“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 Lawson, Furiously 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.
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.
“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 Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity
“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.
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.
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?”
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.
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:
they love Christ;
they believe in Christ;
they rejoice in Christ;
through all this they are receiving the salvation of their souls; and
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.
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.
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.
“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 Wallace, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
We are all created with a propensity to worship.
Proposition: Because acceptable worship is through Christ, we must worship Him in spirit and truth.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
“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.