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.
Halfway through the year… and it is time to evaluate which direction we all are heading.
I wanted to remind each of you that our pursuit of God should be about progress and not perfection. When we strive for perfection in our walk for God it often times leads us to disappointment and then we oftentimes will become more distant with God and those in our lives who are encouraging us to grow in our walk with God.
My prayer is for each of you to evaluate your life and ask yourself, “Are you loving God and others more now than you were a year ago?”
If you answer yes, then keep seeking God with passion and continue to be that encouragement to others in your life around you.
If you answered, probably not. Well, don’t get discouraged and pull away from God and those trying to encourage you. Instead, realize that you now can move forward toward what God has planned for you.Don’t forget that there is nothing better in our life than being exactly where God has us. Right now, where you are you can be someone who impacts others for Christ.
Seek that eternal mindset and focus on things that matter for an eternity.
This week take some time to pray and ask God to help you grow in Christ and that He would enable you to Love Him and Love others more this year than last year.
Live with Eternity in Mind!
Our days are eternal.
Yes, you and I will live forever in heaven, but have we ever reflected upon the fact that not only are our heavenly days eternal, but that the moments we are living here and now will live forever in the mind of God, and therefore live on in eternity? “Our days pass quickly and are over like a sigh” reads the Psalms.
Yet, not so fast. Do my actions truly pass away? Or am I called to give an account for them before the throne of God? Often I find it easier to forget the days past, to look only to the future. I don’t think God wants me to live in the past, but instead, He frees me from my guilt and calls me to continual reconciliation.
What I often forget, sometimes conveniently, is that my actions nevertheless remain eternal in the mind of God. The love which I pour out in my daily duties is a love that lasts – something eternal which will either bring sorrow or consolation to the heart of Jesus throughout time and eternity.
A Satisfying Road?
What a thought, that my actions today have more of a everlasing lasting meaning than I can fathom. That each day, each sacrifice, builds one upon another, and forms a path to heaven. Sometimes I am tempted to believe that the endless repetition of days, each following in similar succession, only serve to cover and erase the previous ones. I forget the beautiful truth that my daily walk of life can instead define a path to God, a road which I can look back upon with satisfaction.
Perhaps the path that I now cultivate may one day guide another wandering soul to God. Perhaps the thorns which I attempt to clear along the road will make the traveling smoother for those who come behind me. Most importantly, I think of my children and the road which they will walk. Are my actions in traveling the road ahead of them, or even alongside of them, leading them on a straight and narrow way? Will they look ahead to my guiding figure, or will they struggle to know which turns to make?
Ultimately, I can never find my way alone. The generations before me, following the Church throughout the ages, with Christ and His disciples leading the way, serve as my compass. Thank goodness for the shining example of the saints, and for the living saints in our midst, who exhibit daily a testimony to love.
How often do I thank those around me for their positive example, which inspires and calls me on to stay the course, and to finish the race?
Do I reflect upon their examples and consider how to serve as an inspiration to others in my own actions?
Intending the End
Joseph had a lot of things going his way in life at first. He was handsome. He was the first son born to Jacob through Rachel, and therefore, he was his father’s favorite son. He had great dreams that made him feel good about himself. But then one day his entire life changed. Can you imagine how it must have felt to know your brothers hated you so much that they would sell you out of their lives? He was forced to leave the comfortable life he had known, full of love from his parents, and go forth into the unknown. How frightening that must have been for a boy of 17. Yet, God had His hand on Joseph. God had a divine purpose for this young man. Joseph didn’t know why God had chosen this path for his life until the very end, yet he never seemed to waver. God was always in control. Joseph kept his eyes on God, and He used Joseph greatly. What an encouragement to us. Let God use you where you are. Let Him use you in the hard times, as well as the good times.
The story of Joseph spans many chapters, Genesis 37-50. We could actually do an entire study just on the life of Joseph, but because of time limitation, we will just focus on the key events in his life.
“Lord, thank you for the lessons you teach me through Joseph’s life. Encourage me through his life to seek you more intimately and to trust you for every situation that comes into my life. Keep me mindful that you are always in control.”
DAY 1: Joseph and His Family
LOOKING TO GOD’S WORD
1. How would you describe Joseph’s relationship with his brothers?
2. Could Joseph have prevented the jealousy of his brothers? Why or why not?
3. How would you describe his relationship with his father Jacob?
4. In verses 21-27 Reuben and Judah came to Joseph’s defense. Why would these two, of all the brothers, try to save Joseph?
5. How do you see God’s sovereign hand at work throughout this chapter?
6. How do you see God’s hand at work in your own life?
- We are told in Genesis 37:3 that Jacob made Joseph a varicolored tunic. What was the significance of this tunic and what impact might that have had on his brothers?
- How was God already developing Joseph’s gifts at the age of 17?
- How has God “broken” you? How did it “strengthen” you?
- Are you willing to let God do whatever He needs to in your life to make you usable to Him? If not, why? Be honest with the Lord, and ask Him to make you willing, trusting His loving and sovereign hand in your life.
DAY 2: Joseph’s Early Life in Egypt
Chapter 38 seems like an “interruption” to our story of Joseph in Egypt, but it is a narrative of what took place back in Canaan during this time, especially concerning the life of Judah. We pick up our narrative of Joseph in Chapter 39.
LOOKING TO GOD’S WORD
1. How did God use Joseph’s captivity for good (vv. 1-6)?
2. How was Joseph able to resist the temptation of Potiphar’s wife day after day (vv. 7-18)?
3. Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and Potiphar believed his wife over Joseph, resulting in his imprisonment. Yet, how did God use this for good?
4. What was one “mistake” that Joseph made that perhaps could have prevented the false accusation against him?
5. What does it mean that the Lord was “with Joseph”?
6. Does God’s favor mean prosperity? Why or why not?
7. Have you ever been falsely accused? How did you handle it? What resulted from it?
- What does Stephen have to say about Joseph and what God did for him in Acts 7:9-10?
- As you look back over this chapter, note the times God’s favor and blessing on Joseph is mentioned. How does one gain favor?
- Are you living faithfully in the midst of prosperity and adversity?
- Do others around you see Christ in you?
DAY 3: Joseph’s Rise To Power
LOOKING TO GOD’S WORD
We will not be able to look at every verse of every chapter, so I will try to summarize as we skim the following chapters.
1. The king’s cupbearer and baker offended him, resulting in their being thrown into prison with Joseph. What do you learn about Joseph from the way he responded to them in prison?
2. The rest of the chapter tells of their dreams, Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams, and how the interpretations were later fulfilled. In Genesis 40:14-15 and 20-23, how was life once again “unfair” to Joseph?
Genesis 41:1-8 tells us of Pharaoh’s dream and his inability to find someone able to interpret it. In verses 9-14, the cupbearer finally remembers Joseph and his interpretation of their dreams in prison, and Pharaoh called for Joseph to come and interpret his dream. Joseph interpreted the king’s dreams, which foretold of the coming seven years of great abundance in Egypt (41:29) and the following seven years of famine (41:29). Joseph proceeded to tell Pharaoh what should be done (41:32-37).
3. Why did Pharaoh place Joseph in charge of Egypt (41:38-45)?
4. How old was Joseph at this point (41:46)?
5. How had God worked in Joseph’s life during his captivity (see 40:8 and 41:16)?
6. How can you keep a proper perspective when you know you have been “wronged” by others and you are paying the unjustified consequences?
- Who are some other people in the Bible who had “delays” in their lives?
- How are you allowing God to use you right where you are?
- How do you see God’s hand in the “delays” in your life?
- How is God “polishing” you?
DAY 4: Joseph’s Reconciliation With His Family
LOOKING TO GOD’S WORD
1. Jacob sent his sons, with the exception of Benjamin, to Egypt to buy grain during the famine. When his brothers came before Joseph, why didn’t he just tell them who he was and why do you think he recognized them but they did not recognize him?
2. Why do you think Joseph responded to his brothers in the way he did?
3. Describe what his brothers were feeling in verses 21-23?
In Genesis 42:29-38, the brothers returned to Canaan to retrieve their younger brother Benjamin, having left Simeon back in Egypt. Jacob first refused to let them take Benjamin, but after all the grain was eaten, he sent his sons back to Egypt with Benjamin (43:1-15). When Joseph saw Benjamin, he responded with emotion (43:16-34). In Genesis 44, Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan and played a little trickery on them. He “threatened” to keep Benjamin as his slave, and Judah pleaded with him to keep him instead of Benjamin. This brings us to Chapter 45, when Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers.
4. What was Joseph’s perspective on what his brothers had done to him when he was seventeen?
5. What emotions were his brothers most likely experiencing when they realized this was indeed Joseph?
6. How do you view painful or hurtful events in your life? How have hurtful events molded your life?
7. How is one able to gain the type of perspective that Joseph had about his life?
Read the entirety of Genesis 42-45. Trace Joseph’s actions throughout these chapters toward his brothers. Why did he do what he did?
- Is there someone who has wounded you deeply? How have you handled it? Can you trust God’s sovereign hand in the midst of it?
- Is there someone you need to forgive?
DAY 5: Joseph’s Last Days
In Genesis 46-47 Jacob moved his family to Egypt. God once again spoke to him, encouraging him to not be afraid to go to Egypt and reminding him of His promise to make him a great nation (Gen. 46:1-4). Genesis 48-49 records Jacob’s final days. Today we look at Joseph’s last days after his father Jacob died.
LOOKING TO GOD’S WORD
1. How did Joseph show his faith in God’s promise to Abraham?
2. How has Joseph changed in his relationship with God and his family since he was a young boy?
3. What stands out to you about Joseph’s life and the way he dealt with life?
4. How old was Joseph when he died (v. 22)?
5. How does harboring an unforgiving spirit affect us?
6. What makes it difficult to trust God’s sovereignty?
REREAD GENESIS 50.
- What was Joseph trying to convey to his family in verse 24?
- Why would he want his bones carried back to Canaan?
- Is there something going on in your life today that is hard for you to understand? Take it to the Lord and trust His hand.
- Meditate on Genesis 50:20. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Joseph had a divine purpose. His life was not always easy and was filled with ups and downs. Yet Joseph found favor with God and he allowed God to use him wherever he went. Where does God want to use you? What is His divine purpose for your life? Are you focused on Him, or are you focused on your circumstances and the situation in which you find yourself? Let God use you to accomplish His divine purpose through you.
The church is God’s hospital. It has always been full of people on the mend. Jesus himself made a point of inviting the lame, the blind, and the possessed to be healed and to accompany him in his ministry, an invitation often spurned by those who thought they were fine as is. We should not be surprised, then, that the depressed populate not only secular hospitals and clinics, but our churches as well. Yet depression remains both familiar and mysterious to pastors and lay church leaders, not to mention to those who share a pew with depressed persons.
Virtually everyone has experienced a “down” day, often for no clear reason. We might say we “woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” are “out of sorts,” or just “in a funk.” Such polite references are commonplace in America. Yet as familiar as melancholic periods are to us, the depths of a severe depression remain a mystery. We may grasp in part the distress of King David: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10). But most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, “I am forgotten by them as though I were dead” (v.12). Severe depression is often beyond description. And when such deep and painful feelings cannot be explained, they cut to the heart of one’s spiritual being.
Humans are intricately complex creatures. When things go wrong in us, they do so in myriad and nuanced ways. If churches want to effectively minister to the whole of fallen humanity, they must reckon with this complexity. Depression indicates that something is amiss. But what? And what should churches be doing about it?
What is depression?
First we need to clarify what we are talking about. In order to distinguish severe or “major depression” from everyday blues, the American Psychiatric Association offers the following diagnostic criteria:
Major depression is diagnosed when an adult exhibits one or both of two core symptoms (depressed mood and lack of interest), along with four or more of the following symptoms, for at least two weeks: feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions; fatigue; psychomotor agitation (cannot sit still) or retardation (just sitting around); insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much); significant decrease or increase in weight or appetite; and recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation.
