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~We are Waiting For The Miracle Again~

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SCARP works to reduce the impact of the most common mental health and substance use disorders on America’s communities.

Mental health and substance use disorders affect people from all walks of life and all age groups. These illnesses are common, recurrent, and often serious, but they are treatable and many people do recover. Mental disorders involve changes in thinking, mood, and/or behavior. These disorders can affect how we relate to others and make choices. Reaching a level that can be formally diagnosed often depends on a reduction in a person’s ability to function as a result of the disorder. For example:

Serious mental illness is defined by someone over 18 having (within the past year) a diagnosable mental, behavior, or emotional disorder that causes serious functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

For people under the age of 18, the term “Serious Emotional Disturbance” refers to a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder in the past year, which resulted in functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits the child’s role or functioning in family, school, or community activities.

Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
The coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder is referred to as co-occurring disorders. The National Institute for Mental Health’s Mental Health Information page has information about specific conditions and disorders as well as their symptoms.

SCARP’s mission is to reduce the impact of mental and substance use disorders on America’s communities. SCARP works to prevent and treat mental and substance use disorders and provide supports for people seeking or already in recovery.🙏our funding has depleted and we are once again moving in Faith to keep our services open. If nothing else, we will finish the year in our prior commitments and still be a resource entity, your thoughts and prayers are welcome, Thank you in advance…. We have helped 3,987 Vets and people in community without a church donation or Federal Funding, it’s all been done by the grace of God for 9 years, so stay tuned and watch this miracle

 

Our Journey took a serious hit in September, we lost our Forensic psychologist and motivator of innovation. Maymie presence impacted our board and staff to a point we scrambled to reset, but it was to no avail. The Board of Directors is comprised of ministers, representatives from our supporting churches and community leaders who believe in this cause. ​

 

 

The young, hungry and homeless are being fed, housed and given a chance to break the generational chain of poverty by getting their diploma. They have the necessities of life and need not fear for tomorrow.

Many people don’t realize that the proceeds from the various ministry travels and speaking engagements went towards keeping staples and resources for the many that received services .

As basic needs are met, people can begin to improve their lives. They can get education and training, have the chance to look for work, and take care of their families. Lifting up those in need makes our community a stronger and more blessed place for us all.

In Matthew 25:40 we are all called to be Jesus’ hands and feet to those in need. FISH can only continue its work with your prayers, your willingness to volunteer, and your financial support.

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We all want to make the world a better place. But why do we hold ourselves back?

Everyone loves the idea of contributing something good to the world—of spending one’s life doing something that will make things better for everyone. But we don’t always do it to the best of our ability; and unfortunately, what holds us back is often the limitations we place upon ourselves and others.

Recently, I’ve started to become more aware of the types of thoughts that might be subconsciously holding me back from serving my community as best I can. I found that with the hurried frenzy of my daily schedule, it’s terribly easy to avoid reflecting on my actions, but the more I try to re-center myself, the more I’m realizing that I often hold myself back from service.

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“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” -AYEPEE

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“You get use to someone—start to like them, even—and they leave. In the end, everyone leaves.” -RIH MAY, They All Have Gone Honey…

~Walking Through The Pieces~

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I love the story of Abraham. I mean everything from when he lied about who his wife was to protect his own hide, to the amazing promises God gave him. But there’s a story nestled in the Genesis account that paints a powerful picture – to miss it is to miss the core message of the Bible. You can find this story in Genesis Chapter 15, verses 1-21 (but I encourage you to read a few chapters before and after as well to get it in context). In a nutshell, God reiterated His promise to Abram (for the third time) then Abram asked for a sign. So God gave Him one. First God told Abram to cut some animals in half then He put Abram to sleep and talked to him about his future. Finally, God appeared as a smoking fire and passed between the pieces of the animals.

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This section of Scripture describes a common practice in those days called ‘cutting a covenant.’ Basically, when two people wanted to make a pact, a deal, or a bargain with each other, they would cut some animals into pieces and lay them apart on the ground. A space was left between them forming a sort of aisle. Each party would then state their oath(s) aloud as they walked down the aisle. The meaning of the ritual was simple: ‘May I be cut into pieces like these animals if I don’t keep my promise(s) as I’ve stated in this agreement (covenant).’ Normally there were commitments made on both sides, but not in Genesis 15. Did you catch it?

THE COVENANT WAS BETWEEN GOD AND ABRAM (ABRAM’S DESCENDANTS ARE ALSO MENTIONED) BUT ONLY GOD MADE THE COMMITMENT OF DEATH IN CASE OF A BREACH OF CONTRACT.

The Old Testament is a collection of stories that teach spiritual truths. The writers of the Bible would often take a common practice in the Ancient world and turn it on its head in order to teach the God-followers of Israel something that set Him apart from the gods of the surrounding cultures. That’s why it can be so dangerous to take the Biblical texts and stories literally. That’s why we should not try to bring ancient practices into today’s world and live by them as if they were laws. The sole purpose of Scripture is to teach us what God is like.

The story of God walking through the torn carcasses of animals is a strange one no doubt. But it speaks one of the most beautiful truths in the Bible. God always keeps his promises. God didn’t need Abram to walk through the pieces or make a bargain with Him in order for God to keep His promise. Abram only needed to know that God always keeps his promises, period.

Let’s look more closely for a moment. In verses, 1-5 God restated His earlier promise to Abram that he was going to have a child. In verse 6 Abram simply took God at His word and God equated Abram’s faith with righteousness. It is good to operate on the light God has already given us – that is a big part of how we will be judged in terms of our actions in this life. So by all means, believe what God tells you. Belief a good thing. Our beliefs govern our actions. Now understand that Abram’s belief played absolutely no part in the covenant about to take place. In other words, nothing Abram did or believed in any way impacted the promise God made to him. This is important.

The land was a separate promise from the promise to give Abram children. The land represented God’s presence with the Israelites. But God’s promise in regards to the land extended way beyond establishing the Jews in Israel. Consider why God called Abraham in the first place:

I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (emphasis mine)

GENESIS 18:18, 22:18, AND 26:4 COMPRISE GOD’S PROMISE TO ALL MANKIND: THE WORLD RENEWED.

In other words, the land – and by implication, intimacy with God in a loving relationship – was not for the Jews alone. Not by a long shot.

GOD’S END GAME HAS BEEN ALWAYS GLOBAL.

On the heels of the promises regarding the land, note that we are not told that Abram believed God, but instead that Abram asked a question: “How will I know that it will one day be mine?” What a great question! Sounds like Abram was looking for proof because this time he did not believe God. Little did Abram know he was asking the one question that concerns all of humanity. How do we know that God has a plan to bless us, to renew us, and to renew the world?

I KNOW BECAUSE SOME 4000 YEARS AGO GOD CUT A COVENANT WITH ME.

No, that’s not a typo. Shadows and types and representatives, oh my! The Bible is full of them. Abram was my  – your, our – representative in this covenant. Just like Adam represented all of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and Jesus is named the second Adam in his obedient suffering, so Abram was mankind’s representative, cutting the covenant of grace.

Now it is time to consider the location of this story within the greater historical context. Abram was an ancestor of Moses through whom the Law came. As a reminder, we are not told that Abram did anything to earn God’s promise. The covenant was purely an act of God’s grace. So, before the Law came, the covenant of grace was established. Think about it. If the covenant of grace had come after the Law, we would have reason to believe that there is something we must do for God to keep His end of the bargain. This story puts it out there on display: there is nothing for us to do (not even believe). Why? you ask. Because if we have a part now in keeping this covenant then Abram would have believed and walked through the pieces as our representative back then.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE IT TO BE A PART OF IT.

Genesis 15:10: As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram… God put Abram to sleep so that he would have no chance of walking through those pieces. Why? Because God knew something we must all understand:

None of us will ever be able to keep covenant with God (Romans 3). We can’t even keep covenant with each other or ourselves! If there was any covenant to be made with mankind, it had to be on God’s side only. Our works and beliefs have nothing to do with God’s love for His creation or His absolute and unwavering commitment to make all things new. God Almighty cut a covenant with Abram as my representative, and now there is nothing I can do that will ever make God love me more or less than He did in that moment when He walked through the pieces! But there was a little part in the story that for many years I somehow missed. I bet you who are reading this have already seen it because it is so obvious.

One day it hit me what the pieces of those animals really were:

THE BROKEN BODY OF JESUS.

When God walked through the pieces, He knew that we were going to make a sacrifice out of His Son! “This is My body, broken for you…” Who cut the animals up? Abram did – in my place. I did it, through Abram. We did it. We cut up the sacrifice – the Romans stood in for me, for you, for us, crucifying Jesus on a cross. His Son’s death at our hands was the price God paid – in grim, gory detail – to shout out to the cosmos that love trumps all, that there is nothing we can do – not even murder – that will ever stop His love for us.

I pray that you understand – really understand – that God has no expectations of you as regards relationship with Him. He initiated it, He accomplished it, He will finish it, in your life and mine – all for the love He feels for everything and everyone He has made. Now that is Amazing Grace.

There’s something you gotta see, journey with me
It’s approximately 30 A.D.
In the land of Israel- the city of Jerusalem
But on the outside, there’s screams and loud cries
Through faith, this scene can be seen without eyes
The mean shout lies and seems to sound wise
As we inch through the crowd, we need to be cautious
A Roman execution, men on three crosses
But all the focus is on the one in the center
The gate closes behind you- no one can enter
The sight you behold is so odd, you’re stunned
The man hanging on the cross is God the Son
12 noon, it’s pitch-black because the sunshine’s lacking
Your minds can’t fathom this divine transaction
As slowly the sound becomes mostly drowned
You realize that you’re standing on holy ground

So forever will I tell
In three hours, Christ suffered more than any sinner ever will in hell

It’s where we see Your holiness- at the cross
We see that You’re controlling this- at the cross
We see how You feel about sin- at the cross
Your unfathomable love for men- at the cross
It’s where we see Your sovereignty- at the cross
We see our idolatry- at the cross
We know that there’s a judgment day- from the cross
May we never take our eyes away- from the cross

We’re now in the realm of the sublime and profound
With God at the helm, it’s about to go down
The Father’s wrath precise will blast and slice
The priceless Master Christ as a sacrifice
Willingly, He’s under the curse
To be treated as if the Son was the worst scum of the earth
The scene is the craziest
Jesus being treated as if He is the shadiest atheist
How is it the Messiah is in the fiery pit
As if He was a wicked liar with twisted desires?
The One who’s sinless and just
Punished as if He was promiscuous and mischievous with vicious lust
The source of all godly pleasure
Tormented as if He was a foul investor or child molester
How could He be bruised like He was a goodie-two-shoes
who doesn’t think that she needs the good news?
He’s perfect in love and wisdom
But He’s suffering as if He constructed the corrupt justice system
We should mourn at the backdrop
Jesus torn like He’s on the corner with crack rock with porn on His laptop
What is this, kid? His gifts are infinite
But He’s hit with licks for religious hypocrites
He’s the Light, but being treated like
He’s the seedy type who likes to beat His wife
He’s treated like a rapist, treated like a slanderer
Treated like a racist or maybe a philanderer
Jesus being penalized like He had sin inside
Filled with inner pride while committing genocide
I could write for a billion years and still can’t name
All of the sins placed on the Lamb slain
But know this: the main thing the cross demonstrated
The glory and the holiness of God vindicate

Closing: When evangelist John Wesley was returning home from a service one night, he was robbed. The thief, however, found his victim to have only a little money and some Christian literature. As the bandit was leaving, Wesley called out, “Stop! I have something more to give you.” The surprised robber paused. “My friend,” said Wesley, “you may live to regret this sort of life. If you ever do, here’s something to remember: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin!'” The thief hurried away, and Wesley prayed that his words might bear fruit. Years later, Wesley was greeting people after a Sunday service when he was approached by a stranger. What a surprise to learn that this visitor, now a believer in Christ as a successful businessman, was the one who had robbed him years before! “I owe it all to you,” said the transformed man. “Oh no, my friend,” Wesley exclaimed, “not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin!”

Has the blood been applied to your life? Is your name written down in Heaven? Is your faith in Jesus and in Him alone?

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~ Revealed Will Ministry/ God’s Plan

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This was an awesome day of fellowship, Thank you Lord for all the support you provided me while preparing to serve this dish of hope at Park Ave Missionary Baptist Church…

“Your ultimate reason for staying in this crooked world is not to imitate its devastating physique, but trying do something about its ugly appearance.”

https://www.facebook.com/MayandAaronSecondchancealliance

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~Whose Church is The Church~

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Galatians 3:26-27The Message (MSG)

25-27 But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ, you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.

A common misconception about the church of Christ is that “The Church of Christ” is its name. It is not. The “church of Christ” is its description. The church of Christ is the church that belongs to Christ, that was established by Christ, that was built by Christ, and that was bought by Christ. It is not our church; it is His church, the Lord’s church. We are not voted into the church by men, and we do not join a church the way some might join a country club. Instead, God adds us to His church when we obey His gospel.
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Ever addressed the topic: Gospel vs. doctrine?

Could not find this specific topic addressed. It is a current issue being debated locally. The progressive spirit insists that unity is only our faith in Christ, or that we all believe in Christ,(might as well say faith only), because in the next breath they say doctrine is another area, apart from our faith in Christ, some then add, after all, we cannot agree on doctrine”. Two folks added, “We have fellowship with those who believe in Jesus”. It was opened up to even those in denominations. I am afraid we have union, but not unity, as the importance of doctrine is diminished. Thanks.

The Answer:

Creating a distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine” is not new – it has been around for years. It is a theory espoused by those who, as you suggest, seek union in diversity. They do this by arguing for a false dichotomy, establishing their own rules and rejecting God’s teaching.

Does the scripture distinguish between “gospel” and “doctrine”? If it does, then we should adopt it. If it does not, then we should oppose it and withdraw from those who teach it. 2 Thess. 3:6. The theory that doctrine is one thing and gospel is another are found in early twentieth century Europe. J.A. Jungmann, a German Catholic theologian published his views in a text titled, The Good News and Our Proclamation of the Faith, (1936). Jungmann proposed what he called the “kerygmatic approach to preaching.” He made a hard distinction between gospel (Kerygma) and doctrine (Didache). Later that year British theologian, C.H. Dodd, published a book called, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, in which he urged that a firm distinction is made between gospel and doctrine.

The Bible does not support such a theory. In the Koine (Hellenistic Greek) language, in which the New Testament was written, the word gospel (Kerygma) means “good news” and is used to refer to the salvational aspects of Jesus. The word doctrine (Didache) means “teaching” or “discourse,” and has reference to the same salvational message as the gospel. Therefore, it is not unusual for the New Testament to speak of the gospel as that which must be obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8). If the gospel is only a set of facts — death, burial, and resurrection — it cannot be obeyed. One cannot obey facts!

Now some in the Lord’s church borrowed the “gospel versus doctrine” theory from Jungmann and Dodd to build a base on which to launch their speculation about open fellowship between the church and denominations. They call their opinion unity-in-diversity – a contradiction in terms. In this view, the gospel is separated from teaching, or doctrine, and supersedes it in importance. The adherents of unity-in-diversity stress that only the gospel is important since doctrine is a relative and elusive standard. Therefore, all believers (regardless of their denominational-church) are to achieve unity of faith by ignoring doctrine, but gospel must not be discarded.

The very definition of the word gospel, in the unity-in-diversity theory, was modified to exclude everything but the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In more recent literature this notion has been styled the Core Gospel. As a result of this historic shift in faith, some brethren (?) stress that the gospel can be preached only to the lost (i.e., the world), but doctrine may be preached only to the saved (i.e., the church).

In the Bible, the two words (gospel and doctrine) are intertwined. For instance, when Paul preached the resurrection (a part of the so-called core-gospel-triad) the Athenians called it doctrine (Acts 17:18-19). How ludicrous it would have been for Paul to respond to the sincere question of the Greek philosophers by saying he could not teach them doctrine because they were not yet Christians.

Servants of sin obeyed doctrine to be free from sin and become servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:17). If there is a difference in doctrine and gospel, and if only the gospel frees from sin, how could these unbelievers obey doctrine? There is nothing in the context of 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 antagonistic to doctrine. It is ridiculous to say Paul preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus without giving conditions of salvation. How could one understand how to respond to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ separate from specific teaching or doctrine? (See Romans 6:3-4 with v. 7.) On Pentecost Peter preached the resurrection of Christ, but also told people what commands to obey to be saved (Acts 2:31-38).

Why does Paul write to the Roman Christians telling them that he is ready to preach the gospel to them if the gospel is not for the saved? Rom. 1:15. The Christian’s life is to be a life that is “becoming to the gospel.” Phil 1:27. If doctrine is for the church why did Paul not seek a life that becomes doctrine? Gospel and doctrine are not separate. Some have accepted a false distinction between gospel and doctrine to erect an unauthorized bridge of fellowship with the denominational world.

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What is the church of Christ?

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised to build a church. In Acts 2:47, Luke tells us that people were being added to that church. Thus, we can conclude that Jesus built His church sometime between His promise in Matthew 16 and Luke’s statement in Acts 2. Indeed, a closer study of the events in Acts 2 reveals that the Lord’s church was established on that first day of Pentecost following the Lord’s resurrection when Peter preached the first gospel sermon. That church is the church of Christ.

Are those in the church of Christ the only people who are going to be saved? Of course they are! God adds people to His church when they are saved. If you are not in the Lord’s church, then you are not saved. If you are saved, then you are in the Lord’s church. To be saved outside of the church of Christ is to be saved outside of the body of Christ – and that can never happen. Jesus is not just a way to the Father; he is the way to the Father. As Jesus said in John 14:6, “ I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Thus, the real question is not what is the church of Christ, but is rather how do you become a part of the church of Christ? That question was asked in the first century as it is asked today, and the answer remains the same. We are saved and added to the Lord’s church when we obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the Apostle Paul, we are saved when our sins are washed away at our baptism.

There is one church of Christ. If you are a member of something else or something more or something less, then you are not serving God according to His plan or according to His will. He wants you to be a Christian and only a Christian, wearing only the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the head and the savior of the church, His body.

 

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What Must I Do?

What must I do? That same question was asked in Acts 2:37 at the end of the very first gospel sermon ever preached. Before we look at Peter’s answer in verse 38, let’s look at some answers Peter did NOT give.

What must I do? John Calvin answers, “Nothing!” According to Calvin, there is nothing we must do and nothing we can do. Each of us has already been personally predestined to Heaven or Hell without regard to anything we do on Earth, and so, logically, according to Calvin, the only answer to the question in Acts 2:37 is “Nothing.” But that is NOT how Peter answered that question.

1 Peter 3:21

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What must I do? Many preachers today answer, “You must make Jesus the Lord of your life.” But that answer makes absolutely no sense then or now! Peter had just said in Acts 2:36 that “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Jesus was already Lord of their lives! Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, which means he is your Lord and your King whether or not you obey him or believe him. We obey Jesus because he is Lord and King – not to make him Lord and King.

What must I do? Many preachers today answer, “You must pray the sinner’s prayer and invite the Lord Jesus into your heart.” But no one in the Bible was ever told to do that. In fact, Paul prayed after he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), and yet Paul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always (Acts 10:2), and yet there remained something he still had to do after calling for Peter (Acts 10:6). If praying the sinner’s prayer was all that Paul and Cornelius needed to do, then why were Ananias and Peter needed?

What must I do? Listen as Peter answers that question: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38) That answer has not changed one bit in the intervening 2000 years. If your preacher is telling you something different, then you need a new preacher! “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16

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PASSIONATE LIVING VS. FEAR

STORY…

Sarah Ban Breathnach tells of a business trip her husband took to the beach, where she and her daughter enjoyed the mornings while he attended workshops. One afternoon it was announced that there would be elephant rides for the children in the hotel parking lot. Her daughter, Katie, was delirious with excitement. Sarah told her, “Life is always full of wonderful surprises if we’re open to them. Some mornings you get up not knowing what will happen, and you get to ride an elephant that day!” When they got home, there was an invitation for Sarah to join a group of journalists on a trip to Ireland. She was tired of traveling, and not really a spontaneous person, so she told them she would probably not go. Her husband, overhearing her, said, “So, you’re not going to ride the elephant?” She decided to go.

VERSE…

“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fear (Psalm 34:4).

POINT…

Living passionately involves a lot of pressure and risk. I mean, what if you fall off the elephant? A writer named Ambrose Redmoon wrote: Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. You might be afraid of all kinds of things, but if one of your kids were in danger, you’d be fearless. Also, don’t you want to live believing that God is bigger than whatever you’re afraid of? You have to make a decision to stop letting fear win: stop holding on to your blanket of insecurity and anxiety. Show up with everything God has given you, and join the battle against whatever opposes the redeeming work of God in this world. Take yourself less seriously and God more seriously!

“I wish you’d take the brakes off and let me preach,”

Christ is king. But what kind of king is he? Is Christ the kind of king who will send children to die in wars? Is Christ the kind of king who will take advantage of us?
I certainly hope not! If we take the example of human rulers are just scale up, we find ourselves with a Christ who is abusive, selfish, cruel, and all-powerful. That’s not the kind of Savior I want.

So what kind of king is Jesus? What kind of king are we celebrating today?
Our king, Christ the King, is—in a word—unexpected. Christ the King is unexpected in his birth, unexpected in his life, unexpected in his death, and unexpected in his return.
Let me explain what I mean. Think of a human king. You’d expect him to be born in a palace, surrounded by nobles and guards and wealth, raised in the lap of luxury.
Our king was born into poverty, wrapped in rags, put to rest in a manger meant for hay.
Think again of a human king. You’d expect him to travel around with courtiers and attendants, or live in his castle, with advisors to help him manage his kingdom.
Our king traveled around with fishermen, foreigners, and women. Our king visited with the sick, the outcast, the desperate.
A human king would die in his bed; he’d be mourned publicly, buried in a place of honor. Or at least he would die heroically in a battle, struck down by an enemy.
Our king was brutally executed by the state, nailed to a cross. His body was laid in a spare tomb nearby, without ceremony.

