Month: July 2015
Our mission at Second Chance Alliance
We believe that no life is beyond the reach of God’s power, and we envision a future in which countless prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, are redeemed, restored, and reconciled through the love and truth of Jesus Christ. We equip local churches and thousands of trained volunteers to spread the Gospel and nurture disciples behind prison walls, so that men and women become new creations in Christ – not repeat offenders. We prepare Christian inmates to become leaders of their families, communities, and churches once they are released back into the community. We support inmates’ families, helping them become reconciled to God and one another through transformative relationships with local churches.
Throughout the long history of corrections, religious persons and religious institutions have greatly influenced the treatment of offenders. For centuries, churches were among the first institutions to provide asylum for accused criminals. The actual establishment of prisons and penitentiaries was a religious idea to that allowed the offender to obtain penance for his crimes, make amends, and convert while being isolated from others. But probably the most significant influence was the establishment of a regular chaplaincy. Correctional chaplains were among the earliest paid non-custodial staff and were the first to provide education and counseling for inmates. Currently, many correctional inmates practice their religion on an individual basis or within the structure of an organized religious program. Religious programs are commonplace in jails and prisons and research indicates that one in three inmates participates in some religious program during their incarceration.
The influence and practice of religion in the correctional setting is as old as the history of prisons. Initial entry of religion into prison was probably carried out by religious men who themselves were imprisoned. The Bible stories of such prisoners include Joseph and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, and John the Baptist, Peter, John, and Paul in the New Testament. Beginning in the days of Constantine, the early Christian Church granted asylum to criminals who would otherwise have been mutilated or killed. Although this custom was restricted in most countries by the fifteenth century, releasing prisoners during Easter time, and requests by Church authorities to pardon or reduce sentences for offenders, remained for centuries with the latter still in existence in a modified form.
Imprisonment under church jurisdiction became a substitute for corporal or capital punishment. In medieval times, the Roman Catholic Church developed penal techniques later used by secular states such as the monastic cell that served as a punishment place for criminal offenders. In 1593 the Protestants of Amsterdam built a house of correction for women, and one for men in 1603. In Rome, what are now the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, built correctional facilities for women, and in 1703 Pope Clement XI built the famous Michel Prison as a house of correction for younger offenders with separation, silence, work, and prayer emphasized. As late as the 18th century, the Vatican Prison still served as a model prison design for Europe and America.
Early settlers of North America brought with them the customs and common laws of England including the pillory, the stocks and the whipping post. During the 18th century isolating offenders from fellow prisoners became the accepted correctional practice. It was thought that long-term isolation, combined with in-depth discussions with clergy, would lead inmates to repent or become “penitent”—sorry for their sins. Thus the term “penitentiary” was derived. West Jersey and Pennsylvania Quakers were primarily responsible for many of the prison reforms. They developed the idea of substituting imprisonment for corporal punishment and combining the idea of the prison with the workhouse. The prototype of this regime was the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia that in style reflected the Quakers’ belief in man’s ability to reform through reflection and remorse.
Even during the 19th century when daytime work was initiated by the Auburn System, solitary confinement at night was still the norm in correctional practice. The forced solitary confinement was thought to serve the same repenting purpose as the older penitentiary. Belief in education as a tool for reducing criminal activity also assisted in the growth of religion in prison. Because of the limited budgets of correctional institutions, Chaplains were often called upon to be the sole educator in many American prisons. The “schooling” often consisted of the chaplain standing in a dark corridor with a lantern hanging from the cell bars while extolling the virtues of repentance.
Volunteers also have a long history in corrections that can be traced back to the beginning of prisons. In the last 200 years many religious groups have entered correctional facilities to provide religious services to inmates. One of the most famous advocates for volunteers in corrections was Maud Ballington Booth, the daughter-in-law of William Booth who founded the Salvation Army. Today, volunteers are vital to religious programs and without them inmate participation would surely be limited. Faith representatives would be unable to minister to the large number and variety of inmates.
Many older correctional institutions are being refurbished or destroyed; replaced with facilities designed for better observation and security. Yet the initial influence of religion on the philosophy and the design of the penitentiary will surely remain in correctional history.