This clinical definition is sterile, however, and fails to capture the unique quality of the severely depressed person’s suffering.
Deep depression is embodied emotional suffering. It is not simply a state of mind or a negative view of life but something that affects our physical being as well. Signs of a severe episode of depression include unfounded negative evaluations of friends, family, and oneself, emotional “pain,” physical problems such as lethargy, difficulty getting one’s thoughts together, and virtually no interest in one’s surroundings. Though most of us know at least an acquaintance who has committed suicide, this tragic act baffles us perhaps as much as it pains us. “I just don’t understand,” we say. The irony is that survivors of serious suicide attempts frequently reflect on those attempts with a similar attitude: “I have no idea what came over me.” The pain and mental dysfunction of major depression are that deep.
How big is the problem?
However we choose to define depression, both its frequency and its disruption of normal life are staggering. The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years. In the United States, 5 to 10 percent of adults currently experience the symptoms of major depression (as previously defined), and up to 25 percent meet the diagnostic criteria during their lifetime, making it one of the most common conditions treated by primary care physicians. At any given time, around 15 percent of American adults are taking antidepressant medications.
Studies of religious groups, from Orthodox Jews to evangelical Christians, reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression varies across religious groups or between those who attend religious services and those who do not. So in a typical congregation of 200 adults, 50 attendees will experience depression at some point, and at least 30 are currently taking antidepressants.
How do we explain these numbers? In part, they result from a two-pronged shift in cultural attitudes about depression. Groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and pharmaceutical companies have aggressively promoted the view that depression is not a character flaw but a biological problem (a disease) in need of a biological solution (a drug). The efforts to medicalize depression have helped to remove the stigma attached to it and convince the public that it’s not something to hide. Consequently, depression has come out of the closet.
Some critics argue that along with the disease view of depression comes a lowered diagnostic threshold. Professors Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield argue in The Loss of Sadness (Oxford, 2007) that psychiatrists no longer provide room for their clients’ sadness or life’s usual ups and downs, labeling even normal mood fluctuations “depression.” (Everyday conversation reflects this assumption. When asked how we are doing, we commonly answer “great” or at least “good.” If we reveal that we’re “fine”—or worse, just “okay”—people tend to assume something is wrong and begin probing.)
Critics like Horwitz and Wakefield are half right. It is true that the mental health community has lowered the threshold for recognizing depression. Yet when we trace depression in the United States over the past 20 years using fixed criteria—the very research I do—we still see a significant increase in frequency. So although the numbers may be inflated, and this bump unquestionably serves the profit margins of pharmaceutical companies, we nevertheless have a substantial, documented increase to try to explain.
Our society has reaped considerable benefit from casting a wide net and assuming that everything caught is a disease. We now are more attuned to depression’s burden of emotional suffering, better understand biological factors, and have medications that address those factors. We should be thankful for these significant gains.
Yet redefining depression broadly as a disease has some untoward consequences. This model rightly acknowledges the biological aspect of human nature and how it can become disordered. But it fails to consider other dimensions at play. For example, the disease model ignores social environments as possible contributors to depression, viewing depressed persons as isolated individuals with a strong boundary between their bodies and everything outside. Depressed persons are reduced to broken bodies and brains that need fixing.
Browse any major psychiatric journal and you will read that our genes are the first cause of depression. Given certain environmental challenges, depression emerges. This is true, but it does not go far enough. Most have heard that depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance (such as a deficit in serotonin). Though the biological aspect of depression is more complex than a simple chemical imbalance, depression is nonetheless associated with poor regulation of the chemical messengers in our brains. This is why certain medications can relieve symptoms of moderate to severe depression. But this is not a new biological development; our bodies have not changed significantly over the past 100 years.
We also know that distorted thoughts contribute to depression. Those who are depressed do not evaluate themselves accurately (i.e., I am not as good as others). They fear that their selves are disintegrating (i.e., I am falling apart). They depreciate their value to others (i.e., I am of very little benefit to my family). And they believe they do not have control over their bodies (i.e., I just cannot make myself eat). Aaron Beck, the father of the most popular psychotherapy today, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), proposes that depression derives in large part from these cognitive distortions. Depression is relieved by bringing the distorted views more in line with reality. Evidence supports Beck’s contention, though not in all cases.
But cognitive behavioral therapies have been criticized for focusing on the person as such and ignoring the context of the person within society. Psychotherapist Robert Fancher believes the CBT approach “devalues those attributes of mind most likely both to create culture and to take us beyond the status quo—imagination, passion, and the courageous, painful process of bringing new ways of thinking and living to birth. It amounts to an endorsement of the middlebrow life under the authority of ‘good mental health.’ ” To put it more simply, cognitive therapy tends to reinforce the social norm, focusing almost exclusively on assisting the individual to adapt to the environment.
We now know much more about the neuroscience and cognitive patterns associated with depression, and have found fairly effective biological and therapeutic treatments. But we still do not have an answer to the pressing question behind this virtual epidemic: Why now? In order to get at this question, we must look beyond biological and psychological factors.
Things fall apart
“Life’s tough,” said one of my professors of medicine, and I knew what he meant. A young intern, I was seeking empathy after surviving a night on call without a wink of sleep. I had forgotten to look up a reference he had recommended the day before. He wanted the reference, not an excuse. But life was busy, chaotic, and demanding, and I was having trouble holding everything together.
Everyday life in 21st-century American society can be tough. The constant pressure of negotiating increasingly complex and sometimes harsh social realities takes a toll. Depression is in part a withdrawal by the weary into an inner world, an attempt to create a protective cocoon against real-world demands. Whatever personal factors contribute to an individual’s depression, the broader epidemic suggests that living in disordered social conditions makes things worse.
But when compared with preceding generations of Americans, we are, on the whole, healthier, safer, better off financially, and more educated. So where is the disorder?
The truth is, these barometers don’t tell the whole story. In the workplace, many of us sit in comfortable surroundings compared with those of our ancestors, who fought cold, wind, and rain. Yet we feel as much uncertainty as they did and much less control over our work. Our jobs are not secure, and due to specialization, many of us do not have the flexibility to move easily and quickly from one job to another. We work long hours, often with a sense of being “behind,” and do not recognize boundaries between work and non-work. (Is the office Christmas party work or recreation?) We compare ourselves with other colleagues when comparisons are fruitless, or find ourselves being compared unfairly. When we come up short, we feel the burden of unrealistic expectations we have placed on ourselves or have received from others. We are given responsibilities with little authority and even fewer resources, and feel we have no control over job expectations or even how we use our work time. Many of us are subject to sometimes dehumanizing corporate or economic systems not of our own making and seemingly beyond our influence. We feel small, insignificant, and expendable.
Some Americans find their everyday reality so tough that they try to escape it via substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, petty theft, or embezzlement. Consider substance abuse. Nearly 15 percent of Americans will struggle with alcoholism in their lifetimes, and over 10 million Americans are actively using illicit substances. Among those who are dependent on opiates such as heroin or prescription pain relievers, depression rates may be as high as 50 percent. Though depression can lead to increased substance use, the much more common path is for substance use, often begun as an escape from the pressures of life, to lead to serious episodes of depression. At that point a vicious cycle ensues, as depression leads to increased substance use, and substance use to worsening depression.
While most of us have daily contact with many people, our generation is nevertheless a lonely crowd. In his classic Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putman suggests that America’s stock of “social capital”—networks among individuals and the reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them—has declined substantially over the past few decades. We are less likely to vote, give blood, play cards, join in league bowling, or have friends or neighbors over for dinner. Perhaps some of these opportunities to build social networks have been replaced with others, such as soccer games or Facebook. Yet we are increasingly disconnected from family, neighbors, and friends.
And the nature of the relationships we do have is changing. Many have become what British sociologist Anthony Giddens labels “pure relationships”—”pure” in that they are detached from any social context, external structure, or security. There is no covenant, community, or being to orient the relationship or provide ongoing assurance, direction, and support. All of this must be generated by the relationship itself, which exacts a heavy burden. We can never relax in pure relationships because there is no pledge of fidelity or constancy on which to rest. We must “maintain” these relationships ourselves. Over time, constant vigilance and sustained insecurity often lead to frustration, anxiety, and weariness. These relationships are just too hard to keep up.
Complex societies built on interdependence require trust, yet this precious public resource continues to decline as society becomes even more complex. “Who can you believe these days?” has become a familiar refrain. Reality, we are told, has become little more than the shared worldview of small communities. In response, some encourage us to accept all views, but this leaves us disoriented. Others suggest we cling tenaciously to our views and mistrust anything new, leaving us isolated and alienated. From this double bind, the leap to a symptom of severe depression—paranoia—is not that far. The depressed lose confidence not only in themselves, but also in those around them.
Finally, no symptom is more central to depression than the loss of hope. And if last year’s election cycle revealed anything, it was that hope is at a premium in American society. Fear of catastrophe—due to terrorists, financial collapse, or ecological disaster—haunts our times. Some busy themselves with survival strategies, withdrawing from communal concerns to personal preoccupations. Many more, uncertain about the future, anxiously gorge themselves on our culture’s smorgasbord of instantly gratifying diversions.
Opportunity for the church
Uncertainty, insignificance, and powerlessness. Destructive, self-indulgent escape. Loneliness and isolation. Fear and distrust. Loss of hope. Retreat. Although hasty and incomplete, this sketch of the early-21st-century American cultural mood picks up dark details masked by indices of societal well-being. It also reminds us that to focus exclusively on the individual in our efforts to understand the depression epidemic is to miss the forest for the trees.
When used wisely, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy can restore stability to individuals so that they can better negotiate everyday challenges. For those in the thick of paralyzing depression, the effects of medicine and CBT might even prompt gratitude for common grace. And they should give thanks. Yet neither of these approaches provides much help in understanding or addressing the more fundamental and intractable problems of which the depression epidemic is a symptom. These approaches provide needed relief, but not answers or prevention.
The medical models come up short because they can only go as far as their understanding of the subject of the problem will take them. And both slight their subject: human beings. Cultural institutions and authorities may sometimes treat human beings as if we are nothing but brains in bodies, but this does not make it so. For those with eyes to see, the depression epidemic is in part a witness to the complexity of human nature. In particular, it reminds us that we are social and spiritual (as well as physical) creatures, and that a fallen society’s afflictions are often inscribed on the bodies of its members. We have misjudged humanity if we expect our bodies to be impervious to social travail. (“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground,” Luke 22:44.)
In fact, sometimes an episode of what looks like depression does not indicate that the human organism is malfunctioning, but is instead being true to her spiritual-social-physical nature. Embodied emotional pain can be an appropriate response to suffering in a world gone wrong. The author of Lamentations must have felt such pain as he gazed upon the destruction of Jerusalem around 588 B.C. “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city” (Lam. 2:11). Christians are called to weep with those who weep, and should welcome emotional pain that results from empathy and draws us alongside the afflicted. If we have grown numb to the pain and suffering around us, we have lost our humanity.
Christian teaching about sin and its reverberating effects frees the church from surprise about the disordered state of human affairs. We can acknowledge the effects of sin both within and without. We can look at wrecked reality squarely in the eye and call it what it is.
And thanks be to God, who raised the One who entered fully into our condition, breaking the power of sin, death, and hell, that we not only can name wrecked reality, but also lean into it on the promise that Christ is making all things new.
Those who bear the marks of despair on their bodies need a community that bears the world’s only sure hope in its body. They need communities that rehearse this hope again and again and delight in their shared foretaste of God’s promised world to come. They need to see that this great promise, secured by Christ’s resurrection, compels us to work amidst the wreckage in hope. In so doing, the church provides her depressed members with a plausible hope and a tangible reminder of the message they most need to hear: This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ as embodied in his church is the last word.
