Month: October 2016

~We Can Turn Mass Incarceration Around~

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You Just Got Out of
Prison. Now What?

A Cycle of Poverty and Incarceration

Poverty is the largest driving force behind what the Children’s Defense Fund calls the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline.” Most of the individuals entering the criminal justice system are at a financial disadvantage; about 60 percent of intakes into the state and federal prison systems report annual incomes under $12,000. These low incomes reflect higher rates of unemployment and the unavailability of decent jobs for people who lack a college education. During the past four decades, most of the growth in lifetime risk of imprisonment was concentrated among men who had not been to college. For many of these men, prison has become a normal part of life. According to the National Research Council, among African American men born in the late 1970s and who dropped out of high school, 70 percent have served time in state or federal prison. For white and Latino men in the same cohort, the rates of imprisonment are 28 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Incarceration sharply curtails the economic prospects of individuals and the communities to which they return. In 2011, nearly 700,000 people were released from either a state or federal prison, and most faced a multitude of challenges on returning to “free” society. Parents with minor children may have accumulated years’ worth of child-support arrears or had their parental rights rescinded. With few assets besides the “gate money” provided at release (usually between $50 and $200), those who have been disconnected from friends and family face uncertain housing and homelessness.

Upon release from prison, returning citizens have few opportunities for work that will be satisfying and provide a living wage. The National Research Council reports that up to one-half of former prisoners remain jobless for up to a year after their release. Barriers to employment associated with having a criminal record include restrictions on licenses in certain professions and the loss of personal and professional contacts while incarcerated. People of color with a criminal record have a particularly difficult time finding a job, especially one that enables them to invest in their futures, in part because of the stigma that attaches to a record. Blacks without criminal histories experience job callback rates closely matching those of whites with a felony conviction.The National Research Council report suggests that “pervasive contact with the criminal justice system has consequences for racial stratification that extend well beyond individuals behind bars.”

Mass incarceration also has a significant impact on U.S. poverty rates. Had it not been for the dramatic rise in incarceration rates between 1980 and 2004, researchers estimate that the poverty rate would have fallen by about 2.8 percentage points, instead of dropping by only 0.3 percentage points. This translates into several million fewer people living in poverty.

Systems of Disinvestment Have Led to Increased Incarceration

Many people affected by the criminal justice system grew up in communities with schools and other public institutions that failed them. As states were dramatically increasing funding for corrections, they were simultaneously cutting or not raising funding for social and government services targeting poverty, such as public assistance, transportation, and education. State spending per prisoner is three times that per public school student, and prison costs exceed spending on higher education in some states. These patterns exemplify the pattern of disinvestment contributing to mass incarceration. Communities of color have borne the brunt of this emphasis on incarceration at the expense of education. Researchers have documented vastly disproportionate incarceration and criminalization of people of color, particularly black men. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for more than 60 percent of those imprisoned. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one-third of male African-American children born in 2001 can expect to serve time in prison at some point in their lives, compared to 17.2 percent of Hispanics and 5.9 percent of whites; 5.6 percent of black women born in 2001 are likely to go to prison at some point in their lives, but only 0.9 percent of white women and 2.2 percent of Hispanic women.

At the same time, disinvestment in education, particularly in low-income communities of color, has reduced social mobility and limited access to the social capital needed to revitalize those communities. Incarceration’s reach has now grown too big to ignore, with stratification researchers characterizing incarceration as a powerful engine of social inequality.

Mass incarceration has, in the words of Todd Clear in Imprisoning Communities, “made disadvantaged communities worse.” Patrick Sharkey, in Stuck in Place, for example, links the high rates of incarceration with concentrated poverty and marginalization, racial stigmatization, and lack of investment and resources that are fundamental both for the positive development of children and the mobility of adults. The Justice Mapping Center has mapped the concentration of incarceration rates in disadvantaged communities all around the country: millions of dollars per neighborhood are spent to imprison residents of these communities.

We Can Turn This Around: The Transformative Potential of Investing in Individuals, Families, and Communities

The struggles people face when returning home, including returning to the same context that led to prison, increase the chance that they will give up on the struggle to achieve long-term financial stability through lawful means. But a movement to reverse this tide has emerged. Driven largely by directly affected communities and supported by the contributions of the academic community, this movement links the need for fundamental reform of the criminal justice system with the need for change in the public policies that have underinvested in low-income communities of color and over invested in the criminal justice system. These advocacy organizations and networks include the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, JustLeadershipUSA, and the New York Reentry Education Network. They are joined by a surprising convergence of public figures across the political spectrum, including Tony-winning composers, political conservatives, and President Obama.