To provide ministry to those that are incarcerated.
To provide aftercare ministry to those released from jail or prison.
To provide ministry to the families of those incarcerated.
Many inmates leave prison as Christians and have a strong desire to participate in a Christian based aftercare program where they can develop relationships with other believers and continue to grow in faith. They need to know that they have a place in the body of Christ, where they are accepted, loved and nurtured.
Why should the community be concerned about the aftercare of ex-offenders?
In the United States, approximately 1,600 people will leave state and federal prisons every day. Most will start their journey back into society with “gate money” ($20 – $200), a one-way bus ticket and little else. Many will be drug abusers who received no treatment for their addictions, sex-offenders who received no counseling and illiterate high school drop-outs who took no classes, and acquired no job skills.
Only about 13 percent of prisoners will have participated in any kind of pre-release program to prepare them for life outside of prison. Nearly 25 percent will be released with no supervision. Nearly two-thirds will return to just a few metropolitan areas in their states where they will be further concentrated in struggling neighborhoods that can ill-afford accommodate them.
Almost all prisoners get out eventually. What happens when they do, however, is not a topic that has held the interest of legislators who passed mandatory sentencing laws, abolished parole boards and eliminated funding for prisoner education and training. As a result, prison sentences have grown longer, while prisons have done nothing to prepare inmates for life outside of prison. A study sponsored by the Virginia Department of Correctional Education tracked recidivism rates for inmates who had pursued an education, and found the rate was 59 percent lower than those who had not. Ironically, even as the evidence in favor of such programs mounts, willingness and capacity to fund them continues to shrink.
Ex-offenders leaving prison have cause to fear the wrath of “free-world” residents, much like Onesimus had cause to fear his former master. In a society that casts a jaundiced eye toward the “usual suspects,” men with limited job skills, who are trying to rebuild their lives with few resources can relate to Onesimus’ situation.
Paul urged Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Onesimus Ministries urges people to help ex-offenders get a fair shot at rebuilding their lives. Onesimus Ministries began as one man ministering to men in a city jail. It has grown to include two residency locations, a bus ministry and other outreach efforts to people with criminal convictions. With a waiting list of 6-12 months for acceptance into the training center, the need is great and growing greater. In our approach to gain leverage and exposure to the various prisons,We are studying Onesimus Ministries brand and operational procedures and submitting to being a alternative facility for those who can get transfers. Please keep our vision before God….
Question: “Why did Jesus ask Peter ‘Do you love me?’ three times?”
Answer: Jesus asked Peter three times,“Do you love me?” as recorded in John 21:15–17. This occurred when Jesus was having breakfast with His disciples soon after His resurrection. Jesus used this opportunity to encourage and exhort Peter about his upcoming responsibilities and even to prophesy the manner in which Peter will die. By asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of Peter’s love and unswerving obedience to his Lord as necessary for his future ministry.
Jesus begins by questioning Peter about His love for Him, and each time Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus follows up with the command for Peter to feed His sheep. His meaning is that, if Peter truly loves his Master, he is to shepherd and care for those who belong to Christ. His words reveal Peter’s role as the leader of the new Church, the Body of Christ there in Jerusalem that will be responsible for spreading the gospel after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
It is possible that by His repeated question Jesus is subtly reminding Peter of his three denials. There’s no doubt those denials and how he felt when Jesus turned to look at him at that moment were seared deeply into Peter’s mind (Luke 22:54–62). It wasn’t lost on Peter that Jesus repeated His question to him three times, just as Peter previously denied Him three times.
There is also an interesting contrast when you look at the Greek words for “love” used in John 21:15–17. When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” in John 21:15–16, He used the Greek word agape, which refers to unconditional love. Both times, Peter responded with “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” using the Greek word phileo, which refers more to a brotherly/friendship type of love. It seems that Jesus is trying to get Peter to understand that he must love Jesus unconditionally in order to be the leader God is calling him to be. The third time Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” in John 21:17, He uses the word phileo, and Peter again responds with “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” again using phileo. The point in the different Greek words for “love” seems to be that Jesus was stretching Peter to move him from phileo love to agape love.