What kind of king is Christ? The unexpected kind. The kind who defies every expectation, every assumption about what a king should be.
Which brings me back to this famous parable from Matthew 25. Did you notice what the sheep and the goats, the people on the king’s right and left, have in common? Both groups are surprised to learn that they encountered the king. The sheep say, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? When was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
The goats’ response is the same, except that they failed to act: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

Both groups are surprised. They had no idea they had encountered their king in the guise of someone hungry, or poor, or sick. They had no idea that they had seen their king in the face of a foreigner, an immigrant, a prisoner.
This king, our king, is unexpected. He was born, he lived, he died, in the most unexpected ways. His resurrection and ascension were certainly unexpected. And this parable teaches us that his return will also be unexpected. We might be waiting for the Son of Man to come in glory, surrounded by angels, sitting on a throne. But what we will discover—what the sheep and the goats in the parable discover—is that our king has already returned. We have already seen him. He’s the panhandler on the street corner. He’s the farmworker picking our crops. He’s alone in a hospital room with no one to visit him. He’s locked up in San Quentin. He’s a teenaged girl going into Planned Parenthood, an undocumented mother bringing her children across the border, a widow alone in her home.
What kind of king is Christ? Just look around. You’ll see him. Amen.

Baptism in the Bible

Matthew 28:19

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Mark 16:16

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Acts 2:38

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 8:36

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

Acts 22:16

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

Romans 6:3

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:4

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

1 Corinthians 12:13

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

Galatians 3:27

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Ephesians 4:5

One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Colossians 2:12

Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

1 Peter 3:21

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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~Stigmas, Formerly Incarcerated, will we ever get a real reprieve to live a normal life?~

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“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.” ― Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Michelle Jones served 20 years in prison for a heinous crime: murdering her 4-year-old son. During her two decades behind bars, Ms. Jones compiled a record of accomplishment that would be remarkable even for someone who had never been locked up. She published a scholarly article on the first prisons for women in the United States. She wrote a play that will open in December in an Indianapolis theater. She led a team of incarcerated women whose efforts won the Indiana Historical Society’s prize for best research project for 2016. Not best research project by prisoners. Best project. Period.

All of this helped Ms. Jones gain admission to N.Y.U.’s doctoral program in American studies, where she started last week. But Ms. Jones’s stunning record wasn’t good enough for top administrators at Harvard University, as this paper reported on Thursday. In a rare move, they overturned the history department’s admission recommendation and rejected Ms. Jones.

Ms. Jones’s remarkable story put me in mind of a similar one — that of Reginald Dwayne Betts, the Yale Law graduate whose initial application to the Connecticut bar was recently rejected. Mr. Betts, who was convicted of carjacking in 1996 when he was 16, went on to astonishing success after his release in 2005, including publishing three books, being admitted to a Ph.D. program and being accepted to all of the nation’s top law schools. Yet as he continues to pursue admission to the bar, it’s clear that what matters most is the crime he committed as a teenager.

Cases like that of Ms. Jones and Mr. Betts come at an inflection point in the nation’s history. After 50 years of prison building, more and more Americans are expressing doubts about the harsh policies that have made this country the world’s largest jailer. At the same time, some of the people who have spent serious time in our jails have such impressive resumes that they are penetrating the world of the elite. For so long, the world of “us” never touched the world of “them” in many corners of American society. Because of people like Michelle Jones, that is changing.

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What will the gatekeepers of privilege do when confronted with gold-star applicants who have a criminal record? Harvard’s answer — you can never outlive your crime — is an affront to a first-rate candidate and brings shame on those responsible.

But Harvard’s rejection of Ms. Jones (and my university, Yale, rejected her as well, though the reasons remain unclear) is more than that. It reveals the truth about why mass punishment persists and the lie we are telling ourselves about the possibility of redemption.

Here’s the thing about harsh justice in America. More and more people criticize it, but most eagerly shift the blame for who is responsible. I saw this repeatedly in California, where I just spent a year living and teaching. I lost count of the number of conversations I had with colleagues and friends about criminal justice in which somebody bemoaned the state of affairs in “the Trump states.” I responded by bringing up the fact that California led the prison-building movement in the 1980s and ’90s, and would share stories about a visit to San Quentin prison, located just across the water from San Francisco, where I met dozens of men serving life sentences. Nobody from the Trump states put them there, or is keeping them there, I would say. That’s on California voters and their elected officials. That’s on you.

I suspect that the administrators and professors who helped block Ms. Jones’s admission are a lot like my friends in Connecticut and California. They consider themselves liberal, and they think mass incarceration is a problem. Somebody’s else’s problem. Blame the judges, prosecutors, legislators, police, probation officers, prison guards. Just not us.

But rejecting an overwhelmingly qualified candidate like Michelle Jones for no reason other than her criminal record sends a clear message from the bastion of liberalism on the banks of the Charles: If something is to be done to make America more just and merciful, somebody else is supposed to do it.

It also exposes the way that our unforgiving system of justice has touched all of our institutions. In court, judges tell people that their conviction carries a sentence of years, or probation. The truth is far more terrible. People convicted of crimes often become social outcasts for life, finding it difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a job, adopt children, access public benefits, serve on juries or vote.

As eager as I am to champion Ms. Jones’s cause, I do so with one crucial caveat. Michelle Jones and Reginald Dwayne Betts capture our attention because of their extraordinary accomplishments. As compelling as their stories are, we cannot let these exceptional people become the standard by which we judge somebody returning from prison. You shouldn’t need to win awards from a state historical society to gain admission to a Ph.D. program, and admission to the bar shouldn’t be reserved for those who write three books and obtain multiple degrees.

Mass incarceration and its never-ending human toll will be with us until we come to see that no crime justifies permanent civic death. N.Y.U.’s acceptance of Michelle Jones is an example of an institution leading the way toward a more forgiving nation. Harvard’s rejection of her shows just how far we still have to go.

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“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; at the same time he must keep himself at that remove from us which assures our painlessly being able to confirm this belief about him. Put differently, he is advised to reciprocate naturally with an acceptance of himself and us, an acceptance of him that we have not quite extended to him in the first place. A PHANTOM ACCEPTANCE is thus allowed to provide the base for a PHANTOM NORMALCY.” ― Erving GoffmanStigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

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~Educate to stop Recidivism~

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“We care (about prison education), very simply, because (prisoners) get out. Almost everyone who is locked up now is going to be set free one day. If we treat prisoners like animals the whole time they are locked up, that’s what we’ll get when they’re back on the streets: wild, dangerous animals.” ― Christopher Zoukis, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons

Parole in the United States originated in the Elmira Reformatory in New York State in 1867 as an option for the early release of individuals for good behavior and a means to reduce institutional overcrowding. In the early twentieth century, it came to be viewed as a tool for intermediate sentencing in furtherance of the goal of rehabilitation. However, during the 1970s concerns regarding the integrity of indeterminate sentencing arose due to increasing crime rates, a lack of empirical knowledge regarding effective correctional interventions, insufficient allocation of resources for rehabilitative interventions, and the so-called war on drugs.

In addition, concerns were raised about inconsistent decision-making by paroling authorities that resulted in apparent unfairness and inequity in release decisions deemed arbitrary, capricious, racially biased, and resulted in unjustifiably disparate sentences. Also, studies in the 1970s (conducted by Martinson and Brody) found a paucity of convincing evidence that rehabilitation reduces recidivism.

During the 1980s incarceration came to be conceptualized as punishment (i.e., just deserts), and by the late 1980s and 1990s as a means of incapacitation and deterrence with far less concern for equity and proportionality in sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes, truth-in-sentencing, and mandatory sex offender registration laws were enacted.
Rehabilitation was discarded, often coupled with the reduction or elimination of discretionary parole release. This gets tough on crime stance resulted in an explosive growth in prison populations, rates of incarceration, and costs of construction and operation of prisons.Ironically, as sentencing models focused more and more on punishment and incapacitation, research was providing evidence of effective interventions for reducing recidivism along with the ineffectiveness of incarceration.

Along with the shift from rehabilitation to punishment, the mission of parole to support reintegration shifted to reflect the get tough on crime stance resulting in fewer releases prior to the expiration of sentences, holding individuals who were released for greater portions of their maximum sentences, and increasing rates of parole revocation and re-incarceration.

By the 1990s the United States incarcerated more persons per capita than any other country with over two million adults behind bars, amounting to an incarceration rate of about one in one hundred. At the onset of the twenty-first century, the criminal justice system faced a rising prison population serving longer terms along with significantly diminished resources for prison-based programming, increased parole and probation caseloads, and scarce resources for returning citizens. Corrections costs (nearly ninety percent of which are allocated to prisons) soared creating serious budgetary pressures and accounting for significant amounts of states’ general fund discretionary dollars. Growing numbers of returning citizens and serious fiscal crises facing many states gave rise to a burgeoning interest in reentry.

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During the 1980s and 1990s, parole release and supervision focused primarily on enforcement and surveillance, using monitoring to stress compliance with conditions of release. Increasing rates of incarceration and release have resulted in increasing numbers of persons under community supervision posing significant challenges to parole/probation agencies as resources have not kept pace with these increases. By the turn of the century, parole revocation practices came under increasing scrutiny and efforts designed to reduce the rate of parole revocations, especially for technical violations, and promote the more effective reintegration of returning citizens have become a major focus. Studies show that individuals released on parole at the discretion of a releasing authority are more likely to successfully complete their parole term without re-incarceration than individuals released through a mandatory system.

The majority of returning citizens have not experienced successful community reentry.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), two-thirds (67.5%) of individuals released from prison are rearrested within three years more than half of whom are reincarcerated. Studies have shown that returning citizens are at highest risk for recidivism during the first six months after release when almost one-third (29.9%) are rearrested. Despite public perception that people on parole are more likely to commit crimes, the vast majority do not return to prison for a new offense. Seventy percent are re-incarcerated4 due to technical parole violations (e.g., missing appointments and not maintaining employment) rather than for the commission of new crimes.

Returning citizens are faced with significant challenges to successful reentry including reuniting with family and significant others, finding jobs and housing, and remaining substance-free while avoiding high-risk situations that can trigger relapse and recidivism. More individuals are released from longer terms of incarceration and are more are likely to have health or substance abuse problems which exacerbate these challenges. In addition, limited availability of jobs, housing, and social services in a community can adversely impact successful reintegration.

Fifty-five percent of adults involved in the criminal justice system have minor children and parents who are incarcerated can owe an average of more than $20,000.00 in child support debt at the time of release. There is now a substantive and growing research base of effective correctional practices that
promote successful reentry. Strategies that can significantly reduce recidivism have been identified, including prison and community-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), substance abuse treatment, relationship enhancement skills (e.g., motivational interviewing), vocational and educational programming, and community supervision that includes a case management focus along with rewards and sanctions and linkages with appropriate treatment and service
and support providers.

In sum, the large numbers of returning citizens, a significant proportion of whom are reincarcerated, concerns regarding community safety, state fiscal crises, and increasing correctional costs, as well as research on evidence-based correctional interventions, are now driving contemporary correctional practice. These have led to a shift in focus in correctional institutions from custody and control to preparing individuals for their release starting from admission and continuing throughout community supervision and beyond. Parole’s traditional emphasis on surveillance and enforcement of conditions (i.e., identifying violations and quickly revoking parole for noncompliance) is being replaced by a focus on transition and successful reintegration.

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~When Death Becomes Life~

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Romans 6 The Message (MSG)

6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

12-14 That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

We never enter into the Kingdom of God by having our head questions answered, but only by commitment.

…present…your members as instruments of righteousness to God. —Romans 6:13

 

I cannot save and sanctify myself; I cannot make atonement for sin; I cannot redeem the world; I cannot right what is wrong, purify what is impure, or make holy what is unholy. That is all the sovereign work of God. Do I have faith in what Jesus Christ has done? He has made the perfect atonement for sin. Am I in the habit of constantly realizing it? The greatest need we have is not to do things, but to believe things. The redemption of Christ is not an experience, it is the great act of God which He has performed through Christ, and I have to build my faith on it. If I construct my faith on my own experience, I produce the most unscriptural kind of life— an isolated life, with my eyes focused solely on my own holiness. Beware of that human holiness that is not based on the atonement of the Lord. It has no value for anything except a life of isolation— it is useless to God and a nuisance to man. Measure every kind of experience you have by our Lord Himself. We cannot do anything pleasing to God unless we deliberately build on the foundation of the atonement by the Cross of Christ.

The atonement of Jesus must be exhibited in practical, unassuming ways in my life. Every time I obey, the absolute deity of God is on my side, so that the grace of God and my natural obedience are in perfect agreement. Obedience means that I have completely placed my trust in the atonement, and my obedience is immediately met by the delight of the supernatural grace of God.

Beware of the human holiness that denies the reality of the natural life— it is a fraud. Continually bring yourself to the trial or test of the atonement and ask, “Where is the discernment of the atonement in this, and in that?”

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~ I am in Love With The Invisible Lover~

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1 Peter 1:8-9 The Message (MSG)

8-9 You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to total salvation.

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Peter’s Description of the Christian Experience

Our focus this morning is on verses 8 and 9. The question I want to start with is this: why does Peter tell the Christians what they are experiencing? He says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

He tells them what they are experiencing: “You are loving Christ; you are believing in Christ; you are rejoicing in Christ with inexpressible and glorified joy; all of that even though you do not now see him.” Why? Why tell them what their own experience is?

I think the reason is that he wants to describe for them what true Christianity really is. And to do it in such a way that, if they ever drift away from it, they will have a fixed standard to show them what’s happening, so they can wake up and return to what they’ve lost.

Illustration: Swimming Upstream

I picture it like this (it’s not a perfect picture, but it helped me get a handle on why Peter would tell them about their own experience): true Christianity is like swimming upstream in a river of godlessness—for us, secular American godlessness. We swim with the stroke of love to Christ, and the stroke of faith in Christ, and the stroke of joy in Christ. And while we swim, we do not get swept away with the godless toward the terrible cataracts of judgment down river.

God keeps us, as verse 5 said, through faith. He enables us to keep on swimming against the stream with the strokes of faith, love, and joy, so that we don’t get carried away in the current of Christlessness.

Our swimming coach, the apostle Peter, is on the shore watching us and following us. When we are swimming well, he calls out to us, “Look here, you’re doing well, I’m putting a flag here even with where you are in the river. Now mark this. This is where you are.” That’s what he’s doing in verses 8 and 9.

The reason is so that if we stop using the swimming strokes of love for Jesus, and faith in Jesus, and joy in Jesus, and begin to just float downstream in the river of godlessness, we will be able to wake up and look to the shore and notice that the flag is upstream. We will have a fixed point of reference to call us back to what real Christianity is.

So that’s what I want to do this morning. Peter did it for the Christians then, and I am going to try to do it with his words for you now—to plant a flag on the side of the river of American godlessness and call you to look at it to see where you are in your Christian swimming.

Five Things About Christians

Peter says five things (in verses 8–9) about his Christian readers:

  1. they love Christ;
  2. they believe in Christ;
  3. they rejoice in Christ;
  4. through all this they are receiving the salvation of their souls; and
  5. they are experiencing this even though, like us, they have never seen Christ in person.

This is true Christianity: God is saving our souls by working in our hearts a love and confidence and a joy that is against the stream of secularism and godlessness and worldliness in our society.

True Christianity is loving Christ and trusting Christ and enjoying Christ. In other words, Christianity is first and foremost a matter of the heart (love, trust, and joy), not a matter of external performances. And Peter adds in verse 9: in this you are now (progressively) receiving the goal of it all, the salvation of your soul. The final full salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (v. 5) we are now receiving for our souls (in part) as we love Christ, trust Christ, and rejoice in Christ now.

Three Definitions

Let’s see if we can get inside these three experiences and see how they relate and whether we are in fact experiencing them or not. What do we really mean when we speak of loving Christ and trusting Christ and enjoying Christ? We will start with three definitions:

1. Loving Christ

Loving Christ means experiencing Christ as precious for all his character and virtue (cf. 2:7).

2. Trusting Christ

Trusting Christ means experiencing Christ as reliable in all his promises and all his counsel.

In other words:

Love is attracted to the Beloved for who he is.

Faith is confident in the Trusted for what he will do.

3. Enjoying Christ

Now what about joy? Peter says (v. 8), “We rejoice [in Christ] with inexpressible and glorified joy.” The more I think about it, and the more I consider biblical texts (like Philippians 1:25 and Romans 15:13 and 2 Corinthians 1:24), the less I think we should conceive of joy as separate from love and faith.

Joy in Christ is the deep good feelings in loving him and believing him. It’s the echo in our emotions—our hearts—of experiencing Christ as precious and experiencing Christ as reliable. It’s the deep good feelings of being attracted to him for who he is and the deep good feelings of being confident in him for what he will do.

So joy is part of love and part of faith. Because it would be a contradiction (wouldn’t it?) to say, “I am attracted to the preciousness of what Christ is, but I have no good feelings in this attraction.” What is attraction without good feelings for something? There may be terror in the attraction (as to a Lion named Aslan) but if there were no deep good feelings in it, it would not be experienced as attraction at all, but only as rejection.

It is the same with faith: it would be a contradiction to say, “I am confidently trusting in what Christ will do for me, but I have no good feelings in this confidence.” What is confidence without good feelings of hope and assurance in the one you trust? There may be expectation of pain and suffering on the way, but if there were no deep good feeling that it’s going to turn out well, it would not be called trust or confidence at all.

So I conclude that attraction to the ultimate preciousness of Christ (which we call love), and confidence in the ultimate reliability of Christ (which we call faith) are not less than a deep good feeling, called joy. They are more; there are other elements in them besides the deep good feeling of joy, but they are not less than joy. So this holy joy that Peter refers to in verse 8 is a constituent part of love and faith, and together they are true Christianity.

This goes a long way to explaining why Peter calls this joy “inexpressible and full of glory [or glorified].”

Joy: You Become What You Crave

What gives joy its quality? I don’t mean merely its intensity, but its moral character? What makes joy ugly or beautiful? Depraved or noble? Dirty or clean? The answer is that the thing enjoyed gives joy its character. If you enjoy dirty jokes and bathroom language and lewd pictures, then your heart is dirty and your joy is dirty. If you enjoy cruelty and arrogance and revenge, then your heart and your joy have that character. Or the more you get your joy simply from material things, the more your heart and your joy shrivel up like a mere material thing. You become like what you crave.

Peter says (in v. 8) that Christian joy is inexpressible and glorified. So how does it become that like that? It becomes like that because Christian joy is the joy of craving the preciousness of Jesus and the reliability of Jesus. You become like what you crave. Christians crave Christ. Therefore they become like Christ. Christ’s preciousness and reliability are inexpressibly great, and so our joy is inexpressible in him. And Christ has in him all the glory of the universe and of God, and so our joy in him is a glorified joy—that is, a joy being changed from one degree to another by his glory as we are attracted by its preciousness and as we are confident in its reliability. We become what we crave and what Christians crave above all else is the glory of Christ. So our joy is “inexpressible and glorified” because it is joy in loving Christ and trusting Christ who is inexpressibly glorious.

Seeing What You Cannot See

The gospels are better than being there!

But how do we come to crave the preciousness of Christ and trust the reliability of Christ if we can’t see him? How do you love him and believe in him, if you can’t see him?

We See Him in Another and More Important Way

I think the answer to that question is that even though we don’t see him face to face with our physical eyes, we do see him in another way that is even more important. For example, in Romans 15:20–21, Paul described his mission to unreached peoples (who could never see Christ physically) like this: “I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named . . . but as it is written, ‘They who had no news of him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'” In the preaching of the gospel Christ can be seen in a way that is more important than seeing him physically.

Hundreds of people in Jesus’ lifetime saw him physically and never really saw him. “Seeing they did not see,” Jesus said. There is a seeing that is infinitely more important than seeing with the eyes. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul describes it like this: “The God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” There is a spiritual seeing in the heart of the glory of God in the face of Christ, and without it no one is saved. Michael Card expressed the paradox of not seeing yet seeing in one of his songs like this:

To hear with my heart
to see with my soul
to be guided by a hand I cannot hold
to trust in a way that I cannot see
that’s what faith must be.

“That’s What Faith Must Be”
Music and words by Michael Card

We See Him Through the Word of God

How does it happen? How is this kind of seeing happen? It happens through the Word of God. When the gospel of Christ is preached, we can see Christ more clearly for who he really is than many could see in his own lifetime. If you read the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with openness to Christ, you can see the true glory of Christ far more clearly than most of the people who knew him on earth could see him—Nicodemus, the Syrophoenician woman, the Centurion, the widow of Nain, Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, the thronging crowds. They saw a snatch here and a snatch there. But in the gospels you get four complementary portraits of Christ inspired by God and covering the whole range of his teaching and his ministry.

The gospels are better than being there. You are taken into the inner circle of the apostolic band where you never could have gone. You go with him through Gethsemane and the trial and the crucifixion and the resurrection and the meetings after the resurrection. You hear whole sermons and long discourses—not in isolated snatches on hillsides but in rich God-inspired contexts that take you deeper than you ever could have gone as a perplexed peasant in Galilee. You see the whole range of his character and power which nobody on earth saw as fully as you can now see in the gospels: you see his freedom from anxiety with no place to lay his head, his courage in the face of opposition, his unanswerable wisdom, his honoring women, his tenderness with children, his compassion toward lepers, his meekness in suffering, his patience with Peter, his tears over Jerusalem, his blessing those who cursed him, his heart for the nations, his love for the glory of God, his simplicity and devotion, his power to still storms and heal the sick and multiply bread and cast out demons.

True Christianity

Though you do not now see him, yet in another sense you do see him far better than thousands who saw him face to face. You see the glory of God shining in this man’s face at every turn in the gospels. And because you see him with the eyes of the heart, you love him and trust him and rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. This is true Christianity.

That is the flag waving on the side of the river of godlessness. I pray that if you are looking at it this morning from downstream floating comfortably toward destruction that God will wake you up and open the eyes of your heart and set you to stroking—not with legal works to earn anything from God, but with the stroke of love and faith and joy. That is true Christianity.

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~I want to be a Worshipper~

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“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.”
― David Foster WallaceThis Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

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We are all created with a propensity to worship.