Through this work, we have seen the transformative power of investing in people and communities. By investment, we mean both building financial stability and increasing capacity through education, social capital, and meaningful employment so people can provide adequately for themselves and their families. These forms of investment kindle hope among the formerly incarcerated (many of whom did not believe they even had a future) and enable positive contributions to families and communities. Providing resources, support, and capacity enables people affected by incarceration to invest in their futures and to become actively engaged in the effort to rebuild their communities.

Education is a key component of this investment strategy. Just as lack of educational opportunity increases the likelihood of poverty and incarceration, access to high-quality education plays a critical role in facilitating mobility. One study showed that almost all soon-to-be-released prisoners reported needing more education (94 percent) and job training (82 percent), while the need for a driver’s license (83 percent) ranked higher than the need for employment (80 percent). The link between lack of education and recidivism is strong. A bachelor’s degree reduces the likelihood of returning to prison to 5.6 percent, in contrast to 66 percent for those without a BA. For those with a master’s degree, the recidivism rate drops to less than 1 percent.

Programs such as College and Community Fellowship (CCF) have proved successful in supporting the formerly incarcerated as they move along the path to higher education. CCF supports women affected by the criminal justice system in pursuing a college degree by enveloping them and their families in support services while they complete their degree. CCF was the first reentry-based organization to use postsecondary education as its core strategy for moving women out of marginalized subsistence and into mainstream society. In addition to achieving an extremely low recidivism rate, these programs give people a sense of hope, a belief in the future, and a willingness to invest in themselves, their families, and their communities.

Early in its history, CCF noticed that students needed to build their financial capability to succeed in college and beyond. They found that their students held many misconceptions about financial management and lacked confidence to control their financial lives. These insights triggered a series of efforts to help students address their financial needs.

CCF first introduced a student debt and financial aid counseling program and later added credit counseling services. In 2013, CCF joined The Financial Clinic’s New Ground Initiative, a capacity-building initiative that helps New York City reentry programs embed financial development in their services. The New Ground Initiative focuses on improving the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals through a combination of financial development strategies that help build financial security and improve financial mobility. The New Ground Initiative trained all counselors working with students at CCF to integrate “financial development” strategies into their conversations and build financial awareness and training into all services. The Financial Clinic’s approach invites all staff to begin with their own personal financial security as a way to build this capacity.

Financial training provides CCF’s students with the tools they need to make sound financial choices and build assets. In one year of the New Ground Initiative, CCF pulled credit reports for 100 percent of participants and organized debt for more than 150 participants, including student loan debt. CCF staff worked with program participants to address defaulted student loans, pay down credit card debt, and increase credit scores. CCF also sets goals with 100 percent of participants and works with them to open bank accounts and develop spending and savings plans. By embedding financial development into their existing services, CCF is better able to provide their students with the tools they need to succeed and ensure the sustainability of financial development practices as a central part of CCF’s service delivery model.

CCF’s work with students also uncovered an important advocacy issue. For-profit colleges were using predatory practices to target individuals with records. Deterring these practices is now part of The Financial Clinic’s policy agenda.

As we move into a more progressive bipartisan era of criminal justice policy, we must not relegate those who have been affected by criminal punishment to the economic margins. We must find ways to increase their chances of success by providing reintegration services that offer more than transitional housing, transitional employment, and stopgap medical services. We have the opportunity to embrace a public policy agenda that builds on the successes of programs like CCF.

The climate of public policy reform in the criminal justice sphere has taken on new energy in the past few years. An investment-oriented strategy would build postsecondary education and financial capability services into the design of reforms aimed at reducing incarceration and facilitating successful reintegration. Too often, reentry programs and policies aimed at providing a “second chance” have neglected education, particularly post secondary education, as a core component of funding, program design, and accountability measures.

Building financial capability should also be a mainstay of criminal justice and educational initiatives. Promising policy directions include President Obama’s announcement in July 2015 of an Experimental Sites Initiative, restoring Pell grants for groups of incarcerated students around the country. This initiative was spurred, in part, by the leadership of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, a national nonpartisan group advocating for access to higher education inside prisons. This kind of investment enables the United States to reduce incarceration and equip individuals, families, and communities with the tool to rebuild their lives and realize their potential.