Whatever the reason for the three-fold “do you love me?” question, Jesus was impressing on Peter how important his new role of tending the flock of Christ’s followers would be. When someone repeats instructions to us over and over, we quickly understand that it’s extremely important for us to heed them. Jesus wanted to make sure Peter understood this vital charge He was tasking him with and the ultimate reason for it, to follow Him and glorify God (John 21:19).
Question: “How can demonic strongholds be overcome?”
Answer: Before demonic strongholds can be overcome, it must be understood exactly what demonic strongholds are. The word stronghold appears only once in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 10:4), and the Greek word translated “stronghold” means “a fortification such as a castle.” In this passage, the apostle Paul is instructing the church at Corinth on how to fight against and “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (v. 5). They do this, not by using the weapons of the world, but by “divine power.” Lofty arguments and opinions are the result of pride and evil and vain imaginations, the very strongholds in which demons reside. This, then, is the essence of demonic warfare—the power of God to overcome the strongholds of demons.
In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul describes the resources that God makes available to His followers—the armor of God. Here we are told how, in an attitude of humility and dependence, we are to avail ourselves of God’s resources. Note that we are to be strong “in the Lord” and “in the power of His might.” We do not take on demonic strongholds in our own strength. We protect ourselves with the first five pieces of defensive armor and wield the one offensive weapon—the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. In verses 12 and 13 ofEphesians 6, Paul continues, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
One of the habits that every believer needs to develop is to focus on Ephesians 6:10-18 and commit himself to “get dressed” spiritually every day. It would go a long way to giving victory over the devil and his schemes. Here Paul states that, while we walk in the flesh (we are living and breathing in this human body), we do not war according to the flesh (we can’t fight spiritual battles with fleshly weapons). Instead, as we focus on the resources and weapons of spiritual strength, we can see God give us specific and real victory. No demonic stronghold can withstand Christians wearing the full armor of God, battling with the Word of God, and empowered by His Spirit.
Question: “What should we learn from the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?”
Answer: The amazing story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young men defying the mighty KingNebuchadnezzar and thrown into a fiery furnace, has captured the hearts of young children as well as adults for centuries. Recorded in the third chapter of Daniel, the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego provides believers today with strong and lasting lessons.
For their refusal to obey the king’s decree to bow down to the idol, three charges were brought against them. They paid no heed to the king and his commands, they did not serve the king’s gods, and they refused to worship the golden statue the king himself had set up. The penalty for their actions was death. Their response to the king was profound:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:15-18).
We cannot but be astonished by their faith in the one true God. At the very outset, their response in the moment of trial confirmed three things: their unswerving conviction of the God of the Bible, their confidence in the God who is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do, and their faith as revealed by their reliance upon the only One who had the power to deliver them from evil. Their acknowledgment of God over the world’s most powerful king resulted in God’s supreme power being revealed to unbelievers. Their faith demonstrates that God is able to deliver us from our own problems and trials.
As believers, we know that God is able to deliver. However, we also know that He does not always do so.Romans 5 tells us that God may allow trials and difficulties in our lives to build our character, strengthen our faith, or for other reasons unknown to us. We may not always understand the purpose of our trials, but God simply asks that we trust Him—even when it is not easy. Job, who endured incredible pain, almost insurmountable agony, and suffering, was still able to say, “Though He may slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
We also know that God does not always guarantee that we will never suffer or experience death, but He does promise to be with us always. We should learn that in times of trial and persecution our attitude should reflect that of these three young men: “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). Without question, these are some of the most courageous words ever spoken.
Jesus Himself said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Even if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to suffer a horrible, painful death in a burning oven, they refused to abandon God and worship an idol. Such faith has been seen innumerable times throughout the centuries by believers who have suffered martyrdom for the Lord.
Nebuchadnezzar was astonished that the fire did not consume Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He was even more amazed when he saw not three, but a fourth person with them: “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25 NKJV). The point here is that, when we “walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), there may be those times of fiery persecution, but we can be assured that He is with us (Matthew 28:20). He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22; Psalms 147:6). He will ultimately deliver us. He will save us … eternally (Matthew 25:41, 46).