We are submitting our request to partner with several agencies this month to assist outreach for this specific populous of individuals. There are several resource that we are willing to carry the torch and advertise and link others with to expose the options that are available. If you are a non-profit or church that has veterans and teens with challenges please consider attending this event.
2015 National Conference on Ending Homelessness
July 15 – 17, 2015
In order to effectively approach homelessness, a community needs a clear, deliberate, and comprehensive strategy. In The Ten Essentials, the Alliance outlines the ten components necessary in a successful plan to end homelessness. The Ten Essentials covers the most important strategies for success: prevention, re-housing options, access to housing and services, and efficient use of data, among others.
Devise a plan of action. The Alliance’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is a good place to start – a comprehensive, systematic approach to addressing the different facets of homelessness. While planning, it is important to have representatives and input from all the groups affected by this social issue: government officials, business leaders, community activists, and the like. Every solution starts with a plan.
Before moving forward, it’s imperative to fully understand the problem. With homelessness, that can be a tall order, as the social problem is influenced by the economy, geography, transportation, and a host of other elements. Luckily, most communities conduct a biannual point in time census and have a Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS), required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HMIS collects data about those who interact with the homeless assistance system, and this information can be helpful in understanding the homeless population better and addressing their specific needs.
- Emergency Prevention
As with most things, the most economical and efficient way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Consider enacting programs and policies that will do just that. Many existing social programs connect vulnerable populations with emergency services, temporary cash assistance, and case management. Consider ways to integrate with these existing systems or adopt your own.
- Systems Prevention
Many people who fall into homelessness do so after release from state-run institutions, including jail and the foster care system. Still others come to homelessness from mental health programs and other medical care facilities. By creating a clear path to housing from those institutions—in the form of case management, access to services, or housing assistance programs—we can reduce the role that state-run institutions play in creating homelessness.
An important role in ending homelessness is outreach to people experiencing homelessness. A key ingredient to this outreach is the ability to connect the homeless population to housing and services. When considering outreach efforts, it’s important to understand that many people living on the streets exhibit mental illness, substance addiction, and other negative behavior patterns. As such, it’s important to consider low-demand housing that does not mandate sobriety or treatment.
- Shorten Homelessness
A successful homeless assistance program not only works to end homelessness, but minimizes the length of stay in shelter and reduces repeat homeless episodes. In order to do this, assistance programs must align resources to ensure that families and individuals have access to the services necessary to achieve independence as quickly as possible. This often requires immediate access to housing, home-based case management, and incentives embedded into the homeless assistance system to promote these outcomes.
- Rapid Re-Housing
Navigating the housing market, especially on behalf of clients with lower incomes and higher needs, is a difficult task. A successful homeless assistance program has housing staff that help with just that. Housing locators search local housing markets and build relationships with landlords. Successful program components include incentives to landlords to rent to homeless households, creative uses of housing vouchers and subsidies to help homeless individuals and families afford their rental unit, and links to resources to help clients maintain their housing.
Services are actually more accessible than they sound – many of them already exist in the community. By and large, homeless individuals can access mainstream programs, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and other existing federal assistance programs. Connecting families and individuals exiting homelessness to these programs is imperative to ensuring their continued independence.
- Permanent Housing
At its root, homelessness is the result of the inability to afford and maintain housing. Remember that any plan to end homelessness must incorporate an investment in creating affordable housing. This includes supportive housing, which is permanent housing coupled with supportive services. This is often used for the chronically homeless population – that is, people experiencing long-term or repeated homelessness who also have mental or physical disabilities.
In order to maintain housing, people exiting homelessness must have income. Cash assistance programs are available through federal and state government, and career-based employment services can help formerly homeless people build the skills necessary to increase their income. Mainstream services, including the Workforce Investment Act, should be used for this purpose.
More than 600,000 people are released from prison in the United States each year, and a great many of them return to their families and communities with complex and challenging needs. Prisoners reentering society are often suffering from substance use problems, mental illnesses and health concerns. They must navigate social service systems to find housing, jobs and support. And too often, recently released prisoners find themselves once again incarcerated.
“I have been clean now for 16 years and six months with God’s help, and I am trying to stay that way, but with no help for people who have compromised the contract of life it is very hard not to go back to that way of life. I want people to realize that is why people do time, get out and do it again. They can’t survive any other way.”
Virtually every felony conviction carries with it a life sentence. Upon being released from prison, ex-offenders face a vast and increasing maze of mandatory exclusions from valuable social programs and employment opportunities that impede their hopes of success in the free world. These exclusions range from restrictions on the ability to get a driver’s license to a lifetime ban on eligibility for federal welfare. In adopting this array of civil disabilities, federal, state and municipal governments have endorsed a social policy that condemns ex-offenders to a diminished social and economic status, and for many, a life of crime. Recently the American Bar Association concluded that the dramatic increase in the numbers of persons convicted and imprisoned means that this half-hidden network of legal barriers affects a growing proportion of the populace. More people convicted inevitably means more people who will ultimately be released from prison or supervision, and who must either successfully reenter society or be at risk of reoffending. If not administered in a sufficiently deliberate manner, a regime of collateral consequences may frustrate the reentry and rehabilitation of this population, and encourage recidivism.
To: Congressman Mark Takano
Democrat from California, District 41
1507 Longworth House Office Building
From: Aaron and Maymie Chandler-Pratt
Second Chance Alliance Re-entry Program Founders
To Whom It May Concern;
My name is Maymie Chandler-Pratt and my husband’s name is Aaron. Together we advocate against the hiring practices used to discriminate against ex-offenders.
This bill proposal created in 2013 is here-by updated on this 13th day of July in the year 2015, on the behalf of the ex-offenders in the world who “really” desire an opportunity to become employed but are not the opportunity because of their criminal background.
This bill proposal was given to Congressman Mark Takano, who informed us that he had taken it to his Washington, DC office for review therefore, in light of the Presidents, decision to grant pardons to the 46 ex-offenders recently and on behalf of the millions of other ex-offenders who are being released or have already been released, we hereby re-submit this bill proposal for review of those modifications as stipulated in the proposal.
If this bill proposal is granted, it is our belief that it will help to reduce that rate of recidivism which would in turn help to reduce the prison population. It is also our belief that with the creation of re-entry programs that are directly connected to employers willing to hire ex-offenders that this will also help them to recreate themselves and become law abiding citizens once again and can make a positive imprint on society instead of a negative one.
It is our hope that someone will take a look at this proposal that was written two years ago and placed in the hands of someone whom we felt would be able to get it reviewed. Now that the President has started to release more ex-offenders back into society there is going to become a greater need for jobs, housing and retraining.
In prison an inmate is given the opportunity to work and not for minimum wage but for an amount much lower that minimum wage (i.e., .08 cents to .36 cents) an hour. Our belief is this; if inmates can be hired within the prisons to work in the same types of jobs in society, then why are businesses still so reluctant to hire ex-offenders who have no violent crime history? The way that it stands today, those men and women who were pardoned and released have a better chance of getting hired than the millions of others that are trying to get a job so that they can survive and thrive in society and not return to prison.
Please help us to get this bill reviewed and passed so that we together can start to rebuild our country by employing ex-offenders, who can by working, pay into social security and reduce crime and reduce the rate of recidivism.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter and I look to hear from you soon. Our home phone number is 951-357-2572 and the cell is 951-210-8246.
Aaron and Maymie Chandler-Pratt
Second Chance Alliance Re-entry Program Founders
Bill Proposal: Advocates against Felon Employment Discrimination Act
SENATE OR HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Introduced by: Advocates against Felon Employment Discrimination
Primary Sponsor: Maymie Chandler-Pratt
Secondary Sponsor: Aaron D. Pratt
- The purpose of this bill is to stop the employment discrimination of felons throughout the United States and to modify the hiring wait times from 7 to 10 years, to a more reasonable wait time of 1 to 2 years or less depending on the crime committed.
- The (Senate or House of Representatives) of the United States of America hereby enacts as follows:
- SECTION 1
- This act shall be known as the Advocates against Felon Employment Discrimination Act
- SECTION 2
- Reinstate people with felonies their right to work, and modify the hiring requirements in
- companies from the unrealistic term of 7 to 10 years to 1 to 2 years for ex-offenders who are 8. willing and able to earn an honest living wage and are skilled in those areas of work.
- SECTION 3
- Require companies to hire people with felonies after a period of 1 to 2 years after said
- person has completed parole and has successfully complied with terms of release presented
- by the parole board; (Drug Rehabilitation, boarding house residency, random drug testing) 13. and have demonstrated a desire to work by enrolling in classes to improve their work skills 14. and their moral turpitude.
- SECTION 4:
- Require companies to at least have bonding agents and resources within the HR department
- which will allow companies to be compensated with tax write offs as an incentive to hire ex-18. offenders
- SECTION 5: Funding
- The cost of the implications of this proposal should not exceed the amount of $1,000,000.00 21. dollars.
- Funding for this bill will come partly from the Advocates against Felon Employment
- Discrimination Act fundraising committee and participating government programs.
- SECTION 6: Regulations
- The EEOC has historically taken the position that an employer’s policy or practice of
- excluding individuals from employment because they have criminal conviction record is
- unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unless the policy or practice is
- justified by a business necessity. If the information was erroneous or the conviction was not
- job-related, employees and applicants have a right to file a discrimination claim with their 30.state equal employment opportunity agency. The government will impose sanctions on 31.companies which are offering employment that have no direct correlation with the crime that 32.was committed by person’s applying for a job if they don’t hire a person with a felony on 33.their background that is older than 1 to 2 years. For most offenders it is difficult to prove that 34.a possible employer illegally discriminated 35.against them even with an expungement. In 35.California an individual’s criminal history is 36.never erased, but rather erases the word
- “conviction” and replaces it with “dismissed in 37.Furtherance of Justice” in the disposition.
- Constitutional issues:
- The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly permits felon
- disenfranchisement, but it has been pointed out that constitutional approval of felons’ 40.political powerlessness is not the same as constitutional approval of government prejudice 41.toward the politically powerless. Such prejudice may violate the Equal Protection Clause, 42.which contains no provision authorizing discrimination against felons. A “discrete and 43.insular” minority subject to prejudice, in particular, may be considered particularly vulnerable 44.to oppression by the majority, and thus a suspect class worthy of protection by the judiciary. 45. SECTION 7: Penalties
- The penalties for not hiring a person with felonies older than 2 to 5 years on their background
- and who are willing to work and are skilled in that field or position will be a fine of $5000.00
- dollars and or if the information was erroneous or the conviction was not job-related,
- employees and applicants information was erroneous or the conviction was not job-related,
- employees and applicants have a right to file a discrimination claim with their state equal
- employment opportunity agency. If a felon is bonded by a company and hired on, and is later 52. found to not be in compliance with the bonding agreement he/she shall be terminated.
- SECTION 8: Definitions
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal law
- enforcement agency that enforces laws against job discrimination. The EEOC investigates
- discrimination complaints based on an individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex,
- age, disability, genetic information and retaliation for reporting, participating in and/or
- opposing a discriminatory practice. The EEOC also mediates and settles thousands of
- discrimination complaints each year prior to their investigation. The EEOC is also
- empowered to file discrimination suits against employers on behalf of alleged victims and to
- adjudicate claims of discrimination brought against federal agencies.
- Moral turpitude: A legal concept in the United States that refers to conduct that is
- considered contrary to the community’s standard of justice, honesty and good morals. As of 64. 1998, seven states absolutely barred felons from public employment. Other states had more 65. narrow restrictions for instance, only covering infamous crimes or felonies involving moral 66.turpitude.
- Over inclusive: relating to legislation that burdens more people than necessary to accomplish
- the legislation’s goal. Some laws have been criticized for being over inclusive; for instance, a
- law banning all ex-offenders from working in health care jobs could prevent a person
- convicted of bribery or shoplifting from sweeping the halls of a hospital. The law in Texas
- requires that employers consider things like the nature and seriousness of the crime, the
- amount of time since the person’s committed the crime, and letters of recommendation all be
- taken into account even when the applicant has a felony.
