Churches today are filled with people who hold to a faith that does not save. James referred to this as a “dead faith”-meaning a mere empty profession (James 2:17, 20, 26). Paul wrote to the people in the church at Corinth to test or examine themselves to see if they were truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). As important as it was in Paul’s day, how much more important it is for people in our churches today to put their faith to the test and to make sure they have not been deceived.
But where do we start? By what criteria do we determine true from empty faith? What are the distinguishing marks of genuine saving faith? Surprisingly, there are a number of popular standards or tests that really don’t prove the genuineness of one’s faith one way or the other. So before we look at the tests that prove genuine faith, let’s take a look at some popular tests that neither prove nor disprove the genuineness of one’s faith.
Here is a list of seven conditions that do not prove or disprove the genuineness of saving faith. One can be a Christian and possess these things or one may not be a Christian at all and still possess them. While they don’t prove or disprove one’s faith, they’re important to know and understand so you will not be deceived.
Seven conditions that do not prove or disprove genuine saving faith.
1. Visible Morality
There are some people who just seem to be good people. They can be religious, moral, honest, and forthright [trustworthy] in their dealings with people. They may seem to be grateful, loving, kind and tenderhearted toward others. They have visible virtues and an external morality. The Pharisees of Jesus day rested on visible morality for their hope and yet some of Christ’s harshest words were directed at them for this very thing.
Many who possess visible morality know nothing of sincere love for God. Whatever good works they appear to possess, they know nothing of serving the true God and living for His glory. Whatever the person does or leaves undone does not involve God. They’re honest in their dealings with everyone-but God. They won’t rob anyone-but God. They’re thankful and loyal to everyone-but God. They speak contemptuously and reproachfully of no one-but God. They have good relationships with everyone-but God. They are like the rich young ruler who said, “All these things [conditions] have I kept, what do I lack?” Their focus is on visible morality, but that visible morality doesn’t necessarily mean salvation. Jesus told one of the Pharisees “you must be born again” (John 3:6), not “you must put on an external morality.” People can “clean up their act” by reformation rather than regeneration-so reformation in itself is not a mark of saving faith.
2. Intellectual Knowledge
Another condition that can be misleading is intellectual knowledge. People can possess an intellectual understanding and knowledge of the truth and yet not be saved. While the knowledge of the truth is necessary for salvation, and visible morality is a fruit of salvation, neither of these conditions by themselves translate into true saving faith. People can know all about God, all about Jesus, who He was, that He came into the world, that He died on the cross, that He rose again, that He’s coming again, and even many details about the life of Christ-and still turn their backs on Him.
That’s what the writer of Hebrews was warning against in Hebrews 6:4-6. There were people in the church who knew all about God and understood gospel truths. They even had a measure of experience with gospel truth. They’d seen the ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives-and yet knowing all of that, they stood in grave danger of turning away and rejecting Christ.
In Hebrews 10 the writer warns this kind of man that he is treading underfoot the blood of Christ by not believing what he knows to be true. There are many people who know the Scriptures but are on their way to hell! A man cannot be saved without the knowledge of the truth, but possessing that knowledge alone does not save.
3. Religious Involvement
Religious involvement is not necessarily a proof of true faith. According to Paul there are people who possess an outward form (a mere external appearance) of godliness but who have denied the power of it. They have an empty form of religion. Jesus illustrated this when He told of the virgins in Matthew 25. They waited and waited and waited for the coming of the bridegroom, who is Christ. And even though they waited a long time, when He came they didn’t go in. They had everything together except the oil in their lamps. That which was most necessary was missing. The oil is probably emblematic of the new life; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They weren’t regenerate. They had religious involvement but were not regenerate. A person can be visibly moral, know the truth, be religiously involved, and yet not possess genuine saving faith.
4. Active Ministry
It is possible to have an active and even a public ministry, and yet not possess genuine saving faith. Balaam was a prophet who turned out to be false (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Saul of Tarsus (later becoming the apostle Paul) thought he was serving God by killing Christians. Judas was a public preacher and one of the twelve disciples of Christ-but he was an apostate. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” Those whom Jesus spoke of had been involved in active and public ministry-but Jesus said he never knew them. Sobering words indeed.