The chief lesson from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is that, as Christians, we will never be able to bring the world to Christ by becoming like it. As did these three men, so should we in revealing to the world a higher power, a greater purpose, and a superior morality, than the world in which we live. If we are put before the fiery furnace, we can reveal the One who can deliver us from it. Remember the powerful, yet comforting words, of the apostle Paul:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Our hope when experiencing illness, persecution, or pain lies in knowing that this life is not the end—there is life after death. That is His promise to all those who love and obey Him. Knowing that we will have eternal life with God enables us to live above the pain and suffering we endure in this life (John 14:23).
What does it mean to be blessed?
The world says you gain your life by getting more and more and more and more, but Jesus says, ‘No, that leads to death. You get it back by giving it away and when you give it away you get it back.’
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea presented in The Arabian Nights, when Aladdin finds the lamp and a genie permits him a wish. It makes me wonder what I would choose if given such a choice. Since I’ve never been wildly wealthy, the first things that come to mind are endless riches, a dream house, or luxury travel. But as soon as I think of those things, I wonder if that’s really what I want. I think of some of the names we see constantly in the tabloids and wonder if they would trade all their fame and fortune for some inner peace and a sense that what they’re doing matters.
Of course, if I read my Bible with the intent of obeying what it says, I’ll find it difficult to wish for wealth and luxury. Jesus said things such as, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20), and “those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, NLT), and “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return” (Luke 12:48, NLT), and “These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matthew 6:32, NLT).
What was Jesus’ purpose in saying such things? Was it just to be a killjoy? Did he want to make sure we were miserable while here on Earth so we would long for heaven? Or was it because he knew what would really make us happy?
To Be Blessed Means …
One of my favorite Scripture passages is the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, where Jesus lists what it means to be blessed. It’s certainly not what comes to my mind when I think of being blessed or when I pray for others to be blessed. Remember all those childhood prayers, “Bless Mommy, Daddy, and Auntie Sue”? We had no idea what we were saying! We were actually saying, “Let them be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted.”
So how could such things lead to happiness? It seems like they lead more to the opposite of happiness. But the Beatitudes tell us one thing clearly. We can never be happy when we live self-centered lives. We may be fooled into thinking we’re happy for a while, but eventually it will fold in on us because true happiness can be found only in a relationship with our Creator. Only the One who made us knows what will truly make us happy and give us satisfaction in life. We have to get to the end of ourselves and the beginning of God to gain any lasting contentment in life. And that can happen only through divine revelation and transformation through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It’s the “pearl of great value” (Matthew 13:46), worth selling everything to gain it. And ultimately, it’s the secret to true satisfaction.
If you found a genie in a lamp, what would you wish for? Quick, name the first thing that comes to your mind. After you’ve named it, take time to think about it. Would that really make you happy? Why or why not?
Have you ever been physically hungry or thirsty to the extreme—perhaps after an illness, an intense workout, or during a hot spell? If so, think back to that experience. Read Psalm 63:1, Matthew 5:6, and John 6:35. What do you think it means to hunger and thirst after God? Why is this essential to being satisfied about life?
Do Something about It
Spend time reading the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and asking God to give you insight into what they mean in your life. Pray that God will give you a desire for him that is all-consuming. Ask for victory over anything that keeps you from desiring him in such a way. And ask that God give you a real sense of what it means to be satisfied.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalms 34:18). It is encouraging to read what King David wrote in the previously quoted psalm. We can be healed and delivered from a broken heart.
A broken heart can happen when we lose a loved one such as a spouse or a child or even a beloved Friend or stranger. Metaphorically, it is that emotional aching in your chest that happens when you are deeply disappointed or grieved over a life circumstance.
The Lord is Strong; Do not Fear
Psalms 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
I would also like to answer the question why? Why this Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and this list since 2015 click the link to view how many black lives since 2015 http://killedbypolice.net/? Why these many black people? I cannot tell you, and I encourage you to resist anyone who offers a confident answer. God himself did not answer that question for Job, nor did Jesus answer why questions. We have hints, but no one knows the full answer. What we do know, with full confidence, is how God feels. We know how God looks on this nation called ‘America” right now because God gave us a face, a face that was streaked with tears. Where misery is, there is the Messiah.