So many people come out with so many good intentions. And every door is slammed on them… When you’re told no at the employment line, when you’re told no trying to get back to your family, or you’re told no because this community is unaccepting of you — you try to figure out where you belong. And for many, sometimes it becomes rough and you resort to that old stuff.
— College and Community Fellowship student

I can’t tell you how many formerly incarcerated people or poor people or people of color wouldn’t… invest a dollar to get $150 because you have to believe you’re going to be here at 65 to want to put away even a dollar for your future.
— Formerly incarcerated leader

On Quest for Democracy Day at the capitol in Sacramento, April 27, 2015, 250 people split up into 30 teams to visit legislators’ offices to advocate for legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and their communities.

Our Formerly Incarcerated Quest for Democracy (Q4D) Day continues to grow and evolve. This year we had over 250 committed people, many of whom were returning from previous years’ Q4D. We had around 30 teams of people advocating on legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and our communities.

Grassroots co-sponsors got a chance to educate community members about their bills. And Sen. Holly Mitchell as well as Assemblymembers Reginald Jones-Sawyer and Autumn Burke addressed participants. See the box below showing all the bills we were there to endorse.

It’s important to recognize the larger context of our quest: It is the drive for greater recognition of a class of people for whom democracy looks a lot different. We don’t have a guaranteed right to vote – if we move to another state we could easily lose it. We’re still struggling for the fundamental rights of citizenship, such as the right to sit on juries.

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~Thou are only a Man~

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“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Image result for images of afro american humility

The early civilizations were well aware of the danger of pride and power and knew that this could destroy kings and empires if not held in check. And thus a philosophy was developed by the very wise Greco-Roman philosophers (lovers of truth) in order to help their rulers and themselves to be vigilant about their behavior, lest they destroy themselves by pride. And thus when any great general (be it an emperor-to-be, a war general, or any victor of a great battle) was honored by a great manifestation such as a triumphal entry into his city-state, a slave (a lowly of lowlies) would ride in the chariot with him and whisper in his ear that he should remember that he is not a god, but a mortal human being.

I think a better source than wiki might be a scholarly treatise aboutRoman triumphal marches by the historian Robert Payne in the book “Rome Triumphant: How the Empire Celebrated its Victories” Robert Payne, 1962, Barnes & Noble Books 1993. In the closing remarks of the book (pg 251), Payne remarks “…it was the anonymous slave standing behind the triumphator, whispering in his ear about the vanity of honours, who represents the greater triumph. The voice of the slave was the voice of humanity,never so desperate as when it passed unheard.– We do not know when the slave first rode in the triumphal chariot and held the golden crown over the conqueror’s head, or when he stepped down for the last time. We do not know whether the triumphator ever spoke to him in reply,or even glanced at him. He appears only briefly in the history of the triumph, and only once do we see him plain –on the Boscoreale cup,where he is depicted as a youth who seems to be filled with a sense of compassionate duty.”

You should be aware that this type of reminder of vigilance is still very meaningful and applied in many ways in modern life as a philosophical heir to the ancient traditition. The warning against pride and care to remember that life is a fleeting gift and should not be squandered on empty vanities that are really meaningless when considering the totality of life’s journey (the human actions of craving for power, riches, adulation, popularity) is just as important today as it was 2500 years ago. Instead of wasting time thinking that you are “God’s gift to humanity”, the reminder states, “try to live life as a good and simple, honest, kind and noble person (like the beautiful shaker hymn: “Tis a gift to be simple…”)

You might be aware of the yearly Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday in the beginning of the Lenten journey when people receive blessed ashes on their foreheads with the words “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return”. This is done not to depress people, but to remind them that true happiness of this life is totally dependant upon our own human goodness to be fantastically good people instead of selfish jerks.

Whenever a bishop (or cardinal) is elected to be a pope (a really tremendous honor in the Catholic Church), before the pope steps out into the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica to greet the City and the World and to be hailed as the new pontiff (Viva el Papa !) something really cool is done that is centuries old. A simple poor franciscan friar stands before the pope with a broom-like staff made with a pile of dry straw. The straw is lit and for a few seconds a huge flame bursts out, but is gone in a mere minute (a straw fire means an empty fleeting fanfare). (This is done three times) Each time the friar utters the words to the pope “sic transit gloria mundi) meaning “and thus passes the glory of this world”. This is of course a reminder that the great Roman pontiff (like the Roman generals and emperors) should remember that he is nothing more than a lowly servant and all the glory and power and wealth of this world is meaningless when compared to the true meaning of life : just be a very very good and kind and honest person – at the end of your life this will be the only measure of true meaning of the nobility and richness of one’s life.

