Drastic yes, but this is what it must take. God can do all things…He created the universe and He can help deliver you and He desires to help you overcome this addiction but you may have to make some painful decisions. We can do nothing on our own…but we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us”(Phil 4:13). The converse of that is that we can do nothing in our own strength.
Victory in Christ
Please don’t lose heart if you are battling an addiction or some deeply entrenched sin. Sometimes these demons are mighty strongholds of the mind. The very fact that you are grieved over your addiction or sin is evidence that the Holy Spirit is not only in you but working in you, for the Spirit convicts us of sin and sanctification is a lifelong process. The very fact that you searched for this over the Internet is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in you. Can’t you see that!? This is no coincidence. God brought you to this article today for a very specific purpose, a reason, to be a path for your feet – a light for your life. It starts with God and ends with God. I am a pastor today but let me tell you that I was in prison, hooked on drugs, stole, and was headed down the broad path of hell. It took me years and years to finally get over this, yet God never, ever gives up on me and He will not give up on you. Like the Prodigal Father, He kept looking down the road for me to come to Him. He is looking down that road today, waiting, watching, for you.
What I finally did to break the addiction was to pray that all the sources or suppliers of my drugs were removed from me or that they would move…whatever it took. I prayed hard, “Lord, please help me, I am weak.” You know what? It worked. God heard my prayer and answered it. It took me a very long time and today I am clean and sober but I am still a train wreck, a sinner and I will never overcome all sin in this life. Jesus’ blood covers past, present, and future sins of ours….so the very fact that you have a sin or addiction weighing heavy on you should not, I pray, make you lose heart. The fact that you are grieved over your sin is a great sign that the Holy Spirit is trying to show you your sin. Once a believer repents, this does not mean that they will not fall back into sin. No, we will sin again and again…but turning from our sin we will begin to loathe it all the more. Yes, we need to repent, but we sin every day and every day we can begin and end the day by falling on our face, hands, and knees before God to ask for forgiveness. You too can declare as Paul did, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25)!
The strength of our relationships is measured by how much people can count on us.
When we think of someone with integrity, we think of someone we can count on to come through on what they promise. Unfortunately, that’s not always a safe bet today.
Over the last several years I’ve noticed a change in the way we use the word integrity. The word used to mean staying true to your word—even if it’s difficult, inconvenient, or expensive. But today I hear more and more people using the word as if it means being true to themselves—even if that means leaving someone else to clean up the mess.
This might look like a win if we’re trying to save ourselves from difficulty and discomfort, but it will come back to bite us in the end. Nothing destroys our credibility faster than bailing on a commitment.
The phrase “To thine own self be true” comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but it became popular through self-help books and programs. There’s nothing wrong with these words by themselves, but they’re usually taken out of context.
If you’ve ever read or seen the play you know the full story. The phrase comes after advice about being prudent and preserving friendships. The idea is that we are true to ourselves so that others can count on what we say. That was having integrity.
But if you listen to the way people use it today, they usually mean something else. “To thine own self be true” is often used as an excuse to do whatever a person wants instead of what’s expected—or even what they’ve already committed to. This is suicide in business—and the rest of life.
Not only is integrity essential for strong friendships, it’s crucial for all of our relationships. “Honesty,” says Stephen Covey, “is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.” We won’t get far in life without it.
Just think about your work. Without the kind of integrity Covey describes, you cannot be an effective leader. Why?
Trust depends on integrity. If people can’t rely on your word, they won’t trust you. They may extend some grace, but eventually people will doubt and disbelieve.
Influence depends on trust. People will refuse the influence of leaders they distrust. Just look at how this plays out in politics or the media. We follow people we trust.
Impact depends on influence. You can’t make the impact you want unless you can influence others and shift their behavior.
Now think of other relationships: marriage, parenting, church, whatever. The strength of our relationships is measured by how much people can count on us. If we’re not true to our words, that means our relationships will be as unreliable as we are.
American Christians in particular are prone to understanding many of the New Testament teachings relating to the local church as passages addressed to individual believers. In doing so we “individualize” many texts intended for an entire local church.
But it is nonetheless true that the gospel first addresses us as individuals. While each Christian becomes part of the body of Christ – a body that collectively is the bride of Christ – God knows us by name and relates to us one by one.
So while believers are members of God’s family and the New Testament prioritizes the congregational aspects of faith in Christ, biblical Christianity also normalizes meeting with God alone. As Jonathan Edwards put it, “True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places for holy meditation and prayer . . . True grace delights in secret converse with God.” Bombarded with thoughts of having to be successful and financial responsibility I have felt no growth or increase spiritually and need to run to Jesus and my Father to get revived. If you are reading this please pray for May & Aaron to find God’s ultimate peace and direction.
He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when evening was come, he was there alone (Matthew 14:23).
The man Christ Jesus felt the need of perfect solitude–Himself alone, entirely by Himself, alone with Himself. We know how much intercourse with men draws us away from ourselves and exhausts our powers. The man Christ Jesus knew this, too, and felt the need of being by Himself again, of gathering all His powers, of realizing fully His high destiny, His human weakness, His entire dependence on the Father.
How much more does the child of God need this–himself alone with spiritual realities, himself alone with God the Father. If ever there were one who could dispense with special seasons for solitude and fellowship, it was our Lord. But He could not do His work or maintain His fellowship in full power, without His quiet time. Would God that every servant of His understood and practiced this blessed art, and that the Church knew how to train its children into some sense of this high and holy privilege, that every believer may and must have his time when he is indeed himself alone with God.
Oh, the thought to have God all alone to myself, and to know that God has me all alone to Himself!
Lamertine speaks in one of his books of a secluded walk in his garden where his mother always spent a certain hour of the day, upon which nobody ever dreamed for a moment of intruding. It was the holy garden of the Lord to her.
Poor souls that have no such Beulah land! Seek thy private chamber, Jesus says. It is in the solitude that we catch the mystic notes that issue from the soul of things.
My soul, practice being alone with Christ! It is written that when they were alone He expounded all things to His disciples. Do not wonder at the saying; it is true to thine experience. If thou wouldst understand thyself send the multitude away. Let them go out one by one till thou art left alone with Jesus… Has thou ever pictured thyself the one remaining creature in the earth, the one remaining creature in all the starry worlds?
In such a universe thine every thought would be “God and I! God and I!” And yet He is as near to thee as that – as near as if in the boundless spaces there throbbed no heart but His and thine.
Practice that solitude, O my soul! Practice the expulsion of the crowd! Practice the stillness of thine own heart! Practice the solemn refrain “God and I! God and I!” Let none interpose between thee and thy wrestling angel! Thou shalt be both condemned and pardoned when thou shalt meet Jesus alone! –George Matheson
As California Releases Prisoners, It Must Confront the Public Health Consequences
The confluence of three events has dramatically broadened the public health implications of prisoner reentry into California communities. First, the state is in the midst of a deep and persistent recession, which has severely strained the resources available for the health care safety net upon which ex-prisoners rely. Second, the state is implementing its 2011 public safety realignment plan, which shifts responsibility for low-level offenders from the state to counties; this will aid the state’s efforts to abide by a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce the prison population. Third, federal health care reform will expand Medicaid eligibility and coverage for some important services, removing a key access-to-care barrier for the prisoner reentry population.
These events argue for assessing the health needs of California’s reentry population, the related public health challenges, and the policy options for improving access to safety net services. In a study sponsored by The California Endowment, a research team at RAND conducted such an assessment and concluded the following:
The health care needs of California prisoners are high, but their mental health and drug treatment needs are even higher.
Certain California counties and communities are particularly affected by reentry.
Ex-prisoners’ access to California’s health care safety net varies across counties, within counties, and by race and ethnicity.
Public safety realignment and federal health care reform present challenges and opportunities for improving access to services for this population, all requiring the state and counties to coordinate their efforts.
Numerous Unmet Needs Reported
With respect to physical health conditions, California state prisoners reported a high burden of chronic diseases, such as asthma and hypertension, and infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. Ex-prisoners face a number of barriers to accessing health care, including lack of health insurance. As a result, ex-prisoners returning to communities will largely have to rely on counties’ health care safety nets for the uninsured to meet their health needs.
Self-reported mental health and drug treatment needs are especially high. More than half of California inmates reported a recent mental health problem, but only about half of those reported having received treatment in prison. Nearly 60 percent of California inmates reported having a drug abuse or dependence problem. Given the high prevalence of these reported conditions, the need for county mental health services may be particularly high.
When we interviewed health care providers who deal with the reentry population, their observations confirmed that this population has substantial mental health and drug treatment needs and other health problems — needs exacerbated by neglect or reduced access to care. Providers also noted a range of social services needs — such as transportation, employment, housing, and family reunification — that make treating ex-prisoners for such health conditions even more resource-intensive. For example, if an individual has a wound that requires periodic cleaning and dressing, would there be a hygienic place to do it?
Inadequate discharge planning for prisoners can be another major barrier to continuity of care. Upon release, many ex-prisoners lack medical records to give health care providers; thus, providers have little information about their medical history. For individuals with infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, providers felt it was critical to know what kind of care and education a patient had received while incarcerated. Ex-prisoners without health insurance have limited treatment options. Difficulties navigating the health care and social services systems complicate referrals. Discharge planning needs to take such factors into account.
Budget cuts present further barriers to care. Providers report that they have had to eliminate or curtail HIV, dental, mental health, or alcohol and drug treatment programs. Because of state-level cuts in funding for community-based treatment programs, one provider we interviewed had to close a sober living facility.
Parolees Are Concentrated in 11 Counties, Mostly in the South
SOURCE: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation parolee data, 2005–2006.
Ex-Prisoners Concentrated Primarily in 11 Counties
To understand where ex-prisoners go upon release and which counties and communities are especially affected by reentry, we used parolee data to examine their geographic distribution following release, illustrated here in the map of California. The map shows that certain counties are particularly affected by reentry. Tiny dots represent each of the nearly 140,000 parolees released in 2005 and 2006, with major clusters shown as yellow ellipses. Darker shades of blue indicate counties with higher numbers of returnees per 1,000 residents; lighter shades indicate lower numbers of returnees. As shown, parolees tend to cluster in certain communities and neighborhoods, with implications for targeting resources.
Eleven counties, concentrated around the Bay Area and in the southern part of the state, had the highest rates of return. By far the highest rates were in Southern California, especially Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Also, African-American and Latino parolees tended to return to disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities, defined by high poverty rates, high unemployment rates, and low educational attainment.
We focused on four counties — Alameda, Kern, Los Angeles, and San Diego — that received a third of the state’s total parolees. In Alameda County, almost 45 percent of the returning population was concentrated in five clusters, primarily around Oakland and the northern section of the county. Four clusters within Kern County accounted for almost 58 percent of its parolees, while in San Diego County there were eight clusters accounting for nearly half the parolee population, with the largest in downtown and Southeast San Diego. Unlike the other counties, Los Angeles County had 23 clusters covering a large geographic area but accounting for only 35 percent of the total number of returnees.
Unequal Access to Care
We also wanted to know where ex-prisoners were located relative to communities’ health care safety nets: the hospitals, clinics, and mental health and substance abuse treatment providers that would serve the reentry population. So we overlaid such facilities on our county-level maps and found that the capacity of the health care safety net varies within counties. Many ex-prisoners in the three large urban counties — Alameda, Los Angeles, and San Diego — returned to areas with lower levels of accessibility to safety net facilities than found elsewhere in those counties.