Proposition: Because acceptable worship is through Christ, we must worship Him in spirit and truth.

Scripture Introduction:

We were created to worship God, yet we often spend more time each week in worship to false gods, such as money, television or sports than we do in worship to the true God, Jesus Christ. We see in John 4:20-26, Christ conversing with a pagan Samaritan woman in which He identifies what His requirements are for acceptable worship. John 4:20-26

Introduction:

It seems strange for us to think of idolatry as being something in the modern world but consider this:

• There are actually people who worship crawling creatures: in a museum in Egypt, there is a monument to the scarab beetle.

• The Philistines actually worshiped flies. Hindus today won’t swat a fly lest it is an ancestor of theirs paying for his wrongs.

• Today you find that there are 330 million gods of the Hindus, 8 gods for every person.

• In China, a Buddhist statue actual fell on a man and the family sued the Buddhas in the temple. The statue was found guilty and it and 14 other statues were actually beheaded.

• In America, someone has said that the god of the last half of the 20th century is MATERIALISM. I can’t think of another generation that has spent more of their resources and time to accumulate more stuff than we do today. It is the reason many people go to school or choose the kind of work they do; to get bigger and better and nicer.

• False worship is plenteous and IDOLATRY is rampant in our world.

Since our innate nature is to worship; we spend all of our lives in worship. Every moment of every day we are worshipping. The question is what or whom are we worshipping? The problem arises when we fall prey to offering worship either to ourselves or to some other god or we offer unacceptable worship to the one true God. We must take heed to John 4:20-26

and make sure we are worshipping God with a worship that is acceptable to Him. Because acceptable worship is through Christ, we must worship Him in spirit and truth.

I. Put your faith in Christ. v. 20-22

A. Sinners worship in darkness. v. 20-21

1. People are concerned about the act of worship.

2. God is concerned about the object of worship.

Explanation:

v. 20 — We are all born in spiritual darkness. Thus, we do not know how to offer acceptable worship to God and we are humanly unable to offer acceptable worship to God. But, we are born with an innate need to worship. As a result, we worship false gods. In this passage, Christ answers the Samaritan woman’s question and pours light into her mind on the spirituality of all true worship, as of its glorious Object, and so brings her insensibly to the point at which He could disclose to her wondering mind who she was speaking to.

She ingeniously shifts the subject from a personal to a public question. It is not, “Alas,

what a wicked life am I leading!” but “Lo, what a wonderful prophet I got into conversation with!” Worship is no longer going to be through the old covenant. A new covenant of salvation through Christ is about to take place.

Ought to worship – better, must worship. She puts it as a divine obligation. Worship is in the “present infinitive” which refers to continuous or repeated action. We don’t just worship God on Sundays or when we read the Bible. We worship seven days a week 24 hours a day.

v. 21 – Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me — “believe” means “to have faith”. It is in the “aorist imperative” and thus means a command for doing something in the future that is a simple action. Jesus is saying “trust in me” as your Savior! Believe me! Have faith in me; not your ritualistic worship.

B. Christians worship in the Light. v. 22

1. Worship involves knowing the truth.

2. Worship requires salvation through Christ.

Explanation:

v. 22 — There is a sharp contrast here between the “ye” and “we”. It seems to imply a

significant difference between the two positions of worship (true and false) offered in this verse.

Ye know not what – literally, what ye know not., rightly, that which ye know not Compare Act 17:23. Christ suggested that the Samaritans were ignorant, not only of the true object of worship, but knew not what they themselves worshiped: or, at least, were not agreed in it. Know what we worship — literally, and as Rev., we worship that which we know. The neuter that which is used of the true as of the unreal object of worship.

for salvation is of the Jews. — Salvation — “the salvation” seems here to mean the Savior, the Messiah, as it does in Luk_2:30; Act_4:12: and so the woman appears to have understood it, Joh_4:25. Is of the Jews Rev., rightly, from the Jews; not, therefore, belongs to, but proceeds from. This passage illustrates John’s habit of confirming the divine authority of the Old Testament revelation, and of showing its fulfillment in Christ. It was to the Jews that the promises were made; and it was in their prophetic Scriptures, which the Samaritans rejected,

that Jesus Christ was proclaimed and described. See Isa_11:3.

They were not obeying the true God, nor offering the worship which he had commanded or would approve. They were ignorant of Scripture by choice. Sound familiar?

Illustration: The Matrix

In the 1999 film, The Matrix, we are taken to the year 2199. The world has been taken over by computers and is being run by AI: artificial intelligence. The computers need the energy that comes from human bodies, so they keep a supply of genetically engineered humans in a permanently anesthetized state. These harvested humans live in this computer generated dream world of artificial reality and never understand that they are captives of an evil empire.

They live in a comatose state in this new world which is called, The Matrix. The humans think themselves free and conscious, going to work, living normal everyday lives. The Matrix world has literally blinded everyone’s eyes to the truth and enslaves them in a world of bondage.

The humans see no need to change. They are also unable to change the way things are because of their comatose state. There are a few people who have escaped the Matrix and are connected to reality.

What they see is that there are two worlds. The Matrix world is an evil world that is fueled by deception and control. The computers are controlling humans in this false world, yet the Matrix appears very real. The other world is the actual real world. It offers a world of freedom and choices.

In the movie, Morpheus, who is free from the computers control tries to explain the Matrix to Neo and says: “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” Morpheus goes on to offer Neo a chance to understand or see the truth. He holds out two pills, a red pill, and a blue pill. The blue pill is a pleasant analgesic which will blur over the pain his honest inquiry is creating. If he swallows the blue pill, he’ll be comfortably back in the Matrix. The other option is to take the red pill which will open his eyes to understand real freedom, to carve out a place in an alternate reality.

In the same way, the vast majority of our society is living in a world of deception today.

They, the unsaved people of the world, are spiritually dead and unable to awake from their dream. They are ignorant of the very real spiritual world and only understand or know what they see because they are being controlled by an evil empire lead by Satan himself. They are trapped in carnality and have never known anything different.

Application:

At the heart of the Gospel is the idea that we are all caught in the Matrix, in a false view of reality. We fail to see the world as it truly is; we fail to see it as God sees it. The world is in a permanently anesthetized state. Jesus Christ provides our remedy! He seeks out the lost with a desire to rescue the perishing and open their eyes to reality. If you are willing, He wants to give you a red pill and open your eyes to the truth; the truth of the Gospel. All the while Satan continues to offer each of you a blue pill to keep you in a comatose state, living a life of vanity.

John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Have you been rescued from the darkness? Is Christ your Light today? Have you personally chosen to come to Christ for salvation? Have you repented of your sin? Or, are you still living in a comatose state, in darkness, living out your life separated from Jesus Christ; separated from the truth? Receive Him today as your personal Lord and Savior! Leave the world of darkness, the Matrix and become a true worshipper.

Many Christians have taken the red pill; you have come to Christ for salvation but you have been slipped a blue pill by Satan or by your old flesh. It is time to awake out of your slumber. It is time to respond to the word of God. We must refuse to be duped by the fantasy world, the world of pleasure and darkness We are commanded to worship Christ! We are to worship Him daily in the light of His word. Christian live in the Light and offer God acceptable

worship. Take a red pill each day in the Word of God. Allow the Holy Spirit to keep your eyes open to reality. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus Christ! Offer each day of your life as a living sacrifice, as acceptable worship to Christ.

Dad, when you go to work tomorrow make every decision based on the principles of the word of God. Be an example to your co-workers; be a witness to them. At lunch testify of God’s goodness; let people know how God is working in your life. Mom, when you interact with your husband, children or neighbors base your behavior and decisions on the word of God.

When you are mistreated while driving on the road or when your neighbor cuts his grass and blows his weeds on your yard, respond correctly by following the principles of the word of God. There are no decisions we should make in our own wisdom. We must continually seek the truth and live according to it. Read your Bible every day. Commit yourself today to worship in the Light, the light of Jesus Christ. No other worship is acceptable to God.

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Transition:

Not only must you put your faith in Christ but you must now keep your worship on Christ.

II. Keep your worship on Christ. v. 23-26

A. True worshippers worship in spirit. 23-24

1. God desire is for spiritual worship.

2. God’s design is for a man to worship with his spirit.

Explanation:

v. 23 — But the hour cometh, and now is, is a reference to a crisis, to something new. The time is at hand, says the Lord, when a worship of forms, or at holy places, will not meet the demands of the Father.

Worship the Father in spirit and in truth: Jesus and the Father are one. “The Father and I are one” John 10:30Through Christ we come to the Father and spiritually commune with Him. No man can come in any other way (Joh_14:6). The Father seeketh

such to worship him. Worship is in the present participle form expressing continuous or repeated action.

v. 24 — God is a Spirit. Rather, “God is Spirit.” His essential nature is spirit.

This declaration is fundamental. Since he is Spirit, He must receive spiritual worship. God is present in His own realm, to which man as such has no access. God’s essential relationship is worshiped in spirit. To worship God in spirit is not a possibility that is always and everywhere open to man. But it is through the gospel of Christ that this possibility has been opened to men. Spiritual worship or worship in spirit is distinguished from place or form or other sensual limitations (Joh_4:21). True worship includes a spiritual sense of the object worshiped and a spiritual communion with that object. Communion with God requires a life that is lived separated from sin. God accepts worship that is offered in holiness.

Must (die). Here is the real necessity (die), not the one used by the woman about the right place of worship (Joh_4:20).

In spirit — Spirit is the highest, deepest, noblest part of our humanity, the point of contact between God and man (Rom_1:9); G4151, which is the rational and immortal soul.

These Greek terms of spirit exactly correspond respectively to the Hebrew [H5315], [H7307] and

[H2416]: – heart (+ -ily), life, mind, soul, + us, + you. The phrase in spirit and in truth describes

the two essential characteristics of true worship. True worship includes the manifestation of the moral consciousness in feelings, motions of the will, “moods of elevation, excitements,” etc.

B. True worshippers worship in truth. 25-26

1. Christ is the true Messiah.

2. Christ’s word is absolute truth.

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Explanation:

And in truth, as distinguished from the false conceptions resulting from imperfect knowledge (Joh_4:22). It includes also a truthful conception of the object. In Jesus, the Father is seen (Joh_14:9) and known (Luk_10:22). Thus the truthful conception is gained. He is the Truth (Joh_14:6). To worship in truth is not merely to worship in sincerity, but with a worship corresponding to the nature of its object.

“Truth” — it is the truth about the death and resurrection of Jesus, to which witness is borne in 16:7 and 17:19. Knowing the truth is to enter into a liberating experience of being a disciple of the Lord; the knowledge of God through Jesus. Truth is a quality of action, not simply an abstract concept. Truth is not the teaching about God transmitted by Jesus but is God’s very reality revealing itself – occurring! – in Jesus. Jesus is the revelatory Word of God.

He reveals truth. Truth is the ultimate reality of God’s own person and character, as witnessed by Jesus, the Father Himself, the Spirit, Scripture, and others. See Ephesians 4:21. Truth starts from the essential nature of God. It finds its expression in the gospel whereby God saves men.

It outflows from lives founded on truth and showing forth truth. John pictures the Father as seeking worshippers, a doctrine running all through the Gospel Joh_3:16; Joh_6:44; Joh_15:16; 1Jo_4:10).

When he is come — “Whenever that one comes.” Wistfully she turns to this dim hope as a bare possibility about this strange “prophet.” He will declare unto us all things — to announce fully.

Illustration:

Arthur Pink wrote about how some people do not worship:

• They bring their bodies to the house of prayer but not their souls. They worship with their

mouths but not in spirit and in truth.

• They boast of their orthodoxy but disregard the precepts of Christ.

• Multitudes of professing Christians abstain from external acts of violence, yet hesitate not to rob their neighbors of a good name by spreading evil reports against them.

• They contribute regularly to the church but shrink not from misrepresenting their goods and cheating their customers persuading themselves that business is business.

• They have more regard for the laws of man than those of God for His fear is not before their eyes.

We learn from these people that it is much easier to identify ourselves as a true worshipper than it is to actually be a true worshipper and then demonstrate a life of true worship.

Application:

A true worshipper will not only worship the correct God, Jesus Christ, but he will also worship Him in the correct way (acceptable worship). There are scores of people who attend

church on a given Sunday with the purpose and in an effort to worship God, but in reality, they are not offering worship that is acceptable to God. They are in a sense wasting their time. True worship must be directed towards the correct object, Christ and done in the correct manner, the way which He has prescribed in the Scriptures. We must worship Christ in spirit and truth.

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~The Finished Work Changed My Life~

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Old Testament Book Main Revelation Key Prophecies* / Types of Jesus
Genesis The Seed of the Woman Messiah would be born of the seed of a woman (Gen 3:15Luke 1:34-35)
Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob (Gen 12:317:1928:14Luke 3:23-34)
Messiah would be a king in the line of Judah (Gen 49:10John 1:49)
Typified in the person of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18)
The life of Isaac – the sacrificed son (Gen 22)
The life of Joseph – the rejected brother (Gen 37)
Exodus The Passover Lamb Typified in the life of Moses – the deliverer
The Passover Lamb (Ex 12, John 1:29,36)
The Manna from Heaven (Ex 16, John 6)
The Rock struck at Horeb (Ex 17, 1 Cor 10:4)
The Tabernacle (Brazen Altar, Lampstand, Table of Showbread, Ark of the covenant etc) (Gen 25-30)
Leviticus The High Priest Typified in the sacrifices and offerings (Lev 1-7)
In the Jewish festivals (Passover, Atonement, Lev 16, 23)
In the scapegoat (Lev 16:7-9)
In the person and duties of the High Priest (Lev 16)
Numbers The Cloud and The Fire Messiah would be a King (Num 24:17)
Typified in the bronze serpent (Num 21:8-9)
The Water from the Rock (Num 20)
Deuteronomy The Prophet Like Moses Messiah will be a prophet (Deut 18:15-19John 6:14)
Messiah would be worshipped by angels (Deut 32:43Luke 2:13-14)
Typified in the cities of refuge (Deut 4:41)
Joshua The Captain of Our Salvation Typified in the person of Joshua (our leader into the promised land)
In the Promised Land
In the Commander of the Army (Josh 5:13-15)
Judges The Judge And Lawgiver Typified in the Judges (for He is true Judge of the living and the dead)
Ruth The Kinsman Redeemer Messiah would be a descendant of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:12-17)
Typified in the life of Boaz – The Kinsman Redeemer (Ruth 2:1)

Calvary was the place of Three Crosses – of Rebellion, of Repentance and of Redemption – and the choice is ours.

 

“Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross. Golgotha came as a result of God’s great desire to forgive, not his reluctance. Jesus knew that by his vicarious suffering he could actually absorb all the evil of humanity and so heal it, forgive it, redeem it.”
― Richard J. FosterCelebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth

Image result for Afro American Images of The finished work of Christ

Love, God’s Amazing

The young woman was married and had two beautiful children, but one day as she was standing over the sink, washing dishes, she thought, ’There must be more to life than this.’

When her husband came home, he found a note she’d written and he began to weep. She would call him about once every week to check on the children, and he would always tell her of his great love for her and beg her to come home. She would always say no and hang up.

Finally, he hired a private investigator to find her. He went to the apartment where she was staying, nervously holding a spray of flowers in his hand as he stood at the door. He had rehearsed over and over what he would say and he finally got up the nerve to knock on the door.

She opened the door and he started to speak, but she suddenly began to weep and fell into his arms. She managed to say through her tears, “Let’s go home.”

Months after, when things were starting to heal, he finally asked her something that had been bothering him. “All those times I talked to you on the phone; I asked you to come back and you refused. Why did you come back now?”

“Before,” she started, tears in her eyes, “you were just telling me that you loved me. When you came, you showed me.”

The Bible tells us of God’s love, but Jesus came and showed God’s love.

Jesus proved God’s love by dying for us. Let’s examine the five specifics of God’s love.

First, we find that Jesus died in…

A Specific Place (There)

Jesus crucifixion didn’t happen just anywhere, it happened THERE. God’s plan was for His Son to die on a cross.

We do know what country this happened in. This event occurred in Israel. The name Israel can be interpreted as “God strives, God rules, God heals or Striving against God.” It is a picture of both Jacob, renamed Israel after his wrestling with God, and the nation Israel. They both struggled in their relationship with God.

But God made a specific promise that the entire world would be blessed through Israel. And God always keeps His promises.

It not only took place in Israel, but it also came about in Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Literally, Jerusalem means “The Place of Peace.” In over 2,000 years, it has known absolutely no peace. Wars have raged in, for and concerning Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Today, we still find a host of people fighting and struggling over a small place like Jerusalem. It won’t end until Christ returns to set things right!

Finally, we see that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem at a place called “Calvary.” Luke 23:33 uses the Latin word “Calvary” which means “The Skull.” Matthew 27:33,

Matthew 27:33-34The Message (MSG)

32-34 Along the way they came on a man from Cyrene named Simon and made him carry Jesus’ cross. Arriving at Golgotha, the place they call “Skull Hill,” they offered him a mild painkiller (a mixture of wine and myrrh), but when he tasted it he wouldn’t drink it.

Mark 15:22 and John 19:17, all use the Aramaic name “Golgotha” which means “The Skull.” Interestingly, the Greek word for skull is Kranion and is Cranium in English. By using Aramaic, Latin, and Greek on the placard pronouncing Jesus’ crime of being the King of the Jews, the entire world knows where the Son of God was crucified. We are certainly without excuse!

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We know that Jesus not only died in a specific place but He died for and by the hands of…

A Specific People (They)

First, we find the Romans GUILTY of crucifying our savior. Pilate found no fault and yet had Him crucified. The Romans perfected the art of crucifixion. It was designed to be used for slaves, thieves, and common criminals.

We also know that the Jews crucified Jesus. The religious feared for their prestige, power, and positions. They hatched their scheme and delivered Jesus into the hands of the Romans. They are GUILTY of crucifying our Savior.

But the third party who is guilty is you and me! We are GUILTY because it was for our sin for which Jesus died. He who knew no sin became sin for us!

Not only are we responsible for His death, we are also beneficiaries from His death. He became sin and unrighteous in our place on the cross that we might have imputed upon us His righteousness and holiness. We receive mercy and grace when we deserved none!

We know He died in a specific place by a specific people but it caused…

A Specific Pain (Crucified)

The gospel writers never explained or described the crucifixion. The people in their day understood precisely what the cross was; it was an instrument of death! Jesus suffered more than death on the cross.

First, we notice He suffered the Rejection of His people. What made this so painful was that “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” Rejection is a devastating thing to experience. It is a betrayal to the soul.

We also find that Jesus suffered Humiliation. He died between common criminals. He should have been accepted as royalty. Here was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This was God Almighty in the flesh and He was humiliated among His creation. Glory! What a Savior!

Then we observe that Jesus suffered as our substitute! He took mine and your place on the cross. He took Barabbas’ place on the cross. He is our Substitutionary atonement! Wow, what a savior!

So, He suffered in a specific place by a specific people through a specific pain as…

A Specific Person (Him)

John the Baptist cried out regarding “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus was our sacrificial or paschal lamb. He was perfect without any blemish.

We also know that Jesus was “The Son of God.” Today he sits at the right hand of the Father and will return upon the cloud of glory! There is no greater Person than the Son of God who walked upon this earth. But He came to die for all sinners so “Whosoever will, let him come.”

But most of all we observe that Jesus is “The Promised Messiah.” Since Genesis 3:15, we find that God promised One who would come and deliver us from our sin.

But most of all, Jesus died for…

A Specific Purpose

Jesus didn’t come just to walk on this earth. He came with a purpose. He came to Sacrifice self! Since He is the blameless and sinless Son of God, only He can forgive us our sins. And because he is the blameless and sinless Son of Man, only He can pay the price for our sins.

But most of all He came to Save others! Jesus stated specifically in Luke 19:10, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus wants a relationship with you today and forever!

New Testament Book Main Revelation Titles / Names Revealed of Jesus
Matthew The Messiah The Son of David (Matt 1:1)
The King of the Jews
 
(Matt 2:2)
The Son of God (Matt 2:15)
The Bridegroom (Matt 9:15)
Mark The Miracle Worker The Holy One of God (Mark 1:24)
The Servant (Mark 10:45)
The King of Israel (Mark 15:32)
Luke The Son of Man The Horn of Salvation (Luke 1:69)
The Consolation of Israel
:
 (Luke 2:25).
John The Son of God The Only Begotten Son: (John 1:14,18)
The Lamb of God (John 1:29,36)
The Bread of life (John 6:35)
The Light of the World (John 8:1)
The I AM! (John 8:58)
The Door of the Sheep: (John 10:7,9)
The Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
The Resurrection and life (John 11:25)
The Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6)
The True Vine (John 15:1)
Acts The Ascended Lord The Prince of Life (Acts 3:15)
The Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42
The Just One (Acts 7:52).
The Hope of Israel (Acts 28:20)
Romans The Justifier The Rock of Offense (Romans 9:33)
The Deliverer (Romans 11:26)
The Lord of the dead and the living (Romans 14:9)
The Root of Jesse (Romans 15:12)
1 & 2 Corinthians The Last Adam The First-fruits (1 Corinthians 15:23)
The Last Adam
 (1 Corinthians 15:45)
Galatians The One Who Sets Us Free The Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 1:3)

Illustration – Love When We Need It The Most

A man visited a home where there were five children. He was supposed to be a kind of “Godfather” to them and was trying to get involved with them on their level. He asked one of the little girls about her doll collection: “Which one is your favorite?” “Promise you won’t laugh if I tell you?” she answered. “No I won’t laugh,” he said. She went into the next room and brought back a doll that was the most tattered, dilapidated, worn-out doll he had ever seen — a real refugee from the trash heap. All the hair was missing, and the nose was broken off and an arm was cracked. He didn’t laugh, but he couldn’t cover his surprise. He said to her, “Why do you love this one the most?” The little girl replied, “Because she needs it most. If I didn’t love her, nobody would.”

Jesus said that God is like that. He loves us most when we need it most. He came to love us sacrificially because we are broken, tattered and worn-out! He loved us when nobody else would…or could. Glory! What a Savior!

 

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~Over Achievers~

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“The successful have the courage to walk each day toward something; only after coming through something.” ― Johnnie Dent Jr.