Not everyone will find that answer sufficient. When we hurt, sometimes we want revenge. We want a more decisive answer. Frederick Buechner said, “I am not the Almighty God, but if I were, maybe I would in mercy either heal the unutterable pain of the world or in mercy kick the world to pieces in its pain.” God did neither. He sent Jesus. God joined our world in all its unutterable pain in order to set in motion a slower, less dramatic solution, one that involves us.
One of our neighbors said to me, have you ever read a book ” book called Where Is God When It Hurts,?” Yes. “Well, I don’t have much time to read. Can you just answer that question for me in a sentence or two?” I thought for a second and said, “I guess I’d have to answer that with another question: ‘Where is the church when it hurts?'”
The eyes of the world are trained on this predicament. You’ve seen satellite trucks parked around town, reporters prowling the grounds of your schools. Last week we visited Los Angeles , We were invited to the Ezell Ford wrongful death hearing. As happened here, reporters from every major country swarmed the streets of LA county, looking for an angle. They came to report on evil and instead ended up reporting on the church. The advocates and church leaders were not asking, “Where is God when it hurts?” They knew where God was. With our long history of persecution, the black leaders weren’t for a minute surprised by an outbreak of evil. They rallied together, embraced the killer’s family, ministered to each other, and healed wounds by relying on a sense of community strengthened over centuries.
Something similar has taken place here in Hemet Ca. and abroad. You have shown outrage against the evil deed, yes, but you’ve also shown sympathy and sadness for the family of the one who committed all of these atrocities on black life. Every one of the police involved in these since-less deaths , too, has a memorial on our hearts and in our ministry.
The future lies ahead, and you’re just awakening to the fact that you are an independent moral being. I speak to our youths now, Until now, other people have been running your life. Your parents told you what to do and made decisions for you. Teachers ordered you around in grammar school, and the pattern continued in high school and even into college. You now inhabit a kind of halfway house on the way to adulthood, waiting for the real life of career and perhaps marriage and children to begin.
What happened in Harris County, Texas demonstrates beyond all doubt that your life—the decisions you make, the kind of person you are—matters now. There are countless students and member families who have no future in this world due to the illness called hatred.
That reality has hit home more than ever since we have attempted to pursue our vision of Second Chance Alliance. So many doors have shut just because we want to help those who have been hit with the mass incarceration epidemic. Watching human life be denied employment they are truly qualified for because they’ve done the same work in Prison for several years and now that they are free no one wants to believe in them. We watch and record the devastation this draconian practice has on a human being.
Samuel Johnson said when a man is about to be hanged, “it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” When you’re homeless and broke without a community to return to that will assist you in the necessities of life, it concentrates the mind. When you survive another day of brutality and separation due to stigma’s, it concentrates the mind. I realized how much of my life focused on trivial things. During my seven months of captivity in Lybia and prison terms severed , I didn’t think about how many books I could write about these issues or what kind of car I drove (it was being confiscated by the feds ). All that mattered boiled down to four questions. Whom do I love? Whom will I miss? What have I done with my life? And am I ready for what’s next? Ever since that day, I’ve tried to live with those questions at the forefront.
You know, too, that the world has fallen. Here in America, you know that as acutely as anyone on this planet.
I ask you also to trust that the world, your world, will be redeemed. This is not the world God wants or is satisfied with. God has promised a time when evil will be defeated, when events like the shootings Thursday’s movie theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana and every black life will come to an end. More, God has promised that even the scars we accumulate on this fallen planet will be redeemed, as Jesus demonstrated to Thomas.
I once was part of a small group with a Christian leader whose name you would likely recognize. He went through a hard time as his adult children got into trouble, bringing him sleepless nights and expensive attorney fees. Worse, my friend was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Nothing in his life seemed to work out. “I have no problem believing in a good God,” he said to us one night. “My question is, ‘What is God good for?'” We listened to his complaints and tried various responses, but he batted them all away.
A few weeks later, I came across a little phrase by Dallas Willard: “For those who love God, nothing irredeemable can happen to you.” I went back to my friend. “What about that?” I asked. “Is God good for that promise?”