In Los Angeles County, for example, some county supervisorial districts with high concentrations of ex-prisoners tended to have fewer hospital and primary care clinics than did other districts. In District 2, which covers South Los Angeles and has a relatively high concentration of ex-prisoners, there are relatively few clinics. And there is only one hospital affiliated with the Medically Indigent Services Program, which is the county-provided program of last resort for those who are not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), or private health insurance and who meet socioeconomic eligibility standards.
To understand how much access ex-prisoners had to these facilities, we created accessibility measures for each facility based on its capacity, demand, and travel distance. In Los Angeles County, more than half of parolees (53 percent) returned to areas with lower levels of accessibility to hospitals. More African-American parolees (60 percent) lived in areas with lower accessibility than did Latino or white parolees (51 percent and 47 percent, respectively). Alameda County had a similar pattern, but in Kern and San Diego counties, more Latino parolees lived in areas with lower accessibility to hospitals than did white and African-American parolees.
Realignment and Reform
California’s public safety realignment plan and the U.S. federal health care reform represent important opportunities to improve services to the reentry population, and the stakeholders involved in preparing for both policy measures overlap. For realignment, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must coordinate with counties to shift responsibility for low-level offenders; for health care reform, California’s Department of Health Care Services must coordinate with counties to prepare for full implementation and for expanding Medicaid.
Both policy measures present opportunities and challenges for addressing ex-prisoners’ health care and reentry needs. As an opportunity, realignment focuses attention on the need to improve pre release planning for the transition of care from correctional health to safety net providers. As a challenge, realignment dramatically changes how low-level offenders will obtain health care and social services, shifting attention from state parole to county-level supervision.
As an opportunity, health care reform opens up the possibility for many ex-prisoners and others in the criminal justice system to become eligible for Medicaid and to have drug treatment services, prevention services, and wellness programs covered more fully. As a challenge, expanding Medicaid eligibility could lead to increased demand for health care safety net services that are already stretched thin.
There are many steps the state and counties can take. They can develop better estimates of the percentage of the Medicaid expansion population that the reentry population represents. Because the Medicaid expansion population is expected to include individuals with multiple comorbidities and a high demand for mental health care and alcohol and drug treatment, investing in “health homes” (teams of providers) and other integrated case management systems for this population will be an important way to manage their complex care needs. Expanding pre release planning to more fully include those with chronic medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems makes sense, as does having the state assess options, such as electronic medical records, for easing the transition of care to community health care systems. Also important will be developing strategies to enroll the reentry population in Medicaid or reinstate their Medicaid benefits and to improve the needed expertise and capacity of treatment providers, especially in localities with higher numbers of ex-prisoners, so providers can better meet the expected increase in demand for services.
Both public safety realignment and federal health reform come with funding streams. Some of this money could leverage existing investments in planning for health care reform for the reentry population. For example, some funds could be used to develop “health homes” or other case management systems. Investing in treatment for this population now may help offset criminal justice costs later on, and expanding access to primary care and integrated care may help avoid more expensive and intensive care down the road.
The gang problem in the United States has remained stubbornly persistent over the past decade. Here are the facts: One in three local law enforcement agencies in 2010 reported youth gang problems in their jurisdiction.1 In a 2010 national survey, 45 percent of high school students and 35 percent of middle-schoolers said that there were gangs — or students who considered themselves part of a gang — in their school. Nearly one in 12 youth said they belonged to a gang at some point during their teenage years. Public health and public safety workers who respond to gang problems know that after-the-fact responses are not sufficient. An emergency department doctor who treats gang-related gunshot wounds and a law enforcement officer who must tell a mother that her son has been killed in a drive-by shooting are both likely to stress the need for prevention — and the complementary roles that public health and law enforcement must play — in stopping violence before it starts.
But how can we prevent gang-joining, especially during a time of limited national, state, tribal and local budgets?
To help meet the challenge, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NIJ engaged some of the nation’s top criminal justice and public health researchers to explore what the evidence shows.
The consequences of gangs — and the burdens placed on the law enforcement and health systems in our communities — are significant. Homicide is the second-leading cause of death for American adolescents and young adults: an average of 13 deaths every day among 15- to 24-year-olds.However, the number of violent deaths tells only part of the story. More than 700,000 young people are treated in emergency departments in the U.S. for assault-related injuries every year. Although kids in gangs are far more likely than kids not involved in gangs to be both victims and perpetrators of violence,the risks go far beyond crime and violence. Gang-involved youth are more likely to engage in substance abuse and high-risk sexual behavior and to experience a wide range of potentially long-term health and social consequences, including school dropout, teen parenthood, family problems and unstable employment.
The involvement of judges, prosecutors, social service providers, law enforcement officers, crime victims, community-based organizations, and others is critical to improving the juvenile justice system and reducing youth violence. The Action Plan supports interagency law enforcement teams, or task forces, that coordinate the investigative efforts and suppression tactics of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in weapons, drug, and gang arrests.
In many communities, law enforcement has taken the lead in implementing innovative juvenile crime prevention and intervention efforts as part of an overall community oriented policing approach. Successful public safety and prevention strategies provide comprehensive, targeted community services and support to youth to keep them from becoming the next generation of offenders. Youth-focused community oriented policing that is effectively linked to the juvenile justice system can significantly contribute to the reduction of crime, restoration of order, and eradication of fear in local communities.
Crimes by juveniles are growing across our county and our nation. These crimes encompass so many offenses in the justice system that many are considered violent enough to be adult crimes.
At Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, we have targeted Juvenile Crimes as a major focus of this administration. We want to work with the youth and their family members so that, with everyone working together, we can address the issues before the young minds of our communities lose sight of basic decency and continue on a path of destruction.
Trends show that violent traits appear at a younger age each year. Since September 11, 2001, our youth are more aware of violence on the home front. In Riverside County, terrorism seemed far away, but that is no longer the case. Fear plays a major factor for today’s youth whether it is at home, in the community or at school. Many pre-teens and teenagers try to hide their fears through aggression. Others will withdraw from family and society.
BE PROACTIVE INSTEAD OF REACTIVE
Keeping abreast of behavior changes in your children will help you to become proactive. However, don’t be afraid to react to any of the behavior changes listed. Start by seeking assistance from your child’s school. They can provide you with a host of resources that may include referring you to a school counselor, law enforcement resource officer, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or county mental health professional.
BE ALERT TO BEHAVIOR CHANGES
If you note any of the following, start now to seek solutions to these problems:
Unusual mood swings,
Drastic change in selection of friends,
Friendships where there is little parental supervision in the home,
Unusually hostile or arrogant attitude toward family members or authority figures,
Fixations with music, video games, and TV programs promoting drugs and violence, or
Withdrawal from the family as a unit and preferring to be in seclusion when at home.
SHERIFF SNIFF SUGGESTS
Talk to your children about their daily activities. Talk to your child’s teacher on a regular basis. Be aware of what your children wear to school each day. Update their photos at least every six months. Know where their medical and dental records are. Know their friends and their families. Know what accesses they have on their computer. Know where they are at all times. Involve your children in church, community and school activities.
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).
Last year my wife and I fought a case that would determine our future. Not knowing that after we were separated and put into different sections in the same jail that God was working behind the seen just as the enemy was. God situated us near one another in the jail, one floor between us. I hadn’t missed a night in the bed with this woman for 3 years, not a night in the streets or practicing evil, but we were finally separated physically for six days, but we communicated through the toilets in the jail. We prayed still and meditated scriptures and shared our reflections daily still. We came home to a 13 month house arrest in a home we didn’t own. “BUT GOD”!!! He always has a plan to prosper and protect ;
They were living to themselves; self with its hopes, and promises and dreams, still had hold of them; but the Lord began to fulfill their prayers. They had asked for contrition, and had surrendered for it to be given them at any cost, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity, and He sent them thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek, and He had broken their hearts; they had asked to be dead to the world, and He slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him, and He placed them in the furnace, sitting by “as a refiner and purifier of silver,” until they should reflect His image; they had asked to lay hold of His cross, and when He had reached it to them it lacerated their hands.
They had asked they knew not what, nor how, but He had taken them at their word, and granted them all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow Him so far, or to draw so nigh to Him. They had upon them an awe and fear, as Jacob at Bethel, or Eliphaz in the night visions, or as the apostles when they thought that they had seen a spirit, and knew not that it was Jesus. They could almost pray Him to depart from them, or to hide His awfulness. They found it easier to obey than to suffer, to do than to give up, to bear the cross than to hang upon it. But they cannot go back, for they have come too near the unseen cross, and its virtues have pierced too deeply within them. He is fulfilling to them His promise, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).
But now at last their turn has come. Before, they had only heard of the mystery, but now they feel it. He has fastened on them His look of love, as He did on Mary and Peter, and they can but choose to follow.
Little by little, from time to time, by flitting gleams, the mystery of His cross shines out upon them. They behold Him lifted up, they gaze on the glory which rays from the wounds of His holy passion; and as they gaze they advance, and are changed into His likeness, and His name shines out through them, for He dwells in them. They live alone with Him above, in unspeakable fellowship; willing to lack what others own (and what they might have had), and to be unlike all, so that they are only like Him.
Such, are they in all ages, “who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”
Had they chosen for themselves, or their friends chosen for them, they would have chosen otherwise. They would have been brighter here, but less glorious in His Kingdom. They would have had Lot’s portion, not Abraham’s. If they had halted anywhere–if God had taken off His hand and let them stray back — what would they not have lost? What forfeits in the resurrection? But He stayed them up, even against themselves. Many a time their foot had well nigh slipped; but He in mercy held them up. Now, even in this life, they know that all He did was done well. It was good to suffer here, that they might reign hereafter; to bear the cross below, for they shall wear the crown above; and that not their will but His was done on them and in them.
The concepts of the “Men of Old” contained in the bible is reference guide to building a healthy community and family.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had an interesting rule for his teams. Whenever a player scored, he was to acknowledge the person on the team who had assisted. When he was coaching high school, one of his players asked, “Coach, won’t that take up too much time?” Wooden replied, “I’m not asking you to run over there and give him a big hug. A nod will do.”
To achieve victory on the basketball court, Wooden saw the importance of teaching his players that they were a team—not “just a bunch of independent operators.” Each person contributed to the success of everyone else.
If you have accepted Christ as a personal Savior, you are to forget yourself, and try to help others. Talk of the love of Christ, tell of His goodness. Do every duty that presents itself. Carry the burden of souls upon your heart, and by every means in your power seek to save the lost. As you receive the Spirit of Christ-the Spirit of unselfish love and labor for others-you will grow and bring forth fruit. The graces of the Spirit will ripen in your character. Your faith will increase, your convictions deepen, your love be made perfect. More and more you will reflect the likeness of Christ in all that is pure, noble, and lovely.
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. —2 Peter 1:3
A college football coach in the Bronx (New York) built his team around good character qualities. Instead of displaying their names on the back of their jerseys, the Maritime College players displayed words likefamily, respect, accountability,and character. Before each game, coach Clayton Kendrick-Holmes reminded his team to play by those principles on the field.
The apostle Peter had his own list of Christian qualities (2 Peter 1:5-7) that he encouraged believers to add to their life of faith:
Virtue. Fulfilling God’s design for a life with moral excellence.
Knowledge. Studying God’s Word to gain wisdom to combat falsehood.
Self-control. Revering God so much that we choose godly behavior.
Perseverance. Having a hopeful attitude even in difficulties because we’re confident in God’s character.
Godliness. Honoring the Lord in every relationship in life.
Brotherly kindness. Displaying a warmhearted affection for fellow believers.
Love. Sacrificing for the good of others.