Achievements are the building blocks that enable someone to construct a sense of themselves as a success. The achievements that matter most combine to form a version of success that has meaning and substance for the individual. Achievements also provide tangible evidence that colleagues, competitors and the wider world use to judge a person as more or less successful.

I am saluting two of the exceptional women in my life today due to their academic achievements in life all while staying consistent with life responsibilities.

A. Maymie Chandler-Pratt will complete her Master’s Program in Human Service on 04/22/2017 and will be taking a huge leap of faith in taking her National Counselor Exam (CPCE) 04/28/2017

B.Alexandria-Tate Coleman will complete her BS in Health Science with a concentration in Healthcare Management and Minor in Human Resources on 06/17/2017. She is performing her internship at San Bernardino Medical Center Dignity Health and volunteering at Loma Linda Medical Center volunteer services center.

Now this story is very unique due largely to the challenges they both had to overcome. Mom snatched out of her life for seven years due to a prison term. They never lost respect or the need to be in one another’s life. I thank God for a loving auntie Carla Heyward who stepped up to the responsibility to parent the 3 siblings in our absence.

Keena Alexis is the oldest of the 3, two girls and a boy. They all persevered to become responsible adults in spite of their challenges. Keena has an 8-year old that she is an exceptional mother with all the while working in the capacity of a lead teacher at the Housing Association assisting in the development of young minds. Keena will be graduating next year with her BA in Early Childhood Development.

Different people find different pieces of evidence compelling, so it is no surprise that there was variance in the achievements that were seen to hold the greatest weight for these women who had insurmountable odds to overcome. When you pray, pray believing God at His word. I know after our reunification with one another, I prayed earnestly that these things would materialize in all of my children’s lives, not just these children, but all the children I have had the honor to call children of mine.

God willing we will soon be able to work in the same building named and operating as “Second Chance Alliance Reentry Program.” May we all stay on our course and God’s plan as to allow our difference to make a difference in our community of operation and the world.

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#Honor
#Respect
#Allinclusive
#Family
#Achievements
#Faithwillprevail

~I am solely Rich In Christ~

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“An exceptional future can only be built on the transformation of the mess I’ve made out of my past, not the elimination of that mess.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

I am writing this to express my richness in Christ, not the world. I am more than a billionaire because I am attached to heaven resources. My God owns all and is willing to share that of what I have need of to accomplish His will for my life.

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It is generally accepted that there has been substantial progress for black Americans over the last 60 years, yet by almost any measure, the status of African-Americans is bleak: Black-on-black violence all too often leads to the local news; over 70 percent of black babies are born out of wedlock; the education achievement gap continues to be a persistent feature of black education; many African-American children are educated in virtually segregated, underserved and underperforming schools, despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling; and African-American poverty and unemployment rates continue to be higher than their majority counterparts. Additionally, despite the preponderance of world-class black American athletes, hypertension, obesity, substance abuse, AIDS and diabetes plague the black community more than others.

Many high-profile, contemporary African-American leaders came out of the 1950-1980 civil rights movement. Much has changed since that time. Afro-Americans are no longer the nation’s largest minority group. The black-white paradigm that was 1950-2000 America no longer exists. American society is no longer racially bipolar, and the profile of other ethnic groups is rising. Newly arriving and growing ethnic communities do not feel a moral obligation or the onus for past grievances against blacks.

Since the 1950s, the nation has fought the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and wars in places many had never heard of before our soldiers fought and died there. The nation is war-weary and skeptical that trillions more similarly channeled dollars would yield better results. Additionally, the country seems to be moving toward addressing the long-neglected needs of women, Hispanic-Americans, and peoples long considered on the margins of society (homosexuals, transgenders, undocumented people and the incarcerated).

Question: “What does the Bible say about being poor?”

Answer: The Bible has a lot to say about being poor, and we have many examples of poor people in Scripture. Since material wealth is not a sure indication of God’s blessing, being poor is not necessarily a sign of God’s disapproval. In fact, it is possible to be poor in material things but rich in spiritual things (see Revelation 2:9).

Of course, sometimes being poor is the result of bad choices. The Bible warns that laziness will lead to being poor: “A little sleep, a little slumber, / a little folding of the hands to rest— / and poverty will come on you like a thief / and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 27:33–34; cf. 6:11). Following wild dreams will likewise lead to poverty: “Those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty” (Proverbs 28:19), as will failing to heed wise advice: “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction” (Proverbs 13:18, ESV).

In other places, the Bible portrays poor people as having been blessed, and many who are rich are seen in a negative light. Jesus Himself was poor, not having a home or a “place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). The disciples and most of Jesus’ followers were poor, at least in worldly terms, but rich in spiritual wealth. The disciples even left all they had to follow Him, giving up all they owned, placing their full trust in Him to provide what they needed. Jesus said the poor will always be with us (Matthew 26:11). There is no shame in being poor. Our attitude should be that of the writer in Proverbs who said, “Give me neither poverty nor riches but give me only my daily bread” (Proverbs 30:8).

The rich are generally portrayed negatively in the Bible. Wealth itself is seen as a hindrance to those who desire to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus declared, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23), and He repeated this statement in the very next verse. Why did He make such a shocking statement? Because the rich tend to trust in their riches more than in God. Wealth tends to pull us away from God.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) displays the temporary nature of riches. The rich man enjoyed great luxury in life but spent eternity in hell because of his greed and covetousness. Lazarus suffered the indignities of extreme poverty but was comforted in heaven forever. Jesus Himself left His throne in heaven in order to take on the lowly form of a poor man. Paul said of Him, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

At some point, as Christians, we must ask ourselves: What are we really doing here in this temporary place? Where is our heart (Luke 12:34)? Are we really denying ourselves? Are we really giving sacrificially as did the poor widow (Luke 21:1–4)? To follow Jesus is to take up our cross (Luke 9:23). This means to literally give our total lives to Him, unencumbered by the things of this world. In the parable of the sower, riches are like “thorns”: “The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke [the Word], making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

It is those thorns, “the worries of this life” and the “deceitfulness of wealth,” the not-so-subtle tools of Satan, that lure us away from God and His Word. The Bible paints for us a contrast between those who are poor yet rich in Christ and those who are rich yet without God.

“In your goals to go the extra mile, prepare to pay an extra cost. Excellence is to be exceptional, surpassing, more competent and a step ahead with what is in your hands.” ― Israelmore Ayivor

~His Grace is our Power~

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“Spiritual leaders, priests and prophets are lamps burning in the dark, seeking meaning for humanity.”
Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls Of Eternity

 

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Crises reveal character. When we are put to the test the hidden resources of our character are revealed exactly.

My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness.… —2 Corinthians 12:9

Do you ever wonder why God does not always deliver you from your bondage and problems immediately? The reason is because only the Lord knows everything that needs to be done in the lives of His children—and the perfect timing for it to be done.

You are not always delivered from your distress at the precise moment you call on the name of the Lord. Sometimes you must endure for a while, be patient and continue in faith. Thank God, during those times in which the Lord decides for whatever reason not to deliver you right away, He always gives the grace and strength you need to press on toward eventual victory.

~What do you do when your burden is overwhelming?~

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Cast your burden on the Lord… —Psalm 55:22

We must recognize the difference between burdens that are right for us to bear and burdens that are wrong. We should never bear the burdens of sin or doubt, but there are some burdens placed on us by God which He does not intend to lift off. God wants us to roll them back on Him— to literally “cast your burden,” which He has given you, “on the Lord….” If we set out to serve God and do His work but get out of touch with Him, the sense of responsibility we feel will be overwhelming and defeating. But if we will only roll back on God the burdens He has placed on us, He will take away that immense feeling of responsibility, replacing it with an awareness and understanding of Himself and His presence.

Many servants set out to serve God with great courage and with the right motives. But with no intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ, they are soon defeated. They do not know what to do with their burden, and it produces weariness in their lives. Others will see this and say, “What a sad end to something that had such a great beginning!”

“Cast your burden on the Lord….” You have been bearing it all, but you need to deliberately place one end on God’s shoulder. “…the government will be upon His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6). Commit to God whatever burden He has placed on you. Don’t just cast it aside, but put it over onto Him and place yourself there with it. You will see that your burden is then lightened by the sense of companionship. But you should never try to separate yourself from your burden.

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~Serving God when everyone else has given in to being a “Fair Weather Friend”~

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Like fair weather friends, fair weather Christians only serve God when the going is easy.

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Job 2 The Message (MSG)

The Second Test: Health

1-3 One day when the angels came to report to God, Satan also showed up. God singled out Satan, saying, “And what have you been up to?” Satan answered God, “Oh, going here and there, checking things out.” Then God said to Satan, “Have you noticed my friend Job? There’s no one quite like him, is there—honest and true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil? He still has a firm grip on his integrity! You tried to trick me into destroying him, but it didn’t work.”

4-5 Satan answered, “A human would do anything to save his life. But what do you think would happen if you reached down and took away his health? He’d curse you to your face, that’s what.”

God said, “All right. Go ahead—you can do what you like with him. But mind you, don’t kill him.”

7-8 Satan left God and struck Job with terrible sores. Job was ulcers and scabs from head to foot. They itched and oozed so badly that he took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself, then went and sat on a trash heap, among the ashes.

His wife said, “Still holding on to your precious integrity, are you? Curse God and be done with it!”

Has anyone heard the phrase “Fair Weather Friend”? Can you tell me what it means? OK, lets apply it to Christians walk with the Lord. What do you think a fair weather Christian would be? Let’s examine the second chapter in Job to find out a little more about it.

Synopsis: Fair weather Christians serve God only while it benefits them. They are mercenaries who hire to the highest blesser.

Review: Let’s take a minute to set the stage for this chapter. What happened in Job’s life in chapter 1? We preached on this a month or so ago? So this is a test to see who has the onset on alezstimers. He lost all of his possessions, livestock, and children all died in the tornado. Remember the Devil caused it all trying to prove to God that all Christians are fair-weather Christians. Serving only for what they can get. At the end of the test, he still has his faith, home, and wife, and health. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Then we enter the second chapter.

1 One day the angels came again to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan the Accuser came with them. 2 “Where have you come from?” the LORD asked Satan. And Satan answered the LORD, “I have been going back and forth across the earth, watching everything that’s going on.” 3 Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil. And he has maintained his integrity, even though you persuaded me to harm him without cause.” 4 Satan replied to the LORD, “Skin for skin – he blesses you only because you bless him. A man will give up everything he has to save his life. 5 But take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!” 6 “All right, do with him as you please,” the LORD said to Satan. “But spare his life.”

7 So Satan left the LORD’s presence, and he struck Job with a terrible case of boils from head to foot. 8 Then Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. 9 His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But Job replied, “You talk like a godless woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.

11 Three of Job’s friends were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. When they heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. 12 When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to demonstrate their grief. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. And no one said a word, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.

I An Encounter in Heaven 1-6

A. God questions Satan about his activity 1-2

B. God reminds Satan of his defeat with Job 3 “Not a fair weather Christian”

C. Satan’s Counter Argument – “He is fair weather Christian” 4-5

-Just haven’t used the right situation yet to show it.

-Everyone will be a fair weather Christian if the situation is right.

-“Everyone has a price” is Satan’s claim

(Man asked girl will you have sex with me for a million dollars, probably . How about for $20.? No! I’m no prostitute. He says, “We’ve already established that, now we are just haggling over the price.”)

-Humans Will serve anyone for health in their bodies

Charles Darwin -The Question he couldn’t answer p16,

It was the death of his daughter that Charles Darwin couldn’t make sence of with a loving God. This seemed to put him on his path to finding a way to take God out of the creation story. 32,33 Jan-March Answers

D. God gives Permission with limits v6

-Satan still has to gain permission from God

-God never gives him free reign.

II An Encounter on Earth v7-8

A. Satan struck Job with Boils

B. Job suffered in Silence

III An Encounter in the Family 9-10

A. Job’s Wife speaks

-Whose side is she on ? Satan’s

-She encourages him to do what Satan wanted (Give up on God)

-She proved to be a Fair weather Christian – Serving only while blessing continued

-Walked out on God and Job

-Jesus says sometimes your enemies come from your own family

B. Job Response

a. He REBUKES HIS WIFE

-“You talk like a godless woman” -implying she wasn’t in the past (Backsliding)

b. HE REMINDS HIS WIFE OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

1. We don’t judge God’s actions -Whether He is right or wrong in what he does.

2. He is God and we are not. We are dust. We have no right to set in judgment of God’s actions.

JON and KATE Plus 8 Charisma Article p20 December 2008

The are known from TLC’s show about their lives “Jon and Kate Plus 8. Kate couldn’t have children so they went to a fertility clinic and had twins. They wanted another one so they went again. This time she had 7 fertilized eggs. She was told to selectively get rid of some. Fair Weather Christians could have rationalized it, but they refused because of their faith in God. It was dangerous and difficult, and one didn’t fully form. But they delivered sextuplets. Can you say difficult? Then they allowed the show to film their family up to 12 hrs a day. Although TLC cuts out much Christian content, some still come through. God has used the show to have a spiritual impact on viewers ….p20

She is unmoved and leaves him in his misery. Like many who are around only for what they can get. There are givers and takers.

IV An Encounter with Friends 11-13

A. He hears of his tragedy and comes to comfort him.

-Sadly when the wife walks out his friends walk in.

B. His Friends Grieved for his Situation

C. His Stood by him in his pain.

On Dateline NBC Friday, December 26, 2008 ‘A Twist of Fate’

From Publishers Weekly

In a widely reported incident in 2006, Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak, students at an evangelical college in Indiana, and their families were victims of a ghastly mistake: the wrong girl was identified as the survivor of a car crash that claimed multiple lives. Only after five weeks, when the girl emerged from a coma, was the error discovered. The families and the survivor, Whitney, record their experiences in this heavily Christian account. Those seeking a tale of extraordinary emotions to match the extraordinary circumstances will be disappointed: both families are devoutly religious, and their faith is the sort that does not admit a great range of feelings. Anger and anguish are quickly recast as professions of faith and celebrations of life in Christ. The Van Ryns immediately embrace Whitney and dismiss a reporter’s suggestion of lawsuits. Nor are the Ceraks bitter, not even Whitney, who suffers brain damage. As they describe it, the story inspires others to adopt their beliefs. (Because of such conversions, Whitney writes that the five people killed in the crash have given their lives for Christ.)

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~I once was a Taker, Now I desire to be a Giver~

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Spirituality and Community Building

Being charitable towards others is a spiritual asset—one that can contribute to community building. Some might even maintain that it is impossible to build a sense of belonging and community without some form of charitable practice.

An illustration is the South African view of community referred to as “Ubuntu,” which is usually translated as, “I am because of who we are.” Retired Archbishop and social rights activist Desmond Tutu believes that Ubuntu is the very essence of what it is to be human:

“You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality—Ubuntu—you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

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This value, or way of life—Ubuntu—suggests a way of thinking, seeing, and acting in the world that we live in now.

Tutu refers to being charitable as being someone with “generosity.” Whether you call it charity or generosity, each word translates to giving of one’s self for another, for the greater good of the community. This can be the giving of one’s time or finances, or something as simple as offering nonjudgmental and kind words.

Through charity or generosity of self, we create a deeper sense of community with each other. We begin to see ourselves as one—one community—connected with each other through Ubuntu. We begin to understand and to acknowledge, that we are interdependent in a respectful and supportive way.

As human beings, as a social clan, we have a need to live within supportive environments where we are nurtured and can thrive together, where there is a strong commitment to the well-being of the community as a whole. We are fundamentally designed to live this way. Being charitable towards one another is not just “a nice thing to do”; it is an imperative for our survival as humans, and for our well-being as a local and global community.

A WORKING DEFINITION OF “BEING CHARITABLE”

Based on your individual experiences, you may have your own meaning of the word charity or charitable behavior. The definition that we shall use for this post is that charitable behavior creates a feeling, which leads one to act voluntarily with kindness or goodwill towards another.

There are a number of synonyms or similar words to describe charity or charitable behavior that may be more comfortable for you; perhaps they resonate more with your values and beliefs. Here are a few based on Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions:

  • Altruism: “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of other’s feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness”
  • Benevolence: “disposition to do good: (a): an act of kindness, (b): a generous gift”
  • Compassion: “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.; sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”
  • Generosity: “the quality of being kind, understanding, and not selfish: the quality of being generous; especially: willingness to give money and other valuable things to others”

That said, what words or phrases you use to define charity are not as important as taking some form of action to support those who are in need.

In your community, one person may volunteer six hours a month of his time to a homeless shelter, serving meals cheerfully and making everyone smile. Another person may donate money to the same shelter, yet never enter its doors. Another may offer her knowledge and skills by teaching a class on literacy once a month to the shelter’s clientele. All of these are examples of charity and of charitable behavior.

There are many ways one can be charitable to others. There is no one right way, only your way—the way that feels right for you.

Four Aspects of Charity

More specifically, some ways to be charitable include:

Time: Giving of one’s time, however long or short that may be. Giving time is not so much about quantity, as it is about quality—about being present with another to support them in a “hands on” way. This might mean serving meals in that shelter, helping out during disaster relief, volunteering to drive seniors to appointments, baking dinner for a sick neighbor, or any number of activities that help you get to know those you are serving.

Essence: Giving of one’s personal energy and vitality. You may have some personal qualities in abundance and want to share them with others – enthusiasm, hope, grace, gratitude, patience, love – or you may want to increase these qualities in your own life. Each of these qualities brings energy to the space you share with someone when you are truly present with them. Examples: Hearing an exhausted young mother laugh; listening patiently while a man struggles to share his story of being out of work; offering encouragement to someone who feels disheartened. Your own energy and vitality shifts to being more positive and optimistic when you share your authentic self with another.

Talent: Giving of one’s skills and knowledge, such as teaching, gardening, cooking, knitting, or singing; or sharing wisdom from life experience. Everyone has gifts and talents that they are passionate about. These talents come easily and give you joy when you have a chance to express and share them.

Money: Giving of one’s financial resources to provide aid, food, shelter, or clothing; or making a donation to a local or global cause. The sum of money given is not as important as the spirit of the gift. You could start off by giving what you can afford, knowing that even spare change is helpful, and then increase the amount when you are ready, willing, and able to do so.

You may want to take the time to think about these four aspects of being charitable and evaluate which ones have the most meaning for you and where to begin. You may also want to reflect on these questions:

  • Do you have time, but limited funds to give; or do you have money, but limited time? What can do you for others with your time or money?
  • Is taking a more personal approach, one where you would work side by side with others, more appealing to you; or do you prefer a more hands-off approach—where you give openhandedly, but don’t need or want to meet the recipients of your generosity?

There is no right or wrong answer—your answer is your personal choice. Once you determine what is most important to you, then you may want to begin by writing down some thoughts and ideas that come to mind on how you want to express your unique way of giving. Include names of people or organizations you may wish to support.   Being charitable doesn’t need to be complicated; a simple gesture can be meaningful to the receiver. Now you may be more ready to share yourself with others.

THE IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF BEING CHARITABLE

Being Charitable Enriches the Giver and the Receiver

There are rewards to being charitable, both for the giver and the receiver. Not only are you being helpful to those in need, you are developing positive character traits and behaviors in yourself. Charitable work allows you to see life from someone else’s perspective—their struggles and hardships, their triumphs and strengths. It is a privilege to be a witness to another’s life. And in being one, you gain appreciation and gratitude for your own life.

Martha is a manager whose young husband developed an aggressive, terminal cancer. She had her hands and heart full nursing him at home and caring for their two small children. Her co-workers organized themselves, and together they provided dinner every day, not for a month, but every day for six months. Martha’s co-workers were witness to her hardship and struggle, and they responded. They appreciated a need greater than their own. They were inspired to draw on the positive character traits and qualities that live within us all—caring, generosity, selflessness.

Martha’s story showcases how the act of charity in a workplace makes it a community. Because of her co-workers, Martha was able to concentrate on what was important during those precious few months before her husband’s passing.

Many nonprofit community organizations devote themselves to helping those who are suffering from hardship. They seek compassionate volunteers; they offer them the privilege of witnessing someone else’s life by lending a helping hand. By sharing what gifts they have to offer, volunteers receive a gift—they discover and nurture the best within themselves.

On its website, the U.S.-based nonprofit Share the Care states, “Whether you are a burned out caregiver or a novice caregiver, or a friend who wants to help, you can benefit from a system that lets everyone share responsibilities, creates a strong support network among the individual caregivers, and leads to making a profound difference in someone’s life.”

Similar to other website resources like CaringBridge and Lotsa Helping Hands, Share the Care’s mission is connecting caring citizens with citizens going through difficult times in their lives. They are creating small temporary communities of giving within the larger community.

When you give yourself the privilege of being a kind presence in someone else’s life, you will make a difference in theirs and learn a quiet appreciation and gratitude for your own.

Charitable Behavior and the Golden Rule

We all wish to be treated with respect and dignity, and to feel valued and listened to. In the spirit of charity, we would strive to do the same for others. One way to look at this principle is through the lens of reciprocity, known to many as the “Golden Rule,” which states, “Do to others as you wish done to you.” Here is an ethical code that instructs us to treat others the way we would want to be treated.

Although different cultures and faith traditions might have different words and language, all human cultures have a version of the Golden Rule. It advises us to treat our neighbors, families, and colleagues as we would wish to be treated and shows how we can all apply empathy, understanding, and right action as our moral guideposts.

Depending upon your age or upbringing, you might remember the Golden Rule (or something similar) being introduced into your school, as part of your family values, or as a faith-based principle. It is a universal ethic, with the power to cut across gender, culture, age, beliefs, and social-economic status.

Wisdom traditions, such as the Golden Rule, date far back in our collective history and are expressed in a multitude of societies – both as lay philosophies and as the vital cornerstone of the vast majority of faith traditions.