- SECTION 9: Effective Date
- This bill shall take effect approximately and at a minimum of 1 year after passage before the
- law is implemented.
This bill is not asking that the hiring requirements be abolished totally, but that they are modified from the unrealistic 7 to 10 year wait in order to be eligible for “legal” employment, to a more realistic waiting time requirement of 1 to 2 years or less depending on the crime committed.
Aaron and Maymie Chandler-Pratt
Second Chance Alliance Re-entry Program Founders
“A little less conversation, a little more action.” We hear your complaints. While there is movement on sentencing reform, it’s been a long, slow road (we’ve been at it since 1991!) and we’re ready for things to finally change. With your help, we have the power to turn the talk on Capitol Hill into action with the SAFE Justice Act.
On June 25, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective (SAFE) Justice Act (H.R. 2944). This bill is massive, a whopping 144 pages long, and touches almost every single part of the federal criminal justice system, from trial to sentencing to life after release. This legislation would limit the application of federal drug mandatory minimum sentences to only the most high-level crime organizers and kingpins. Judges would have more flexibility to sentence people below mandatory minimum drug and gun possession offenses when the person has a minor record or the crime was driven by addiction or mental illness. It would also allow for federal prisoners to earn time off their sentences for good behavior and completing rehabilitative programming.
The best part: many of these reforms would be retroactive, affecting people who are already in prison, and reducing prison overcrowding and high prison costs for taxpayers.
Lawmakers know the criminal justice system is flawed from top to bottom. They recognize the injustice, and many speak out about it. But we want them to do more than talk, we want them to vote to change the system. They need to hear from you, their constituents. Tell your U.S. Representative to support the SAFE Justice Act today. The more members of Congress who support the bill, the more likely it is that we’ll get them to act on it this year!
Thanks for your support of our work and for telling Congress it’s time for action!
WASHINGTON – A Detroit man sentenced to life in prison on drug offenses in 1999 is among nearly four dozen federal inmates who had their sentences commuted today by President Barack Obama as being too harsh.
Patrick Roberts, 65, is currently incarcerated in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., according to corrections records, and has lost several previous attempts to have his sentence reduced.
Federal court documents say he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine and marijuana and was sentenced to life imprisonment, under rules which were in place at the time, because of his four prior drug convictions.
Obama today commuted the sentences of 46 federal prisoners convicted on drug charges, ordering their terms to end Nov. 10 of this year. Roberts’ was the only one from Michigan.
The president has issued nearly 90 commutations in all during his two terms in office, most of them to nonviolent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under old sentencing rules which, had the crimes been committed today, would have resulted in shorter sentences.
Click to view why the clock is running out on Obama’s clemency initiative…
The president sent each prisoner a letter confirming the commutation and asking each to make the most of the opportunity he or she was being given.
In a video message, Obama explained his decision, saying the inmates “were not hardened criminals but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years.”
“Their punishments didn’t fit the crime,” Obama said in the message.
“I’ve made clear to them that re-entering society is going to require responsibility on their part and hard work and smarter choices,” the president continued. “But I believe that at it’s heart, America’s a nation of second chances and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”
Koch urges Obama administration to speed up clemency program Billionaire supports prison reform-click to view..
Administration officials said they expect Obama will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term in January 2017. On Tuesday, the president was also expected to discuss, in an address to the NAACP, ways of bringing “greater fairness to our criminal justice system while keeping our communities safe,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a blog post.
In a statement from the U.S. Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said today’s commutations grew out of Obama’s request a year ago that the agency develop criteria for identifying prisoners who were nonviolent, low-level offenders who received overly harsh sentences.
“The President’s decision to commute the sentences of 46 more individuals today is another sign of our commitment to correcting these inequities,” she said.
April 7th 2015 :
President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 convicted federal prisoners Tuesday, shortening their sentences for drug-related crimes.
Eight of the prisoners who will have their sentences reduced were serving life sentences. All but one of the 22 will be released on July 28.
The White House said Obama made the move in order to grant to older prisoners the same leniency that would be given to people convicted of the same crimes today.
“Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. “Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years—in some cases more than a decade—longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.”
In issuing the commutations Tuesday, Obama has more than doubled the number he’s granted in his presidency. Before Tuesday, he had issued just 21 and denied 7,378 commutations in his more than six years. It was the most commutations issued by a president in a single day since President Clinton issued 150 pardons and 40 commutations on his last day in office.
And it could represent the crest of a new wave of commutations that could come in Obama’s last two years in office. Last year, the Justice Department announced a new clemency initiative to try to encourage more low-level drug offenders to apply to have their sentences reduced. That resulted in a record 6,561 applications in the last fiscal year, at least two of which were granted commutations Tuesday, according to the Justice Department.
Click to view Second Chance Alliance
SERMONS should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant. We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk’s sake; we have instructions to convey important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings. Our range of subjects is all but boundless, and we cannot, therefore, be excused if our discourses are threadbare and devoid of substance. If we speak as ambassadors for God, we need never complain of want of matter, for our message is full to overflowing. The entire gospel must be presented from the pulpit; the whole faith once delivered to the saints must be proclaimed by us. The truth as it is in Jesus must be instructively declared, so that the people may not merely hear, but know, the joyful sound. We serve not at the altar of “the unknown God,” but we speak to the worshippers of him of whom it is written, “they that know thy name will put their trust in thee.” To divide a sermon well may be a very useful art, but how if there is nothing to divide? A mere division maker is like an excellent carver with an empty dish before him. To be able to deliver an exordium which shall be appropriate and attractive, to be at ease in speaking with propriety during the time allotted for the discourse, and to wind up with a respectable peroration, may appear to mere religious performers to be all that is requisite; but the true minister of Christ knows that the true value of a sermon must lie, not in its fashion and manner, but in the truth which it contains. Nothing can compensate for the absence of teaching; all the rhetoric in the world is but as chaff to the wheat in contrast to the gospel of our salvation. However beautiful the sower’s basket it is a miserable mockery if it be without seed. The grandest discourse ever delivered is an ostentatious failure if the doctrine of the grace of God be absent from it; it sweeps over men’s heads like a cloud, but it distributes no rain upon the thirsty earth; and therefore the remembrance of it to souls taught wisdom by an experience of pressing need is one of disappointment, or worse. A man’s style may be as fascinating as that of the authoress of whom one said, “that she should write with a crystal pen dipped in dew upon silver paper, and use for pounce the dust of a butterfly’s wing”; but to an audience whose souls are in instant jeopardy, what will mere elegance be but “altogether lighter than vanity”?
Is there any harm in Christian charismatic leadership? Most everyone will agree that having some charisma in one’s personality is desirable. This same thought tends to prevail among many Christian leaders and their followers in matters of the gospel which are often pushed back in favor of charismatic leadership.
Christian preachers, teachers, and ministers, famous and unknown, often seek to entertain their audience as they deliver their sermons and Bible lessons. Jokes are told, statements are made to incite laughter and tantalizing, attention-getting keywords are employed to shock listeners in order to have their full attention. Facial expressions, body posture, and movements along with the often unnecessary raising of the voice all play a part in the performances of many who are considered Christian leaders. Such people include pastors, Sunday school teachers, television evangelists, and many others with positions of leadership within the church. Sensationalism is also seen among Christian writers.
Is there any harm in one’s sermon, Bible lesson or Christian article containing sensationalism? Is there anything wrong with a Christian preacher, teacher, or author taking a charismatic approach in the delivery of the gospel message to others? According to biblical scripture, there’s plenty of harm that can be done in the life of not only the Christian leader but also of his audience.
Each side would do well to ask himself a few questions to evaluate his real intentions. This is biblical instruction from the scripture of 1 Corinthians 11:28 which reads, “…let a man examine himself….”
The apostle Paul said that he was given a messenger of Satan, known as his “thorn in the flesh”, to buffet him so that he wouldn’t be lifted up in pride (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul received many revelations directly from God. It is his writings that teach the Christian more about the meaning of the work of Jesus than those of the other apostles. God knew the danger of self-pride taking root in Paul which would have surely been his downfall.
There’s a joke that speaks of the irony of the fact that there are many Christian leaders who are very proud of how humble they are. In the examination of oneself, the Christian leader may ask himself if his true intent is to give glory to God in the delivery of his sermon or lesson, or glory to himself. Each member of the audience of that same charismatic and sensational leader may ask himself if his true intent is to learn the word of God or to be entertained.
There’s always spiritual harm to be done when one is in opposition to the will of God. To use the gospel to entertain or to be entertained is not in agreement with the scriptures. Every true preacher of the gospel should be able to declare in sincerity the same that the apostle Paul and those who accompanied him declared. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6, Paul wrote, “but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness. God is our witness. Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others….”
This blessed Sabbath weekend was a very powerful enlightening one. I had to change my sermon to address some foolishness taking place amongst the ranks of teachers and preachers and for the most part I was fine, but when God took over it felt like I was getting a whipping also.
Thanks Lord for the opportunity to stretch our legs and enjoy your creation this weekend. We appreciate home, but what a time it was to gaze upon Your beauty while worshiping You O’Lord and You alone. May the word spoken today at Bishop Rally’s render a breakthrough to leaders and alike….#Third Baptist Church San Francisco- His best for our life weekend-Please click to view the beginning….
Everything about me is a contradiction, and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There’s a philistine and an aesthete (a person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art and beauty) in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.
Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
Almost without exception, people and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Though we should know better, we continue to manufacture worries and nurse fears. Yet anxiety is nothing more than wasting today’s time and resources to clutter up tomorrow’s possibilities with yesterday’s struggles. In spite of that, it remains for some a continual preoccupation. This post will takes a straight look at this energy-draining reality. By seeing it at work in another’s life, we may gain sufficient perspective to get through the tough stuff of anxiety. Stands the reason of my joy about my wife success thus far. She has suffered anxiety of life in wanting to complete school, she has suffered turmoil due to wanting to feel the sensationalism of operating as a substance abuse counselor and Psychology clinician within her own company “Second Chance Alliance”. She experiences anxiety from going to class under adverse challenges all the while wanting to cross the finish line of graduation. I am so proud of her holding her position in Christ as a mom and wife and grandmother that is a full time student trying to breakthrough the stigma’s of a unforgiving society and create change for her family and others.
I am Innocent until proven guilty… Maymie Chandler-Pratt Bio 7/9/2015 2:46:23 PM
Hello Instructor Dougherty,
My name is Maymie Chandler-Pratt and I am 53 years young. I currently reside in Southern California where it never rains, it is always sunny, and the crime rate is high and our court systems are overrun with all types of cases, mostly drug cases. I have been married for many years to the same man, my husband Aaron who is an ex Navy Seal with many issues stemming from his 13 years of service and nine campaigns and 7 months as a POW in Libya and has been diagnosed with PTSD and Schizo-affective Disorder. I too was in the Army and even though I saw no war, because of my husband’s issues I too have been diagnosed with PTSD and Schizo-affective disorder by association, Together we share a total of 10 children, 2 are deceased, two are in prison; our daughter Parris for life with no possibility of ever getting out and our son Lee who was sentenced to 15 years with an L. The other 6 are working, and attending college. Our youngest son is 19 and 6′ 6″ tall.
I started attending Argosy in 2011 and in January 2016 I will graduate with my BA in psychology with and emphasis on Substance Abuse Counseling. I chose this career because of my 20 plus years of being addicted to crack cocaine and my own stint in prison for 7 years due to my addictive behaviors. After being released from prison I was placed in a 1453 state mandated drug program where I met up with my counselor who had also been in prison with me. While there she told me that I too should become a substance abuse counselor. My belief after witnessing the healing power of “My higher power” in which I choose to call God, I was convinced that if I could do it then I could help others like me to do it too.