Is it not cool how all of this applies to our lives today ?

Image result for images of afro american trusting Christ

Introduction

Is good enough, good enough? Consider, if you will, that if 99.9 percent were good enough then

  • 2 million documents would be lost by the IRS this year.
  • 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next 60 minutes.
  • 1,314 telephone calls will be misdirected by telecommunications companies every minute.
  • 2,488 books will be shipped with the wrong covers on them each day.
  • Over 5.5 million cases of soft drinks in the next year will be flat.
  • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written each year.
  • 12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.

Obviously, being good enough is not good enough for life in modern society. So why do we think that being good enough is good enough to get us into heaven? You’ve heard people ask, “If I try my best won’t God let me into heaven?” or “Doesn’t God just require me to be better than the average human?” or “Don’t I have to just live a good life to be a Christian?” or “How could a loving God send good people to hell?”

Martin Luther, the reformer, wrote, “The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has every plagued the mind of man is the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.” A Bible teacher used to say, “Man is incurably addicted to doing something for his own salvation.”

Let’s examine what the Bible has to say about being good enough.

I. God’s standard is perfection

In one sense, one can be good enough to get to heaven, but they would have to be perfect. God’s standard for entrance into heaven is perfection. On one occasion Jesus identified the two most outwardly religious groups of people in his day the Pharisees and the scribes and told his listening audience, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). On another occasion Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

God’s standard never falls short of complete righteousness and holiness. Anything less than perfection is sin. Think about heaven for a moment. Heaven is a place of the “no more’s” – no more tears, no more sadness, no more pain, no more sickness, no more death. All of those things are caused by sin. The “no more’s” don’t exist in heaven because sin does not exist in heaven. Heaven will be wonderful, not only because of what is present – God, but also because of what is absent – sin.

God’s standard of perfection is not arbitrary. God does not grade on the curve. He does not say, “Oh, you are close enough” or “You have tried really hard to live a good life.” God does not compare. “Well, Bill you are better than John so you are in and John is out, Betty, you are better than Sue, so come right on in.” That would be like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. So what if your jump thirty feet and set an Olympic record, you still splatter.

Now don’t get me wrong, for the most part we are all pretty good. I don’t suppose there are any rapists or murderers among us. If we were grading ourselves on goodness we would rank right up there pretty high on the scale. Let’s call ourselves Danny or Debbie Decent. From our perspective, we do everything right. We pay our taxes, pay our bills, pay attention to our family, and pay respect to our superiors. We are good people.

But God sees us differently. God sees what Danny and Debbie Decent choose to overlook. For as decent as we are walking through life, we make mistakes. For example, we stretch the truth. We might fudge, ever so slightly, on our expense report. We gossip about the new employee. From our perspective, these aren’t big deals. But our perspective does not matter. God’s does. And what God sees is a person wrapped in mistakes.

So let me ask you, is there any sin in your life? If so you are not perfect. You have not met God’s standard of perfection.

II. God’s solution is a pardon

Fortunately, there is good news. There is a solution, a remedy to our imperfection. God’s solution is a pardon found in Jesus Christ. Here’s how is works: “Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! . . . It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. . . . Our sins are taken care of for good” (Heb. 10:12-18 MSG). The apostle Paul described it this way: “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). When Jesus Christ, God’s Son, went to the cross he took our sins, our mistakes, our evil, and our unrighteousness. He was the ultimate sacrifice.

R.G. Lee, former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, was visiting Gordon’s Calvary at Jerusalem, possibly the site where Jesus was crucified. Lee told the Arab guide he wanted to walk to the top of the hill. At first the guide tried to discourage him, but when he saw that Lee was determined to go, he went along. Once on the crest, Lee removed his hat and stood with bowed head, greatly moved. “Sir,” asked the guide, “have you been here before?”

“Yes,” replied Lee, “2,000 years ago.”

And so have we. We were there because our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Now we must go there to find redemption, to find our pardon for our sin.

So, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to going to heaven, whether we are more like Hitler with our evil or more like Mother Teresa with our purity, our sins are no longer the issue. The issue is what we do about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s solution to our not measuring up to his standard. Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. Jesus now offers us a pardon, a release from our sin.