Let’s develop these qualities in increasing measure and integrate them into every part of our life.
Just as the body grows in strength With exercise each day, Our spirit grows in godliness By living life God’s way. —D. De Haan
Love is a distinguishing mark of Christians and something the Lord commanded us to do (John 13:34-35). Jesus said we should love others as God loves us—selflessly, sacrificially, with understanding and forgiveness. But how can we love others if we’re unsure of His love for us personally?
When we refer to “God’s love,” we’re talking about the unselfish giving of Himself to us, which brings about blessing in our lives–no matter how unlovable we might be. That says something about the Lord’s character. His love is not just an emotion, decision, or action but who He is (1 John 4:8).
How can we know for certain that God loves us?
1. He created the world for us.
One of the reasons I enjoy traveling out west is because I can go into the wilderness where I don’t see anything but what God created. He gave us oceans and beaches, mountains and snow, sunrises and sunsets, full moons and new moons, beautiful plants and animals.
Consider what an awesome sight this world was right after God created it, untainted by man. We tend to forget how majestic His the earth really is, especially when houses, big buildings, cars, and pollution surround us at every turn. Sometimes spending a little time in nature is all we need to remind us of the Lord’s affection.
2. He chose us.
Jesus prayed: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Scripture also teaches that God lovedus before He ever created the earth (Eph. 1:4-5).
3. He died for us.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” On the cross, Jesus emptied Himself for our sake, pouring out His love so that we might be saved. He loved us then, and He loves us today—regardless of all our mistakes, sins, or struggles.
4. He cares for us.
God continually watches over us, providing our needs. He protects and guides us, and answers our prayers. The Lord may not always work in the time frame we expect, but if we’re faithful to wait on Him, He will always come through for us according to His will. The best way to learn about God’s deep concern for His children is to spend time reading Scripture and meditating on it through prayerful interaction with Him. If we devote ourselves to the Lord, we will discover that He is always caring toward us.
God promises that He will love us unconditionally—and won’t ever leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). If God loved us only sometimes but notall the time, that would mean His character, feelings, or attitude is changeable. But our Lord never changes.
Neither is His love contingent upon us. Whether or not we go to church, tithe, witness, pray enough, and never sin, God’s affection is always the same. You can’t do anything to deserve it, and you can’t do anything to keep Him from loving you.
The apostle John tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This may be a difficult truth for our human minds to grasp. But love is the Lord’s very essence, and He is the source from which all true love flows. There are no restrictions, no limitations, and no exceptions. God’s care for us is absolute and genuine, and through creation, He has unmistakably declared that love (Rom. 1:20). But in His most powerful proclamation of all, He sent His Son to die for us, so that we could enjoy His loving presence for all eternity.
In difficult times church leaders need to pay careful attention to congregational dynamics. On one level, a congregation is a complex emotional system, and changes to one part of the congregation also affect the rest of the system.
Difficult situations create stress on the congregation, and stress shows up in a variety of ways. Church leaders must learn to expect and recognize the symptoms of stress and understand that different people will react in different ways. Some may withdraw, unable to face the pain of the difficulty. Others may overreact and try to solve the problem too soon. Still others may complain about seemingly unrelated matters in an unconscious attempt to avoid the issue and divert the attention of the leaders.
Congregations in difficulty will find that their members are grieving. Grieving people tend to resist change because change always involves some loss. Therefore, they may want to hang onto familiar things even more than usual. So, for example, while introducing a new song at any other time might not be a major issue, during a difficult time it may be a volatile move. Leaders should be prepared for the resentment and even hostility that may come from frustrated parishioners. They need to remind themselves to remain as calm as possible, absorbing some of the anxiety of the system and thereby providing some immunity to the congregational body.
Often the troubling symptoms of the difficult time will become focused on worship, the major corporate activity of the church. Worship can become the congregational lightning rod, since it involves the greatest portion of the congregation all at once, and since it is so closely tied to people’s faith. Moreover, the term “worship war” has become so common that church members almost expect it to happen. It could even become the smokescreen that overshadows the real underlying problems of the congregation. So paying careful attention to worship is all the more important in difficult times.
Worshiping as the Body of Christ
That careful consideration should include a basic understanding of what the church is called to be and how it is called to worship. These matters are central to all congregations at all times, no matter what their situation, but are especially important in difficult times.
A helpful way to think of the church as it faces trying situations is to reflect on Scripture’s metaphors for the church. One that is often cited both in regard to the church and in teaching on emotional systems is that of a human body. The body is made up of cells and tissues and organs that all contribute to and sustain the body’s life. It has many different parts that are all necessary and that together make up something even greater than the whole. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul notes the importance of all parts of the body and their unique contributions. The emphasis in this passage is on the spiritual gifts of church members—some more obvious, others less so, but all necessary and important.
Another metaphor both for the gifts of the church and its web of relationships is a horticultural one. In John 15 Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” The fruit-bearing image appears also in Matthew 7 (“You will know them by their fruits”) and in Galatians 5 with the list of the “fruit of the Spirit.”
Both metaphors are fitting because the church is the body of Christ—a living organism. These images are helpful for understanding what happens to a congregation in a difficult time. When a person has a toothache her whole body hurts. If she loses her sight or her hearing, the activity of her entire body is affected. When a branch is pruned or shocked by frost the plant will react by working harder to heal the broken parts. Or it may shed them.
Similar reactions can be found in the living body that is the church. And worship may be the greenhouse or the nursery in which suffering plants can be brought back to health. The rituals of the liturgy may become “the leaves of the tree that bring healing to the nations” (Rev. 22:2). In worship we learn again to abide in the true vine—both by hearing the Word of God and reenacting its stories in worship. In worship we remember who we are as a community of baptized persons and we celebrate our redemption at our Lord’s Supper. In worship we receive the nutrients that feed our souls and give us life. And we recall God’s faithfulness as we seek to bear the Spirit’s fruit. Like plants that take in oxygen and put out carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis, so in worship we are in dialogue, in a reciprocal relationship between the creatures and the Creator.
Worship is so essential to the church that it rarely stops. When a church building is struck by fire, an alternative location to meet for worship is found quickly. The members of the worshiping body want to be together in times of crisis to comfort one another. Even congregations experiencing severe conflict still meet for worship, so it is the most appropriate venue for healing and reconciliation. And this is possible because in worship we recognize that we need to abide together and abide in Christ. As we pray and sing, offer lament and give thanks, hear God’s promises and dedicate ourselves to live for him, we remember who we are in Christ and are able to become one in him.
One church is dealing with a major conflict between the pastor and the elders. Another is struggling to keep together factions that have polarized over changes in worship. A third is reeling from the sudden suspension of its pastor. A fourth is grieving over the tragic death of a child. A fifth is facing the loss of a large portion of its membership; yet another is adjusting to the consolidation of a smaller congregation into its midst. These are all for instances May & I are comfronted with while attempting to partner with leadership to kingdom building.
These are just a few of the difficult times congregations can face—circumstances that affect all of a congregation’s life, especially its worship life. Such situations raise questions like these:
How do congregations worship in a difficult time of crisis, transition, or conflict?
How can congregations plan worship thoughtfully and meaningfully through a difficult time?
How can worship help the congregation in the process of healing from a difficult time?
For most congregations, worship is the main event of the week. Even though Christians worship individually and often do so outside of the sanctuary, the weekly worship service is the occasion when, more than any other time, the congregation gathers and expresses its identity. So when a congregation experiences a difficult situation, symptoms are bound to appear in worship. The leaders of the congregation must carefully discern how to plan worship appropriately during these times. Ultimately, worship may be the element of congregational life that has the most potential to help the congregation through the process of healing.
Difficult Times: Crisis, Transition, Conflict
Worship services can become a calm island in the storm of conflict or a guiding force through a turbulent period, but different situations will require varying approaches to worship planning. Situations of crisis, transition, or conflict each raise a different set of issues to deal with.
A crisis is a sudden change that creates a great amount of tension and upheaval for those affected by it. Examples of congregational crises include the sudden death of a leader or church member, the unexpected resignation of a pastor or staff member, a natural disaster that damages the church facilities, or a regional or national calamity. In a crisis, announcements and methods of communication are of urgent importance. In these situations, leaders will need to ask questions like the following:
What will we say to the people on Sunday morning, and who will say it?
How will we tell the news and still be able to worship?
Who will lead our service and preach the sermon (if the crisis involves the pastor’s absence)?
Should we scrap the planned liturgy completely and simply start over?
What songs will we sing instead of the ones previously chosen?
Who will make these decisions?
A crisis requires thoughtful planning and decision-making without much time for processing. It calls for wisdom from church leaders—wisdom that can be developed by setting good patterns long before any crisis occurs.
Though a crisis is a sudden change, it often is followed by an extended period of grieving—for a person, a group, a building, or even a congregational identity. The situation then leads to a time of transition, or, in some cases, a time of conflict. The issues caused by a crisis do not go away quickly when the immediate crisis is over. Careful responses from leaders will have long-term results for the health and well-being of the congregation.
A transition is the process of changing from one form, state, activity, or place to another. Unlike a crisis situation, transitions allow more time for careful planning. The most common transitions for congregations are changes in pastoral or staff leadership. Other examples of transitions include building additions and relocations, development of a new vision or new programs, mergers of two or more congregations, and consolidations of one congregation into another.
As in a time of crisis, leaders need to ask important questions. For example, in the case of a consolidation, church leaders will want to ask questions like these:
How will we publicly welcome these people into our family?
How will we acknowledge that together we become a new worshiping community?
How will we acknowledge the grief that some will feel in losing their identity (and even their building and many of their ways)?
How can we ritualize the transition?
A conflict is a prolonged controversy or disagreement between opposing forces. Church conflicts can arise from a variety of issues—from worship style to leadership style to interior decorating style. They may develop out of an unresolved or poorly handled crisis. They may begin with a sharp disagreement or with a quiet dispute that grows into a heated discussion. Leaders have to think carefully about whether their actions will fan or douse embers of conflict.
Conflicts often serve as evidence of deeper disagreements or hurts within the congregation. Sometimes healing has been needed for a long time, but no one has facilitated that process. Leaders need wisdom to discern how best to acknowledge the conflict and how to work toward resolution. They will have to address questions like the following:
Should we “name” the conflict in worship?
Should we speak words of confession to one another?
Can we do this without making hypocrites out of people by attempting to force contrition?
How (and how often) should we address themes of unity and reconciliation?
Should we take care to involve members who are on different “sides” of the conflict?
How can we use worship and Scripture to build hope in the congregation, knowing that our Lord will carry us through this difficult time?
Congregations need to recognize that things don’t always go well, and difficult times are a normal part of congregational life.
Planning Worship in Difficult Times
Worship services can help a congregation through a difficult time by reminding members of the major themes of Scripture and the promises God has made. In worship, congregations gather as God’s chosen people, recalling who they are by baptism and finding themselves again in the gospel narrative. During difficult times, careful worship planning becomes more crucial than ever. Services must be designed carefully, with thoughtful awareness of the difficult situation and the many opinions and questions swirling around.
Church leaders who are dealing with the conflict, crisis, or transitional situation should be in close contact with those who plan worship. They should not naively assume that they can simply take care of the difficulty behind the scenes so that the problem won’t affect the worship services. It will affect them—one way or another. The challenge is to manage that effect and guide the process with discernment.
Public acknowledgement of the difficult time may be helpful for a congregation, but it requires sensitivity and careful planning by the leaders. They must be sure to preserve the dignity and purpose of worship, as well as be sensitive to the presence of visitors in the worship service. One church-shopping couple visited a church on the very day the suspension of its pastor was announced. They kept coming to see how the church would handle the crisis, and are still members ten years later.