I feel that with my extensive criminal background, I have a lot of experience with the criminal court systems, but I am no expert and I want to be even more enlightened now as a professional as I was as a criminal. I look forward to working with you over the next five weeks.
See you on the boards…May Pratt
Five months until this temptation to sin by having anxiety will be a hurdle we both are excited to jump..Thanks to all who have been apart of this journey.
Several years ago the National Anxiety Center in Maplewood, New Jersey, released the “Top Ten Anxieties for the 1990s.” The list included AIDS, drug abuse, nuclear waste, famine, and the federal deficit. Since then, in the light of September 11, 2001, the center has revised its list to put “global terrorism” as the leading source of anxiety. Today, we could add the worries of a full-scale war, the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea or China, the risk of losing a good job, and maybe the disquieting thoughts of growing old alone and unwanted.
We all have different lists, but our deep, relentless worries carry a similar effect. They make us uneasy. They steal smiles from our faces. They cast dark shadows on our futures by spotlighting our shameful pasts. They pickpocket our peace and kidnap our joy.
What is anxiety?
Throughout my more than 40 years of christian ministry, whenever I’ve taught or spoken on the topic of anxiety, I’ve always highlighted the relevant counsel of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Type the words worry or anxiety into the search engine of my heart, and Philippians 4 quickly flashes on my mind:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:4-7).
Reading this passage, we immediately discover a four-word command that could be rendered, literally, “Stop worrying about anything!” The word translated “anxious” comes from the Greek verb merimnao, meaning “to be divided or distracted.” In Latin the same word is translated anxius, which carries the added nuance of choking or strangling. The word also appears in German as wurgen, from which we derive our English word worry. The tough stuff of anxiety threatens to strangle the life out of us, leaving us asphyxiated by fear and gasping for hope.
Jesus used similar terms when He referred to worry in His parable of the sower inMark 4. The Master Illustrator painted a picture in the minds of His listeners of a farmer sowing seed in four types of soil. In that parable He mentions a seed being sown among thorns. While doing so He underscores both the real nature and the destructive power of anxiety. Jesus said, “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop” (v. 7; emphasis added). Later, when the disciples asked Jesus about the meaning of the parable, He interpreted His own words. Regarding the seed sown among thorns, He explained, “These are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (vv. 18-19).
According to the gospel accounts, here are the miracles Jesus performed. Though this is an incomplete list according to John 21:25
: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
- Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:1-11).
- Jesus cured the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-47).
- The great haul of fishes (Luke 5:1-11).
- Jesus cast out an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-28).
- Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Mark 1:30-31).
- Jesus healed a leper (Mark 1:40-45).
- Jesus healed the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13).
- Jesus raised the widow’s son from the dead (Luke 7:11-18).
- Jesus stilled the storm (Matthew 8:23-27).
- Jesus cured two demoniacs (Matthew 8:28-34).
- Jesus cured the paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8).
- Jesus raised the ruler’s daughter from the dead (Matthew 9:18-26).
- Jesus cured a woman of an issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48).
- Jesus opened the eyes of two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31).
- Jesus loosened the tongue of a man who could not speak (Matthew 9:32-33).
- Jesus healed an invalid man at the pool called Bethesda (John 5:1-9).
- Jesus restored a withered hand (Matthew 12:10-13).
- Jesus cured a demon-possessed man (Matthew 12:22).
- Jesus fed at least five thousand people (Matthew 14:15-21).
- Jesus healed a woman of Canaan (Matthew 15:22-28).
- Jesus cured a deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31-37).
- Jesus fed at least four thousand people (Matthew 15:32-39).
- Jesus opened the eyes of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26).
- Jesus cured a boy who was plagued by a demon (Matthew 17:14-21).
- Jesus opened the eyes of a man born blind (John 9:1-38)
- Jesus cured a woman who had been afflicted eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17).
- Jesus cured a man of dropsy (Luke 14:1-4).
- Jesus cleansed ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19).
- Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-46).
- Jesus opened the eyes of two blind men (Matthew 20:30-34).
- Jesus caused the fig tree to wither (Matthew 21:18-22).
- Jesus restored the ear of the high priest’s servant (Luke 22:50-51).
- Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:5-6).
- The second great haul of fishes (John 21:1-14).
Question: “What is common grace?”
Answer:The doctrine of common grace pertains to the sovereign grace of God bestowed upon all of mankind regardless of theirelection. In other words, God has always bestowed His graciousness on all people in all parts of the earth at all time. Although the doctrine of common grace has always been clear in Scripture, in 1924, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) adopted the doctrine of common grace at the Synod of Kalamazoo (Michigan) and formulated what is known as the “three points of common grace.”
The first point pertains to the favorable attitude of God toward all His creatures, not only toward the elect. “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). Jesus said God causes “his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) and God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). Barnabas and Paul would later say the same thing: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). In addition to His compassion, goodness, and kindness, God also sheds His patience upon both the elect and the non-elect. While God’s patience for His own is undoubtedly different from His patience with those whom He has not chosen, God still exercises “longsuffering” toward those whom He has not chosen (Nahum 1:3). Every breath that the wicked man takes is an example of the mercy of our holy God.
The second point of common grace is the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society. Scripture records God directly intervening and restraining individuals from sinning. InGenesis 20, God restrained Abimelech from touching Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and affirmed it to him in a dream by saying, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). Another example of God restraining the wicked hearts of evil men is seen in God’s protection of the land of Israel from being invaded by the pagan nations on their border. God commanded the men of Israel that three times a year they would leave their plot of land to go and appear before Him (Exodus 34:23). To ensure the protection of God’s people from invasion during these times, even though the pagan nations surrounding them desired their land year-round, God promised that “no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God” (Exodus 34:24). God also restrained David from taking revenge on Nabal for scorning the messengers that David sent to greet Nabal (1 Samuel 25:14). Abigail, Nabal’s wife, recognized God’s grace when she pleaded with David not to seek vengeance against her husband, “since the Lord has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands…” (1 Samuel 25:26). David acknowledged this truth by responding, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you…” (1 Samuel 25:34).
This second point of common grace not only includes God’s restraining of evil, but also His sovereignly releasing it for His purposes. When God hardens the hearts of individuals (Exodus 4:21;Joshua 11:20;Isaiah 63:17), He does so by releasing His restraint on their hearts, thereby giving them over to the sin that resides there. In His punishment of Israel for their rebellion, God gave “them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices” (Psalm 81:11-12). The passage of Scripture best known for speaking of God’s releasing of restraint is found inRomans 1where Paul describes those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. God “gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:28).
The third point of common grace as adopted by the CRC pertains to “civic righteousness by the unregenerate.” This means that God, without renewing the heart, exercises such influence that even the unsaved man is enabled to perform good deeds toward his fellow man. As Paul said of a group of unregenerate Gentiles, they “do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Romans 2:14). The necessity of God restraining the hearts of the unredeemed becomes clear when we understand the biblical doctrine oftotal depravity. If God did not restrain the evil that resides in the hearts of all men, hearts which are “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), humanity would have destroyed itself centuries ago. But because He works through common grace given to all men, God’s sovereign plan for history is not thwarted by their evil hearts. In the doctrine of common grace, we see God’s purposes stand, His people blessed, and His glory magnified.
Question: “What is the significance of a red heifer in the Bible? Is a red heifer a sign of the end times?”
Answer:According to the Bible, the red heifer—a reddish-brown cow, probably no more than two years old which had never had a yoke on it—was to be sacrificed as part of the purification rites of the Mosaic Law. The slaughtering of a red heifer was a ceremonial ritual in the Old Testament sacrificial system, as described inNumbers 19:1-10. The purpose of the red heifer sacrifice was to provide for the water of cleansing (Numbers 19:9), another term for purification from sin. After the red heifer was sacrificed, her blood was sprinkled at the door of the tabernacle.
The imagery of the blood of the heifer without blemish being sacrificed and its blood cleansing from sin is a foreshadowing of the blood of Christ shed on the cross for believers’ sin. He was “without blemish” just as the red heifer was to be. As the heifer was sacrificed “outside the camp” (Numbers 19:3), in the same way Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:11-12).
The Bible does teach that one day there will be again be a temple of God in Jerusalem (Ezekiel chapters 41-45). Jesus prophesied that the antichrist would desecrate the temple (Matthew 24:15), and for that to occur, there obviously would have to be a temple in Jerusalem once again. Many anticipate the birth of a red heifer because in order for a new temple to function according to the Old Testament law, a red heifer would have to be sacrificed for the water of cleansing used in the temple. So, when a red heifer is born (which is quite unusual) it might be a sign that the temple will soon be rebuilt.
Rarely seen, never heard is how many churches prefer to treat teenagers, confined to separate ministries. But I also know of a traditional church where teenagers sat front and center each week. It’s no coincidence the senior pastor had been a youth minister and often addressed those teens specifically.
If we’re serious about passing the gospel to the next generation, what do we need to learn from youth about how we preach? Here are six suggestions youth would offer to their pastors.
1. We don’t know what sanctification means, but we know about the process of growing in grace.
I’m a word person. I majored in Latin and English and enjoyed SAT prep vocabulary flashcards. (Yes, I was a really cool kid.) I like big words, especially in the realm of theology. A mentor listened to a talk I gave to students and had a list of about seven theological terms the kids probably did not know. Kids mentally check out when they hear abundant, arcane jargon and the presumption that everyone knows what it means. Students need to learn how to define terms like justification, sanctification, imputation, and substitutionary atonement. Preachers should not shy away from using Christian terminology, but they should make sure to explain the terms in a way that is not condescending toward those who do not know it.
2. If you are personally vulnerable, we will listen to what you have to say.
In homiletics, many debate the level of vulnerability pastors should exercise. If you share too much, you risk sounding self-absorbed. If you never share any personal stories, you may appear aloof. Regardless, I can say with confidence that teenagers of this generation embrace people with a willingness to share their story, particularly those parts that reveal the preacher is an imperfect person with whom students can identify.
3. We can’t hear you when you’re yelling.
One week in Sunday school we discussed how we relate and minister to those of other religions. I showed video from a cable news network debate about whether Christians should participate in a certain exercise. The program featured a conservative pastor, with a penchant for yelling, and a somewhat liberal pastor with a mellow demeanor. Before showing the video I asked students about their view on the topic. For the most part, they sided with the the conservative preacher. However, after showing the video, most said they agreed with the liberal preacher. Upon further cross-examination, the students admitted that they generally would reject what the yelling preacher had to say because of his tone and volume. Meanwhile, they would be inclined to agree with and embrace a person with a calm, gentle, controlled tone.
Keep in mind that we get yelled at more as teenagers than any other season in life. Whether it is their parents, their football coach, or the store-owner at the mall, teenagers receive much static from adults (and sometimes provoke it). They naturally reject a strident voice without even considering the validity of the statements, while they give a “nice” tone the benefit of the doubt.
4. Sometimes you talk as if we are not in the room.
Kids often say they feel as if the sermon exclusively addresses the adults in sanctuary. But the truth of God’s Word and the gospel have universal relevance and applications, regardless of the age or context of the audience. Rarely, though, when listening to sermons online or in person do I hear a preacher make life-application examples that appeal to adolescents. Usually, pastors evoke examples related to adult matters, such as financial insecurity, marital conflict, job loss, anxiety over children, and so on. A pastor can win serious rapport with his teenage audience by using a life-application example that relates to teenage experience, such as the stress of exams, conflict with parents, or fear about seating arrangements on the first day of school.
5. We are all postmodern, unlike many of our pastors.
The greatest disconnect I see between older pastors and the teens in their pews relates to the massive difference in cultural worldview under which they have been socialized. Many pastors (including me) were raised with a modernist mindset. We moderns think in terms of evidence, logic, and proofs. The evidences of the resurrection along with some Josh McDowell sold me on Christianity.