The Golden Rule in Different Faith Traditions

In alphabetical order, each reads:

  • Baha’i Faith: “Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.” Baha’u’llah Gleanings
  • Buddhism: “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5:18
  • Christianity: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Jesus, Matthew 7:12
  • Confucianism:” One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct ~ loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” Confucius Analects 15:23
  • Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517
  • Islam: “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith
  • Jainism: “One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” Mahavira, Sutrakritanga
  • Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest in commentary.” Hillel, Talmud; Shabbat 31a
  • Native Spirituality: “We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.” Chief Dan George
  • Sikhism: “I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.” Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1299
  • Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as our own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Lao Tzu, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218
  • Unitarianism: “We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” Unitarian principle
  • Zoroastrianism: “Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.” Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29

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~It’s all overcome “By Faith”~

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Acts 14:9-10The Message (MSG)

Gods or Men?

8-10 There was a man in Lystra who couldn’t walk. He sat there, crippled since the day of his birth. He heard Paul talking, and Paul, looking him in the eye, saw that he was ripe for God’s work, ready to believe. So he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Up on your feet!” The man was up in a flash—jumped up and walked around as if he’d been walking all his life.

Hebrews 11:1-2The Message (MSG)

Faith in What We Don’t See

11 1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

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The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Ghost guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.” ― George Mueller, Answers To Prayer

By faith Betsy Devos, won’t hurt our children, by faith #45 ideologies will work out for our good, by faith our leaders will come together as God ordains, by faith we as citizens will embrace one another while the storm is raging, by faith our communities will have enough for everyone to share when the billows of hate come against us a people, by faith we all will see “It getting better” and not faint or get weary in well doing, by faith Christians, Hindus, Muslims, together with Catholics and anyone else that’s of the human race with beliefs, we, will come together to ease the pain of others.

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WHAT DOES FAITH LOOK LIKE?

Acts 14:9 “Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, Stand up on your feet!. At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.”

Faith is perhaps one, if not the, most important element necessary to grow in the Christian walk.

Goerge Muller once said: the beginning of anxiety is the end of faith and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without it we can never make God happy.

AW Tozer said, faith is the vitamin that makes all we take from the bible digestible

We are saved by faith We walk by faith We are of the household of faith

Faith is the key that unlocks the supernatural realm of our natural existence. Where we stand this morning in our walk with Christ is a direct result of the location and depth of our faith. It’s a journey-I feel sorry for Moses..he spent 40 yrs wandering in the desert eating nothing but bread off the ground and an occasional bird and every day a million people would come up to him and ask, are we there yet?

Romans 12:3 tells us that each of us has been given a measure of faith…..what we do with it and how we use it is up to us.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God and you and I won’t be happy either. We cannot compare ourselves and our faith with that of our brother or sister. Comparing will only lead to division.

3 little kids were talking….one said my brother takes horseback riding lessons. Another said well my sister takes gymnastics. The 3rd one, not wanting to be outdone said, well that’s nothing, my sister takes antibiotics!

2 things are true about faith people…

People with faith feel good about themselves…they know that they are the way they are because God made them that way and God doesn’t make mistakes (fearfully & wonderfully made) For most people, it’s not what they are that holds them back. It’s what they think their not.

2 cows were grazing in the pasture when they saw a milk truck pass. On the side of the truck were the words, “Pasteurized, homogenized, standardized, vitamin A added” One cow sighed to the other,”Makes you feel sort of inadequate, doesn’t it?”

People with faith feel like good things are going to happen!

A man took a cruise and after the 2nd day, he noticed this woman staring at him. Finally, he went over to her and said, Maam, do I know you? She said I’m just taken back by how much you look like my 3rd husband. He said, “your 3rd husband?” Yes, she said. He said, How many times have you been married? She said twice!

Cheer up tomorrow is another day and it’s going to be different!

Fear is the exact opposite of faith…it believes the worst

Faith believes that the absolute best will happen in every situation

So what does faith look like?

In our text we see a man crippled in his feet since birth. He had never taken a step forward, never ran barefoot through the grass, never felt the heat from the hot beach sand running through his toes. He was just sitting where he had been placed.

Many times the reason that we have no faith is because we are still sitting in the place where God put us long ago. God requires legs on your faith, legs on your praise, legs on your prayer life so that you move on and on to higher levels. As Pastor Bron Jacobs once said, we need to get up on our feet, move out of our seat and into the street!

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Many folks are afraid to share the Gospel. One man said, Our preacher tells us to go out and witness to others weekly. Nothing strikes fear in me more than sharing my faith with a complete stranger. Why it’s gotten so bad, I’ve enrolled in a Witness Relocation program!

In NY City its gotten so bad that if you want to talk to a Jehovahs Witness you need to go knock on their door!

This man listened to Paul as he spoke and when Paul fastened his eyes upon this crippled man, everything else went out of focus except for what he perceived in this man’s eyes. Faith gets your attention!

Paul saw expectancy and enthusiasm.

Paul saw the man running in his spirit

Paul saw a man that was leaping up and down on the inside

Faith looks like unbridled enthusiasm.

Peter, in Luke 5 was asked by Jesus to “launch out into the deep for a catch”. In other words, go out beyond the boundaries that you have accepted for yourself and experience mine. Expand your perimeter, your comfort zone, and start to think and live out of the box. When we limit ourselves, we limit God. Faith knows that what we see is not all there is. What we are is not all we will be. Where we are is not where we will end up.

Faith looks like unlimited potential.

A little further on in Luke 5, the Lord was teaching Pharisees and teachers of the law from all over Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. The bible says that “the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick” Some men had gathered with their paralyzed friend and they were trying to get him to Jesus but the crowd was simply overwhelming. Many would give up here and catch him next time he comes to town….but not these guys. They looked for another opening and decided to go up on the roof and drop him into the Lords lap. The scripture says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he looked at the paralytic and said your sins are forgiven.

It appears to me that this man was in such bondage about his past that he couldn’t receive his present and therefore the faith of his friends brought about a miracle for him.

Faith looks like unwavering resourcefulness.

In Mark 5 there was a woman who had been ill for 12 years and exhausted every human resource available to get well. All she received back was a negative report. In fact, instead of getting better, she got worse! When she heard about Jesus, she went after him(though it was against Jewish law for her to be seen in public) because she thought, if I can get close enough to touch him, I will be better. She was willing to risk it all!

Faithfulness is the willingness to take risks that require faith in order to produce fruit.

Faith looks like unquenchable desire

You might say that faith looks a lot like a “hail Mary” pass with no time remaining

on the clock.

Faith is dead to doubt, dumb to discouragement, and blind to impossibilities.

It knows nothing but success in God

Faith is not believing that God can, it is knowing that God will!

Hebrews 11:1 says that:

Faith is the substance(that which stands by you/alongside) the committed, unrelenting, unflinching confidence or companion of things hoped for, And the evidence(revelation, illumination) of things that are not visible to the natural eye.

The size of the man is more important than the size of the problem.

Greater is He that is in me than the problem that is coming against me.

Faith takes action….

Hebrews 11:33 tells us that faith subdued, faith worked, faith obtained and faith even stopped the mouth of lions

What does faith look like?

When you find Jesus, you find the author(creator) and the finisher(completer) of your faith. Christ in you…the hope of glory!

“God’s way leads always into a trial, so far as sight and sense are concerned. Nature always will be tried in God’s ways.” ― George Mueller, Answers To Prayer

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~ Experience the unforced rhythms of grace~

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Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
—Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Taking time to inventory the great challenges God has delivered me through today has allowed me to get to know Him more intimately. Jesus loved all my hurt and misconceptions about my life away, He turned everything around. I looked in the mirror and saw His character today and for that I say,,. Thank you, Jesus…

That sounds good, doesn’t it? I’ve had enough “heavy stuff” in my life, and I want to enjoy freedom. When you are overloaded with the cares of life you need some help. Your mind needs rest from worrying, your emotions need rest from being upset, and your will needs a rest from stubbornness and rebellion. So you need to be humble enough to call out to God and say, “I need help!” Your beginning doesn’t have to dictate your ending. Get God involved in every area of your life and allow Him to lead you into “real rest.”

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~Maymie Chandler-Pratt Graduation Invite~

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Well, the time has come. On September 22nd 2011 I started attending Argosy University to obtain my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology/Substance Abuse Counseling and on January 6th 2016 I graduated with that degree. This is an invite to all who supported me during my academic journey to come and share this momentous occasion with me. Attached below is the announcement complete with the location, date and time. December 11th, 2016 1 p.m. It is best to arrive early in order to get a good seat, and no tickets are needed to get in. I hope to see you there, and thank you so much for your support…May Pratt

 

Location: Citizens Business Bank Arena

4000 Ontario Center, Ca. 91764

 

 

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~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.

~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

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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 ?

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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

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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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~Ebb and Flow of Grace while in The Storms of Life~

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Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.

Ernest Gaines
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There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together.

Harriet Ann Jacobs
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Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way as we seek to understand the lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments.
The disciples experienced several “mountaintop moments” in their time with Jesus. But when a storm arose while they were out on the Sea of Galilee, fear took over. Amidst the roaring waves and with the boat rocking, Jesus’ chosen ones failed to recall the lessons they had learned about the power and purposes of their leader. Even the appearance of Christ walking on water didn’t bring immediate relief (Matt. 14:26).

When trouble strikes, we sometimes forget our knowledge of God, too. We struggle to recall past answers to prayer, specific guidance provided by the Holy Spirit, and lessons learned in previous crises. Only the present seems real. Our minds spin with future implications, and our troubled emotions inhibit clear thinking.

In our own strength, we lack sufficient resources and abilities to meet life’s challenges. So God provides what we need. Our suffering is never a surprise to the Lord. He knows everything we are going through. More than that, He’s orchestrating our circumstances for His glory and our benefit, according to His good will.

 

Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way. Let’s take a moment to fix our attention on the Lord and seek to understand four lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments:

 

1. One purpose for hardship is cleansing. Because of our own “flesh” nature and the self-absorbed world we live in, it’s easy to develop selfish attitudes, mixed-up priorities, and ungodly habits. The pressures that bear down on us from stormy situations are meant to bring these impurities to our attention and direct us to a place of repentance. Our trials are intended to purify and guide us back to godliness, not ruin our lives.

2. A second reason we face difficulty is so we’ll be compassionate and bring comfort to others. God’s work in our lives is not intended solely for us. It’s designed to reach a world that does not recognize or acknowledge Him. The Lord uses our challenges to equip us for serving others. As we experience suffering, we will learn about God’s sufficiency, His comforting presence, and His strength to help us endure. Our testimony during times of difficulty will be authentic. Those to whom we minister will recognize we know and understand their pain. What credibility would we have with people in crisis if we never experienced a deep need?

3. Third, God promises usHe’ll provide a path through any trialwe face. The disciples probably wondered how long the storm would last and whether they would make it safely to shore. Most likely, they wished it never happened. But, had they somehow avoided this storm, they would have missed the demonstration of Jesus’ power over the sea and wind. The frightening situation was transformed into a revelation of the Savior’s divine nature. God wants to make His power known through our trials, as well.

4. The most important thing He gives us isanawareness of His presence. At first, the disciples believed they were alone in a terrifying storm. When they initially spotted Jesus, their fear increased. They thought He was a ghost. But as they recognized Him, their fear changed to relief and hope. Similarly, we may not sense God’s presence during a crisis. But He has promised to always be with us (Heb. 13:5-6). The assurance that the Lord will never leave provides immediate comfort, an infusion of courage, and a sense of confidence to endure.

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No one enjoys suffering. But in the hands of almighty God, trials become tools. He uses hardship to shape believers into the people He intends them to be. Jesus allowed the disciples to experience the fear and anxiety of being in a boat on a raging sea. He permitted them to suffer because He had something far more important to teach them. He wanted the disciples to recognize their own helplessness, His sufficiency, and their dependence on Him.

Ask God to reveal His abiding presence in the midst of your trouble. And remember—He always provides for your spiritual needs to help you both endure and grow stronger in your Christian faith.

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A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

Martin Luther King, Jr
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~Color Forward In Spite Of Challenges~

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What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

What is the biggest barrier facing the formerly incarcerated as they try to reintegrate into society?
To us, the biggest barrier is the lack of critical legal information that people need in order to overcome barriers in reentry. We see the major issues as:

—Enormous legal and practical barriers to stability and success, including an inability to get an ID or open a bank account, enormous court debt, denials of employment, housing, and public benefits

—A complete lack of legal advocates, knowledge and navigational resources about these barriers

—An infrastructure of people and agencies who already support and work with those in reentry—including family and loved ones, social services agencies, housing facilities, legal advocacy groups, education programs, religious institutions, substance abuse facilities, corrections departments and government agencies—that lack the legal guidance necessary to navigate critical and often crippling issues

The lack of an integrated, knowledgeable and supported reentry infrastructure undermines the spirit and intent of reform efforts to reduce incarceration levels. The “Roadmap to Reentry” guide illuminates pathways to stability and success post-incarceration by educating people on how to navigate enormous legal and practical barriers.

In terms of the legal barriers, there are many—which is why the guide covers nine areas! Reentry is so unique to each individual, so we see that people experience very different issues, much of it dependent on their life circumstances and goals. The biggest issues that we see are court-ordered debt and fees that have amounted over time, which leads to an inability to get an ID; housing and employment discrimination; trouble reunifying with children and loved ones upon release; and unlawful parole conditions that can overly restrict where people can live and work.

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What is the most important thing families can do to ease the transition?

Plan, prepare and do research! Family has access to phone and Internet, so they can help the loved one make plans and goals and then research opportunities in the area they are returning to—including housing, employment, education and support services. If you know your loved one’s goals and have a timeline for completion, you can help to set them up for success before they get out. If the county to which they are returning doesn’t have the right resources, they can help their loved one understand the process to transfer counties, either before or after release. Also, I would say that families can help their loved one in reentry by helping them do research on the law—reading manuals like ours to help their loved one understand whether they are actually banned from public housing or public benefits, and what kinds of jobs they can get—because many myths persist. So family can help a huge amount by educating themselves, getting a ton of resources and then empowering their loved one with that information.

The other thing that I think is critical for family members is to take care of themselves. If you find your loved one a support group, find one for yourself too. Families are often the support structure for a person in reentry, but of course they do not have the education of a case manager, therapist or social worker, yet they are playing that role. So having support for families who are helping someone through the ups and downs of reentry is critical.

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The United States criminal justice system is the largest in the world. At year end 2011, approximately 7 million individuals were under some form of correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.1) The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, dwarfing the rate of nearly every other nation.2)

Such broad statistics mask the racial disparity that pervades the U.S. criminal justice system. Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.3) If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males—compared to one of every seventeen white males.4) Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.5)

The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. The former is the system the United States describes in its report: a vigorous adversary system replete with constitutional protections for defendants. Yet the experiences of poor and minority defendants within the criminal justice system often differ substantially from that model due to a number of factors, each of which contributes to the overrepresentation of such individuals in the system. As Georgetown Law Professor David Cole states in his book No Equal Justice,

These double standards are not, of course, explicit; on the face of it, the criminal law is color-blind and class-blind. But in a sense, this only makes the problem worse. The rhetoric of the criminal justice system sends the message that our society carefully protects everyone’s constitutional rights, but in practice the rules assure that law enforcement prerogatives will generally prevail over the rights of minorities and the poor. By affording criminal suspects substantial constitutional rights in theory, the Supreme Court validates the results of the criminal justice system as fair. That formal fairness obscures the systemic concerns that ought to be raised by the fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black.6)

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“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems

~Consider Your Ways~

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“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.”― Ezra Taft Benson

I have spent a great part of my  life searching for the one trait all successful people share. I found in my quest for this knowledge”The Common Denominator of Success” revealed successful people’s common characteristic was not hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, although these traits were important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest was the habit of putting first things first. I observed, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either, necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

The Book of Haggai, the second shortest in the Old Testament, communicates this same message: Put first things first. It was written to people like us, who would say that God must be first. But they had drifted away from this truth. They lived with misplaced priorities. Haggai was sent to help God’s people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.

Haggai spoke his message to Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after living in captivity in Babylon. As you recall, Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple some 70 years earlier. When the Jews returned from exile they faced the daunting task of rebuilding. The first returnees made preliminary attempts to clear the debris and lay the foundation for a second temple. Their Samaritan neighbors offered to join in the work, but the Jews refused them. The Samaritans, in turn, threatened the workers and sent men to Persia to lobby against the Jews, bringing the work to a halt.

As years passed, slowly but surely, Jerusalem came to life again. Homes were built, stores opened, commerce established, fields planted, crops harvested, and life began to resemble normalcy. Israel, however, got used to life without the Temple. The foundations were overgrown with weeds. They stood as a mute reminder of the Jews’ failure to take care of God’s house. Fourteen to 16 years passed, and then Haggai appeared on the scene with one prevailing message: It’s time to finish rebuilding the Temple.

It was a message of priority: Put first things first. The Temple was the center for worshiping God. It represented the heart and soul of the Old Testament religion. Although God is everywhere, the Temple was the place on earth where God dwelled in a special sense. For the Temple to lie in ruins was to neglect the worship of God. It was a testimony of misplaced priorities. It was an embarrassment to God and a blemish on his reputation.

Haggai’s message was blunt. He pulled no punches and wasted no words. Haggai spoke like a foreman on a construction project. With a hardhat and tool belt, walking around the construction site, he bellowed out orders. Found here are a few practical steps about putting first things first.

I. Stop making excuses

First, Haggai confronted excuses for the Temple lying in ruins. “The LORD of Hosts says this: These people say: The time has not come for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt” (Haggai 1:2, HCSB). They intended to build God’s house, but just hadn’t got around to it yet. If you were to ask them about it, they would probably say, “I’m all for building the Temple. It is a great cause. But God wants us to take care of our own families first. Times are hard. Jobs are scarce. We need to pray about it some more. We will eventually build it, but not now.” They made excuses.

Billy Sunday defined an excuse as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else.”

It is always easy to make excuses when you don’t want to obey God. We can always find rational justification for not doing what God wants us to do: The time is not right. I’ve got family responsibilities. My kids need me now. When things settle down at work, then I can do something. The first step to putting first things first is to admit our responsibility.

II. Cease being selfish

Closely aligned with excuse making is a selfish mindset that permeates everything. Haggai challenged the people’s selfish behavior. “The word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet: Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:34, HCSB). Paneled houses can mean “covered” or “roofed,” but the point was that it represented the finishing touches. Their homes were not “in process.” No weeds were growing around their unfinished foundations. Their homes were complete while the Temple remained nonexistent.

Please understand: Nothing is wrong with having a nice home. This statement is not an attack on riches or big houses. What’s wrong is to own a nice home while God’s house lies in ruins. What’s wrong is spend all your money on selfish needs while ignoring the things of God. What’s wrong is to spend one’s time, one’s best hours, and one’s talents on selfish pursuits while the things of God are left undone. It is an indictment of misplaced priorities.

It is easy to drift away from God’s agenda to our own. It is easy to pursue selfish desires while ignoring God’s. In fact, it is the default mode of our lives. If we give no thought to how we are living, we will naturally live for ourselves. The bent of our hearts and is always toward selfishness. This is what happened to the Jews Haggai addressed.

Like William Cowper, the hymn writer and pastor, penned: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” That is what happens when we don’t persistently and consistently seek God first.

III. Don’t miss God’s blessings

As a consequence of their excuse-making and selfish living, the people in Haggai’s day experienced hardship. He continues: “Now, the LORD of Hosts says this: Think carefully about your ways: You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to become drunk. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it” (Haggai 1:5-6, HCSB). They sowed plenty of seed, but there was a drought and the crops didn’t yield as much as they had hoped. They had active lifestyles but were not experiencing satisfaction. They were laboring but showing no profit. No matter how hard they tried, they seemed to be spinning their wheels. No matter how much money they made, they could not keep it. Do you know how that feels?

Because of their selfishness the people missed God’s blessings. Haggai points out a sobering reminder: What happens in your heart affects every other part of your life. Because the people had pushed God out of the center, they suffered in every area.

What they did not see was that God caused their predicament. They hadn’t stopped to consider that God was trying to tell them something. Haggai screamed: “Hey! It’s God who controls the rain and the harvest. He is withholding his blessing because your priorities are not right. Put his house first and he will bless you.” Jesus said the same thing: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:33, HCSB).

Blessings come through obedience. If we want to experience God’s blessings we will put him first.

IV. Take time to evaluate

With this strong indictment and devastating predicament, the people realized they had caused their own calamities. The people were ready to evaluate their situation. Twice Haggai instructed the people, “Consider your ways” (1:5, 7.). The word consider means to give careful thought to. It was time for the people to do some serious self-examination before the Lord. Haggai wanted the people to stop long enough in their busy schedules to evaluate their life in light of God’s Word. He wanted them to measure the consequences of their actions.

Evaluation is a good thing. That is why teachers give tests and employers hold job reviews. Socrates wrote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Each day we need to evaluate how we spend our time and our money, and how we use our talents. We should examine who we choose as friends, what we set as goals, and where we are going. If God is not first, guess who removed him from his rightful place?

The failure to make constant corrections each day is like a pilot who does not make slight course adjustments in flight. The plane will end up hundreds of miles off course later. The failure to take the proper precautions today will result in severe consequences tomorrow.

When we stop making excuses, cease being selfish, seek God’s blessings, and take time to evaluate, we can see God work in powerful ways. This is what happens when first things are first, when God is first in our hearts. How will we know that we have put first things first? How will we know that God is first place? Here are three indications.

A. We are active in the right things

“Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house. Then I will be pleased with it and be glorified, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:8, HCSB). In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act, a time to consider and a time to do. Those who put first things first are up and doing the right things: spending time with God daily, serving people, honoring him with their time, talents, and financial resources. For the Jews living in Jerusalem, it meant cutting down trees to build God’s house.

B. God is glorified

Why should the Temple be built? That God may be glorified. When God is not first we are indifferent to his glory—his fame and his reputation being spread. But when God is first revealing his glory is first on our minds. In fact, everything we think, say, and do is to honor God and bring credit to him. Whatever your occupation, the chief business of every Christian is to bring glory to God.

C. God blesses us

When the people obeyed, God sent word: “I am with you” (1:13). When God is first, he blesses us. And the sure sign of his blessing was his manifested presence. If God seems distant in your life, perhaps your priorities have gotten mixed up. When you put God first, you experience a new awareness of his presence. That is true blessing.