I would like to promise you an end to pain and grief, a guarantee that you will never again hurt as you hurt now. I cannot. I can, however, stand behind the promise that the apostle Paul made in Romans 8, that all things can be redeemed, can work together for your good. In another passage, Paul spells out some of the things he encountered, which included beatings, imprisonment, and shipwreck. As he looked back, he could see that somehow God had redeemed even those crisis events in his life.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us,” Paul concluded. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39). God’s love is the foundational truth of the universe.
Clinging to Hope
Trust a God who can redeem what now seems unredeemable. Ten days before the shootings on this Virginia Tech, Christians around the world remembered the darkest day of human history, the day in which evil human beings violently rose up against God’s Son and murdered the only truly innocent human being who has ever lived. We remember that day not as Dark Friday, Tragic Friday, or Disaster Friday—but rather as Good Friday. That awful day led to the salvation of the world and to Resurrection Sunday, an echo in advance of God’s bright promise to make all things new.
Honor the grief you feel. The pain is a way of honoring those who died, your friends and classmates and professors and prisoners. It represents life and love. The pain will fade over time, but it will never fully disappear.
Do not attempt healing alone. The real healing, of deep connective tissue, takes place in community. Where is God when it hurts? Where God’s people are. Where misery is, there is the Messiah, and on this earth, the Messiah takes form in the shape of his church. That’s what the body of Christ means. Remember each of you reading this post is a (CHURCH).
Finally, cling to the hope that nothing that happens, not even this terrible tragedy, is irredeemable. We serve a God who has vowed to make all things new. J. R. R. Tolkien once spoke of “joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” You know well the poignancy of grief. As healing progresses, may you know, too, that joy, a foretaste of the world redeemed.
“As I have said, the Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain. It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking question “Why?” Instead, it raises the very different, forward-looking question, “To what end?”We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with him. And that process may be served by the mysterious pattern of all creation: pleasure sometimes emerges against a background of pain, evil may be transformed into good, and suffering may produce something of value.”
I have never seen a statue erected depicting Jesus as a man of sorrow, but still we worship
“We feel pain as an outrage; Jesus did too, which is why he performed miracles of healing. In Gethsemane, he did not pray, “Thank you for this opportunity to suffer,” but rather pled desperately for an escape. And yet he was willing to undergo suffering in service of a higher goal. In the end he left the hard questions (“if there be any other way . . .”) to the will of the Father, and trusted that God could use even the outrage of his death for good.”
“Bear one another’s burdens, the Bible says. It is a lesson about pain that we all can agree on. Some of us will not see pain as a gift; some will always accuse God of being unfair for allowing it. But, the fact is, pain and suffering are here among us, and we need to respond in some way. The response Jesus gave was to bear the burdens of those he touched. To live in the world as his body, his emotional incarnation, we must follow his example. The image of the body accurately portrays how God is working in the world. Sometimes he does enter in, occasionally by performing miracles, and often by giving supernatural strength to those in need. But mainly he relies on us, his agents, to do his work in the world.We are asked to live out the life of Christ in the world, not just to refer back to it or describe it.We announce his message, work for justice, pray for mercy . . . and suffer with the sufferers.”
We have gathered in my home today still trying to make sense of what happened in Harris County, Texas , still trying to process the unprocessable. We come together in this place, as a Christian community, partly because we know of no better place to bring our questions and our grief and partly because we don’t know where else to turn. As the apostle Peter once said to Jesus, at a moment of confusion and doubt, “Lord, to whom else can we go?”
In considering how to begin today, I found myself following two different threads. The first thread is what I would like to say, the words I wish I could say. The second thread is the truth.
I wish I could say that the pain you feel will disappear, vanish, never to return. I’m sure you’ve heard comments like these from parents and others: “Things will get better.” “You’ll get past this.” “This too shall pass.” Those who offer such comfort mean well, and it’s true that what you feel now you will not always feel. Yet it’s also true that what happened on July 21, 2015, will stay with you forever. You are a different person because of that day, because of one troubled young man’s actions.
I remember one year when three of my friends died. In my thirties then, I had little experience with death. In the midst of my grief, I came across these lines from George Herbert that gave me solace: “Grief melts away / Like snow in May / As if there were no such cold thing.” I clung to that hope even as grief smothered me like an avalanche. Indeed, the grief did melt away, but like snow it also came back, in fierce and unexpected ways, triggered by a sound, a smell, some fragment of memory of my friends.