The teenagers to whom I minister do not think like most of my preacher friends. While volumes can (and have) been written about the difference between postmodern teens and their modernist neighbors, I would say simply that pastors must engage the postmodern kid in heart and mind. Biblical exegesis and doctrine alone edify and feed me. For postmodern teens, they need stories and questions that appeal to experience and emotions and that illustrate the biblical truth being proclaimed.
6. Tell me how this affects me right now.
Instant gratification may be the worst trend in this generation of teenagers. They evaluate everything on how it immediately affects them. By contrast, most pastors grew up in a world where we had to wait for mom and dad to take us to the movies (or the movie store) to watch a flick. We had to wait our turn to use the phone. Not these kids. They can watch a movie . . . on their phone. They can dial up whatever they want on demand. While this trend has deleterious effects on teens, we cannot ignore their context. Insane it may sound, but offering teenagers salvation and eternal life when they die does not hardly resonate with them. To connect to their teenage constituency, pastors also must explain the realized benefits we enjoy in this life from following Jesus in addition to the deferred ones we enjoy upon death.
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Question: “What is spiritual adultery?”
Answer:Spiritual adultery is unfaithfulness to God. It is having an undue fondness for the things of the world. Spiritually adultery is analogous to the unfaithfulness of one’s spouse: “‘But like a woman faithless to her lover, even so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel,’ says the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:20; see alsoIsaiah 1:21;57:8;Ezekiel 16:30).
The Bible tells us that people who choose to be friends with the world are an “adulterous people” having “enmity against God” (James 4:4–5). The “world” here is the system of evil under Satan’s control (John 12:31;Ephesians 2:2;1 John 5:19). The world system, with its contrived and deceitful scheme of phony values, worthless pursuits, and unnatural affections, is designed to lure us away from a pure relationship with God. Spiritual adultery, then, is the forsaking of God’s love and the embracing of the world’s values and desires (Romans 8:7–8;2 Timothy 4:10;1 John 2:15–17).
Spiritual adultery includes any form of idolatry. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel tried to mix the worship of other gods such as Baal with that of God (Judges 3:7;1 Kings 16:31–33;Jeremiah 19:5). In doing so, Israel became like an adulterous wife who wanted both a husband and another lover (Jeremiah 9:2;Ezekiel 6:9;16:32). In the New Testament, James defines spiritual adultery as claiming to love God while cultivating friendship with the world (James 4:4–5). The person who commits spiritual adultery is one who professes to be a Christian yet finds his real love and pleasure in the things that Satan offers. For believers, the love of the world and the love of God are direct opposites. Believers committing spiritual adultery may claim to love the Lord, but, in reality, they are captivated by the pleasures of this world, its influence, comforts, financial security, and so-called freedoms.
The concept of spiritual adultery against God is a major theme throughout the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5;Jeremiah 3:20;Ezekiel 16:15–19). This theme is illustrated especially well in the book ofHosea. The prophet’s wife, Gomer, symbolizes the infidelity of the children of Israel (Hosea 2:2–5;3:1–5;9:1). Hosea’s commitment to Gomer symbolizes God’s faithful, patient love with His erring people.
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). The Bible exhorts us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15–16). Believers must echo the words of the old hymn: “The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back.”
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14–16). Spiritual adultery is like trying to straddle the fence with one foot in the world and the other heaven. We cannot have both. As Jesus warned the church inLaodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16).
The love of the world is primarily an attitude of one’s heart, and we can cast away worldliness by cultivating a new affection. To avoid spiritual adultery, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2, KJV).
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Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”
It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.
To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”
It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.
The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.
The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:
“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”
When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.
If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.
My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:
“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”
About the smug heart, I have written previously:
Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!
Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.
That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.
I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:
1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
16 But I say, vwalk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify wthe desires of the flesh. 17 For xthe desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, yto keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are zled by the Spirit, ayou are not under the law.
This love is not optional. It is commanded. And it is very radical: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, we are called in our freedom to desire and seek the happiness of others with the same zeal that we seek our own. But if you take this command seriously, it is so contrary to our natural inclinations that it seems utterly impossible. That I should get up in the morning and feel as much concern for your needs as for my own seems utterly beyond my power. If this is the Christian life — caring for others as I care for myself — then it is hard, indeed, and I feel hopeless to ever live it out.
Paul’s answer to this discouragement is found in Galatians 5:16–18. The secret is in learning to “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16). If the Christian life looks too hard, we must remember that we are not called to live it by ourselves. We must live it by the Spirit of God. The command of love is not a new legalistic burden laid on our back; it is what happens freely when we walk by the Spirit. People who try to love without relying on God’s Spirit always wind up trying to fill their own emptiness rather than sharing their fullness. And so love ceases to be love. Love is not easy for us. But the good news is that it is not primarily our work but God’s. We must simply learn to “walk by the Spirit.”
So I want to build today’s message around three questions: What? Why? And, how? What is this “walking by the Spirit”? Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? And, how, very practically, can we walk by the Spirit?
What Is Walking by the Spirit?
First, what is this “walking by the Spirit”? There are two other images in the context which shed light on the meaning of “walk by the Spirit.” The first is in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” If Paul had said, “If you follow the Spirit you are not under law,” it would have been true, but in using the passive voice (“If you are led”) he emphasizes the Spirit’s work, not ours. The Spirit is not a leader like the pace car in the “Daytona 500.” He is a leader like a locomotive on a train. We do not follow in our strength. We are led by his power. So “walk by the Spirit” means stay hooked up to the divine source of power and go wherever he leads.
The second image of our walk in the Spirit is in verse 22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.” If our Christian walk is to be a walk of love and joy and peace, then “walk by the Spirit” must mean “bear the fruit of the Spirit.” But again, the Spirit’s work is emphasized, not ours. He bears the fruit. Perhaps Paul got this image from Jesus. You recall John 15:4–5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” So “walk by the Spirit” means “abide in the vine.” Keep yourself securely united to the living Christ. Don’t cut yourself off from the flow of the Spirit.
So in answer to our first question, What is this walking by the Spirit? we answer: It is “being led by the Spirit” and it is “bearing the fruit of the Spirit.” The work of the Spirit is emphasized, yet the command is for us to do something. Our wills are deeply involved. We must want to be coupled to the locomotive. We must want to abide in the vine. And there are some things we can do to keep ourselves attached to the flow of God’s power. But before we ask how to walk by the Spirit let’s ask . . .
Why Is It Crucial to Walk by the Spirit?
Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? The text gives two reasons, one in verse 16 and one in verse 18. In verse 16 the incentive for walking by the Spirit is that when you do this, you will not gratify the desire of the flesh. The RSV here is wrong when it makes the second part of verse 16 a command instead of a promise and says, “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” All the other major versions are right to make it a promise because this particular Greek construction has that meaning everywhere else in Paul. The verse should be translated, for example with the NASB, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So the first reason we should walk by the Spirit is that when we do, the desires of our flesh are overcome.
In recent messages I’ve tried to define the flesh as Paul uses it. Most of the time (though not always, see below) it does not simply refer to the physical part of you. (Paul does not regard the body as evil in itself.) The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness and uses the resources in its own power to try to fill it. Flesh is the “I” who tries to satisfy me with anything but God’s mercy. Notice Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Now compare with this Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” In 2:20, “flesh” is used in its less usual meaning referring to ordinary bodily existence, which is not in itself evil (“I now live in the flesh”).
But the important thing to notice is that in 5:24 the “flesh“ is crucified and in 2:20 “I” am crucified. This is why I define the flesh in its negative usage as an expression of the “I” or the “ego.” And notice in 2:20 that since the old fleshly ego is crucified, a new “I” lives, and the peculiar thing about this new “I” is that it lives by faith. “The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness but loathes the idea of satisfying it by faith, i.e., by depending on the mercy of God in Christ. Instead, the flesh prefers to use the legalistic or licentious resources in its own power to fill its emptiness. As Romans 8:7 says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law.” The basic mark of the flesh is that it is unsubmissive. It does not want to submit to God’s absolute authority or rely on God’s absolute mercy. Flesh says, like the old TV commercial, “I’d rather do it myself.”
It is not surprising, then, that in verse 17 there is a war between our flesh and God’s Spirit. It is a problem at first glance that there is a lively war between flesh and Spirit in the Christian, according to verse 17, but the flesh is crucified in the Christian, according to verse 24. We’ll talk more about the sense in which our flesh is crucified when we get to verse 24. For now, let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt and assume that both are somehow true, and focus on this war within: our flesh versus God’s Spirit.
God’s Spirit Conquers Our Flesh
Verse 17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you would.” The main thing to learn from this verse is that Christians experience a struggle within. If you said to yourself when I was describing the flesh, “Well, I have a lot of that still left in me,” it does not necessarily mean you aren’t a Christian. A Christian is not a person who experiences no bad desires. A Christian is a person who is at war with those desires by the power of the Spirit.
Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!
But when you take verses 16 and 17 together, the main point is not war, but victory for the Spirit. Verse 16 says that when you walk by the Spirit, you will not let those bad desires come to maturity. When you walk by the Spirit, you nip the desires of the flesh in the bud. New God-centered desires crowd out old man-centered desires. Verse 16 promises victory over the desires of the flesh — not that there won’t be a war, but that the winner of that war will be the Spirit.
In fact, I think what Paul means in verse 24, when he says the flesh has been crucified, is that the decisive battle has been fought and won by the Spirit. The Spirit has captured the capital and broken the back of the resistance movement. The flesh is as good as dead. Its doom is sure. But there are outlying pockets of resistance. The guerrillas of the flesh will not lay down their arms, and must be fought back daily. The only way to do it is by the Spirit, and that’s what it means to walk by the Spirit — so live that he gives victory over the dwindling resistance movement of the flesh. So the first reason why we must walk by the Spirit is that, when we do, the flesh is conquered.
God’s Spirit Creates Law-Fulfilling Fruit
The second reason to walk by the Spirit or be led by the Spirit is found in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” This does not mean you don’t have to fulfill God’s law. You do. That’s what verses 13 and 14 said, “Through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And Romans 8:3–4 say, “God condemned sin in the flesh in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Therefore, not being under law does not mean we don’t have to fulfill the law. It means that, when we are led by the locomotive of the Spirit, we cruise on the railroad track of the law as a joyful way of life and are not left to climb it like a ladder in our own strength from underneath. When we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the punishment or the oppression of the law because what the law requires the Spirit produces; namely, love. Notice verse 22: the first and all-encompassing fruit of the Spirit is love, which verse 14 says fulfills the whole law.
And to confirm that this is just how Paul is thinking, he ends the list of the fruit of the Spirit in verse 23 with the words, “against such there is no law.” In other words, how can you be under the oppression or punishment of the law when the very things the law requires are popping out like fruit on the branches of your life? So the second reason to walk by the Spirit is really the same as the first. Verse 16 says, do it because you get victory over the flesh when you walk by the Spirit. You nip temptation in the bud. Verse 18 says, do it because then you are free from the oppression and punishment of the law, because the fruit the Spirit produces fulfills the law. The Spirit is the fullness that overflows in love. Therefore it conquers the emptiness that drives the flesh, and it spills out in acts of love which fulfill the law.
How Do You Walk by the Spirit?
But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, “Let the Spirit lead you,” or, “Allow the Spirit to control you,” and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way,You walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.
Here’s the fivefold evidence from Galatians. First, Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Genuine faith always produces love, because faith pushes out guilt, fear, and greed and gives us an appetite to enjoy God’s power. But Galatians 5:22 says love is a fruit of the Spirit. So if love is what faith necessarily produces and love is a fruit of the Spirit, then the way to walk by the Spirit is to have faith — a happy resting in the promises of God is the pipeline of the Spirit.
Second, notice Galatians 5:5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.” How do you wait for Jesus “through the Spirit”? “By faith!” When you keep your heart happy in God and resting in his promises, you are waiting through the Spirit and walking by the Spirit.