Conclusion

An instructor at a time-management seminar told the participants to prepare for a quiz. He reached under the table and took out a wide-mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table. Next to the jar were a number of fist-sized rocks. He asked the group, “How many of these rocks do you think we can get inside this jar?” The participants made their guesses. The instructor said, “Let’s find out.” One by one he began to put as many fist-sized rocks as he could into the jar until the rocks inside were level with the top of the jar.

The instructor then asked, “Is the jar full?” All the participants looked at the jar filled with rocks and said it was.

But then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar. The gravel filled the spaces between the big rocks. He grinned and asked again, “Is the jar full?”

The participants were not about to be fooled a second time. They said that the jar was probably not full.

The instructor nodded and said, “Good. You are catching on.” He next took out a bucket of sand and poured it into the jar. Slowly the sand filled the gaps between the rocks and gravel. After the sand settled, the instructor once again asked, “Now, is the jar full?”

The audience roared, “No!”

He said, “Good.” He was pleased that they understood an important principle. The instructor poured a pitcher of water into the jar. At this point he stopped and asked the group, “What’s the point of this?”

Somebody said, “Well, there are always gaps, and if you work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”

But the instructor said, “No, the point is this: If I hadn’t put in those big rocks first, I would never have gotten them in at all.”

What should be your big rocks? God and his house. Put them into your life first.

~ I Can’t See “You”~

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“We are not sheep or cows. God didn’t create fences for us or boundaries to contain our nationalities. Man did. God didn’t draw up religious barriers to separate us from each other. Man did. And on top of that, no father would like to see his children fighting or killing each other. The Creator favors the man who spreads loves over the man who spreads hate. A religious title does not make anyone more superior over another. If a kind man stands by his conscience and exhibits truth in his words and actions, he will stand by God regardless of his faith. If mankind wants to evolve, we must learn from our past mistakes. If not, our technology will evolve without us.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

I feel abandoned in my trial.
Why does God seem so distant when I need Him most?

You’re troubled, so you pray. You’re distressed, so you cry for God to bring you quick relief. But all you hear in reply is silence–a silence so deafening it drowns out every thought but this: God isn’t listening.

Is that your testimony? If so, we want to help you attain a biblical perspective by providing a few principles for you to reflect on. We trust these thoughts will bring you comfort and hope.

Yours Is a Common Experience

Feel left alone? Other believers have felt the same way. Peruse the writings of Oswald Chambers, Charles Spurgeon, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and you’ll discover they knew well the agony you experience. Spurgeon wrote this autobiographical account in his comments on Psalm 88:6:

He who now feebly expounds these words knows within himself more than he would care or dare to tell of these abysses of inward anguish. He has sailed around the Cape of Storms, and has drifted along by the dreary headlands of despair.

After C. S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer, he called out to God for comfort but sensed no reply. Confused, he asked, “What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”

But you don’t need a large library to know your experience is common. Just turn through the pages of your Bible, especially the Psalms, and you’ll read several distressed cries for God to act:

  • Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; but You, O Lord–how long (Psalm 6:2-3)?
  • Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion (Psalm 77:7-9)?
  • O God, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, O God, do not be still (Psalm 83:1).

Psalm 22:1 contains perhaps the most well-known example, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.” Jesus echoed that psalm on the cross: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?‘ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (Matthew 27:46).

A key passage in 1 Peter will help you appreciate that times of distress are common and are for the good of God’s children. Amid the rich details of God’s glorious grace, resides an affirmation that those who rejoice in their salvation will also experience distress due to various trials. Take special note of the second paragraph:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7).

Take solace in knowing that sorrowful times–even periods of feeling God has withdrawn His presence–are an integral part of your spiritual experience. God hasn’t utterly abandoned you, though you feel He has. Other believers have successfully traveled the dark path you walk and completed their journey.

Peter acknowledges that trials produce grief in believers–and grief is a common experience. He also touches on two further principles that will help you understand and patiently endure your trouble:

Yours Is a Temporary Experience

Feeling distressed by trials–such as sensing the absence of God’s presence–would crush a weakened believer if it had no end. And so Peter adds that the distress is only “for a little while.” Your trouble is temporary. God will not leave you in your distress forever. It will cease–maybe not as soon as you’d like–but it will come to an end. Once the trial has served its purpose, you will benefit from its results and regain the joy of your heavenly Father’s warm embrace.

Yours Is a Purposed Experience

Peter anticipates your next question, “Why does a believer have to experience grief-producing trials?” He replies, “These have come so that your faith … may be proved genuine” (v. 7).

As one of God’s children, you are promised His presence, though for now you feel alone and without help. Rest in knowing God your Father has good reasons for bringing you into your trial. He is committed to making you holy, even if it means taking away your happiness for a time.

You will derive benefit from your trial, not by ignoring it or fainting under its weight, but by understanding its purpose. When you realize God is using the trial to make you aware of His grace in your life and fit you for eternal glory, praise, and honor, you’ll be equipped to endure it even though it brings you into distress and heaviness of soul.

Suffering in silence will also:

  1. Make you more obedient (Psalm 119:67).
  2. Deepen your insight into God’s Word (Psalm 119:71).
  3. Increase your compassion and effectiveness in ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
  4. Teach you to wait patiently on God (Psalm 27:14).
  5. Make your joy less dependent on circumstances (Habakkuk 3:16-19).
  6. Make you appreciate God all the more when He restores you (Job 42:7-17).

Allow those principles to mold your perspective. Learn to respond biblically and not emotionally to your trouble. Lean on the revealed character of God. He is allowing you to experience a temporary sorrow that will provide you with the greater benefits of increased holiness and deeper assurance (cf. Romans 8:18).


Here are some other resources that will help you overcome the feeling God’s absence:

~Ministry and Criticism~

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“Choose a leader who will invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. Intellectualism and wisdom, not ignorance. Stability, not fear and terror. Peace, not chaos. Love, not hate. Convergence, not segregation. Tolerance, not discrimination. Fairness, not hypocrisy. Substance, not superficiality. Character, not immaturity. Transparency, not secrecy. Justice, not lawlessness. Environmental improvement and preservation, not destruction. Truth, not lies.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Generally speaking, parishioners appreciate the roles pastors perform in their churches and communities. This includes preaching/teaching Christian doctrine;performing rites of passage, such as baby dedications, baptisms, weddings, and funerals; pastoral care, such as visitation, counseling, comforting, and praying for people; and administration, such as chairing meetings, developing inreach and outreach programs for the church and community, and representing the church to the community.

But despite the roles pastors perform, they are not spared criticism from a number of their parishioners. Some of the criticism may be constructive and some destructive.

Pastoral ministry has its ups and downs. One of the up moments is when church programs work well in the church and parishioners support and affirm the pastor’s ministry. During this time, the ministry becomes pleasant and rewarding. A down moment occurs when there is a lack of support from parishioners and the program fails. The pastor faces criticism and bitter opposition from parishioners that can lead to feelings of frustration and discouragement.

Let us face it, a leader cannot avoid criticism. It does not matter what leadership position you hold, whether in politics, as the president or prime minister of a country, the head of a corporate organization, a pastor, or church administrator, there will be criticism.

Some years ago an experienced minister advised me how to deal with criticism from parishioners. What caught my attention was a remark he made that has encouraged me in my ministry. He said, “Jesus faced criticisms, too, and if you are a pastor and parishioners don’t criticize all the work you do, you wouldn’t know how you are performing in ministry.”1 Since then, I have learned to take criticism differently.

Jesus faced criticism too

Jesus faced criticism in His ministry. Matthew writes, “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw” (Matt. 12:22).2 While the multitudes were amazed, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for casting out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (v. 24).

Some criticized even His eating habits. They said Jesus was “‘“a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” ’ ” (Luke 7:34). On another occasion, the Pharisees and scribes were critical of Him, saying, “ ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’ ” (Luke 15:2). Yet, reaching out to save sinners was an integral part of Jesus’ mission to this world. No wonder, in a similar incident in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus replied to the Pharisees, “ ‘For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’ ” (Matt. 9:13).

In spite of criticism, Jesus was a successful leader. He did not allow criticism of His good deeds to divert attention from His goal to reveal His Father’s love for humanity, and preach the good news of salvation. He stayed focused and accomplished His mission. Pastors need to understand that we will face criticism as Jesus did. Besides, unlike Jesus who did not sin (Heb. 4:15), we will make mistakes and face criticism as well.

Reasons for criticism

Here are a few reasons, both positive and negative, why pastors may face criticism.

1. Failure to fulfill the responsibilities of pastoral leadership. Pastoral leadership can be very demanding and parishioners often know when pastors perform their jobs or not. Hence, pastors should not be satisfied with a level of mediocrity in their job performances. When we fail to fulfill our responsibilities, criticism will most likely come.

2. When a pastor wants to introduce change. Usually, when a pastor is transferred to a new district and attempts to change established tradition, some parishioners criticize the pastor and resist such change. To most parishioners “change is uncomfortable and often threatening.” 3 There will always be resolute defenders of tradition in every congregation who will criticize your intentions for change.

3. A breach of pastoral ethics. Pastors are expected to uphold and commit themselves to practice a pastoral code of ethics. For example, parishioners want a pastor they can trust and confide in with their personal issues. Failure to “practice strictest professional confidentiality”4 will result in criticism from parishioners and a loss of credibility.

4. Pastor a district for years without transfer. Though parishioners may feel uncomfortable when a change occurs in the status quo, this is not always so when it comes to a change in pastoral leadership. With time, parishioners get used to the pastor’s method of preaching and leadership skills.

5. Parishioners’ unresolved issues. Sometimes parishioners go through church-related issues for which they have not sought help from a counselor or their local pastor. Quite often, they are stressed out, impatient, and angry because of these unresolved issues. The church board meeting, or the church business meeting, becomes the forum for them to blame and criticize the pastor for what goes wrong in the congregation.

6. Expectation to live above reproach. Generally, people hold pastors in high esteem and expect much from them. Since pastors are seen as preachers of probity and accountability, parishioners expect them to live above reproach. When a pastor breaks one of the commandments or doctrines of the church, criticism or even rejection often follow.

Approaches for dealing with criticism

Not all criticism from parishioners is destructive. Some may be constructive; therefore pastors should take criticism seriously and not ignore it. What may be considered trivial and not given much attention may become a serious issue too difficult and too late to solve. Here are some suggestions pastors may include in their approaches to criticism from parishioners.

1. Count criticism as a blessing, not a trial. Let’s be realistic about this. We do not find it easy to face criticism and accept it as a blessing from God. When I started ministry, I used to think that parishioners who criticized my job performance did not like me. But I have also come to understand that criticism from parishioners may be God’s way of pointing out something I need to change or correct in dealing with an issue as a pastor. While I do not allow destructive criticism to detract me from doing my job, I do not ignore constructive criticism either. It reminds me that I am human and make mistakes. Constructive criticism also helps me learn and avoid other similar and terrible mistakes later on.

2. Pray for guidance and for those who criticize you. In one district, I made an appointment to see one of our conference officials for advice concerning the criticism I was facing from some parishioners. I can recall sitting in his office and pouring out my heart to him. After I finished, he looked at me and said, “You must pray for them.” I must confess that was not the answer I expected at that moment. But I continued to pray for them and before long they stopped the criticism, though a couple of them occasionally criticized me about church programs. Praying for those who criticize you will make a difference in your ministry.

3. Avoid arguing with those who criticize you. This is one of the difficulties a pastor may encounter with parishioners, especially when the pastor knows they are right about an issue they are being criticized for in the church. However, try not to argue with those who criticize you in public, whether at a church board or church business meeting. Assume a good disposition when confronted with criticism. Calm down, and if it requires a response, choose your words carefully and answer gently.

4. Always do what is right. In every decision that involves the congregation, if you have the church board’s and the majority of the members’ approval, go ahead and implement it. People will criticize and persecute you for doing the right thing, but God will admire and vindicate you for not doing the wrong thing. Ellen G. White offers encouraging words here, “To accuse and criticize those whom God is using is to accuse and criticize the Lord who has sent them.”5

5. Uphold ethics and beliefs of the church. Whatever the pastor does should be in accordance with the church beliefs and policies. Parishioners respect pastors who are honest and have a strong affirmation for, and practice, ministerial ethics.

6. Address the needs of your parishioners in a timely manner. The nature of our work requires us to be sensitive to the questions and felt needs of our parishioners, and we should make every effort to address those needs in a timely manner. We should not treat parishioners’ needs as trivial. Every parishioner is important in the eyes of Jesus, and as ministers of God, we are to treat them with love and respect as we shepherd them. This will help pastors avoid some criticism.

7. Sell your ideas to your leaders: Pastors have good plans and ideas for the church but quite often we meet opposition and criticism because of the way those plans and ideas are communicated to parishioners. When this happens, we wonder whether the church officers and parishioners see what we see. When you work with leaders in a church, they want to feel that they are a part of the decision-making process of the church. The board of elders and the church board members should know the pastor’s ideas and programs. They will then be able to support and help sell them.

8. Do not sideline those who criticize you. Remember the saying Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. You will be surprised that, in most cases, parishioners who criticize you are not necessarily your enemies, but they may be going through personal issues that require a referral or your expertise in pastoral counseling.

9. Involve those who criticize you in church ministries. Sometimes you will find it necessary to harness the energy and talents of parishioners who criticize you for soul winning instead of using their time in sowing seeds of divisiveness in the church. You can request some of them to volunteer in the prayer team or a special needs ministry in the church. Meet with them periodically to affirm and evaluate what they are doing. As you engage them in church ministries, it will help them use their talents in the right areas.

10. Know if, when, and how to confront those who criticize you. Pastors approach and deal with criticism differently. Some pastors adopt an attitude of a culture of silence and ignore them. Others choose a confrontational approach. “The attitude needed to deal with criticisms is not a withdrawal from the issue or an arrogant approach to the issue. It is gentleness and firmness—an attitude of smart love.”6 Pastoral attitudes and approaches to criticism should follow the biblical instruction in Matthew 18:15–17. Try not to harbor any animosity toward parishioners who criticize you. Continue to love and pray for them. This will make a difference in your ministry.

Conclusion

The pastor cannot avoid criticism. Every congregation has parishioners who will affirm your ministry and those who will criticize what you do. At times, the criticism may be constructive, and other times it may be destructive. The pastor should be open to criticism and willing to accept mistakes and correct them. Never allow criticism to detract from your calling as a pastor to perform your role. You can count on Jesus as He guides you to shepherd His flock and prepare them for His kingdom.

 

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“A great leader must serve the best interests of the people first, not those of multinational corporations. Human life should never be sacrificed for monetary profit. There are no exceptions. In addition, a leader should always be open to criticism, not silencing dissent. Any leader who does not tolerate criticism from the public is afraid of their dirty hands being revealed under heavy light. And such a leader is dangerous, because they only feel secure in the darkness. Only a leader who is free from corruption welcomes scrutiny; for scrutiny allows a good leader to be an even greater leader.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

~Trust God’s Vision for Your Dreams~

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“He who has the audacity to stop you from dreaming is he who had given you the imaginations to think, but not those who watch you as you explore the dreams!”
Israelmore Ayivor

“When the actions becomes frequent than the words, success becomes heavier than the dreams. Do more, say less.”
Israelmore Ayivor

Genesis 37:1-11 The Message (MSG)

37 Meanwhile Jacob had settled down where his father had lived, the land of Canaan.

Joseph and His Brothers

This is the story of Jacob. The story continues with Joseph, seventeen years old at the time, helping out his brothers in herding the flocks. These were his half brothers actually, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought his father bad reports on them.

3-4 Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was the child of his old age. And he made him an elaborately embroidered coat. When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than them, they grew to hate him—they wouldn’t even speak to him.

5-7 Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said, “Listen to this dream I had. We were all out in the field gathering bundles of wheat. All of a sudden my bundle stood straight up and your bundles circled around it and bowed down to mine.”

His brothers said, “So! You’re going to rule us? You’re going to boss us around?” And they hated him more than ever because of his dreams and the way he talked.

He had another dream and told this one also to his brothers: “I dreamed another dream—the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to me!”

10-11 When he told it to his father and brothers, his father reprimanded him: “What’s with all this dreaming? Am I and your mother and your brothers all supposed to bow down to you?” Now his brothers were really jealous; but his father brooded over the whole business.

Intro: A certain evangelist’s wife died, and when he had to be away in meetings, he hired a babysitter to take care of his two sons. Whenever he had been away, he would always bring them a gift when he arrived back home. One day, however, he came home and had forgotten to buy the boys a gift. When they asked for their presents, the father d\told them that he would take them to the store and that they could have whatever they wanted. When they arrived, the first thing they saw was the candy counter. They decided they wanted to buy candy. Their father said, “Let’s look around a little more first.” Then, they went to the toy department and saw some cowboy suits, complete with guns, hats, ropes, etc. They both yelled, “This is what we want!” Their father replied, “Let’s just look around a little first.” Next, they went into the sporting goods and found basketballs. They began to dribble these about the place and told their father that they wanted to buy the balls. The father said, “let’s look around just a little bit more.” So they continue to shop and as they did, they spotted 2 brand new 10 speed bicycles against the back wall. Their father saw what they were looking at and said, “How would you like to have those bikes?” Those 2 boys left that store with far more than they bargained for because their father refused to let them settle for less that his best. You see, he had intended to buy the bikes all along! Those 2 boys thought candy would be wonderful, but their father had something far more wonderful in mind.

So it is with the Lord, He has plans for us that we can only begin to imagine. We see things and formulate plans that we think would be wonderful, but God has something far more special for us than we could ever imagine. A look at the life of Joseph illustrates this truth. Joseph’s life demonstrates four facts that you will find true as you travel the path God has cleared for you. If you can remember these truths, then no matter how dark the clouds, how depressing the circumstances or how diligent the critics, you will always be aware of the fact that God has something special for you.

I. V. 1-4 THERE IS A SPECIAL PERSON INSIDE YOU

A. Joseph was different – If you read the story of his life, it is plain to see that Joseph stood out from his brothers in his commitment, his character and in his clothing and as a result, his brothers hated him!

B. Being different is socially unacceptable – The secret to popularity is conformity. The world tells us that to get along, you must go along. This is the siren cry of the world. Everyone wants to fit in, everyone wants to be accepted.

C. Being different is OK – While the world calls us to conform, the Bible gives us a far different message. The Bible warns us against conformity, Rom. 12:1. This literally means, “Do not let the world press you into its mold.”

D. Be different because you are different – The main reason why you should be different is because you are! God made you an individual, (Ill. DNA), and you do not have to conform to the crowd. (Ill. There are those who are like whatever crowd they get around. They worship with the saints and they grovel with the sinners. This ought not be so! Think of Daniel, at the age of 17, he took a stand that was the equivalent to social suicide. He chose to be different. As a result, God was able to bless his life and get great glory from Daniel.)

E. All I am saying is that you do not have to fit into anyone’s mold to be accepted. The only person you have to please is the Lord God! If you are living your life in a manner that pleases Him, then you are living the right kind of life. Never sell out to this world or to people who want to make you like them! Make up your mind that you settle for nothing less than the approval of God upon your life. After all, He made you, He loves you, He died for you, and if you are saved, He saved you. You are going to His Heaven to live with Him for eternity. Realize and recognize that you are an individual and that you are unique among all the people who have ever, or will ever live. God made you special and your duty is to live for Him.

I. There Is A Special Person Inside You

II. V. 5 THERE IS A SPECIAL PLAN FOR YOU

A. This verse tells us that Joseph dreamed a dream. In this dream, the Lord revealed the future to Joseph. In this dream, God showed Joseph that one day all the resources (sheaves) and all the ruler (stars) of the world would bow down at the feet of Joseph.

B. God had a special plan for the life of Joseph, and He has a special plan for your life as well. Sadly, many people lack the faith or the vision to find out what God’s plan for them is. There is something that God wants you to do! He has something for you to do that no one else can do. He wants to work in you, through you and around you in a very unique ans special manner. He has something only you can do and it will not be done unless you do it!

C. You might as well know up-front that there will be those around who will try to stifle your dreams. You might as well know that there will be those who will hate you because you have a dream. Notice how Joseph’s brothers reacted to Him, v. 19. There will always be those who lack the faith and the vision and will tell you that your dreams are either inconceivable, impractical, or impossible. (Ill. Alexanders Graham Bell’s father-in-law called the telephone “a toy no one will play with.” The famous British physicist, Lord Calvin, said, “Radio has no future.” British Royal astronomer George Bidell Airy, said, “The computer is absolutely worthless.” In 1899 Charles H. Duell, Director of the United States Patten Office, made this statement: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” He was so convinced of this that he tried to get President McKinley to abolish his job next year. Well, the very next year R. A. Fessenden sent the human voice over radio waves for the first time. In 1901 the first Mercedes automobile was constructed. In 1903 the Wright Brothers successfully flew a powered airplane. In 1904 the photoelectric cell was developed. All of this only five years after Mr. Duell said nothing was left to be invented. But, regardless of what the critics say, never let anyone kill your dreams, Pro. 29:18.

D. It was the truth that God had a plan for Joseph that sustained him during the times when he was a slave in Egypt and when he was in prison. May I say that to live life with the knowledge that God had no plan for our lives would be hell on earth! Always remember that you are a special person created for a special purpose!

E. Often, during the storms and battles of life, our dreams seem to be all we have left!

I. There Is A Special Person Inside You

II. There Is A Special Plan For You

III. V. 18-36 THERE ARE SPECIAL PROBLEMS FOR YOU

A. The life of Joseph is one of great problems and trials. In v. 18, his brothers conspired against him. In v. 21, he was thrown into a pit. In v. 28, he was sold as a slave. In ch. 39, he is falsely accused of rape. In ch. 40 he is thrown into prison. Joseph was forsaken by his family, forgotten by his friends and frustrated by his failures. Please remember that all these things that happened to Joseph were just part of God’s plan for his life.

B. This is a hard pill to swallow, but it is still true: Life is unfair! If the Lord of glory came to this earth and was crucified, then what makes us think that life will treat us fairly? Why did these things happen to a young man who was guilty of nothing more than obeying the will of God? The answer is found in Genesis 50:20. You see, Joseph is the Old Testament illustration to one of the New Testaments greatest promises, Rom. 8:28.