Church leaders may find that simply naming the difficulty facing the congregation will go a long way toward reducing the anxiety that members are feeling. Instead of avoiding the obvious, leaders can help the congregation admit that things are not quite the way they’re supposed to be. This may also give the congregation permission to admit failure and begin moving toward health. In the midst of pressure to be the best church, draw the most people, and have the most inspiring worship services, congregations need to recognize that things don’t always go well, and difficult times are a normal part of congregational life. This attitude, when modeled by church leaders, may help members work through the difficulty. In fact, the congregation may learn that difficult times can be times of great spiritual growth.
Leaders can facilitate that growth through careful collaboration with worship planners. Congregations experiencing challenges are often characterized by a variety of intense emotions, including an increase in anxiety and a concurrent decrease in the creative energy needed for planning and implementing corporate worship. Sometimes the crisis or conflict results in a loss of leadership—even a loss of the pastor or other central worship planner or leader. Congregations in these situations need guidance in knowing what questions to ask and what matters to consider regarding worship. (See Q&A, p. 30, for some examples of such questions.)
Saul was a head above most men. David was ruddy and smaller in stature. Saul was driven by an evil spirit and died a crazed, God-forsaken man. David drove an evil spirit from Saul with the sound of his lyre. Saul hid out in his tent when Goliath taunted the Israelites. David stood up for his people and his God and defeated Goliath. The difference between bad and great leaders is not appearance or experience. God uses the unexpected, unimpressive, and inexperienced to accomplish remarkable things.
The ultimate contrast between these men was not their appearance or experience; it was their spirit. Their relationship with the Holy Spirit made all the difference in their leadership. The chronicler of Israel’s history points to this primary difference between these two leaders: “And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul . . .” (1 Sam 16:13-14). We’re told that the Spirit rushed upon David, while the Spirit departed from Saul. One man was Spirit-filled and led. The other was Spirit-devoid and distrusting. David pled with God to not take his Spirit (Ps 51:11) from him. God’s Spirit left Saul.
Consider three differences in leadership between David and Saul:
In the face of Philistine blasphemies, David was incited with zeal for the Lord: “He was stirred to the depths with concern for the glory of God.”
David’s zeal was not for personal success but for God’s glory. He wasn’t childishly driven by self-promotion. He was bent on promoting the reputation of God. What am I promoting? Am I stirred to depths for the glory of God? Every one of us can ask these questions. Are we hiding out in our tents, our libraries, our offices, or are we incited with zeal for the Lord to pursue his glory through leadership, work, discipleship and mission? Are we passionately pursuing God’s glory or our own glory in how we lead?
Management vs. Empowerment
Saul tried to manage and control everyone around him. He relied on bribes to get others to fight Goliath (17:25). Saul discouraged young leaders like David (to not fight Goliath) because he was threatened by their leadership. The problem wasn’t that Saul lacked vision for what David could become; it was that he feared what David could become. He sought to manage, not empower the leaders around him. David, on the other hand, was constantly surrounded by “mighty men.”
We can lead our company, church, and organizations through empowerment. Rather than insist on control, we can relinquish control to let other leaders rise up in faith. Often we are too doubtful about some and too confident about others.
Moved by Wisdom
David wasn’t all zeal and faith. His zeal was mature because it was guided by wisdom and marked by self-control. When mocked by his brothers, he did not pick a fight or defend his abilities. Instead, he channeled indignation towards his enemies (17:28-29). The Spirit produces leaders that are balanced and discerning, not merely zealous and faith-filled.
Instead of getting side-tracked by petty issues, comments, and complaints, we lead with “one blind eye and one deaf ear” as Spurgeon put it. Don’t linger over the negative. Instead, we try to wisely discern what voices to listen to and which ones to shut out. Don’t entertain every idea. Follow the Spirit through wisdom, not ambition.
May God make us zealous, empowering, and wise leaders. May he never take his Holy Spirit from us. May we lead well and finish strong, ever dependent upon the Spirit, glorifying our great Redeemer and King Jesus!
Christian monotheistic belief is summarized by the following seven points:
1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
7. There is only one God.
When Christians say: (1) The Father is God; (2) The Son is God; and (3) The Holy Spirit is God we are identifying Who God is.
When we say: (4) The Father is not the Son; (5) The Son is not the Holy Spirit; and (6) The Holy Spirit is not the Father we are distinguishing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The seventh and the final statement is the most challenging, “There is only one God”. The Greeks would say, “Zeus is god, “Apollos is god, and Dionysius is god” and there are three gods. Christianity says, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God and there is only one God.
To help clarify the above seven points, please consider the following diagram:
The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, and Belief in One God Involves Mystery
Now, the question boils down to this: Is this what the Bible teaches? Since the Bible teaches this but we can’t fully comprehend it – that is OK. We must leave room for mystery in our theology.
In church history Saint Augustine (354-430) probably thought more about the doctrine of the Trinity than any other uninspired writer, with the possible exception of John Calvin. There is a story about Augustine walking upon the ocean’s shore, greatly perplexed about the doctrine of the Trinity. As he meditated, he observed a little boy with a sea shell, running to the water, filling his shell, and then pouring it into a hole which he had made in the sand.
“What are you doing, my little man?” asked Augustine.
“Oh,” replied the boy, “I am trying to put the ocean in this hole.”
Augustine had learned his lesson, and as he passed on, exclaimed, “That is what I am trying to do; I see it now. Standing on the shores of time I am trying to get into this little finite mind things which are infinite.”
It should come as no surprise that the Christian belief in the Triune God involves mysteries that transcend the human mind.
When we quote The Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Author J. B. Phillips said, “Every time we say [this] we mean that we believe that [the Spirit] is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.”
Sometimes we forget that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force. The Bible describes Him as God. He possesses the attributes of God: He is present everywhere (Ps. 139:7-8), He knows all things (1 Cor. 2:10-11), and He has infinite power (Luke 1:35). He also does things that only God can do: create (Gen. 1:2) and give life (Rom. 8:2). He is equal in every way with the other Persons of the Trinity—the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is a Person who engages in personal ways with us. He grieves when we sin (Eph. 4:30). He teaches us (1 Cor. 2:13), prays for us (Rom. 8:26), guides us (John 16:13), gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11), and assures us of salvation (Rom. 8:16).
The Holy Spirit indwells us if we have received forgiveness of sin through Jesus. He desires to transform us so that we become more and more like Jesus. Let’s cooperate with the Spirit by reading God’s Word and relying on His power to obey what we learn.
God’s guidance and help that we need day to day Is given to all who believe; The Spirit has sealed us—He’s God’s guarantee Of power that we can receive. —Branon
The Christian who neglects the Holy Spirit is like a lamp that’s not plugged in.
It is said that a flippant young man once remarked to a preacher in mocking fashion, “You say that unsaved people carry a great weight of sin. Frankly, I feel nothing. How heavy is sin? Ten pounds? Fifty pounds? Eighty pounds? A hundred pounds?”
The preacher thought for a moment, then replied, “If you laid a four-hundred-pound weight on a corpse, would it feel the load?”
The young man was quick to say, “Of course not; it’s dead”
Driving home his point, the preacher said, “The person who doesn’t know Christ is equally dead. And though the load is great, he feels none of it”
The Christian, unlike the average non-Christian, is not indifferent to the weight of sin. He is actually hypersensitive to it. Having come to Jesus Christ, his senses are awakened to the reality of sin. His sensitivity to sin intensifies as he matures spiritually. Such sensitivity prompted a saint as great as Chrysostom, the fourth-century church Father, to say he feared nothing but sin (Second Homily on Eutropius).
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
That passage is a poignant description of someone in conflict with himself-someone who loves God’s moral law and wants to obey it, but is pulled away from doing so by the sin that is in him. It is the personal experience of a soul in conflict.
There has always been debate whether Paul was describing a Christian or a non-Christian in this passage. Some people say there is too much bondage to sin in view for this passage to refer to a Christian. Others say there is too much desire to do good for a non-Christian. You can’t be a Christian and be bound to sin, and you can’t be a non-Christian and wholeheartedly desire to keep the law of God. Therein is the conflict of interpreting the passage.
The Non-Christian View
Those who believe Romans 7:14-25 is speaking of a non-Christian say verse 14 is the key: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. ” Then they point to verse 18, which says, ” I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. ” They conclude that has to be a non-Christian because a Christian knows how to do what’s good. There seems to be an obvious lack of the Holy Spirit’s power here.
The despair of verse 24–“Wretched man that I am!”–seems far removed from the promise ofRomans 5:1-2: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
Romans 6 has many examples of the believer’s freedom from sins power. Verse 2 says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Verses 6-7 say, “Our old self was crucified with [Christ], that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. ” Verses 11-12 say, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin…Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” Verses 17-18 say, ” But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” How can the person who said all that turn around and say, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (7:14)?
Chapter 6 emphasizes the new creation, the new nature, the new identity, the new person in Christ, and the holiness of the believer. In his new redeemed self, the believer has broken sin’s dominion. However, chapter 7 gives the other side.
Every Christian knows from experience that though he is a new creature in Christ, sin is still a problem. In fact, that conflict is pointed out even in chapter 6: ” Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness ” (vv. 12-13). Because it’s still possible for Christians to yield to sin, we are commanded not to.
Arguing that chapter 7 cannot refer to a Christian because of statements in chapter 6 is to misunderstand the intention of chapter 6.
The Christian View
Paul says, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Romans 7:22). That certainly isn’t something a non-Christian could accurately claim. Romans 8:7 says that the unregenerate person is not subject to the law of God.
In verse 25 Paul says, ” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God .” That sounds likea Christian.
The following verses describe Paul’s thwarted desire to do what is right: ” For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate … For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish … I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good ” (vv. 15, 18-19, 21).
Romans 3 tells us that the unsaved person has no such longing to do the will of God: ” There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God … There is none who does good, there is not even one …There is no fear of God before their eyes” (vv. 11-12, 18). Therefore the conflict described in Romans 7 can be true of a redeemed person only.
Another question comes up at this point that has sparked an equally furious debate: What kind of Christian is Romans 7 talking about?
Some believe he’s a carnal Christian–one with a low level of spirituality who is trying in his own strength to keep the law. However Romans 7:14-25 describes a believer who clearly sees the inability of his flesh to uphold the divine standard. The more spiritual or mature a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings will be. An immature Christian doesn’t have such an honest self perception. The legalist is under the illusion that he is very spiritual. I believe Paul is describing himself in this chapter, judging from the extensive use of the personal pronoun “I.”
Some say Romans 7:14-25 describes Paul’s struggle before he was saved or right after he became saved and was still spiritually immature. But again, it is the mature Christian who possesses an honest self-evaluation. And Paul exhibited that in passages other than Romans 7.
1 Corinthians 15:9-10–Paul said, ” For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. “
Ephesians 3:8–Paul considered himself as “the very least of all saints.” That 1 Corinthians was written before Ephesians shows he became more sensitive to sin as time went on. Although in our judgment Paul is the supreme man relative to other men, he saw himself as having fallen from the position of the least of the apostles to less than the least of all believers.
The terms Paul uses in Romans 7 are so precise that we can’t miss his struggle with sin. He states that he hates committing sin (v. 15), that he loves righteousness (vv. 19, 21), that he delights in the law of God from the bottom of his heart (v. 22), and that he thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Christ (v. 25). Those are the responses of a mature Christian.