Think about it this way: if a criminal was handed a pardon that would release him from prison, the issue is no longer the crime but rather what he will do about the pardon. If he refuses he will remain in prison. The questions, why he is in prison?, and why is he not out of prison? have two different answers. He is in prison because he is convicted criminal. He is not out of prison because he refuse the pardon. Likewise, the answer to the question, why will a person be in hell? Is because he is a sinner, but the answer to the question, why will he not be in heaven? Is because he did not accept the pardon offered in Christ.

Let me see if a story will not help clarify this issue. Many years ago a young boy shot and killed a man while gambling. In those days, murderers were sentenced to hang. But the townspeople were so concerned for the young lad that they gathered a petition asking the judge to pardon the boy. Finally, the judge agreed but only on one condition. The judge would wear a clergyman’s robe and collar and carry the pardon between the pages of the Bible.

As the judge approached the boy’s cell, he could hear the young man cursing and swearing at him. “Get out of here, preacher, I don’t want what you have to offer.”

“But, son,” the judge replied, “You don’t understand.”

“I understand fine,” said the boy. “I don’t want what you have to offer.”

The dejected judge left the jail. Later the guard told the boy that it was the judge who was dressed like a minister. Between the pages of the Bible was an authorized, sealed pardon for his release.

When the day of execution arrived, just before they put a black sack over the boy’s head, they asked if he had anything to say.

He replied, “I am not dying because I killed a man. I am dying because I rejected the pardon.”

You see the issue is not your sin. The issue is what you will do with Jesus Christ. Our fault before God is not necessarily our sin – He made a remedy for that. Our fault before God is rejecting the pardon.

“Yea, but,” I can hear some people say. And then the question: How could a loving God send good people to hell? The question itself reveals a couple of misconceptions. First, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice, as when the judge honored the choice of the condemned boy who rejected the pardon. Hell is the ultimate expression of God’s highest regard for the dignity of man. He has never forced us to choose him, even when that means we would choose hell. As C. S. Lewis stated: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it.”

No, God does not “send” people to hell. Nor does he send “people” to hell any more than the judge sent the boy to be hung. That is the second misconception.

The word people is neutral, implying innocence. Nowhere does scripture teach that innocent people are condemned. People do not go to hell. Sinners do. The rebellious do. The self-centered do. The ones who reject God’s pardon do.

So how could a loving God send people to hell? He doesn’t. He simply honors the choice of sinners.

III. God’s salvation is through personal faith

So what must we do? We must, by faith, accept Jesus’ finished work on the cross as God’s only accepted way to enter heaven. God’s salvation is through personal faith in Jesus Christ. We must trust in what he has done for us.

Ten of the eleven world religions teach a salvation by good deeds. Christianity stands alone with its emphasis on faith rather than works for salvation. The Scriptures say, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift – we don’t work for it, we don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it. We simply trust God for what he has done through his son, Jesus Christ.

It is like a medicine. You can believe a certain medicine will help you, but until you trust it enough to take it, it won’t do anything for you. Faith is more than believing in God. It is trusting in him to the point of receiving Christ into your life.

Conclusion

Was there a time when you honestly realized that you were a sinner and admitted that to God? Do you truly understand that Christ took your place on the cross? Do you understand that the real issue is not your sin, but what you will do with Jesus Christ? Have you received Christ alone for your salvation?

~The World Fears A Common Man with A Righteous Voice~

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“There is no broader way to apostasy than to reject God’s sovereignty in all things concerning the revelation of himself and our obedience…”
― John Owen

Image result for Images of Apostasy and Elijah

A MAN SENT FROM GOD

Intro: The pages of our Bibles are filled with accounts of men that seem larger than life. People like Moses, David, Daniel, Paul and others, all seem to be characters that are so far above the realm of our own experience that we may feel like we can never be like them. However, I’ll let you in on a secret this morning: All of these people were just that: people! The fellow in our text is no different. When I read about the life and ministry of Elijah, I am amazed at his courage and at his power with God. Yet, I am reminded by the Word of God that Elijah “was a man subject to like passion as we are.” (James 5:17) He was just a man who walked in humble obedience before his God.