5. Conviction of Sin
By itself, even conviction of sin is not a proof of salvation. Our world is filled with guilt-ridden people. Many even feel badly about their sin. Felix trembled under conviction at the preaching of the apostle Paul, but he never left his idols or turned to God (Acts 24:24-6). The Holy Spirit works to convict men of sin, righteousness, and of judgment, but many do not respond in true repentance. Some may confess their sins and even abandon the sins they feel guilty about. They say, “I don’t like living this way. I want to change.” They may amend their ways and yet fall short of genuine saving faith. That’s external reformation, not internal regeneration. No degree of conviction of sin is conclusive evidence of saving faith. Even the demons are convicted of their sins-that’s why they tremble-but they are not saved.
6. The Feeling of Assurance
Feeling like you are saved is no guarantee you are indeed saved. Someone may say, “Well, I must be a Christian because I feel that I am. I think I am one.” But that is faulty reasoning. If thinking one is a Christian is what makes one a Christian, then no one could be deceived. And then, by definition, it would not be possible to be a deceived non-Christian, and that doesn’t square with the whole point of Satan’s deception. He wants people who are not truly saved to think they are. Satan has deceived multiplied millions of religious people into thinking they are saved even though they are not. They may say to themselves, “God won’t condemn me. I feel good about myself. I have assurance. I’m ok.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.
7. A Time of Decision
So often people say things like: “Well, I know I’m a Christian, because I remember when I signed the card,” or “I remember when I prayed a prayer,” or “I remember when I walked the aisle” or “went forward in church.” A person may remember exactly when it happened and where they were when “it” happened, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Our salvation is not verified by a past moment. Many people have prayed prayers, gone forward in church services, signed cards, gone into prayer rooms, been baptized, and joined churches without ever experiencing genuine saving faith.
These are seven common conditions or tests that don’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of saving faith. What then are the marks of genuine saving faith? Are there some reliable tests from the Word of God that enable us to know for certain whether one’s faith is real? Thankfully there are at least nine biblical criteria for examining the genuineness of saving faith.
Nine conditions that prove genuine saving faith.
1. Love for God
First of all a deep and abiding love for God is one of the supreme evidences of genuine saving faith. This gets to the heart of the issue. Romans 8:7 says “the carnal mind is enmity [hostility, hatred] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Thus, if a man’s heart is at enmity with God there is no basis for assuming the presence of saving faith. Those who are truly saved love God, but those who are not truly saved resent God and His sovereignty. Internally they are rebellious toward God and His plan for their life. But the regenerate person is set to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His delight is in the infinite excellencies of God. God is the first and highest affection of his renewed soul. God has become his chief happiness and source of satisfaction. He seeks after God and thirsts for the living God.
By the way, we must be careful to distinguish the difference between that kind of true love for God that seeks His glory from the kind of self-serving love that sees God primarily as a means of personal fulfillment and gain. True saving faith doesn’t believe in Christ so that Christ will make one happy. The heart that truly loves God desires to please God and glorify Him. Jesus taught that if someone loved their father and mother more than they loved Christ, they were not worthy of Him. In Matthew 10:37-39 Jesus put it like this: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
The question then is this: Do you love God? Do you love His nature? Do you love His glory? Do you love His name? Do you love His kingdom? Do you love His holiness? Do you love His will? Is your heart lifted when you sing His praises-because you love Him? Supreme love for God is decisive evidence of true faith.
2. Repentance from Sin
A proper love for God necessarily involves a hatred for sin that leads to repentance. That should be obvious. Who wouldn’t understand that? If we truly love someone we seek their best interests. Their well being is our greatest concern. If a man says to his wife, “I love you but I could care less what happens to you,” we would rightly question his love for her. True love seeks the highest good of its object. If we say that we love God, then we will hate whatever is an offense to Him. Sin blasphemes God. Sin curses God. Sin seeks to destroy God’s work and His kingdom. Sin killed His Son. So when someone says, “I love God, but I tolerate sin,” then there is every reason to question the genuineness of his love for God. One cannot love God without hating that which is set to destroy Him. True love for God will therefore manifest itself through confession and repentance. The man who loves God will be grieved over his sin and will want to confess it to God and forsake it.