The change in verb tenses is a clue that this passage applies to a Christian. The verbs in Romans 7:7-13 are in the past tense. They refer to Paul’s life before his conversion and the process of conviction he experienced when he stood face-to-face with the law of God. However in verses 14-25, where we see the battle with sin taking place, they are in the present tense.
I believe Romans 7:14-25 is Paul’s own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled, mature believer. He loves the holy law of God with his whole heart, but finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way his heart wants him to.
This passage is unique in that it contains a series of laments–desperate, repetitious cries of a distressed soul in great conflict. Each lament follows the same pattern. Paul first describes his condition, then gives proof of it, and then explains the source of the problem.
Paul’s First Lament
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (Romans 7:14-17).
The “for” at the beginning tells us Paul isn’t introducing a new subject. He continues to answer the hypothetical accusation in verse 7 that his preaching salvation by grace through faith apart from the law implies that the law is evil. He states to the contrary that “the Law is spiritual,” meaning that it comes from the Spirit of God and is a reflection of His holy, just, and good nature (cf. v. 12).
Although Paul delights in God’s law, he confesses there’s a barrier that prevents him from always obeying it: his carnal or fleshly nature. He doesn’t say he was in the flesh or controlled by the flesh. Romans 8:8-9 says to its Christian audience, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh.” The phrase “in the flesh” refers to an unregenerate condition.
Although Christians are not in the flesh, the flesh is still in us. We are no longer held captive to it, but we can still act fleshly or carnal. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ…for you are still fleshly.For since thereis jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (vv. 1, 3). He reproved the Corinthian Christians for acting in a fleshly or non-Christian way.
Here in Romans 7 Paul says, ” For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh … with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin ” (vv. 18, 25). He admits that the flesh is still present. Flesh is simply a term for our humanness.
Any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. Saying you’re carnal is the same as saying you’re a sinner. For example, when I am angry, insensitive, or don’t pursue God as diligently as I desire, I see my humanness getting in the way of accomplishing all I ought to do.
Paul states in verse 14 that he is “sold into bondage to sin.” Verse 23 gives us a similar statement: ” I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” But how can that be since we as Christians have been delivered from sin? The phrase “sold into bondage to sin” is literally translated “having been sold under the sin.” That refers to the sin principle, the product of the Fall of man, not to individual sins committed.
Being “sold into bondage to sin” doesn’t mean Paul actively committed himself to sinning, as is said about Ahab in 1 Kings 21:20, 25; it means he recognized that in this life we as believers will constantly have to battle sin because of our human nature.
Can Paul’s lament of being sold under sin come from a true believer? In Psalm 51:5 David says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). That sounds like a man who had never been redeemed, doesn’t it? But David was simply looking at one reality about himself. His lament is similar to that of Isaiah, who upon seeing a vision of God said, “Woe is me , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips ” (Isaiah 6:5). All the prophet could see against the glorious holiness of God was his own sin.
Paul put all our experiences with sin into words in Romans 7:14-25. We all know there sin in our lives even though it shouldn’t be there. Although sin is not the product of our new self, we’re still bound to some degree by the body we dwell in. Verse 14 could be paraphrased, “The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, experiencing a bondage to sin at times.”
A self-righteous person deceives himself into thinking he is inherently moral, but verse 15 shows that a Christian led by the Spirit will not think that way. He sees the proof of indwelling sin. Paul’s failure to do what he desired and his doing what he hated reflects a profound inner turmoil. His will was frustrated by his sinful flesh. It’s not that evil won all the time, but that he was frustrated in his attempt to perfectly obey God.
If you’re a Christian, you can identify with that frustration. For instance, no sooner are you complimented for having done something right, and you become proud–you’ve just done something wrong. The spiritual person has a broken and contrite heart, realizing he can’t be all that God wants him to be. Sad to say, many Christians have yet to reach that point. That’s because their comprehension of God’s holy law is so shallow.
Do you know what makes a Christian want to carry out God’s law? His new nature within, which, according to 1 John 3:9, does not sin. When he goes against his new nature, it isn’t the law that is responsible, but the sin that still resides in his frail human body. A Christian will naturally pursue the moral excellence of God’s law. The more mature a Christian is–the more he loves the Lord, submits to the Spirit’s direction in his life, and grows in his understanding of God’s holiness–the greater will be his longing to fulfill the law.
Verse 17 sounds like Paul refuses to take the blame for his sin. It’s as if he’s blaming an inanimate object instead of himself. However, in verse 14 Paul acknowledges that he himself is sinful. Accepting responsibility for our failure challenges the teaching that God doesn’t hold us responsible for our sin because sin is tied to our old nature.
Yet verse 17 goes beyond Paul’s admitting that he is responsible for his sin. He specifies what part of him is responsible by making a more technical distinction: the sin that dwells in his flesh.
Paul’s reasoning in verse 17 is reminiscent of Galatians 2:20: “I [the old nature] have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. ” After salvation, sin no longer resides in a person’s innermost self, which is recreated to be like Christ. Yet sin finds its residual dwelling in our flesh. That’s why Paul said nothing good dwelt in his flesh (v. 18).
There’s a big difference between surviving sin and reigning sin: sin no longer reigns in us, but it does survive in us. We are like an artistically unskilled person who has a beautiful picture in clear view, but has no ability to actually paint it. What we need to do is ask the Master Artist to put His hand on ours to help us paint the strokes we never could have painted independently of Him. We experience victory over sin only when we yield ourselves to the One who can overcome the flesh.
Galatians 5:17 says, ” For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. ” Galatians 5:16 tells us how to win: ” But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. ” The Holy Spirit gives us victory. But let me warn you that the more victory you experience as you mature in Christ, the more you will recognizesin in your life.
Paul’s Second Lament
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me (Romans7:18-20).
In verse 18 Paul gives a more technical identification of the part of him that is actually sinning than he has previously: the sin that dwells in his flesh. The flesh isn’t necessarily evil in and of itself, but it’s where sin finds its base of operation.
In verses 18-19 Paul isn’t saying he can’t figure out how to do anything right. He’s saying he can’t obey to the extent his heart longs to. If you examine your spiritual growth, you should have a greater hatred for your sin now than you did before you understood how serious sin is and how holy God is. Although spiritual growth results in a decreasing frequency of sin, growth also involves a heightened sensitivity to it.
What Paul says in verse 20 is just like what he says in verse 17. Although he had a new nature, he still fought against sin and sometimes lost. Those losses seemed overwhelming to him compared to the perfection of God’s holy law. Nevertheless his sensitivity to sin was a normal–not morbid–result of justification by faith.
At this point you might figure Paul would give up, having adequately made his point. But he starts a third lament to emphasize his frustration and sorrow over sin.
Paul’s Third Lament
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members (Romans7:21-23).
In contrast to the law of God, Paul saw another law or standard that was making demands on him: the law or principle of evil. Evil battles every good thought, word, and deed. Rather than our sin nature’s being eradicated in this life, as some theologians have concluded, Paul tells us that evil is present within us and creates conflict.
Verse 22 tells us that Paul delighted in God’s law. The phrase “in the inner man” could be translated, “from the bottom of my heart.” Paul, deep down, had a great love for the law of God. That part of us “is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16), “strengthened with power through [God’s] Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).
In verse 23 Paul identifies the source of his problems as the sin that resides in human nature. Sometimes the battle went in favor of his unredeemed flesh and brought him into captivity. That implies Paul is speaking as a redeemed person because unredeemed people can’t be brought into captivity–they’re already there. When sin wins the victory in the spiritual struggle, the believer becomes a slave to the sin that at least temporarily masters him.
The author of Psalm 119 experienced the same conflict Paul did. His psalm reflects his deep longing for the things of God.
My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word. My eyes fail with longing for Your word, while I say, “When will You comfort me?” Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes (vv. 81-83).
If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction (v. 92).
Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (v. 97).
I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law (v. 113).
I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (v. 131).
Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight (v. 143).
I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law (v. 163).
Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble (v. 165).
I have longed for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight (v. 174).
The measure of spirituality that the psalmist expresses is somewhat intimidating. That is why the last verse in Psalm 119 is so surprising: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (v. 176). You might think that a person with such an intense love for God’s law would not experience the failure of going astray spiritually. But that is the conflict all believers experience.
Why do we sin? Because God didn’t do a good enough job when He saved us? Because He gave us a new nature that isn’t complete yet? Because we’re not prepared for heaven yet and still need to earn our way in? No, it’s because sin is still present in our humanness, which includes the mind, emotions, and body.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3 Paul says, “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds) (KJV).” Although we still have physical bodies, we are engaged in spiritual warfare using spiritual resources.
Paul’s three laments reveal the conflict every believer experiences with sin. From that conflict the believer cries out for deliverance.
Oh,wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver mefrom the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.
As if three laments aren’t enough, Paul lets out a wail in verse 24 that exceeds them all in intensity. He cries out in distress and frustration with his spiritual conflict. Can this be the despair of a Christian–let alone that of the apostle Paul? But Paul wasn’t the only godly person who refused to keep silent about inner turmoil.
Psalm 6 (KJV)–David cried out, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also very vexed [terrified]; but thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh, save me for thy mercies’ sake…I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears” (vv. 1-6). David was saying, “I’m sick and tired of not being everything I ought to be!”
Psalm 130 (KJV)–The psalmist wrote, “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope (vv. 1-5).
In verse 24 Paul rhetorically asks who will rescue him from the sin that resides in his body. “The body of this death” literally refers to our physical body, which is subject to sin and death.
I remember reading that near Tarsus, where Paulwas born, lived a tribe that inflicted a most gruesome punishment upon a convicted murderer. The tribe fastened the body of the murder victim to that of the killer– tying shoulder to shoulder, back to back, arm to arm–and then drove the killer from the community. The bonds were so tight that he could not free himself, and after a few days the decay in the dead body transferred itself to the living flesh of the murderer. In expressing his desire to be free from the sin that clung to his flesh, Paul might have had that ghastly punishment in mind.
In verse 25 Paul says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” That’s a dramatic change from his laments over sin and death. Paul always kept things in proper perspective.
Romans 8–Paul was assured of ultimate triumph through Jesus Christ over the conflict with sin: ” For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. … For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body ” (vv. 18-19, 22-23). We Christians await the final phase of salvation. We’re still looking to that day when we are redeemed in body as well as soul. So Paul thanks God in Romans 7:25 that the end of the conflict will come through Christ when we enter into His presence and are glorified.
1 Corinthians 15–“For this perishable must put on imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 53, 57). That last phrase is almost the same one Paul uses in Romans 7:25 in reference to our bodily resurrection and glorification.
2 Corinthians 5–“For indeed while we are in this tent [body], we groan, being burdened [with our humanness]; because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (v. 4).
Philippians 3–“We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (vv. 20-21). Ours is a triumphant hope!
Yet the battle goes on. We cry with the poet Tennyson, who wrote, “Ah for a new man to arise in me, that the man I am cease to be!” (Maud, x. 5). The battle won’t be over until Jesus gives us immortality. Full deliverance awaits glorification. But we can experience victory here and now in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Department of Health and Human Services(HHS), in conjunction with other Reentry Council agencies and community partners, sponsored a two-day conference, “Meeting the Reentry Needs of Women: Policies, Programs, and Practices.”
The conference brought together researchers, practitioners, federal employees, and advocates to discuss how federal, state, and local systems can work to improve reentry outcomes for women.
In 2012 and 2013 the Department of Labor (DOL) funded grants to provide employment and support services to females involved in the criminal justice system using a comprehensive case management strategy. In 2012 nine grants were awarded—seven serving adults and two serving youth. , since 2013 eight grants serving adults were awarded.