Third, look at Galatians 3:23, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law.” The coming of faith liberates a person from being under law. But what does 5:18 say? “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” How, then, shall we seek to be led by the Spirit? By faith. By meditating on the trustworthiness and preciousness of God’s promises until our hearts are free of all fretting and guilt and greed. This is how the Holy Spirit fills and leads.
Fourth, see Galatians 3:5, the clearest of all: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing of faith?” The Spirit does his mighty work in us and through us only by the hearing of faith. We are sanctified by faith alone. The way to walk by the Spirit and so not fulfill the desires of the flesh is to hear the delectable promises of God and trust them, delight in them, rest in them.
Finally, consider Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Who is the Christ who lives in Paul? He is the Spirit. As 4:6 says: The Spirit of God’s Son has been sent into our hearts. And how, according to 2:20, does the life of the Son produce itself in Paul? How does Paul walk by the Spirit of the Son? “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”
Day by day Paul trusts the Son. Day by day he casts his cares on God, frees his life from guilt and fear and greed, and is borne along by the Spirit. How, then, do we walk by the Spirit? The answer is plain. We stop trying to fill the emptiness of our lives with a hundred pieces of the world, and put our souls at rest in God. The Spirit will work the miracle of renewal in your life when you start meditating on his unspeakable promises day and night and resting in them. (See also Romans 15:13, 2 Peter 1:4, and Isaiah 64:4.)
The Secret of Walking by the Spirit
Yesterday at 5:30 a.m. I was in Pasadena, California, standing in the kitchen of my beloved teacher Daniel Fuller talking to his wife Ruth. One of the things I will never forget about that kitchen is that over the sink are taped four tremendous promises of God typed on little pieces of paper. Ruth puts them there to meditate on while she works. That’s how you walk by the Spirit.
I keep a little scrap paper by my prayer bench, and whenever I read a promise that can lure me away from my guilt and fear and greed, I write it down. Then in dry spells I have a pile of promises to soak my soul in. The fight of faith is fought with the promises of God. And the fight of faith is the same as the fight to walk by the Spirit. He works when we are resting in his promises. George Müller wrote (Autobiography, pp. 152–4):
I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . . Now what is the food for the inner-man? Not prayer but, the Word of God.
George Müller learned the secret of walking by the Spirit: Meditate on the precious truths of the Word of God until your heart is happy in God, resting in his promises.
Hudson Taylor had learned it too. He received word one day of rioting near one of the inland mission stations. In a few moments George Nichol, one of his evangelists, overheard Taylor whistling his favorite hymn, “Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting in the Joy of What Thou Art.” Hudson Taylor “had learned that for him, only one life was possible — just that blessed life of resting and rejoicing in the Lord under all circumstances, while he dealt with the difficulties inward and outward, great and small” (Spiritual Secret, p. 209).
I say to you, brothers and sisters, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. You will have victory over temptation and know the guidance of the Lord if you keep your heart happy in God by resting in his promises.
The Glory of God in the Problem of Evil
Atheists often argue against God’s existence from the problem of evil. Their argument goes as follows: If God is all loving, He would have prevented evil from entering the universe; if God is all powerful, He could have prevented evil; evil exists, therefore there is no such God.
On the contrary, I will argue as follows: If God is all loving, He would allow evil to enter the universe; If God is all powerful, He could allow evil without being guilty of evil Himself, and He could make evil work for the greatest good; therefore we have great reason to praise the God who exists!
Clarifying the Issue of Evil
There are two errors that must be avoided concerning the problem of evil. The first error would be to believe that God is the source of evil. This terrible error would blame God for evil and hold that evil was produced by God out of His own nature. The second error would be to believe that evil occurred apart from God’s sovereign plan. This position would hold that evil entered the universe because God was helpless to prevent it, and thus it overthrew the purposes of God. The position the Scriptures seem to teach is that mankind is to be blamed for and is the source of evil, while nonetheless the entrance of evil into the universe was ordained by God as part of God’s plan from the beginning. God could have prevented evil from entering into the universe had He desired to, but chose not to prevent it for wise and holy reasons.
Let’s probe this issue a little further. God is not the author of evil because He created the universe good. In its original state, there was nothing evil or sinful in the universe. Evil first entered God’s creation as a result of the disobedience of the angels who rebelled. Evil then entered the physical universe and human race as a result of mankind’s sin in Adam. God is not the source of evil or sin; evil is a result of the disobedience of God’s creatures. For these reasons, God cannot be blamed for the existence of evil–all responsibility for the presence of sin and evil in the human race falls upon mankind. All responsibility for the presence of evil in the spiritual realm falls upon the angels who rebelled.
But in order to have the full picture, we cannot stop here and conclude that God was powerless to prevent evil. Since God is sovereign and He “works out everything in conformity with the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), none of His purposes can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Therefore we must conclude that evil did not occur apart from the purpose and plan of God. The ultimate reason that evil occurred is because God planned it, not because His creatures are able to overthrow His plans. These two truths we must hold together even if we cannot fully understand how they fit: man is responsible, yet God is absolutely sovereign and controls all things.
Last of all it is necessary to understand that evil is not permanent. It was defeated at the cross and will be quarantined in hell for eternity at the final judgment. Then God will create a new heavens and new earth where only righteousness and purity will dwell forever.
A Loving God Would Allow Evil
We are now in a position to ask the question, Why did God willingly choose to allow evil into the universe? How is this consistent with His love? Without claiming to exhaust the mystery here, I offer this answer: God allowed evil because the temporary presence of evil in the universe would result in the greatest glory to His name. And since God’s glory is what most benefits His people, it is loving for God to seek His glory to the highest extent in all that He does. Therefore it is loving for God to allow the temporary presence of evil in the universe. Let’s examine these points more closely.
Those whom God has chosen for mercy He loves to the fullest possible extent (John 13:1). Thus, God seeks to fully reveal the greatness of His glory upon them. The glory of God is the shining forth of the splendor and greatness and infinite value of His perfect character. When God glorifies Himself, He is not making Himself more glorious (that is impossible), but calling attention to and displaying His infinite greatness. How does evil seem to fit into God’s plan to glorify Himself? Part of the answer seems to be this: many of God’s attributes can be more clearly and brightly displayed to us if there is sin and therefore evil in the universe.
For example, God’s mercy is His goodness and help shown to those who are in a miserable plight. But God could not show mercy if there was no sin and evil in the universe, because then there would be no one in a miserable plight to need mercy.
In addition, the greatness of God’s mercy is highlighted by the fact that those whom God chooses for His saving mercy are saved out from the most awful and terrifying situation possible–being under the almighty wrath of God. Dr. Daniel Fuller asks us this question: “How could God’s mercy appear fully as his great mercy unless it was extended to people who were under his wrath and therefore could only ask for mercy?” God’s mercy is magnified by delivering us from under His wrath.
Mercy Eternally Magnified By Being Set in Contrast to Wrath
Furthermore, “It would be impossible for them to share with God the delight He has in his mercy unless they saw clearly the awfulness of the almighty wrath from which his mercy delivers them.” Therefore, God prepares not only vessels of mercy, but also vessels of wrath so that the vessels of mercy can fully see and understand the awfulness of the wrath they have been rescued from. For all eternity, God’s mercy will be placed against the backdrop of His wrath in order to fully magnify and display the greatness of His mercy. Through this those who are chosen for mercy can fully share with God the delight He has in His mercy and fully praise Him for what He has done for them.
God’s Justice, Wrath, Power, and Holiness More Fully Displayed
So we see that in the just punishment of sinners, God’s mercy is fully highlighted to those whom He chooses to save. The punishment of sinners (which could not have happened if God had not allowed evil) is also an occasion for God to glorify Himself through the vindication of His justice, demonstration of His wrath, display of His power, and purity of His holiness which will not tolerate sin. This also works to reveal the riches of God’s glory to the vessels of mercy: “What if God, in order to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 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…” (Romans 9:22, 23, RSV. cf. Proverbs 16:4, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil”).
God’s wrath and holiness are related. The wrath of God is the righteous assertion of His holiness against sin. If we could not see that God is so holy that He hates sin and thus reacts against it with His wrath, we would not know as fully the purity and zeal of God’s holiness. For only in contrast to sin (and thus His holiness reacting against this sin as wrath to vindicate His righteousness) is the purity of God’s holiness most intensely highlighted. If there were no sin upon which God could pour His wrath eternally, He could not assert the full range of His holiness because He could not show that, in His holiness, He hates and despises all that is unholy.
Hell Makes the Infinite Value of God’s Glory Crystal Clear
God’s judging of sin and reacting in wrath to punish it eternally in hell demonstrates the infinite value of His perfections. Why? Because the infinite penalty of attacking God’s glory–eternal punishment in hell–reveals the infinite value of the glory that was attacked. Thus, hell is ultimately an eternal display of the infinite value of God’s glory. While this certainly does not mean that God delights in the sinner’s suffering in and of itself, He does delight in it in the sense that it is a vindication of His righteousness and display of His power. This is how Ezekiel 33:11 (“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked”) fits with Deuteronomy 28:63 (where God tells Israel that if they disobey He “will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it”).
A Loving and Righteous God Would Most Magnify His Worth
Having seen that God’s decision to allow sin was for the purpose of fully displaying the greatness of His perfections to an extent that He could not otherwise have done, we are led to look at the next question in greater detail: Why must God display the full range of His character?
This is because doing so most magnifies His worth. If God did not display, for example, His mercy, then He would not be fully magnifying His character because there would be some of His character that is not expressed. And if God did not magnify His character to the fullest possible extent, God would not be acting in perfect righteousness. Why is this? It is because God is the most precious, valuable being in the universe. Therefore, He must delight in and value Himself above anything else. From this it follows that if God did not seek to display His honor and perfections above all else, He would not be placing infinite worth on what is infinitely valuable. He would be putting something before Himself, which would mean putting something less valuable before the more valuable, which would be unrighteous.
Why It Is Loving for God to Magnify His Worth
In fully displaying His glory (which, we have seen, requires sin), God is being most loving. Why? First, if He did not do this, we would not know Him “fully, just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13). Put simply, we wouldn’t know God as well if He did not display who He is to the fullest possible extent. And it seems that it would be most loving for God let us know as much of Himself as He can.
Also, it is truly loving of God to seek His praise to the highest possible extent (which, as we have seen, would require the brilliance of His mercy highlighted by demonstrating His wrath). Why is this? In our lives, there is a pattern that we see: We tend to praise what we prize. Enjoyment of something overflows into praise. Go to a great movie sometime, and when you leave the theater, what are you usually talking with your friends about? How great the movie is! You are praising it. It also seems as if our enjoyment of something is not complete unless we are able to praise it. If your friends said, “Be quiet, I don’t want to hear about it,” your enjoyment of the movie would not be complete. So praise is necessary for full, complete enjoyment.
If God did not seek His praise from us then our enjoyment of Him would not be made full — it would be incomplete since it wouldn’t overflow into praise. The way for God to win the most praise from us is to fully display His character. So if God wants us to fully enjoy Him and prize Him, He must seek His own praise through us so that our enjoyment of Him will overflow into praise and complete our joy. John Piper summarizes these truths well: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” So even in our enjoyment (and resulting praise) God is glorified. Thus, God seeking our good and God seeking His praise are really one and the same pursuit, since our good/joy yields praise to His name.
The Sovereign Freedom of God
Further, in order for us to truly value God’s great mercy and gift of eternal life, it is good for Him to highlight the unconditional freedom He has in bestowing mercy. His unconditional freedom makes it absolutely clear that He owes mercy to no one. If everyone got saved, He could not show His unconditional freedom in showing mercy and it might seem as if we were entitled to salvation. If you think you are entitled to something, it is hard to see it as a free, undeserved gift. And it is hard to be grateful and thankful for it if you think it is owed to you. God’s freedom in mercy rebukes our sense of entitlement and thus evokes gratitude.