In examining our faith we should ask: “Do I have a settled conviction concerning the evil of all sin? Does sin appear to me as the evil and bitter thing that it really is? Does conviction of sin increase in me as I walk with Christ? Do I hate it not primarily because it is ruinous to my own soul or because it is an offense to the God I love? Does the sin itself grieve me or am I only grieved over the consequences of my sin. What grieves me most-my misfortune or my sin? Do my sins appear to me as many, frequent and aggravated? Do I find myself grieved over my own sin more than the sins of others?” Genuine saving faith loves God and hates what He hates, which is sin. That attitude results in real repentance.
3. Genuine Humility
Saving faith is manifested through genuine humility. Jesus said blessed are those who are poor in spirit, and those who mourn [their sin], and those who are meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:3-6)-all marks of humility. In Matthew 18 Jesus said that “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). True saving faith comes as a little child-humble and dependent. It is not the man who is full of himself who is saved, but the man who denies himself, takes up his cross daily and follows Christ (Matthew 16:24).
In the Old Testament we see that the Lord receives those who come with a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2). James wrote: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). We must come as the prodigal son, broken and humble. Remember what he said to his father-“Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Those possessing genuine saving faith do not come boastfully to God with their religious achievements or spiritual accomplishments in hand. They come empty-handed in genuine humility.
4. Devotion to God’s Glory
True saving faith is manifested by a devotion to God’s glory. Whatever believers do, whether they eat or drink, their desire is to see God glorified. Christians do what they do because they want to bring glory to God.
Without question Christians fail in each of these areas, but the direction of a Christian’s life is to love God, hate sin, to live in humility and self-denial, recognizing his unworthiness and being devoted to the glory of God. It is not the perfection of one’s life but the direction of a life that provides evidence of regeneration.
5. Continual Prayer
Humble, submissive, believing prayer is mark of true faith. We cry “Abba, Father” because the Spirit within us prompts that cry. Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon titled, “Hypocrites are Deficient in the Duty of Secret Prayer.” It’s true. Hypocrites may pray publicly, because that’s what hypocrites want to do. Their desire is to impress people-but they are deficient in the duty of secret prayer. True believers have a personal and private prayer life with God. They regularly seek communion with God through prayer.
6. Selfless Love
An important characteristic of genuine saving faith is selfless love. James wrote, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (James 2:8). John wrote, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
If you love God you will not only hate what offends Him, but you will love those whom He loves. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14). And why do we love God and love others? Because this is the believer’s response to His love for us. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Jesus said we will know that we are His disciples by our love for each other (John 13:35).
7. Separation from the World
Positively, believers are marked by a love for God and for fellow believers. Negatively, the Christian is characterized by the absence of love for the world. True believers are not those who are ruled by worldly affections, but their affection and devotion is toward God and His kingdom.
In 1 Corinthians 2:12 Paul wrote that “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” In 1 John 2:15 we read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15). True saving faith separates one from the pursuits of this world–not perfectly, as we all fail in these areas, but the direction of a believer’s life is upward. He feels the pull of heaven on his soul. Christians are those whom God has delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of His Son. The believer is marked by the absence of love or enslavement to the satanically controlled world system (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:13; James 4:4).
8. Spiritual Growth
True believers grow. When God begins a true work of salvation in a person, He finishes and perfects that work. Paul expressed that assurance when he wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
If you are a true Christian, you are going to be growing-and that means you are going to be more and more like Christ. Life produces itself. If you’re alive you are going to grow, there’s no other way. You’ll improve. You’ll increase. The Spirit will move you from one level of glory to the next. So examine your life. Do you see spiritual growth? Do you see the decreasing frequency of sin? Is there an increasing pattern of righteousness and devotion to God?
Obedient living is not one of the optional tracks given for believers to walk. All true believers are called to a life of obedience. Jesus taught that every branch that abides in Him bears fruit (John 15:1-8). Paul wrote that believers “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). That speaks of obedience. We are saved unto the obedience of faith (see 1 Peter 1:2).
How can we know our faith is genuine? Examine your life in the light of God’s Word. Do you see these characteristics in your life? Do you have a love for God, hatred for sin, humility, devotion to God’s glory, a pattern of personal and private prayer, selfless love, separation from the world, the evidence of spiritual growth and obedience. These are the real evidences of genuine saving faith.
“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
“Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.”
― Anonymous, Holy Bible: King James Version
“Interpersonal relations” is not usually thought of as a Bible topic, but advice about dealing with other people makes up a large part of the teachings of Jesus and His apostles as well as the wisdom books of the Old Testament. Whether dealing with parents, children, spouses, family, friends, co-workers, strangers or even enemies, the Bible’s advice is spiritually sound and effective for promoting peace and harmony.