This morning, I am going to begin a series of messages that will focus on the life and ministry of this man named Elijah. We will call this series “Elijah: The Prophet of Courage and Confrontation”. Today, we will focus in on this one verse and talk about “A Man Sent From God.” In this message, I want you to see that God can take a nobody and make a somebody out of him. God can take any life that will be totally yielded to His will and use that life for His glory. Our goal this morning is to see whether or not we possess this kind of life within ourselves. If not, then you will be given the opportunity to get where God can use you. Let’s look at this verse together this morning and meet A Man Sent From God.

I. ELIJAH WAS A COMMON MAN

A. His Home – This verse tells us that Elijah was from a place called Tishbe in the region known as Gilead. Gilead was a rough, mountainous area known for its high peaks and deep valleys. The very name “Gilead” in its Hebrew form means “raw or rugged.” This tells us that Elijah was a backwoods man. When he stepped onto the scene and began his ministry, his methods, his mannerisms and his message were as rough and rugged as the place he called home.

Evidently, Elijah’s method of dress was as strange as anything else we know about him, 2 Kings 1:8.

B. His Humanity – We are given an interesting insight into the prophet Elijah in the book of James. “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.“, James 5:17-18. As one follows the life of Elijah, it becomes clear that he was a mere mortal. He was a man with a fiery temper, who was prone to bouts of depression. He also suffered from loneliness, due to the life of solitude from which he ministered.

(Ill. The emphasis here is that the Lord is not looking for spiritual giants to use for His glory. He is simply looking for people who will readily obey His Word and follow Him where He leads them. You see, nothing at all is known about Elijah until he steps onto the scene in the presence of king Ahab. He was a nobody from nowhere, but he was handpicked by the Lord God to do His will and to carry His message to a wayward nation.

God doesn’t need the rich, the educated, the intelligent, the beautiful or the movers and shakers of this word to get His work done. (Remember David? – 1 Sam. 16:6-7, 12) God has chosen to work through the lives of men and women who will simply yield themselves to the will of God and, who will like Isaiah, say “Here am I, send me!“, Isa. 6:8. The bottom line is this: God wants your obedient surrender to His will more than He wants anything else you can give to Him, 1 Sam. 15:22.)

I. Elijah Was A Common Man

II. ELIJAH WAS A COURAGEOUS MAN

A. He Defied A Foolish Ruler – The king of Israel during the time of Elijah was a little toad of a man named Ahab. According to the Bible, 1 Kings 16:30, 33, Ahab was the most wicked king that ever squatted upon the throne of Israel. Besides that, he was married to a wretchedly evil woman named Jezebel. She was the daughter of the king of Zidon. This too was an offense to the Lord, 1 Kings 16:31. Jezebel was from a group of people who were ardent Baal worshipers. And she, along with her husband Ahab, did more to introduce the worship of Baal to the people of Israel than any other ruling family, 1 Kings 16:32. This produced a state of affairs in Israel, where people lost all regard for the commandments of God. This is illustrated by 1 Kings 16:34, where a man named Hiel the Bethelite attempted to rebuild Jericho. This was in direct disobedience to a clear command of God, Josh. 6:26.

Yet, it was to this king that God sent the prophet Elijah. Elijah walked right into the presence of king Ahab and delivered the message of the Lord without flinching. He told Ahab that there would be no rain or dew until he said there would be. It took courage to defy the wicked ruler!

(Ill. Chuck Mcillhenny, pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the Sunset District of San Francisco for over twenty years, has written a book titled When the Wicked Seize the City. When I first met him, I expected to find the man in a chrome helmet with loaded weapons all around him and double bars on the door. Here’s a man whose home has been fire-bombed, whose bedroom for the children is built like a bunker (it’s so fireproof) so his children can survive as he stands actively for Christ. He is now ministering a great deal in the hospitals to those dying of AIDS, but standing firm for the truth, that the only hope beyond this life is a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

He told a wonderful story of how he was sitting, reading the newspaper one day. And there was a council meeting being held the next day in San Francisco, and he thought he’d go to the city council and hear this particular issue. It was a homosexual rights issue. He thought, I can’t just sit here and let that pass. He didn’t take anyone with him. He didn’t take any placards. He didn’t march against them, like many of them march against him. It’s not uncommon for his services to be interrupted by lesbians and homosexuals. He just went to the city-council meeting.