C. Through all the problems that Joseph faced, the Lord is teaching his the difference between growing old and growing up! We need to remember that God is always doing for great things in our lives. Remembering these will help us when the storm clouds of life begin to gather about us.

1. God is always Guiding you – Psa. 37:23

2. God is always Guarding you – Psa. 121:5-8

3. God is always Gaging you – He is constantly measuring our growth. God is far more concerned about how we react to what we face than what we face. – Psa. 105:17-19

4. God is always Growing you – God isn’t as concerned about delivering us out of our mess as He is about us growing out of the mess we are in. He is in the saint building business.

D. Remember, whatever you may face in this world, however deep and dark the valleys you are called to walk through, however heavy the loads you are called upon to bear, God is merely allowing these things in your life to strengthen and to help you become more like Him. The question is: How are you responding to problems that come your way?

I. There Is A Special Person Inside You

II. There Is A Special Plan For You

III. There Are Special Problems For You

IV. 39:2 THERE IS A SPECIAL PERSON WITH YOU

A. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that God was ever with Joseph – 39:2; 39:3; 39:21; 39:23; Acts 7:9. In everything Joseph faced he had a Helper and a Companion!

B. Three times in chapter 39 we are told that the Lord was with Joseph. It will be helpful for us to see just how the Lord was with him.

1. 39:1-3 He Was With Him In Servitude – Even though he was a slave, Joseph conducted himself like the ruler God was preparing him to be. Instead of griping, complaining, whining, bellyaching, and fussing about his situation, he just served Potiphar and did the best job he could do. What a lesson! If ever expect to rule, then we must first learn to serve! You will never be over until you first learn to be under! Joseph was learning about humility.

2. 39:7-19 He Was With Him In Seduction – Potiphar’s wife tried everything in her power to seduce Joseph, but he stood strong in the Lord and fended off her advances. God was teaching Joseph that no price could be placed on a clean conscience. He lost his coat, but he kept his conscience. God was teaching Joseph a lesson in purity and in self-control. Both are essential to those in leadership positions.

3. 39:21-23 He Was With Him In Suffering – Even when Joseph was forced to endure the shame of a false imprisonment, God was with him and blessed him.

C. Well, you know the rest of the story. God turned tragedy, temptation, torment and trouble into a great triumph. God brought all Joseph’s dreams to pass teaching Joseph and us this lesson, 1 Pet. 5:6-7.

D. Joseph never quit on the Lord. He never stopped believing, he never stopped trusting, he never stopped dreaming until the Lord brought to pass everything in his life that God wanted to do. Through it all, Joseph never wavered, he never compromised and he never flinched at what the Lord allowed in his life. As a result, he won the victory and so can you – 1 Cor. 15:58.

Conc: I heard about a fellow who came into town to a Little League Baseball game. He looked at the scoreboard and it said, “21 to 0.” A little boy was sitting on the bench while his team was in the field. The other team was batting, and the fellow said to the little boy on the bench, “Son, it looks pretty bad for your team doesn’t it?” The little boy said, “Ah, no sir, we haven’t even come to bat yet!” Well dear friend, sometimes it may look like the world and the flesh and the devil is winning. But remember with God on your side, you will always win because He has something special for you. So, keep dreaming, keep trusting, keep serving because God is preparing a great victory for you to enjoy. He truly has something special for you!

~The Choice That Changed My Destiny of Life~

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“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

barabbas

An old godly preacher was dying. He knew that he would have just a few hours. So he called for two members of his congregation to come by his bedside: his banker and his lawyer, who were both members. They were honored to be with him in his final moments. As they came into his bedroom the old preacher held out his hands and motioning for one to sit on each side of the bed and he held their hands as the sat beside him. The preacher grasped their hands and gave a sigh of relief. For a while, everything was silent. They thought what a privilege it is to be with him, this godly preacher in his final moments. They were a little amazed that he thought that much of them since they both remembered his many long uncomfortable sermons about greed and covetousness. Finally the banker got up his courage and said, “Pastor, why did you choose us to come and to be with you during your final moments?” The old man mustered up his last strength and then said weakly, “Well, I’m dying and I always wanted to die like Jesus did, between two thieves! And that’s why I called you.”

Let me tell you, there should have been three thieves on the crosses. There should have been three. Jesus should never have been hung on a cross. There should have been three thieves, three criminals that day, almost two thousand years ago. But the shame about this is: the Jews chose Jesus to die instead of BARABBAS. They made a bad choice. And how people make choices is a very important thing. And so, BARABBAS was allowed to go free. But Jesus had to die on the cross.

In a sense, three criminals did die on those crosses that day because Jesus was a criminal, was He not? In a way. He was sinless, but Jesus was a sinner. All the sins of the world were on Him at that moment. They were there. All the sins of the world. And when Jesus died, He died for us.

I want you to take your Bible and turn to Acts 3. A lot of Christians hate Jews. Do you think that ought to be the case? Should we be anti-Semitic? I don’t think so. And yet, Peter condemns the Jews. Acts 3:14,15. “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” (Barabbas) “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” And so Peter condemned the Jews in a very harsh way: “You killed the Author of life! You bad people!”

Peter is not alone in his feelings. I had a newspaper clipping out of the Chattanooga Times. Jacquelyn Mitchard wrote an article in response to the Pope’s recent Apology for past sins of the Roman Catholic people. This lady says as a girl her “Catholic friends explained the real deal about Jewish people.” She was told that all Catholics were to resist Jews, or even hate Jews because it was thought that they killed Christ. Is this biblical? Did Jews kill Jesus? Were they responsible? Should we hate Jews?

Come to Matthew 27 for a eyewitness account of what really happened that horrible day almost two thousand years ago. (Also found in Mark 15:6-15 and Luke 23:13-25) Matthew 27:15-17. Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” Now, who was Pilate in favor of releasing? Jesus. Because Barabbas was bad.

The people had a decision to make. How fascinating to watch how some folk come to a decision. I think the decision was made out of peer pressure, or mob psychology. That’s what happened that day. This fateful day the peer pressure was a determining factor. That fateful day they decided because that’s what the crowd decided. Everybody went along with it.

I want to speak to that. Maybe some you are a teenagers. Maybe on a Saturday night your group gets together and you decide, “Well, let’s have a great time tonight. One of us here is of age, why not get him to go buy some alcohol and we could just have a good party instead of a mediocre time. We could do it up!” Instantly the whole group decides they’re going to have an alcoholic party. Peer pressure, and they make the wrong decision. If you do that, and you’re part of that crowd, then you basically are choosing Barabbas. Do you see how that works? When you know you ought to do right, and you know that, and you choose what is wrong, you are choosing Barabbas. In choosing Barabbas quickly and carelessly, they made the wrong choice. When you choose wrong, when you fully know what is right you are choosing Barabbas. A hasty decision is often a bad decision as well.

Pilate presented two fathers’ sons to the crowd. Jesus Barabbas and Jesus Christ. Jesus Barabbas means: son of A father.” (bar – son of, abbas – daddy or father) Jesus Christ means: “son of THE Father.” The one, poisoned by the devil, ready for hell. The other, sinless, perfect, ready for heaven. Everybody in the whole wide world was there represented in Barabbas or in Jesus. Look for yourself in this amazing story.

    The contrast was very clear. One was a robber, a criminal. – The other was compassionate, kind, loving.

  • When the crowd chose Barabbas they chose lawlessness instead of law.
  • They chose war instead of peace.
  • They chose hatred instead of love.
  • They chose Satan instead of God.

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A bad choice!

You can the full account there in Matthew 27. Very, very bad. Read a key statement here in Matthew 27:22. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked And that is a key question of life. What are you, fellow McDonald Road member, going to do with Jesus Christ? What are you going to do? Are you going to accept Him or are you going to choose Barabbas? And the crowd, of course, chose Barabbas. In verse 25, all the people said, Let his blood be on us and our children!” And that’s why some people don’t like what the Jews did back then. And for years, fingers have been pointed at Christians saying that in our roots is anti-Semitism. We encourage hatred for Jews because they killed Jesus. The Roman governor was willing to set Jesus free, but the Jews shouted, “Crucify Him!” And Pilate gave in, rather than jeopardize the peace. So it sounds like the vast majority of people who were Jews hated Jesus.

Now is that true? What had happened to Jesus just five days before? What were the crowds doing to Jesus five days before? They were laying down the palm leaves, they were laying down their garments so He could cross over. They were honoring Jesus Christ. And now, all of a sudden, five days later, here they are crucifying Jesus Christ. What a fickle bunch of people. What in the world is happening to this crowd? What had Jesus done in the last five days that had agitated them? Nothing! Nothing had changed.

Let’s take a little closer look at this group. Are these people really wishy-washy? Why did practically everybody suddenly hate Jesus, now, and before, they loved Him? Well, the Bible plainly declares that Caiaphas and his confederates were determined to kill Jesus, not because He was unpopular, but because he was popular. So, the crowds were not against Him. So we can’t say that Jesus was hated by everybody, because He was popular. In fact, verse 18 says that they envied Jesus: they resented His success. So, it’s the opposite of hatred. I think they feared that the people would welcome Jesus as the Messiah and all of the pharisees, all the leaders would be unemployed because He was very popular. So, not everybody hated Jesus. In fact, very few did.

So, we could ask the question: Were Jesus’ accusers even Jews? The crowd that were there that day, were they Jews? Let’s look at this a little more closely as we read here in Matthew 27 you can tell that they were Jews by where they stood. These fault-finders stood out in the courtyard because they didn’t want to be contaminated. To go into this civil court would contaminate them and they would not be able to do anything about it and they would not be able to celebrate the passover. So, they couldn’t go in. Pilate had to go in and talk with Jesus, and go out and talk to the crowd… back and forth. That’s what you see going on here.

Did that zealous, accusing crowd hate Jesus? I don’t believe so. Now, could it be that almost nobody in Jerusalem even really knows that Jesus is on trial? Most of His friends aren’t quite aware of it yet. It’s really in the morning while this trial is going on. The crowds are possibly supporters of Barabbas who have come to get him released.

And so we need to ask, Who was Barabbas? In John 18:14 Barabbas is called a robber. In Mark 15:7, he’s called a murderer. He’s actually an insurrectionist, he’s a revolutionist. This man is a self-proclaimed messiah. That’s who Barabbas really is: he’s a freedom-fighter. He’s trying to get freedom for the Israelites to be free from the bondage of Rome. The purpose of the crowd that day was to get him released.

Jesus was also a freedom fighter. Jesus was trying to get freedom from the devil. They were very similar; Jesus and Barabbas. Jesus’ way involved gentleness, not swords.

    The crowd apparently believed in do-it-yourself liberation.

  • Salvation does not come by riot but by surrender.
  • Salvation is never by violence, it is by faith.
  • Salvation is not delivered by gun barrels and bullets.
  • Salvation does not come by works or by swords.
  • Salvation comes by yielding your life to your Savior, your God.

And they did not know that.

Both Jesus and Barabbas wanted to save their people. The difference between Jesus and Barabbas was like the difference between a lamb and a wolf: totally opposites

“Both Jesus and Barabbas were brought before the people and stood side by side. Jesus stood there wearing the robe of mockery and the stripes, from which the blood flowed freely. His face was stained with blood, and bore the marks of exhaustion and pain but never had it appeared more beautiful than now. Every feature expressed gentleness and the tenderest pity for His cruel foes. In striking contrast was Barabbas. Every line of the countenance of Barabbas proclaimed him the hardened ruffian that he was.  Barabbas was a ruffian. Jesus was tender. Yet they chose Jesus to crucify.

They chose Barabbas to set them free. And what they did: they chose short-term, immediate deliverance from Rome rather than long-term immediate eternal deliverance from sin and the devil.

Barabbas-Poster

We are just like them today. We are so short-sighted, we choose wrong, don’t we? Even babies would rather have a pacifier than a one-dollar bill. How crazy those babies are! They’d rather have a bottle than a Bible! Eve chose the apple rather than eternal security. Sometimes the dance seems so more important to us than attending prayer meeting. When you as a teenager go out and you choose to take some illegal drug into your life, you are choosing Barabbas because you are choosing a temporary high rather than an eternal high that you could have gotten. Gentlemen, when you look at some other man’s wife and you choose that pleasure, you are choosing Barabbas rather than what God has designed for you. We choose Barabbas every day. We shouldn’t. It’s wrong. It’s sinful. We’re crucifying Jesus when we choose Barabbas. Do you realize you hurt Jesus when you go on drugs. You hurt Jesus when you look at that “other” man or that “other” woman. That should never happen. Today, we choose Barabbas when we put anything ahead of Jesus. Jesus should be first and best in our lives.

The bulk of the crowd had assembled that morning for the legitimate purpose of extracting their hero, Barabbas, out of the iron grip of the Romans. They had not really come to condemn an innocent man, Jesus, to death.

Does this explain why Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead? Notice John 11:47-50, Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Caiaphas had been around. He knew the Romans would not tolerate revolt. His motive is clearly seen in verse 50. It would be best for Jesus to die than for the entire nation to perish. Caiaphas feared that one more uprising would end what little freedom the Jewish people had left. Perhaps Jesus had a larger following than Barabbas. To kill Jesus was better than to let Him live and lead the nation to oblivion.

I wonder what ever happened to Barabbas when they set him free, which they did? I wonder if he went on to become a freedom-fighter? I believe he did. In fact, I believe that the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. could have been caused by this one man being a freedom-fighter, going out and getting a group together and causing the Romans to come against them. It could have happened.

That mob’s choice of Barabbas over Jesus contributed to the fall of Jerusalem a generation later. Even Jesus stated that in Matthew 23:37-39. So, be careful when you choose the world because it could in fact contribute to your fall. When you go out and you choose to smoke that cigarette, you choose to defile your body by some way, it could also hurt your family. Those who live in Jerusalem could be hurt by your actions. You must be careful what you choose when you choose Barabbas. You are in danger of doing that when you place anything else ahead of Jesus Christ.

Be careful when you chose the world. You are in danger when you place anything above Jesus. There is an old song… “NOTHING between my soul and the Savior.” So be careful.

Jesus came to His own, and His own received Him not. They took Him and cast Him off. They judged Him worthy of death. And the whole multitude cried, Give us Barabbas! Liberation through Jesus Barabbas! He believed in self-redemption, not in redemption through the loving Messiah.

Look at Mark 15:25. All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” What the crowd was saying here is, “We release you, Pilate, from all guilt. We’re not going to hold you guilty. Pilate, if you just destroy Jesus, everything will be all right.” Is that true? Yes, in a way that is true. Everything can only be all right if Jesus is destroyed. If Jesus hangs on that cross, then everything can be okay. That’s what can happen. The people chose Barabbas. And only Barabbas could say to Jesus, “You have physically saved me from death.” Because, Jesus died in the place of Barabbas, didn’t He. And from physical death, Jesus saved Barabbas.

I imagine Barabbas was waiting in his cell. He was there on death row waiting to be crucified on that cross. And they tell me that people that are about to be hung oftentimes their hand goes around their neck and feels their neck. They know that rope is going to be there shortly. They know it won’t be long and they kind of put their hand around their neck and feel it.

And people that are on death row and they’re going to be taken to the gas chamber, I have been told, that those folks practice holding their breath before that event takes place. They know that soon they’ll be in the gas chamber, so they hold their breath. They practice that until their eyes nearly pop out of their heads. Because they know that some day they will be taken into that room and they will be tied in that chair and soon they will hear a little hissing sound, and that death vapor will be coming in. And they know that if they hold their breath, they can elongate their life just a little. But soon they will have to exhale the last oxygen and they will inhale the death vapor.

I think that Barabbas must have looked at the palms of his hands and he realized that soon spikes, big nails, would be driven through his hands and he would be impaled onto a cross and he would die. Every time a hammer struck a blow out in the courtyard he thought, “Oh dear, they’re building a cross for me.” And I imagine that when the soldiers came to his cell that day, that he probably thought, “This is it! This is it.” And yet they came and released him. And they said, “That man over there took your place. See that man over there? That’s Jesus. He took your place. You’re free because of Jesus.” And I want you to know that you can be free because of Jesus. That’s the only person that can set you free.

In Matthew 20:28 we read a fascinating verse: “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Praise God for Jesus. He is the Ransom for many, many people. I’m so glad for that. He came to serve.

Let us pray. Dear Father, Give us wisdom to make the right choices. Give us the courage to stand for you even when the crowd goes the other way. Forgive us for choosing Barabbas in the foolish days of our past. Give us the heart to choose Jesus now and forever.

~Let’s Boycott Sin ~

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APRIL 9th, 1951

Florida Sheriff Shoots Two Black Defendants After Supreme Court Overturns Convictions

On April 9, 1951, the United States Supreme Court overturned the convictions and death sentences of Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, two black men wrongly convicted of the rape of a white woman in Groveland, Florida. The Court held that the men were entitled to new trials because black people had been excluded from serving on their juries.

NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall represented Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Irvin in appealing their death sentences. The case originally had four black defendants, but one of the young men was lynched by a mob prior to trial, and the youngest defendant, at just 16 years old, had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In Sheriff Willis McCall’s custody while awaiting their first trial, the three defendants had been brutally beaten and tortured in the Lake County Jail. Following the reversal of Shepherd’s and Irvin’s convictions, Sheriff McCall volunteered to personally transport the men back to the Lake County Jail from Florida State Prison for retrial.

En route to the jail, on November 6, 1951, McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin. McCall later claimed that Shepherd and Irvin, handcuffed to each other in the back of the police car, attempted to attack him when he stopped on a deserted road to check the vehicle’s tires. McCall shot both men.

Mr. Shepherd died instantly from his wounds. Deputy James Yates, who was summoned to the scene, observed that Mr. Irvin was wounded but still alive, and shot him again in the neck. Yates and McCall then ripped McCall’s clothing and struck a blow to his head to substantiate his self defense claims. After multiple people arrived at the scene, someone observed that Mr. Irvin was miraculously still alive, and he ultimately survived his injuries. Though Mr. Irvin told the NAACP and the FBI that McCall had shot him and Mr. Shepherd without cause, a coroner’s jury found that McCall had acted in self defense and cleared his name. McCall remained Lake County Sheriff until 1972, when he was indicted for the murder of another black prisoner.

Mr. Irvin was retried for rape, again convicted and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Florida governor in 1955, and Mr. Irvin was released on parole in 1968. In 2012, FBI investigative documents surfaced showing that medical examinations of the alleged rape victim in 1949 revealed no evidence of assault. Surviving family members of the Groveland Four have since launched efforts to secure exonerations and an apology from the State of Florida.

Apr 9 1951

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.”
Ernesto Che Guevara

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
1 Peter 4:1–6

“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”
Marcus Garvey

After spending a week on the road speaking and engaging other leaders about our current state of existence as church leaders and advocates for Prop 47 and housing for formerly incarcerated populous I have come to the conclusion that It’s sin to deprive a human being of the necessities of life. I doubly find it horrific that our churches are not relevant in this work. Here are some of the sinful issues ahead of us to combat and boycott.

  1. Educational and Vocational Barriers As a group, previously incarcerated persons have low levels of education and face many barriers in regards to their employability. The Urban Institute reports the following information on soon-to-bereleased inmates from state prisons: ƒ 70% are high school dropouts ƒ 50% are functionally illiterate ƒ 19% have less than eight years of education ƒ The pre-incarceration employment rates of offenders are lower than the employment rates of the general U.S. population
  2. Mental and Physical Health Issues Previously incarcerated persons struggle with a wide range of mental and physical health problems. A 2003 Urban Institute paper reported the following statistics on male previously incarcerated persons: ƒ 75% have substance abuse problems ƒ 21% report having a disability that limits their ability to work ƒ 18% have Hepatitis C ƒ 16% report mental illness ƒ 12% report a vision or hearing problem ƒ 7% have a tuberculosis infection 4% show symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome related to incarceration ƒ 2-3% are HIV-positive or have AIDS
  3. Reclassification for Prop 47 needs funding
  4. Voter restoration of rights

I for one will give my life to advocate and educate the system and the oppressed about the goodness of our Lord and what He desires of us as a people to drive positive change in a sinful legislative body of government and policy makers in America. I will partner with ICUC- PICO and a coalition of churches to be a safe environment that desire to recycle this populous of people into humanity again as productive family, community oriented people.

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Be Prepared by Recognizing that God Will Bring Justice at the Judgment

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 4:5

Here in this passage, Peter encourages the believers who were suffering abuse by saying that ultimately the world will give an account to God for their sins, which in this context includes their persecution of believers. The reality of the world’s perceived prosperity and sometimes persecution of the righteous, has confused and frustrated many including some biblical writers. Look at what Asaph said:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied thearrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression…
Psalms 73:2–8

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin (emphasis mine).
Psalms 73: 13–18

Asaph said this reality plagued him. He couldn’t understand it. It made him question if he should remain holy. Was it really worth practicing godliness when those who did not prospered? No doubt, these believers were also being tempted to doubt God and possibly compromise to be like the world.

Peter encourages them with the same truth that comforted Asaph. It may seem like the world is carefree as they enjoy sin and mock the righteous, but the ground they stand on is slippery(Ps 73:18). It’s not stable, and their final destiny is ruin. This is the same truth that Peter comforts the believers with. He says in 1 Peter 4:5: “But they will have to give account to himwho is ready to judge the living and the dead” (emphasis mine). Not only will God judge them for their sin, but he will specifically judge them for their abuse of the righteous. Their mocking, their cursing, their murder will all be held accountable by God. This should comfort the believer in a world where it looks like there is no justice, where things are not right.

This concept of God’s righteous judgment should enable believers to be prepared to suffer for righteousness’ sake. In fact, Paul encourages believers who are suffering with the same truth in Romans 12:19-21,

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for Gods wrath, for it is written: It is mineto avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (emphasis mine).

Paul says the believer can return good for evil in part because God will take revenge. He is the one who will repay the world with judgment for their mistreatment of believers. This may not always happen during one’s life time, but it surely will happen at the judgment, if they will not repent.