Exodus 33 declares the sovereign freedom of God in showing mercy. In this chapter, Moses asks to see God’s glory. God says (among other things) that He will show His glory and that “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” This is a Hebrew expression called idem per idem which stresses the absolute freedom of the agent in doing the action–He can do it however He wants, constrained by nothing outside of himself. Thus, God is saying that one aspect of His glory is absolute freedom to grant mercy constrained by no reason that is outside of His own will. He will give mercy in whatever way He wants. Then God says that He will pass by Moses and proclaim His “name.” To the Hebrews, one’s name was who they were. It was your very identity. When God proclaimed His name, He said that He was “abounding in lovingkindness and mercy.” So one aspect of God’s character, His glory, is that He is merciful. But this also draws us back to 33:19–where it says that God is absolutely free in His bestowal of this mercy. Thus, it is God’s glory and essence to be absolutely free in His giving us mercy by not being constrained by anything outside of His own will. His will alone determines who gets mercy, and therefore His mercy is unconditional.
If God gave mercy to all, it seems that He would not be displaying that His essence is to be absolutely free in giving mercy. And as we’ve said, God’s freedom in giving mercy rebukes our entitlement and evokes gratitude, thus causing us to value heaven as a true gift of grace. Lastly, as we saw earlier, in order for there to be mercy, there must be people in a miserable plight to need it, which requires sin.
Thus, we have seen how God’s love and goodness would cause Him to allow Evil into the universe, for in due time this will lead to truly the best of all possible worlds where God’s attributes are most displayed, God is most glorified, and eternity is truly valued. Perhaps some may be troubled by the fact that even evil, in the long range, results in glory to God. It may be troubling to think that such a terrible thing as evil was permitted by God for His glory. But look at the other option–that evil ultimately worked to defeat the glory of God. Wouldn’t evil truly have the upper hand if God was unable to overrule it for His greatest glory and His people’s greatest good?
Something caught my eye as I was reading newsclips from around the nation. A small item from the Watertown Daily Times (NY). It read:
A Watertown man was sentenced to state prison Thursday after admitting in Jefferson County Court that he violated his Drug Court contract. Paul L. Arndt Jr., 44, was sentenced to 11⁄3 to 4 years in prison for violating terms of the substance abuse rehabilitation program that is designed to serve as an alternative to incarceration. He was referred to the program in April 2009 after admitting he violated probation. He was sentenced to five years’ probation in August 2007 after pleading guilty in May 2007 to fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property for taking radiators that had been stolen from a Watertown business and selling them at a Syracuse recycling center. Information about how he violated Drug Court was not available.
Putting aside the issue of whether the probation violation in question was a particularly serious or dangerous one, I would suggest that sending a drug court participant to prison for a substantial term is almost never good criminal justice policy, good use of government funds, or good rehabilitation &/or treatment strategies . There are more than a few drug courts, that quickly fail drug court participants and spirit them away for substantial prison terms. It may be time to revisit the rationality behind such scenarios. Unless the new offense is one involving violence or the threat of violence, is prison ever a sensible response to a drug court violation?
Specialized “reentry” courts provide a new tactic to reduce the number of repeat offenders and decrease the cost of handling offenders. In such courts, treatment is based in the community. Drug courts, mental health courts and veterans’ courts are examples of specialized docket courts. Over the last decade, these courts have been scrutinized by independent and governmental agencies and have been found to produce better results than traditional approaches, including incarceration.
Q: What is a reentry court?
A: Built on specialty courts research and experience, a reentry court is a specialized court for offenders who leave prison early and “reenter” society. Its purpose is to make the transition from incarceration to tax-paying citizen more likely.
prisons are at 133 percent of capacity and hold more than 51,000 inmates. Many prisoners have drug and alcohol issues. Unlike those diverted into other types of specialty dockets, those who are incarcerated have a higher risk of reoffending due to untreated emotional and family issues, as well as a lack of education or poor employment history. A significant number of inmates have not graduated from high school and many have learning disabilities.
Reentry courts use an individualized plan and work with each defendant to deal with the underlying issues. The program takes one to two years to complete and requires the offender to take full responsibility for his or her life.
Ninety-seven percent of those incarcerated will be released at some point, and that most will come back to the community where they were first arrested. When higher-risk offenders return to society on parole or post-release control, more than 40 percent return to prison. Overall, between 35 and 40 percent of prisoners released in Ohio, with or without supervision, will return to prison. Reentry courts were created in an attempt to reduce the number of offenders who return to prison.
Q: How does a reentry court work?
A: During the program, the offender is closely supervised by case managers and the court. In the initial phase, the participant reports to court once a week to inform the judge of his or her activities. Thereafter, the participant reports regularly and as necessary, appearing in an open court before the judge and the other program participants.
An offender who violates a program rule is expected to report to court without a lawyer. The offender must accept responsibility for the behavior and receive a sanction. Punishments progress in severity, ranging from community service or increased treatment to jail time or re-imposition of the prior prison sentence.
Q: How does the court determine who is eligible for a reentry court?
A: Not every person in prison will be judicially released into a reentry court. Each sentencing judge has the right to decide if an individual will be released early. Judges will consider efforts the prisoner makes toward improvement while in prison, as well as any write-ups or sanctions he or she has been given. Statements from victims regarding the impact of the crime also are considered. (These are called victim impact statements.) Judges are interested in using reentry courts for prisoners who appear ready to return to society and who have demonstrated good behavior in prison.
Q: Have reentry courts been working?
A: The purpose of reentry court is to intercept offenders before they enter the revolving door back to prison. Early judicial releases with traditional supervision return to the penal system about 45 percent of the time. In contrast, those who successfully graduate from the Summit County reentry court program have a recidivism rate of about 20 percent, based upon the statistics collected since the court was created in September 2006. The cost per participant is in the range of $3,000 per year, which is considerably less expensive than a prison bed, which costs more than $24,000 per year.
The second act of the national debate over same-sex marriage began this week with a focus on religious liberty.
The Liberty Institute framed Friday’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage as actually a victory for religious liberty. The assessment was somewhat surprising, given that the group had gathered the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the National Religious Broadcasters, Dallas Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theology Seminary, Eric Metaxas, Charles Stanley, and other prominent conservative Christians to file an amici brief opposing the court’s approval of same-sex marriage.
But Kelly Shackelford, president of the Plano, Texas-based group, referred to the decision as a 9-0 statement of support for the rights of religious believers.
He pledged to use laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to make sure the Supreme Court’s promises are heeded.
“We will not allow people of faith to be silenced or censured because of their religious beliefs, and we appreciate that the court unanimously recognized the importance of protecting religious liberty in this area,” Shackelford said in a statement.
In his comments, Shackelford quoted from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the case.
“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,” Kennedy wrote, “and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
Other Christian legal groups were more skeptical.
The Christian Legal Society (CLS) pointed to dissents by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who warned the court’s decision could have dire consequences for religious supporters of traditional marriage.
“We hope that the justices mean what they say and will protect religious liberty for all Americans – especially those whose religious beliefs adhere to a traditional view of marriage,” CLS said in a statement.
Stanley Carlson-Thies, founder and senior director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, said that the majority opinion acknowledged that their decision would be controversial. But they fell short in endorsing religious liberty, he told CT.
“As several of the dissenting opinions pointed out, though, the majority opinion did not very strongly affirm the religious freedom of persons and organizations that for religious reasons believe in the historic conception of marriage,” said Carlson-Thies. In a written analysis of the positive and negative aspects of the ruling, he noted:
There is good reason to be concerned that many outside and inside of government will be working to override the freedom for people and organizations to live consistently with their commitment to traditional marriage. Yet there is no good cause for despair. The history and principles of the United States strongly uphold freedom of religion, speech, and association.
The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) stated the ruling “creates immediate and perhaps far-reaching concerns for nonprofits and churches who remain opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.” The ECFA recommended resources for churches and ministries by CLS and Alliance Defending Freedom. “While the effects of this ruling on churches and religious nonprofits could take years to become fully evident, it is crucial for organizations which oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds to take proactive steps to prepare for the challenges ahead.”
“Private institutions that dissent from today’s reformulation of marriage must be prepared for aggressive legal attacks on all fronts,” Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University Law School, told Inside Higher Ed for its exploration of the consequences for Christian colleges. Meanwhile, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities emphasized Kennedy’s nod to the First Amendment, stating the “full protections for religious individuals and organizations to exercise their beliefs privately and publicly are not diminished by expanded marriage rights.”
A few states have already taken action to address religious liberty concerns raised by same-sex marriage:
• In North Carolina, the state legislature passed a new law allowing magistrates and other officials to turn down gay couples, if those officials have a religious objection to performing a same-sex wedding. “Court officials who disclose a religious objection must stop performing all marriages for at least six months,” reported The New York Times.
• In Texas, clerks who have religious objections can refuse to issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with support from that state’s attorney general.
• In Alabama, state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore said that officials are not “required” to issue licenses for 25 days. That statement was based on an order from the Alabama Supreme Court, issued this spring, which read: “As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for ‘marriage’ between only one man and one woman. Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty.”
Some lawmakers in Alabama tried to go even further. A bill which passed the Alabama House of Representatives would ban the state from issuing any marriage licenses.
About half of Americans would support a split between civil and religious marriage, according to a poll from LifeWay Research.
More than 500 pastors have signed a pledge, organized by First Things magazine earlier this year, saying they would no longer sign marriage licenses. The pledge is still online, but the magazine has yet to decide whether to make new push to promote it.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), considered the First Things pledge but didn’t sign it.
He said that pastors can sign marriage licenses without endorsing the state’s view of marriage.
“There have always been marriages that the state has allowed that the church would not,” he said before the ruling was issued.
Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor who directs the University of Illinois’s family law and policy program, told CT she is wary of unwinding the ties between civil and religious marriage.
That could have a harmful affect for couples who lose the protections that state-sanctioned marriage offers.
“If we unwind civil and religious marriage as a way to solve the conflict in legal and religious understandings, we will have reduced that couple to mere cohabitants, with crappy remedies if the couple breaks up,” she said.
John Inazu, associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, was doubtful that protests against the Supreme Court’s ruling would accomplish any good.
“My own sense is that CT readers would be best served by focusing on the practical work of strengthening relationships within the church and acts of service and neighbor love outside of the church,” he told CT before the ruling was announced. “It’s not clear to me that protests or symbolic divorces help anyone, and they will further alienate many of our neighbors.”
Inazu doesn’t believe pastors would be in any danger of having to perform same-sex weddings.
“We’re a long way from pastors being forced to perform civil ceremonies, and there are strong constitutional protections already in place that would prevent that from happening,” he said. “On the other hand, there will likely be increased cultural and legal pressure on the membership and leadership boundaries that traditionalist institutions draw around questions of sexuality and same-sex marriage, and these institutions would be wise to anticipate these challenges.”
The ERLC’s Moore agrees that churches should be prepared. He says that pastors and church leaders should make their beliefs about marriage and family clear.
“We can’t compromise on the Gospel and biblical authority,” he said. “We can’t negotiate away a Christian ethic of sexuality without betraying Jesus.”
Carl H. Esbeck, an emeritus law professor at the University of Missouri who gathered the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and other groups for an amici brief, believes that “specific religious-liberty protections” will be needed for churches, religious believers, and religious organizations. But the focus on religious liberty is “largely defensive,” he said.
“That said, if the churches do not take the opportunity now to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ why same-sex marriage is wrong for everyone (i.e., harmful to children, to the couple, and undermining of a culture of marriage), religious people should not expect to find a lot of sympathy for their right to exercise their religious freedom to dissent from same-sex marriage,” Esbeck told CT. “In other words, church leaders no longer enjoy the luxury of not teaching biblical marriage, as much as large numbers of the laity don’t want to hear it. It is not religious liberty or marriage culture. It is both, or we likely have neither.”