Like males, females involved with the criminal justice system face a host of challenges when they leave jail or prison and return to their communities. However, the current systems do not always address the specific challenges faced by women, which, if unaddressed,
can contribute to women’s potential risk for further involvement in the criminal justice system. For example,
while many females involved with the criminal justice system struggle with both substance abuse and mental health problems—often linked to their history of physical or sexual abuse beginning in childhood and extending into adulthood—most state and local reentry programs
lack a significant trauma-informed behavioral health component. And while a primary consideration for many justice-involved women who are mothers is to determine when and how to successfully reestablish a relationship with their children when they leave prison, most correctional systems do not focus on this important aspect of reentry. These and many other factors point to the need to better identify effective strategies to help women overcome these challenges as they transition to their communities.
In honor of Annual Reentry Reflections month 2014 The Office on Returning Citizen Affairs is facilitating a Gender Specific Reentry Conference with a focus on understanding the differences in reintegration for men and women. ORCA is committed to providing quality service to help create a seamless transition back into the community. We believe that the experience of incarceration and reentry is different for women than it is for men and therefore the needs of female Returning Citizens are unique and separate from those of their male counterparts. Even though women are the fast growing group of people becoming incarcerated, they are only 10% of the prison population. In an effort to ensure that
women who are returning from incarceration are not neglected in the services that the District provides ORCA has launched the Female Reentry Initiative.
One of the goals of this initiative is to inform the public about how crime and incarceration affects women and how the reentry process for women needs to be specifically designed with gender responsive needs in mind. The Gender Specific Reentry Conference will meet the mission of the agencies in our network system by providing theoretical approaches and first hand insight on how to improve and increase the quality and range of support services for women. The Office on Returning Citizen Affairs hopes that you will join us as we explore this meaningful topic
and explore strategies to address it.
When: November 4, 2014 at 10:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M.
Where: Judiciary Square 441 4th St. N.W. – Conference Room 1107
Please R.S.V.P NO LATER THAN Friday, October 14, 2014
If you need further information, contact Lashonia Etheridge-Bey, Staff Assistant, ORCA
How are reentry women similar to people that I’ve worked with and studied? My research participants domestic violence survivors and
people leaving “gangs— have also gone through a difficult life transition that involves leaving and reentry.These findings cut across groups:
Histories include neglect, victimization, exposure to drugs/sex/violence. Populations tend to have higher levels of complex developmental trauma, along with co-occurring conditions like mental illness and substance abuse. All three groups are going through “reentry.” Many are entering new, unfamiliar contexts for the first time (e.g., school, employment, new expectations, unfamiliar roles)
Similar developmental opportunities in all three groups:
Lack self-esteem and a sense of self-efficacy.
Trust is an issue, insufficient communication skills.
Inadequately developed self-regulation, self-care, positive coping.
Difficulties with interpersonal attachments and intimacy.
Reality testing –need to develop realistic appraisal, planning, and problem-solving skills.
Difficulties-discerning the difference between love versus “use-based”relationships, may not expect to be treated respectfully.
Lack of adequate or “good enough” parents or parental role models.
Positive social support networks need to be developed.
Not “ready” to take on the practical demands of everyday adult life.
High levels of poverty, lack of education, job skills, and job experience.
Women in all three groups have experienced them selves socially and economically marginalized deemed insignificant
Women are aware of relationship challenges, e.g., family reunification; gender roles in intimate relationships but they are ill-prepared to resolve these during reentry. Social support systems in general are lacking, as is practical support. Many obstacles exist; these are real, not abstract. Reentry women experience a general lack of clarity /actionable plan to take on the overwhelming task of “moving on” and “moving forward”.
Reentry Council agencies have convened seven listening sessions across the country to hear from service providers and justice-involved women on the challenges and successes of returning to their communities and families. These listening sessions will provide input for materials being developed for service providers and women reentering the community from prisons and jails.
DOJ’s National Institute of Corrections (NIC) has developed a Gender Responsive Policy & Practice Assessment (GRPPA) model to assist jails, prisons, and community corrections to: (a) evaluate whether current policy, practice, and programs address the risk, needs, and strengths of women involved in the criminal justice system, and (b) develop strategies to improve both system and women’s outcomes.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is piloting a program developed specifically for women to help them identify, prioritize, and address their reentry needs throughout their period of incarceration. The challenges associated with reentry from jail are daunting—large in scale and
complex in task. Each year, U.S. jails process an estimated 12 million admissions and releases. That translates into 34,000 people released from jails each day and 230,000 released each week. In three weeks, jails have contact with as many people as prisons do in an entire year, presenting numerous opportunities for intervention.
According to BJS, there are 3,365 local jails around the country, processing an estimated 12 million admissions and releases each year. These 12 million admissions and releases represent about 9 million unique individuals, most incarcerated for brief periods of time, often only a few hours or days. As a result of this rapid turnover, the number of admissions is more than 16 times the 766,010 held in jail at midyear 2006.2
Unlike prisoners in state and federal institutions who are virtually all convicted and sentenced, more than 60 percent of the nation’s jail inmates have not been convicted and are awaiting arraignment or trial.
The Jesus of the Incarnation provides us with a more authentic leadership than “alpha males” in the wild or in politics, for in His differences He is Alpha and Omega.
Some of us learned a new term during the late and unlamented presidential campaign. Campaign observers, drawing on something learned from studies of animals in the wild, told us that one of the candidates was trying to learn to behave as an Alpha Male. An Alpha Male. What does that mean?
In the wild, certain creatures become leaders of the pack and exhibit the sort of behavior that makes others follow them instinctively. Gray wolves, for example, will travel in packs, and one male and his mate will emerge as leaders. A certain aggressiveness, a body endowed with powerful limbs, the ability to react swiftly to danger, a protective spirit – all of these things mark the alpha male among gray wolves. And similar behavior can be found in the animal kingdom in a variety of creatures, from chimpanzees to iguanas. The alpha male is the one who takes charge, asserts himself, makes things happen, and allows for no rivals. Every inch the leader of the pack. The one others follow. The one who keeps peace in the pack by the force of his leadership.
We need alphas. We human beings are not exempt from the need to have someone to follow. Today we might quarrel with the insistence on alpha males; there are, and must be, alpha females too. But we need alphas. We need someone we can follow. We need someone with a vision of peace, a strategy for peacemaking and peacekeeping. Most of us are not made of alpha stuff. We must have in front of us a leader whose strength is indisputable, whose intellect is powerful, whose spirit is indomitable, and whose character is unquestionable. We must have someone who is committed to creating a peace-filled and orderly world.
But where shall we find such a person? Who will give us that sort of leadership? Who can make peace and keep peace for us. Will we find such a leader in politics? Some of us quickly became accustomed to the idea of a presidential vacuum during the recent election crisis. Some of us felt that the nation had not so much chosen a leader as it had waffled on both of the candidates. They just did not seem to inspire great passion, one way or the other. No real alpha males there.
Shall we find such a leader in the business world? An alpha male among the megamillions of the dotcom pioneers or the inventors of new biotechnologies? Will wealth make peace?
Shall we find an alpha in the academic world? A philosopher who can put all wisdom together and create peace?
Or in the military world? An alpha general who can marshal military muscle sufficient to hold the field for peace?
In a world of change and conflict, in a time of suspicion and terror, if we are to have peace, we must follow a leader who is an unquestioned alpha. Someone who stands without blemish at the head of the pack. Someone whose life, whose heart, whose mind, whose spirit we may trust.
Two thousand years ago, all of the same pursuits toward peace we use today had been tried and found wanting. The world had tried politics and there was no peace. Augustus Caesar on his throne in far-off Rome held that throne through intrigue and terror, not trust. Men followed Augustus because they had to, not because they wanted to. And there was no peace. There was no alpha.
Wealth had not created peace either. In fact the pursuit of wealth had wreaked havoc on humanity, for slavery was everywhere, and the unbridled pursuit of wealth made life miserable. Everywhere there were thieves and highway robbers. Decent people could not be safe, even in their own homes, when the publicans came around. King Herod, a small-minded man with a penchant for a pretty face and an appetite for self-indulgence, could have cared less about his people. No peace, no alpha there to guard the public trust.
Nor had military might made peace. Oh, Rome had imposed its own understanding of peace on the empire, but it was bought with a great price. Someone quipped that the Romans entered your land, destroyed it, made it a desert, and then called that “peace”. They came to destroy and not to build. And they governed with self-centered little men like Pontius Pilate, more concerned about being noticed by Rome so that a promotion would come than about building up the people. No alphas there, no leaders to be trusted.
Two thousand years ago, as now, the world was hungry for true peace. And needed someone to bring it peace. Needed an alpha leader to follow. The wonder of it all, that on a starlit night on a Judean hillside, heaven and earth saw Him born. A babe, but not just any babe. The prince of peace. A child, but not just any child. The alpha, the word made flesh.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
I submit to you tonight that Jesus the Christ, the child of Bethlehem, is the world’s alpha male. He is the one we must follow if there is to be peace. He is the one who can be trusted. He is the one who knows the secrets of our hearts and can bring us to authentic peace. He is our alpha.
Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads out of poverty and humility, not out of wealth and pompous prestige. Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He shows us that whoever is worth following is worthy because of the qualities of character he has, not because of the trappings of power around him. Leadership is not what you have, it is what you are. Leadership is not what stuff you have accumulated, it is the stuff you are made of. Jesus is our alpha because He leads us not with wealth or political power or military muscle, but with the force of His character.
Gardner Taylor is known as a prince of preachers. Many have tried to imitate his inimitable preaching style. The story is that years ago, one young preacher, noticing that Gardner Taylor often preaches with his pulpit robe hanging open, decided that would be his style too. He went to his pulpit, opened his robe, then opened his mouth, and quickly demonstrated that it’s not the robe on the outside of the man, it’s what’s inside the man inside the robe that makes a preacher. Jesus is our alpha, for he leads from a lowly stable, dressed in swaddling clothes, with nothing to persuade us of His importance. But He is our alpha by the force of His character.
Martin Luther King taught us a few years ago to be sure to measure others not by externals, like the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. He reminded us to measure others by the content of their character. Jesus Christ is without spot or blemish, without failure or flaw. He is our alpha, for He leads us not by the stuff He has, but by the stuff He is.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Further, Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads by identifying with us. Not by lording it over us, but by identifying with us. By living among us, feeling what we feel, seeing what we see, tasting what we taste, suffering what we suffer. He is no lofty philosophical ideal, above it all, untouched by the human predicament. He is the word made flesh, right here, getting his hands dirty, with us. With us. Immanuel, God with us. He identifies with us, just as we are.
If you travel around the world and see the images of Jesus as they are presented in various cultures, you will see a remarkable thing. You will see Jesus’ face taking on the characteristics of all the peoples who worship Him. In Japan, His almond-shaped eyes look out at you from rice paper paintings. In Peru, His high cheekbones are those of an Inca noble. In Poland, His features are unmistakably Slavic. In northern Europe, His image looks a bit like mine. In Africa, His image looks like many of you. It’s not that any of these images are historically and literally correct. Very likely Jesus the man looked something like your Jewish or your Arab neighbors. It’s not that these images are historically correct; they’re not. But they are spiritually correct. They are spiritually true.
Jesus is our alpha because He identifies with us. It is He, not Santa Claus, who knows what you’ve been thinking, for He knows who we are and what we face. He has been here. He has walked among us. He is like us and yet unlike us. Not a God a way out somewhere in the stratosphere, remote and untouchable. But with us. Among us. Like us. Jesus is our alpha, our prince of peace, for He identifies with us.