It is for this reason that the believer can serve and bless because revenge is not the lot of the believer. It is reserved for God. In fact Paul, also, encouraged the suffering saints in Thessalonica with God’s justice. Look at what he says:

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you (emphasis mine).
2 Thessalonians 1:4–6

Many times, believers are tempted to get angry at God. They were mistreated; they were stepped over for a promotion; they were slandered. Many times they want to get mad at God and mad at people. The believer must understand this: God does not pay his accounts on our time schedule. Ultimately, this will take place at the judgment.

Listen to the story about this farm community:

The story is told of a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong disdain for “religious” things. As he plowed his field on Sunday morning, he would shake his fist at the church people who passed by on their way to worship. October came and the farmer had his finest crop ever––the best in the entire county. When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local paper which belittled the Christians for their faith in God. Near the end of his diatribe he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.” The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite. In the next edition of the town paper, a small ad appeared. It read simply, “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

Our God may also choose to not settle accounts until the judgment. Let us not be discouraged now, but live in hope. Our God will make all things right.

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DECEMBER 31st, 1952

First Year in 70 Years With No Reported Lynchings in the United States

On December 31, 1952, for the first time in seventy years, a full year passed with no recorded incidents of lynching. Defined as open, non-judicial murders carried out by mobs, lynching befell people of many backgrounds in the United States but was a frequent tool of racial terror used against black Americans to enforce and maintain white supremacy.

Prior to 1881, reliable lynching statistics were not recorded. But the Chicago Tribune, the NAACP, and the Tuskegee Institute began keeping independent records of lynchings as early as 1882. As of 1952, these authorities reported that 4726 persons had been lynched in the United States over the prior seventy years and 3431 of them were African American. During some years in American history it was not unusual for all lynching victims to be African American.

Lynching in the United States was most common in the later decades of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century, during post-reconstruction efforts to re-establish a racial hierarchy that subordinated and oppressed black people. Before the lynching-free year of 1952, annual lynching statistics were exhibiting significant reductions. Between 1943 and 1951 there were twenty-one lynchings reported nationwide, compared to 597 between 1913 and 1922. After 1952, the number of lynching incidents recorded annually continued to be zero or very low and the tracking of lynchings officially ended in 1968.

Though the diminished frequency of lynching signaled by the 1952 report was encouraging, the Tuskegee Institute warned that year that “other patterns of violence” were emerging, replacing lynchings with legalized acts of racialized inhumanity like executions, as well as more anonymous acts of violence such as bombings, arson, and beatings. Similarly, a 1953 editorial in the Times Daily of Florence, Alabama, noted that, though the decline in lynching was good news, the proliferation of anti-civil rights bombings demonstrated the South’s continued need for “education in human relations.”

Nooses

MAY 17th, 1954

United States Supreme Court Declared Racial Segregation of Public Schools Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education grew out of several cases challenging racial segregation in school districts across America, filed as part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s strategy to bar the practice nationwide. Because the lawsuits addressed the same legal questions, the United States Supreme Court consolidated them under the name of a case in which lead plaintiff, Oliver Brown, sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education on behalf of his daughter, Linda.

A black public school student in Topeka, Kansas, Linda Brown lived blocks from an elementary school but was forced to travel over an hour to reach the all-black school she was designated to attend. When she tried to enroll in the closer neighborhood school, which was all-white, the Board of Education denied her request.

In the United States Supreme Court, NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall argued that segregated schools were harmful and left black children with feelings of inferiority. On May 17, 1954, the Court unanimously ruled that segregation in public education is unconstitutional, overturning the “separate but equal” doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Relying on evidence of segregated facilities’ negative psychological impact on black children, Chief Justice Earl Warren declared that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Be Prepared by Focusing on the Gospel and the Faithful Before Us

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 4:6

Remember the reason that believers can suffer for righteousness is because of their focus on the gospel and remembering the faithful saints that were persecuted before us. It is the gospel that should enable believers to suffer for righteousness as it has many martyrs throughout the history of the church. In fact, this has been one of his main themes and encouragements throughout the epistle. Remember what he said in chapter 1:

Who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord JesusChrist! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through theresurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 1:2–5

He starts off the book comforting these believers with election, being chosen by God for salvation. He says they have experienced the new birth and have an inheritance being reserved in heaven. This is a tremendous comfort for the believer in persecution. But it is also astrength that enables the believer to suffer and even die.

It is the gospel that allows the believer to take up his cross and die for Christ. He knows that heis going to heaven. This truth has enabled many believers from the beginning of the church to give their lives for Christ, since they knew they would immediately be translated into the presence of God and eventually be resurrected. Therefore, in this verse Peter comforts this church with the gospel and the testimony of previous saints who had been persecuted and now were dead. He says:

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
1 Peter 4:6

This is a debated text, but Peter seems to be saying it is because of God’s coming judgment that the gospel was preached to previous believers who are now dead. Those who responded to the gospel were judged according men in the body, which means they suffered and possibly even died for the faith. However, they now live according to God in regard to the spirit. This means that they are now in heaven, living as spirits worshiping God. We probably get a picture of this in Hebrews 12:22-23:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men,to the spirits of righteous men made perfect (emphasis mine).

The writer of Hebrews speaks of not only angels in the city of God, but of the church and the spirits of the righteous men made perfect. These believers now worship God in spirit and await the rapture of our human bodies.

Peter writes to these scattered believers and calls them take comfort in the gospel and the faithful, persecuted saints before them. If they died, they would go to heaven, just as the many suffering saints before them who are now living in the spirit. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Understanding this reality will help prepare us to suffer. The best is yet to come.

Conclusion

We are living in a time where persecution towards the church is increasing daily even in Western nations. How can the believer be prepared to suffer unjustly?

  1. Be prepared by remembering that Christ suffered.
  2. Be prepared by having the attitude of Christ—as a soldier willing to die.
  3. Be prepared by recognizing the believer’s deliverance from sin in Christ’s death.
  4. Be prepared by recognizing we no longer follow the ways of this world.
  5. Be prepared by expecting abuse and suffering from the world.
  6. Be prepared by remembering God will bring justice at the judgment.
  7. Be prepared by a focus on the gospel and the faithful before us.

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~Are “MLK Jr.” Dreams Obtainable In 2016?~

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“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Is the American Dream attainable? My intelligently pessimistic side says no. My willingly optimistic side says yes.

The more pessimistic approach is rooted in the fact more than one American Dream exists. And they mostly wither when placed against reality.

One dream, for example, is rooted in beliefs about labor and upward mobility, the dream contained in the oft-asked survey question: Do you think the American Dream — that if you work hard you’ll get ahead — still holds true, never held true or once held true but does not anymore? The best data we have suggests that over the last 40 years upward mobility has stagnated significantly. Further, this data suggests that America fares far worse than other developed nations.

Another American Dream, rooted in beliefs about racial equality, particularly along political and economic lines, is contained in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This too is under siege. The wealth gap between blacks and whites, which was already large, is growing. And if the homicides of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Tensha Anderson (among others), tell us anything it’s that black lives do not seem to matter as much as other lives.

Americans in general and African-Americans in particular then have a right to be pessimistic about the attainability of the dream, or dreams.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

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‘He would be ashamed’ to walk MLK Blvd today’

Much progress has indeed been made. As a participant in the civil rights movement, I’m proud of that progress. But as long as there is necessity for such a legal category as hate crime, the “Dream” remains unfulfilled. As long as(“DWB (“Driving While Black”) in the presence of police remains a perilous activity for many African Americans throughout our nation, the Dream remains diluted. As long as unemployment among African Americans keeps repeating the historic ratio of double the rate of unemployment among white people, the Dream remains unfulfilled. As long as polarisation of wealth and absence of equal access to economic opportunity continue to escalate and disproportionately affect African Americans, the Dream remains unfulfilled.

These are not anomalies; they are realities in America. As such, the Dream that Martin Luther King Jr brought to us remains out of reach.

Those who argue that our election of an African American president proves that racism is a thing of the past are not looking closely at the subtleties of racism. Of course, Barack Obama is living proof that progress has been made towards respect for African Americans, but consider the hatred that bubbled up as he gained momentum in the primaries.

Even Obama’s eventual running mate, Joe Biden, was scrutinised by the media over a possibly racist comment. Among the adjectives he used to describe his then opponent, Biden offered “African American” and then the word “clean”. And while he kept backpedalling, saying he meant the phrase to invoke the idea there were no skeletons in Obama’s closet, one cannot help but wonder. Would Biden or any other public servant ever describe someone like John Kerry as “white and clean?” It is doubtful.

The post-racial America it’s been suggested we achieved by Obama’s election is nowhere in sight. The truth may be that we don’t want to admit to ourselves that an African American president does not mean a society wholly accepting of all African Americans. Indeed, racism continues to fester in every American city and town. We can safely, if sadly, say that we have not fully achieved the Dream.

Those who say otherwise simply have not taken the requisite look at the underlying political ideology that powered the philosophical engine of Martin Luther King Jr. The essence of his dream for African Americans after the March on Washington was this: a United States where every person has the equal opportunity – educationally, economically, culturally and politically – to participate in our society and develop themselves to the maximum of their abilities, irrespective of the colour of their skin or ethnicity. This concept assumes that, all other things being equal, African Americans should have access to the same opportunities as whites.

But this “all other things being equal” is the lie of race relations in America. Because our country has not levelled the playing field at all. Various civil rights bills, constitutional amendments and supreme court decisions aimed at dismantling segregation in education, transportation and rental housing, have not constituted “all other things being equal”. Ours is a capitalist society, and each individual’s market power is key to how he is treated. There remains an enormous division between the races when it comes to median income, home ownership, education, life expectancy, the incarceration rate, drug use and mortality rate.

The issue at the heart of all these problems is the idea that freedom and economic opportunity are interchangeable; that freedom is economic opportunity. This is false logic. Freedom without economic opportunity is just a variant form of oppression. Further, this thinking is dangerous because it obscures the definitive criterion necessary in evaluating the realisation of Martin’s Dream for African Americans in the 21st century and beyond: wealth.

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~Be Christ Centered In 2016:Happy New Years

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“We are not as Christ-centered and cross-cherishing as we should be, because we do not ponder the truth that everything good, and everything bad that God turns for the good, was purchased by the sufferings of Christ.”

― John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ

Have you heard them yet? Scores of people talking about “New Year’s resolutions?” Have you tried making those kinds of promises to yourself, only to find that they usually never last beyond January 31st?

Shortly after becoming a Christian, I began making resolutions “before God” and declaring everything from losing weight and eating better, to reading more good books and turning off the television.

Dare I say it? They didn’t last long. What happens? How do our good intentions derail so easily? Should Christians even engage in the practice of making resolutions? We would probably all be surprised how many do not.

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Obviously, resolutions are helpful and productive when they are accompanied by heartfelt “resolve.” This is perhaps the problem that confronts too many of us — we are simply not serious enough to change. We get caught up in the moment, making some declarations we don’t really mean, and are not willing to follow through to fulfillment. But we desire to change. We sense a need to change. Every January 1st brings another opportunity to effect change. So, what happens to the change?

For centuries, January 1st has marked more than the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. This date holds an almost spiritual sense of completion (of the previous year) and expectation (of the coming year). There is a natural awareness of change at this time of year. Even those tradtional symbols of year end — the old man with the long beard, and the baby in diapers — spell newness and impending change. But how does this relate to the believer? Can we anticipate change just because of the new calendar year? Is God motivated by our calendar observances?

“For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6, NKJV). We take great comfort in knowing that the Ancient of Days never changes. The Alpha and the Omega has no beginning and no end. We rejoice in the revelation that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 12:8). Changelessness is part of the very nature of God. But change IS part of the nature of man. God has created us to change, and His revealed will for mankind changes, not because of a character flaw on His part, but because our nature requires and thrives on change.

Consider God’s revelation to Jeremiah (29:11):

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Imagine God thinking about our future! He desires us to have hope — a confident expectation of blessing and provision in the days ahead. Hope causes us to walk forward into our future with faith and anticipation, even though we don’t know every detail concerning our future.

Someone once said that if God showed us every detail of our lives, all at one time, we would sit down at that point and refuse to face another day! We were not created to contain omniscience (the quality of knowing everything) like God. So, He reveals our future to us in portions we can digest — like a loving parent feeding their child only the texture and amount of food that their child can sustain. God wisely only reveals what we can understand, perceive, and apply at that time.

Knowing this, I am intrigued by the scriptures that speak of God declaring and doing “new” things:

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
“Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
“Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’ … indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11).
Careful and thoughtful study of these scriptures show us that God is not intending to do something capricious or whimsical. He is deliberately leading each of us to specific moments of destiny with which He is already completely familiar!

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Several years ago, I listened intently to a Christian teacher ministering from Habakkuk 2:1-4 concerning living by vision, and learning to establish God-centered goals for our lives. This teacher very passionately taught that we must first discern the vision of God for our lives by taking time to hear God’s voice in prayer. From that point, as Habakkuk records, we should “write the vision and make it plain…” so that “…he may run who reads it.” The teacher taught that God’s vision is His will for our lives, and that we should write on paper what we perceive His will and destiny for us to be. We must also be careful to note that:

“the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry (forever).”

From this place of perceiving God’s will, the Christian teacher suggested that we should all begin to establish God-centered goals from His perceived will as a means of ensuring accountability and productivity. I began then to see that setting goals wasn’t about what I wanted to do, but what I believed God could do through me!

We must understand that God is sovereignly in control of our today and our tomorrow! So then, He enables us by grace to point ourselves toward the target of His perceived will for our life. With His will in mind, we can make a measurable impact in His Kingdom and significantly change our world by making goals that agree with God. What about Providence, you ask? All the time that we pursue our goals, we remain mindful that He has ultimate say in our destiny. His destiny for us doesn’t change each day. But our destiny is a journey, and our perception may become clouded by sin, doubt or ungodly assumptions. These areas must be corrected — minor course changes along the journey.

The Apostle James taught us to make plans with the qualifier “if the Lord wills” (James 4:13-17). Surely we’ve heard that response from someone asked about their plans: “Well, Lord willing, and if the creek don’t rise!” We must understandably make sufficient room in our goals and objectives for God’s course changes and adjustments. But the sovereignty of God is no excuse for human inactivity, procrastination, or irresponsibility. God is much bigger and mightier than our missteps. Wouldn’t we all rather be pursuing a spiritual goal that might need adjustment, than to be doing nothing for the Kingdom out of fear that we might miss His will?

Will this year be full of spiritual milestones and accomplishments, or another year of “shoulda-coulda-woulda?” Someone once said that “Goals are the rudder of our lives, and God’s wisdom is the wind filling the sails.” I suggest that our year will be more fulfilling if we are able to recognize significant Kingdom exploits (Daniel 11:32) made by setting godly goals! If we will challenge our hearts to trust in what we perceive God’s will to be for our lives, and write down several motivating thoughts concerning His will, in January 2016 we will sense His peace and pleasure.

We are not just spiritual or just physical beings. Our goals should encompass many areas of our life: spiritual, physical, mental, social relationships, and stewardship. Now, formulate one or two goal statements for each area and write them in the your prayer journal.

Remember to make your goals S.M.A.R.T. — Specific (not just lose weight, but instead “lose 35 pounds”); Measurable (can you tangibly show you met the goal?); Attainable (“bring about world peace” is WAY too lofty!); Realistic (“never eat chocolate again” — gallant thought, but better to say limit it to one day a week!); and Timely (set a date — not too soon, and not too late — but time constraints are helpful to bring about change).

Ready to set a goal focus for this year? Make this faith declaration with me:

“In agreement with God’s Word that says God intends to give me ‘a future and a hope,’ I offer these goals and plans to Him as a gift from my heart. I challenge myself to see exploits done for His Kingdom through my life. I will ‘redeem the time’ during this next year. I fully understand that all goals are subject to change and to the perfect will of God. By His help these dreams of my heart shall become reality!”

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.
The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
― Ezra Taft Benson

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~“Who despises the day of small things?~

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SMALL BEGINNINGS! Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (The seven lamps represent the eyes of the LORD that search all around the world (Zechariah 4:10)).

“You cannot expect victory and plan for defeat.”
Joel Osteen

Occasionally we all wonder if our efforts are making a difference. It is easy to grow discouraged thinking that our acts of kindness are insignificant. Many Americans suffer from depression because they do not get a sense of the significance from their lives. People need to know that what they are doing counts.
The Israelites faced a similar problem when they returned from Babylonian captivity and began to rebuild Jerusalem as they fell victim to despondency. The people were discouraged because their numbers were small and their efforts seemed feeble when compared with the accomplishments of their ancestors. When they started to rebuild the temple they only saw how meager their contributions would be and stopped working. Paul once wrote to the Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal. 6:9,10)

Quote: God can do a lot with a little. A little is a lot with God.

Jesus fed five thousand people with five small barley loaves and two small fish. (John 6:10,11) Little becomes much when we place it in the Master’s hand.

1. FAITH GIVES MEANING TO SMALL ACTS OF SERVICE. Trust in God means that we believe God can accomplish everything He wants through our lives no matter how insignificant it might appear in the eyes of people. Many people will not see the greater works that God has been working through their small acts of love until they get to heaven. The Lord is able to take the seeds of small acts of love, faith and truth telling and multiply them significantly. Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20) Faith helps us see how God can use small faith to accomplish much for His purposes. Do not underestimate the power of a little act of faith to move away huge obstacles to progress.
2. FAITHFULNESS IN SMALL THINGS LEADS TO PROMOTIONS. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10) People who fail to be trustworthy in showing love, kindness and service in little opportunities will not be give greater responsibilities in the future. Whoever serves God and does good with the little time, talents and resources they have, will be entrusted with more blessings. The person who hides their talents, resources or service abilities will never improve and grow stagnant. How can we expect God to enrich us with more if we do not serve him with what He has already given? One man put it best, “Use it or lose it.”
3. GREAT THINGS COME FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” (Mark 4:30-32) Plant seeds of kindness, truth and love where you ever you go. Give people hope that their lives are getting better in the Lord and it will buoys their outlook on a whole range of issues. Allow the Lord to use your seeds to expand His kingdom and righteousness in qualitative and quantitative ways. The work of grace is always small in the beginning but it becomes great in the end. The seeds of the gospel may appear to be insignificant but will bring a harvest of righteousness. The Psalmist wrote, “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Psa. 126:6)
4. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE ANY INDIVIDUAL. It is just like Jesus to take the small, seemingly insignificant and weak people of the world and use them in a mighty way. Paul wrote, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Cor. 1:26-29) The Lord does not see as men see. He is a better judge than we are of what instruments will best serve His purpose. Hudson Taylor was once asked, “Why do you think God chose you to start China Inland Mission. He replied, “God picked out somebody who was so weak that apart from Him I knew I could do nothing.” God despises the proud but gives grace to the humble of heart. He uses the people who realize they are small so that apart from His all-sufficient grace we are inadequate. Never overlook any person who might be used of God in a great way for His greater purposes. Jesus picked out little Zacchaeus and said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9,10) Jesus uses anyone who realizes they are need Him every moment of every day.
5. GOD MULTIPLIES OUR LITTLE DONATIONS. Jesus said of the widow’s two small copper coin offering. “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she has out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) Never underestimate how the Lord will multiply every gift you give for the advancement of His kingdom and righteousness around the world. God is far better able to multiply your giving than any mutual fund, certificate of deposit or hedge fund.
6. DO NOT OVERLOOK CHILDREN OR THE NEGLECTED. Luke wrote, “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt. 19:13,14) 85% of the people who come to Christ do so before the age of eighteen. 72% of the people whose parents bring them to church tend to become believers. We should not despise the little hearts, which look to us for knowledge and guidance. God knows what each child is capable of accomplishing if someone will simply invest a little love, truth and faith in them. What part will you play in setting that Child’s feet upon the path of Christ likeness?
7. DO NOT OVERLOOK ANY PEOPLE GROUP. Jesus went to one Samaritan woman in the village of Sychar and shared the gospel. Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10) Later the woman was used of God to tell everyone in her village about Jesus Christ. God continues to use that little encounter to impact the world in showing others how to share the gospel across cultures. There are still 6000 people groups in the world to be reached with the gospel. Adopt a people group and begin to pray and ask the Lord how He can use you and your church to reach one person, one village or one people group with the gospel.
8. CONSIDER HOW GOD MULTIPLIES A LITTLE CUP OF COLD WATER. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40) What can you accomplish with one visit, one cup of water, or one meal? You can save your soul.
9. FOLLOW THE FAITH OF PEOPLE LIKE ABRAHAM. Paul wrote, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Rom. 4:20,21) Abraham did not know how much the Lord would use his faith to multiply His blessings to the nations. There are still about 5.4 billion people on the planet who still need to experience the blessings of God through saving faith in Jesus Christ. Will you allow God to use your faith to help reach them through your serving, giving and loving acts?
10. GOD USES THE FAITHFUL FEW TO ACCOMPLISH MUCH. Do you remember the Old Testament story of Gideon? Gideon led the army of Israel to defeat the Midianites who had invaded Israel with an army of 135,000. When God called Gideon to do this He didn’t pat Gideon on the back and say…. Now Gideon you can do this…YOU must believe in yourself…YOU CAN DO THIS! No.in fact God commanded Gideon to reduce his army from 32,000 to a mere 300. In so doing, Gideon was forced to trust in God…he was led from self-confidence to develop God-confidence. You see…You cannot be too small for God to use…but you can be too big. God always works in a powerful way in the lives of weak people. Allow the Lord to use your faithful few friends, disciples and companions to do great things through you. Jesus said, “He who believes in me the works that I do will. Will he do also and greater works than these will He do because I go to the Father. And you can ask anything in my name and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

Conclusion: Do not wait until you think an act of kindness is significant before serving someone. Nobody is able to determine if his or her actions  will make a great or small impact on another. Prov. 21:31 says, “A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory is in the hands of the Lord.” Let God use you in great ways, but realize He is the one who gives ultimate success, fruit and blessings. If you wait until you are asked to do something great, you might never be given these lofty opportunities. Be faithful in little things and God will make you faithful over much. (Luke 16:10) You may not think you are accomplishing a whole lot today but be like a farmer and realize that seeds planted today will yield a thirty, sixty and hundredfold harvest as God blesses.

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