He sat there and heard the legislation. The council was about to take a vote. The chairman said, “Is there anyone who has anything to say?” No one moved. Then he stood up and said, “I would like to say something.” He walked to the platform, stated his name, that he was a citizen residing in the Sunset District, San Francisco. “What would you like to say?” He replied, “Well, I would like to say nothing for myself, but I would like to quote three individuals that I’ve respected for years.” And he read to them from Moses in Leviticus, from one of the psalms by David, and from Paul in Romans 1. Didn’t preach, didn’t scream, didn’t sermonize–just closed his Bible and sat down.

They said, “Wait. Before you sit down, who are those people–Moses and David and Paul?” And someone said, “You’re reading from the Bible, aren’t you?” “Yes,” he said, “I am.” And one of the council members then said, “I vote no,” and another and another. And it didn’t pass. He sat down. That is straight thinking and courage.

(Ill. Each of us needs to manifest that same kind of courage! America today is headed down the same road that Israel was on back then. We have sacrificed our innocence for the pleasures of the flesh. We have openly mocked the written Word of God. We have turned a deaf ear to the cry of the millions of the unborn who are slain in the name of convenience every year in this country. We have paid homage to the onslaught of sexually explicit programming that invades our homes on a daily basis. We have sacrificed our morality to gratify our flesh. We have watched in mock horror as our sons and our daughters yield their bodies to the perversions of premarital sex, homosexuality, and lesbianism. We stand by in mute silence while the minds of our own children are captivated by the siren song of prosperity, selfish indulgence and independence from God. We pass their choice of music off as a fad. We have no say in where they go or what they do. We have watched this once great, godly nation become reduced to a stagnated cesspool of iniquity, open sin and outright hostility to God Almighty! After Elijah was taken to Heaven in the whirlwind, Elisha took Elijah’s mantel and smote Jordan and cried, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?“. This morning, I would ask you, “Where are the Elijah’s of the Lord God?

B. He Denounced A False Religion – The crux of Elijah’s message was that there would be no dew or rain until he said so. This was a direct attack against the false religion of Baal worship. You see, Baal was the Canaanite god of fertility. He was seen in the thunder heads and in the rain that fell. Baal worship was usually conducted on the tops of hills where statues of Ball were built. Typically, these Baal shrines were staffed by priests and priestesses. Worship was carried out through performing sexual acts with one of these ministers of Baal. It was their belief that when you were joined to a priest or a priestess in a sexual union, that you literally became a god or a goddess for that period of time. One of the most horrible aspects of Baal worship existed in the realm of human sacrifice. When there was time of drought, it was supposed to mean that Baal was angry with the people. To get his attention, they would often sacrifice a firstborn child by burning it alive. It was a terrible religion that existed to gratify the flesh. There is much more that could be said about Baal worship, but this is enough to see why it was an offence to the Lord God of Israel. After all, it involved breaking many of the commandments, but especially numbers 1-3 and 7-10.

When Elijah made his announcement, he was declaring war on Baal. It took great courage to stand up before the chief promoter of that false religion and in effect say, “My God is greater than Baal! And to prove it, God is going to shut off the spigot. There will be no rain until I say so. And, there’s nothing you, Jezebel or Baal can do about it!

(Ill. That took courage! Can you imagine how they must have laughed at him and mocked him? That is kind of courage we need to see manifested in this day. This is the kind of courage that was derived from time spent with God and from angry indignation over the sins of the nation of Israel. This is the kind of courage that stands up against ridicule. It is the kind of courage that protests things like abortion, the homosexual agenda, the erosion of religious liberties, etc. It is the kind of courage that makes a difference for God in these days of self-indulgence. It is the kind of courage that says, “I will be different, regardless of what it costs me or my family. I will stand for God!” Are you filled with kind of courage? Can God count on us to stand?)

I. Elijah Was A Common Man
II. Elijah Was A Courageous Man

III. ELIJAH WAS A COMMITTED MAN

A. His Designation – His very name tells us his testimony. The name Elijah means “My God Is Jehovah“. His name tells us that he had a personal relationship with the God of Heaven. My friends, this is the first and crucial step in becoming anything for God. Until you know Him you cannot serve Him! Has there been that time in your life when you met the God of Heaven in a personal way? The only way to meet the Lord God is through His Son Jesus Christ, John 14:6; Acts 16:31. Are you saved?