So I cannot say what I want to say, that this too shall pass. Instead, I point to the pain you feel, and will continue to feel, as a sign of life and love. I’m feeling the same pain as the whole community of mourners across America today. because of our broken hearts from all the death and devastation of blacks in the most power nation in the world. For the first few hours of intercession in behalf of our country and communities that suffer from this atrocity I refuse to not let the crucible of life’s pain to not be felt because I wanted the host of gathers to see my pain so I could hear their response to it. My wife May r kept probing, moving my limbs, asking, “Does this hurt? Do you feel that?” The correct answer, the answer both she and I desperately wanted, was, “Yes. It hurts. I can feel it.” Each sensation gave proof that my limbs had not been severed. Pain offered proof of life, of connection—a sign that my body remained whole.
Love and Pain
In grief, love and pain converge. I don’t want to render or pass judgement on the arresting officers or the Texas police, but I don’t see any signs of them feeling any grief behind Sandra Bland’s death the video shows they felt no love for her. You feel grief because you did have a connection. We as human beings of color are very connected Some of you had closer ties to the victims of police brutality, but all of you belong to a body to which they too belonged. When that body suffers, you suffer. Remember that as you cope with the pain. Don’t try to numb it. Instead, acknowledge it as a perception of life and of love.
Sandra Bland’s death has officially been ruled a suicide, according to an autopsy conducted by officials in Harris County, Texas. Warren Diepraam, a prosecutor for Waller County, Texas, where Bland was arrested and later died in police custody, laid out how this cause of death was determined:
“There were no bite marks or other injuries on her face, on her lips, on her tongue, which would be consistent with a violent struggle,” he said.
If there had been a violent struggle, the prosecutor said, examiners would most likely not expect to see a uniform and consistent mark around Bland’s neck — which is what they, in fact, observed. They also did not observe damage to her trachea and esophagus, which they might expect to see if there had been a violent struggle, he said.
Diepraam also mentioned cuts on her wrists and back, which could be consistent with how she was handled during her arrest, or that she tried to harm herself. The prosecutor also mentioned that Bland had marijuana in her system, which could’ve been a factor in her suicide.
Medical students will tell you that in a deep wound, two kinds of tissue must heal: the connective tissue beneath the surface and the outer, protective layer of skin. If the protective tissue heals too quickly, the connective tissue will not heal properly, leading to complications later on. The reason my home and other ministries around the world offer counseling and hold services like this one we are holding is to help the deep, connective tissue heal. Only later will the protective layer of tissue grow back in the form of a scar.
We gather here as Christians, and as such we aspire to follow a man who came from God 2,000 years ago. Read through the Gospels, and you’ll find only one scene in which someone addresses Jesus directly as God: “My Lord and my God!” Do you know who said that? It was doubting Thomas, the disciple stuck in grief, the last holdout against believing the incredible news of the Resurrection.
In a tender scene, Jesus appeared to Thomas in his newly transformed body, obliterating Thomas’s doubts. What prompted that outburst of belief, however—”My Lord and my God!”—was the presence of Jesus’ scars. “Feel my hands,” Jesus told him. “Touch my side.” In a flash of revelation, Thomas saw the wonder of Almighty God, the Lord of the universe, stooping to take on our pain.
God doesn’t exempt even himself from pain. God joined us and shared our human condition, including its great grief. Thomas recognized in that pattern the most foundational truth of the universe: that God is love. To love means to hurt, to grieve. Pain is a mark of life.
The Jews, schooled in the Old Testament, had a saying: “Where Messiah is, there is no misery.” After Jesus, you could change that saying to: “Where misery is, there is the Messiah.” “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus said, “and those who hunger and thirst, and those who mourn, and those who are persecuted.” Jesus voluntarily embraced every one of these hurts.
So where is God when it hurts? We know where God is because he came to earth and showed us his face. You need only follow Jesus around and note how he responded to the tragedies of his day: with compassion—which simply means “to suffer with”—and with comfort and healing.