Further, Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life, a way of life which, if we take it seriously, will lead to peace. Jesus is our alpha, our pioneer, for He teaches a way of life like no other teacher who has ever lived.
I am persuaded that the sickness of modern Christianity is that we have not taken seriously the radical demands of our master. When Jesus tells us that if someone strikes us on one cheek, we are to turn the other, we dismiss that as unrealistic idealism. When Jesus teaches us that when that person who is so demanding, so insistent, and we’ve already given him as much as we think he deserves — when he asks for even more, we can’t handle it. We don’t like it. We won’t do it. But Jesus teaches that if any one asks of you your coat, give him your cloak as well. What a radical teacher He is! And we have never really taken Him seriously.
This coming year I hope to lead an outreach that will be second to none into a year of rediscovering Jesus. I want to gain buy-in of all denominations to form a coalition to push the initiatives of the gospel to a degree that gang-bangers and addicts alike would receive the essential Jesus. I hope we will conclude, as did the Temple officers reported in John’s Gospel, “Never man spake like this man.” How true that is! With what matchless insight He probes us and instructs us and leads us! Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life.
A challenge: Dream a dream so big only God can fulfill it.
Dreams are not merely the nightly thoughts you experience as the brain sorts out the day’s events. They are the goals and visions that fire your heart and saturate your soul with joy at the very thought of them. They are those continuing visions of what you want your life to be at its highest level of fulfillment–what you want to do, how you want to do it, what kind of person you want to become in the process.
Your destiny and reason for living are wrapped up tightly in your dreams and desires, like the genetic information inside a seed. That dream in your heart contains your spiritual “DNA,” the very blueprint for who you are. Your dream is that idea, that vision for your life that burns inside of you–something you can’t ignore for long. It keeps coming back to your mind because it is part of who you are; it will never leave you alone.
A dream doesn’t drive you; it draws you. It is like a big magnet that pulls you toward itself. I don’t believe that there is a man or woman without a dream, because God designed every member of the human race to have dreams. Without a dream, a person will be frustrated in the present and will miss his or her future.
Your dream did not even originate with you. It resides within you, but God put it there. He is the source of your dream. When people dream without God, they find it hollow and unsatisfying. Every person must come to Jesus for his or her dream to make sense. In fact, without Jesus, you might follow a dream for your life that God never put in your heart.
Not every dream is from God. There is such a thing as godless dreams. But when your dream is God’s dream, it’s unstoppable.
Jesus said that apart from Him we can’t do anything and that all our dreams will be frustrated. The power, energy and creativity needed to fulfill our dreams must flow from Jesus.
The most common and most crucial question is, “How do I know which dreams in my heart are from God?” Here is the answer. You will know it’s God’s dream if:
1. It is bigger than you.
2. You can’t let it go.
3. You would be willing to give everything for it.
4. It will last forever.
5. It meets a need nobody else has met.
6. It brings glory to God.
Let’s unpack each of these. First, any dream God put in your heart will be much bigger than you. Most children start out with big dreams of being a major league baseball player or the first woman president of the United States. But people and circumstances whittle those dreams down to size. We reach adulthood, and we voluntarily trim our dreams to manageable proportions so we won’t be disappointed.
That’s the opposite of what we should do. We should set higher goals, not lower ones. God is the author of bigness, not smallness. We may not reach the highest dream, but we will go a lot farther by aiming high than aiming low.
The first test you can apply to your dream is: “Is it too big for me to fulfill without God’s help?” If you can do it without His help, you are not dreaming big enough. If it’s much bigger than you, you are on the right track. The Bible promises that all things are possible with God. Is your dream impossible enough? Does it go beyond you enough to qualify for God’s help? Your dream should be so big that it takes your breath away, makes you temporarily weak in the knees, and makes you cry out to God for help and guidance.
Next, are you able to let this dream go, or does it keep bugging you? A God-given dream is a bothersome thing: it won’t leave you alone! It keeps bobbing to the surface of your heart, clamoring for your mind’s attention. If that’s how your dream behaves, then it is probably from God. You also know it’s a God-given dream if you are willing to devote every ounce of energy and every minute of your days to it. A dream inspires devotion like the devotion a parent has for a child: you would give your very life just to see it grow and find fulfillment.
Will your dream last forever? Many people pursue dreams built on things that will fade away. They dream of fame, but fame never lasts. Others build dreams on wealth, health or power, but none of these last more than a few decades at most. A dream cannot be built on ego. It cannot be built on tradition–because the company expects it or your family expects it. None of these foundations will support your dream.
You must build your dreams on something that will last. Only two things in the entire world will last forever: truth and people. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away. You have to build your dream on that never-changing foundation.
The second thing that lasts forever is people. God made human beings to last forever. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost, to die for people. That’s how we should spend our lives, too. If God Himself thought people were worth dying for, shouldn’t we follow His example? In fact, the only way to minister to God is to minister to people, as He said, “When you’ve done it to the least of them, you’ve done it to Me” (see Matt. 25:40).
Your dream must be built on human need. Will it help people? Improve lives? Alleviate human suffering? Does it fill a need nobody else is filling? If so, you can be sure that dream is from God. The secret to happiness in life is pouring into other people, giving without expecting anything in return.
Finally, your dream should bring glory to God. The most horrible thing in life is to realize you have wasted months, years or decades following the wrong dream. Life is too precious to fritter away by building on a crumbling foundation. Many people lose their lives, not by dying, but by squandering their time.
So, you’ve identified your dream. If fills all the criteria of a dream from God Himself. How do you bring that dream to fruition? It’s not about brute force, mindless energy or human calculation. Here are some steps that I have noticed people take on the road to reaching their dreams:
1. Get alone with God.
One reason people never discover their dream and purpose in life is that they never stop long enough to listen. They are like the World War II pilot who became lost over the ocean and radioed back, “I have no idea where I am or where I’m heading, but I’m making record time.” Someone else said, “It’s an ironic habit of the human race that we double our speed when we’ve lost our way.”
We have to get alone with God and listen. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” To get a vision from God, turn off the television. Get quiet. Let God talk to you. An Indian tribe in Oregon used to send young men out, when they came of age, with the instruction, “Don’t come back until you have a vision.” Those who got discouraged came back early. Those who stayed until they had a vision became the leaders of the tribe.
Paul spent three years in the desert listening to God before he began his ministry. That was his seminary education. He said: “God, what is the overarching, all-consuming passion of my life? What will I do until I die?” Once he discovered his dream, he lived an extraordinary life.
2. Review your gifts and talents.
Romans 12:6 says we each have gifts. God gave you the gifts you have; you didn’t choose them. Fulfillment comes when you use those gifts for Him in service of your dream. Your gifts are the key to discovering God’s will in your life.
Desire points us to our dreams. God uses desire to accomplish what He wants on this earth. How did He make sure the world was populated? He gave men and women a desire for each other to produce children. How did He make sure we cared for our bodies? He made us thirsty and made two-thirds of the planet water. He made us hungry and caused food to grow all around us.
God speaks to us through desires. Many Christians have come to think that their motives and desires are corrupt and untrustworthy, but the Bible says that if any man is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature. Old things pass away, and all things become new (see 2 Cor. 5:17). That includes our desires! The Bible says you can have the mind of Christ within you. So what does it say about your desires? It says your desires, when you become a new creature, are changed. That’s why God can say, “I want to give you the desires of your heart.”
3. Review your experience.
We pay attention not only to our desires and talents, but also to our past history. This is a powerful thing. Romans 8:28 says, ” … All things work together for good. … ” God uses all things.
God can use your desires and talents to serve your larger goals. Even if it’s a skill you don’t particularly enjoy, you may find it opens doors for you at key times. Not everything in our past is bound to be good. Some people reading this may have lingering pain in their lives. Some went through a divorce, grew up with angry parents or struggled with alcohol. Some had abortions, filed for bankruptcy or endured hurts that cannot be easily explained.
But each of these problems falls into the category of “all things.” God wants to integrate your hurts and difficulties into your life message. He never wastes circumstances, even bad ones. Before you became a believer, God was working to redeem the problems you faced. Not all things are good, but all things will work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Rom. 8:28).
Second Corinthians 1:4 says God helps us in our troubles so we can help others who have troubles, using the same help we ourselves have received from God. When you grasp that, it will change the way you view your life circumstances, and it will help you discover your dream.
5. Begin to explore different avenues.
6. Journal your dream.
Once you are able to define your dream, write it down. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.'” If you want to move ahead in your dream, you must write it down–inscribe it indelibly.
That shows resolve, definition and form. It is not enough to have an idea of what you want to do; you must have a plan for implementing it. Dreams do not come true by fantasizing–you have to write them down and let them become a guiding force in your life.
It has been said, “No individual has the right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.” But most people have lost their dream.
It seems impractical in this world to believe you were born for something great. Somehow it becomes more important to have a steady job, pay the mortgage, keep things moving forward with the least amount of disruption and the highest possibility for what our society calls “success.” But the fulfillment of your dream has little to do with what our society considers success–it’s much bigger than that. Are you dreaming big enough?
In my desire to help further the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dyeing world I have taken the liberty of starting this blog. There are so many challenges associated with ministry and one can be compelled to stall his or her efforts if not for the help of the holy spirit. It is our work to give to the whole world–to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people–the saving truths of the gospel of reconciliation and to herald the third angels message. But it has been a difficult problem to know how to reach the people in the great centers of population. We are not allowed entrance to the churches. In the cities the large halls are expensive, and in most cases but few will come out to the best halls. We have been spoken against by those who were not acquainted with us. The reasons of our faith are not understood by the people, and we have been regarded as fanatics who are ignorantly looking to the heavens and Jesus Christ for salvation. In this work I have been perplexed to know how to break through the barriers of worldliness and prejudice, and bring before the people the precious truth which means so much to them. The Lord has instructed us that the innovation and culturally sound presentation of His word is one of the most important instrumentalities for the accomplishment of this work.
This outline is for May and I to use to build a culturally sound church community within our vision of Second Chance Alliance. We believe that as much as possible we should infuse our community with the core beliefs of our existence as it is wholesomely apart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some church leaders find planning a formidable exercise. In reality, the planning process is simple —conceptually. It can be described as answering seven key questions:
Spiritual Needs Assessment: What are the greatest spiritual needs of our church and community?
Strengths and Weaknesses: What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of our church?
Opportunities and Threats or Barriers: What are the most significant ministry opportunities for and potential threats (or barriers) to our church, given the answers to the first two questions?
Ministry Options: What appear to be the most viable options for strengthening the ministry of our church?
Ministry Platform: What is the primary ministry platform on which our specific ministries should be built? Included in the ministry platform are our statement of faith, vision statement, mission statement, philosophy of ministry, and listing of ministries.
Ministry Goals: What goals is the Holy Spirit leading us to strive for to enhance our church’s ministry over the next year? The next two to three years?
Action Steps: What action steps must we accomplish to achieve these goals?
Getting your team to agree on the answers to these questions (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) may or may not be simple, depending on the circumstances and the relationships of leaders in your church. We feel strongly about fellowship with our leaders to gain leverage in togetherness and creating a 360 degree circumference around our team to solidify our ranks. We are compelled to this undertaking by the need to fulfill the Scriptural model of Titus 1:5; to set churches in order through the appointment of godly leadership.