B. His Dependence – By walking into the presence of Ahab and Jezebel in the name of Jehovah, Elijah was demonstrating that in his life and ministry, he was totally dependent upon the Lord. He was not trusting the arm of flesh, but was resting in the everlasting arms by faith. There is a huge difference! This is the secret of success for the child of God living in a wicked world. Only when we are totally yielded to God in total dependence, will we be assured of success. You see, there is only one thing that honors God: Faith, Heb. 11:6; Rom. 14:23. We must come to the place where we kick out all of our props and rest totally in the hand of divine providence. We must come to the place where we stop trying to and start trusting God to! We have plenty of people who live by plastic, by job, by education, by ability, by intellect, by whatever. What we need are people who will live by faith, depending on nothing but God to meet their needs and enable them to stand!

C. His Devotion – Note the phrase Elijah used “before Whom I stand.” Elijah was standing in the presence of the king of Israel. He was standing in the presence of one of the most powerful men of his time. Yet, Elijah was able to see beyond all the trapping of the throne room of Israel. Elijah knew that he was standing in the presence of God. He knew that here was no need to try and please Ahab. There was no need to soft sell his message and make it more pleasing. There was only one Person in that room Who had to be pleased and His name was Jehovah. You know, that is the place we all need to get to in our lives. If we can get beyond what this one or that one might think of us and live for nothing but to please the Lord God, then we are on the road to being used by God. Elijah was a man on a mission. He desired nothing less that carrying out the will of God. Can you honestly say that you do not care what anyone thinks about your stand for God? Can you honestly say that regardless fo what anyone thinks, you are going to live for God, stand for God and serve God until He finishes with you? That is the attitude of total commitment. That is the attitude God can bless and that God can use!

I. Elijah Was A Common Man

II. Elijah Was A Courageous Man

III. Elijah Was A Committed Man

IV. ELIJAH WAS A CONFIDENT MAN

A. In The Person Of God – Note that Elijah believed that God was alive. He said, “as the Lord God of Israel liveth.” Most of those other folks were living like Jehovah was dead. Sounds like America doesn’t it? We need some people like Elijah who will stand up and say, “You can live like God is dead if you wish, but I am going to live for Him, because He is alive in me.” You see, that was Elijah’s situation. God was living in him and when God lives in you, you just can’t keep Him quiet!

(Ill. Elijah’s God was alive. Is yours?)

B. In The Power Of God – Look at James 5:17-18. It seems from these verses that the drought was Elijah’s idea. Apparently, he was so upset with the sins of the people that he began to pray that is would not rain. Of course, this idea was put into his heart by the Spirit of God, no doubt. As he prayed, he received assurance that this was indeed the Lord’s will. So, he just marched up to Ahab and told him it would not rain. He believed that he served a God Who was powerful and able to do anything!

(Ill. One of the tragedies of the modern church is the lack of respect we have for God and His ability. I just want to remind you that we serve a God Who can do anything, Job 42:4; Luke 1:37; Eph. 3:20. He can meet any need. He can heal any disease. He can stop any anything from taking place. He can cause anything to take place. He is God and He is all powerful! Nothing is too hard for Him, Gen. 18:14! God help us that we quit living like God was dead or on vacation. God help us to remember that He is God all the time, in every situation, regardless of what we face in life. When we are battling sin: He is God! When we have a need: He is God! When we are fighting Satan and his activities: He is God! He is God all the time! Never forget that! What He did for people like Elijah, He can do for you and me. We just have to arrive at the place where we can trust His ability.)

C. In The Promise Of God – This man stood before Ahab because he had received a word from God concerning this matter. Elijah had enough sense to know that when God told him something was going to happen, it would happen. My friends, God will never, never, never back away from a single promise he has made to His people. He will not desert you and leave you to flap in the breeze. If He has made a promise to you, it will be fulfilled, Rom. 4:21; Heb. 6:18.

Conc: We are going to see that Elijah stirred up a hornets nest when he made his announcement before Ahab. However, the point of this verse is that he stood and he did what God had told him to do. Elijah was a man sent from God. He was sent to a wicked people to declare that judgment was coming from the hand of God. He was not afraid to speak up and expose the evils of his day. He was not afraid to live by faith in the God of Heaven. He was not afraid to put his very life into the hand of God and trust God all the way through. I just wonder this morning how many of us are like Elijah? How many of us are trusting God com what may? How many of us are taking our stand for God in the midst of this wicked world? How many of us are standing against the tide of evil in the world today? How many of us really know God like Elijah did. We need some Elijah’s in our day. Elijah’s God has not changed. Where are the Elijah’s who will believe Him regardless of the cost?

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