What not to do
In Hemet Ca, where we live, potholes are in abundance on most side roads. Some can be avoided, while others come upon you so quickly they are difficult to miss. On the avenue called planning, it’s important to know the potholes to avoid:
Making Planning Too Complex: There are usually two or three key issues that will be discovered, and, if acted on, will lead to enhanced health and vitality. One church in Covina Ca. narrowed their planning to: (1) revising the organization chart, (2) enhancing community life, and (3) streamlining priorities. When these three issues were named, each ministry team could set goals for day-to-day ministry, based on them.
Not Reaching Conclusions and Making an Action Plan: Tie up loose ends along the way, and outline appropriate action steps.
Not Keeping the Action Plan Simple: One church I worked with had such a long document, with dozens of goals and action steps, that it felt overwhelming and didn’t win approval. The objective is to create a plan that every member can articulate without having to refer to any documentation.
Not Revisiting the Plan: Your plan should be adjustable along the way, revised and renewed according to the needs and resources available to you. Keep your planning documents alive. Don’t shelve them, file them, or formalize them in pretty documents. At Second Chance Alliance, we hold our plans loosely, in a “white paper” format, with lots of room for give and take each step of the way. May and I are learning as we go how to build and implement viable concepts that will help us with the trajectory we desire to get our model off the ground and receive excitement and commitment with buy-in to our visions.
Taking Too Long: Don’t let your planning team tire and begin to complain about the value of doing this. Keep the group moving forward toward conclusion and celebration.
Trusting Your Instincts apart from Prayer: As a team, lean fully in God’s direction to hear his voice, feel his heart, understand his will, and trust his empowering presence to lead you. Strategic planning in a local church or business is a process that God through his Holy Spirit must direct. Become a people of prayer as you trust him for his design for your church!
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. —Colossians 4:6
Driving home from a meeting yesterday, I heard a radio advertisement that got my attention. It was for a computer program that checks e-mails as they are written. I was familiar with “spell check” and “grammar check” programs, but this was different. This was “tone check.” The software monitors the tone and wording of e-mails to make certain they are not overly aggressive, unkind, or mean-spirited.
As I listened to the announcer describe the features of this software, I wondered what it would be like to have something like that for my mouth. How many times have I reacted harshly instead of listening first—and later regretted the words I had spoken? Certainly a tone check would have protected me from responding so foolishly.
Paul saw the need for us as believers to check our speech—especially when talking to those who are not Christians. He said, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:6). His concern was that our speech be graceful, reflecting the beauty of our Savior. And it must be inviting to others. Talking with the right tone to unbelievers is vital to our ability to witness to them. Colossians 4:6 can be our tone check.
Tone of voice can be effective If our spirit’s calm and meek; Let us watch our words and actions, Always careful how we speak. —Hess
State-level spending on prison education programs declined sharply during the economic downturn, with the sharpest drop occurring in states that incarcerate the most prisoners, according to a new RAND Corporation study.
Large states cut spending by an average of 10 percent between the 2009 and 2012 fiscal years, while medium-sized states cut spending by 20 percent, according to the study.
“There has been a dramatic contraction of the prison education system, particularly those programs focused on academic instruction versus vocational training,” said Lois Davis, the study’s lead author and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “There are now fewer teachers, fewer course offerings and fewer students enrolled in academic education programs.”
While the drop appears to have resulted from budget cuts prompted by the economic downturn, Davis said evidence suggests that the curtailment of prison education could increase prison system costs in the longer term.
“We need to weigh the short-term need to reduce budgets with the long-term consequence of trimming programs that help keep people from returning to prison after they have paid their debt to society,” Davis said.
The findings are from the capstone report of a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice to assess the effectiveness of correctional education programs and help chart a path forward to improve understanding of both academic and vocational education for inmates.
There long has been debate about the role prison-based education programs can play in preparing inmates to return to society and keeping them from returning to prison. Recidivism remains high nationally, with four in 10 inmates returning to prison within three years of release.
The RAND study included a comprehensive review of the scientific literature about correctional education programs for adults and a meta-analysis to synthesize findings from multiple studies about the effectiveness of correctional education programs.
Released in 2013, the meta-analysis found, on average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had a 13 percentage point reduction in their probability of returning to prison. Researchers also found that prison education programs are cost effective, with a $1 investment reducing incarceration costs by $5 during the first three years post-release.
In the latest report, researchers detail findings from a survey of state correctional education directors about how funding changed after the recession struck in 2008.
Overall spending on prison education nationally fell on average by 6 percent from 2009 to 2012, but that masked much larger drops in the states with the largest prison populations. Vocational programs fared better, but there were still significant cuts in large and medium-sized states.
State correctional education directors expressed concern that a new general education development (GED) exam that begins this year will make it harder for inmates to earn their high school equivalent diplomas.
The new exam is more rigorous and relies on computer-based testing — a profound change for states’ correctional education programs that often have limited computer resources. Of the 31 states that plan to implement the 2014 GED exam, 14 expect the more-rigorous approach will drive down participation and 16 states expect fewer inmates to complete the exam.
Researchers say that for corrections officials to make better decisions about how to spend limited funding, new information is needed to understand what dosage and models of instruction are associated with better results.
“We know prison education works, but we don’t know which instructional models provide the best results or how much instruction and training inmates need to be successful,” said Robert Bosick, a report co-author and a social scientist at RAND. “Answering these questions will help correctional leaders to direct limited resources in a way that provides the most benefits.”
Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced research findings showing that, on average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who did not. Each year approximately 700,000 individuals leave federal and state prisons; about half of them will be reincarcerated within three years. The research, funded by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, was released today by the RAND Corporation.
“These findings reinforce the need to become smarter on crime by expanding proven strategies for keeping our communities safe, and ensuring that those who have paid their debts to society have the chance to become productive citizens,” said Attorney General Holder. “We have an opportunity and an obligation to use smart methods – and advance innovative new programs – that can improve public safety while reducing costs. As it stands, too many individuals and communities are harmed, rather than helped, by a criminal justice system that does not serve the American people as well as it should. This important research is part of our broader effort to change that.”
The findings, from the largest-ever analysis of correctional educational studies, indicate that prison education programs are cost effective. According to the research, a one dollar investment in prison education translates into reducing incarceration costs by four to five dollars during the first three years after release, when those leaving prison are most likely to return.
“Correctional education programs provide incarcerated individuals with the skills and knowledge essential to their futures,” said Secretary of Education Duncan. “Investing in these education programs helps released prisoners get back on their feet—and stay on their feet—when they return to communities across the country.”
With funding from The Second Chance Act (P.L. 110-199) of 2007, the RAND Corporation’s analysis of correctional education research found that employment after release was 13 percent higher among prisoners who participated in either academic or vocational education programs than among those who did not. Those who participated in vocational training were 28 percent more likely to be employed after release from prison than those who did not receive such training.
The report is a collaborative effort of the Departments of Justice and Education, two of 20 federal agencies that make up the federal interagency Reentry Council. The Reentry Council’s members are working to make communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; assisting those who return from prison and jail in becoming contributing members of their communities; and saving taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. Attorney General Holder chairs the Reentry Council which he established in January 2011.
Gossip and slander are frequently found even among those who consider themselves good Christians. Few things, however, are more harmful to a community. It can start innocently enough. One person makes a comment to a third person about something someone else did or said. Perhaps this first person doesn’t even intend the comment to be negative. The person hearing the comment, however, sees it as reflecting badly on the person being spoken about. Instead of clarifying the situation, he passes on this juicy tidbit of gossip, possibly distorting it even more in the process. The telling of this rumor ceases to be merely gossip and becomes slander, that is, the making of claims detrimental to a person’s reputation with reckless disregard for the truth, disregard for the fact that one possesses no substantial evidence for these defamatory claims. The whole process is deeply opposed to charity and very harmful to the relationships between people. The slide below illustrates the origin and spread of such malicious rumors:
Such things are, regrettably, all too real and all too common.
The biblical rules for dealing with the faults people commit are aimed to avoid this culture of gossip and slander.
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reprove him openly, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:1 18)
Sometimes we think church is supposed to be a sacred space, where we only talk about certain things or only address certain subjects. There are subjects we would talk about in our families, for example, or among friends, but it seems like we feel afraid to discuss them in church.
Yet when I read the New Testament, it doesn’t seem to me like Paul had this fear—or that he made this separation between secular and sacred. When he wrote to the congregations where he was ministering, he spoke directly to what they were going through and what he saw in them, regardless of topic.
Our churches can take note from this, I think.
In fact, I think if we neglect to talk about things that are trending in wider culture, we miss opportunities to invite new followers of Jesus to see these topics in different ways. We miss the chance to call disciples deeper into their walk with Jesus, and we give popular culture the chance to have the final say on these issues.
Here are 10 things I think every church needs to be talking about:
Sex has become such a mainstream part of wider culture, you can hardly go through a day without being bombarded with sexual messages. Television commercials are sexualized, magazine covers are right at eye level as you go through the checkout line at the grocery story, and catalogs that come in the mail are sexier than they once were.
As if that isn’t enough, the ease of access to the Internet makes pornography and other sexual addictions that much easier to come by.
We have to be talking about sex in our congregations, or we give culture permission to override what God teaches about sex, love and the sacredness of our bodies.
Marriage is hard. If you’re married, you know what I mean. If you’re single, you’ll probably know sooner or later. We need to be encouraging married couples to keep working on their marriages, even when it’s difficult. We need to remind people about the purpose of marriage so they don’t lose sight.
It’s no surprise that when people don’t understand God’s true purpose for marriage and marriage becomes hard, many marriages will end in divorce. We need to be sensitive about how we talk about divorce, recognizing that, statistically speaking, a large portion of your audience will be divorced or come from a divorced family.
But we need to talk openly and honestly about God’s plan for marriages, as well as his redemptive power even in the midst of broken circumstances.
When we choose to follow Jesus, that decision should impact every area of our lives, including finances. Most pastors I know hate to talk about money. They’re each trying to avoid the stigma that pastors are always trying to get money from their congregation. Be willing to check your motives on this: Are you trying to get money from the people in your church, or do you really want to help people manage their resources in a godly way?
Addictions reveal themselves in all kinds of ways: Alcohol. Drugs. Pornography. Food. Internet. Exercise. Chances are, most people in your congregation suffer from at least a common addiction, and maybe a more serious one, and it’s preventing them from a satisfying, fulfilling relationship with Jesus.
We need to recognize there are people who are walking in the doors of our churches each Sunday who aren’t sure about Jesus. They might be new believers, they might not be believers, and they might be long-time members of our churches. Let’s give these people room to ask questions and room to answer them.
God is not scared by our questions. Let’s not make a villain out of doubt.
7. Mental Illness
The church cannot continue to ignore this conversation. We have to create a safe place for people who are afflicted to find hope and healing. We have to be willing to talk about it honestly.
8. Physical Health and Healing
Nobody wants to talk about this in our current culture, but Jesus makes a strong connection in the Gospels between our physical health and our spiritual health. Often He heals a person’s soul and their body simultaneously. I’m struck by the way He often asks, “Do you want to be well?”
Most people who come to church on Sundays are not asking themselves what they think about Calvinism vs. Armenianism. Most are asking these questions: Who am I? Why do I matter? Everything that matters about our walk with Jesus flows out of the answer to these questions. Don’t miss the chance to answer them.
10. Social Justice
We live in a place and time where we have more expendable resources than ever before. It might not feel like we’re rich, but we are, and that wealth comes with incredible responsibility. Are you talking with your church about how they can use their time, money and other resources to bring justice to the world? Are you promoting and partnering with any of the hundreds of social justice initiatives around the world? Are you helping people get connected?