The Greatest Commandment
All of the New Testament teachings on interpersonal relations follow from Jesus’ commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was most important, He replied,
The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. (NRSV, Mark 12:26-31)
The English word “love” has many different meanings, but this “Christian love” of the Bible comes from the Greek word agape which means respect, good-will and benevolent concern for the one loved. It is deliberate, purposeful love rather than emotional or impulsive love. The King James Version of the Bible often uses the word “charity” for this kind of love.
“Love your neighbor” was not a new commandment (Leviticus 19:18), but the people of Jesus’ time had developed a rather narrow view of who should be considered a “neighbor.” In HisParable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus corrected that view and teaches us that a “neighbor” is anyone we come in contact with, regardless of race, nationality, religion or other distinctions..
No one is perfect; we are all sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:21-24, 1 John 1:8). If we treat people we consider to be “sinners” with scorn, or think we are better than they are, we are guilty of the sin of self-righteousness:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.” (NLT, Luke 18:9-14)
Self-righteousness is one of the hardest sins to avoid because it is so much easier to see other people’s faults than to see our own faults. But, judgment of a person’s character must be left to God (Romans 2:1-4, James 4:11-12). Rather than look for faults in others, we should look for the good in others and try to correct the faults within ourselves. Rather than criticizing other people, we should concentrate on living holy lives, ourselves. Jesus’ comical parable of a person with a log in his eye trying to see to remove a speck from another’s eye reminds us that we probably have bigger faults within ourselves (including self-righteousness) than the faults we like to criticize in others:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (NRSV, Matthew 7:1-5)
This does not mean, however, that all sin should be ignored:
But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (NAS, Matthew 23:11-12)
An attitude of humility is the key to dealing with other people in a Biblical way. Humility or humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness and exaggerated pride. Humility is the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs of others. Why do qualities such as courtesy, patience and deference have such a prominent place in the Bible? It is because a demeanor of humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. Acting with humility does not in any way deny our own self worth. Rather, it affirms the inherent worth of all persons.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV, Luke 6:31)
The Golden Rule, spoken by Jesus, is possibly the best-known quote from the Bible and is the standard Jesus set for dealing with other people. If we wish to be loved, we must give love. If we wish to be respected, we must respect all persons, even those we dislike. If we wish to be forgiven, we must also forgive. If we wish others to speak kindly of us, we must speak kindly of them and avoid gossip. If we want happy marriages, we must be faithful, forgiving and kind to our spouses. If we wish to be fulfilled in our lives, we must share generously with others.
“Under the laws of Moses the rule was, ‘If you murder, you must die.’ But I have added to that rule and tell you that if you are only angry, even in your own home, you are in danger of judgment! If you call your friend an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse him, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (TLB, Matthew 5:21-22)
No one makes us angry. Anger is our own emotional response to some action or event. More often than not, our angry feelings are based on a misinterpretation of what someone said or did or on our own exaggerated sense of pride. Angry words and actions escalate hostilities and block communication rather than solve problems. Whether between parent and child, spouses, siblings, friends, or nations, expressions of anger divide us and drive us toward open hostility.
It is all too easy to react to life’s annoyances and disappointments with anger. It is far more challenging, but much better, to react with understanding and empathy. In this way, we can quickly settle disputes and avoid turning minor incidents into major battles:
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. (NRSV, James 1:19-20)
Holding a grudge can consume us with hatred, blocking out all enjoyment of life. A grudge clouds our judgment and may lead us to an act of revenge that can never be undone. The Old Testament law specified equal revenge for equal wrong: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20), but that rule was too harsh for the new age of the kingdom of God. Jesus said the right thing to do is to take no revenge at all:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (NRSV, Matthew 5:38-42)
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NLT, Matthew 6:14-15)
We should always be willing to forgive others and not hold any ill will against them. Holding a grudge and seeking revenge have no place in the lives of those who truly love their neighbors. Jesus calls us to remember that we are all God’s children. Just as He loves all His people and is willing to forgive their sins, we should be willing to forgive also.
A good person produces good words from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil words from an evil heart. And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak. The words you say now reflect your fate then; either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned. (NLT, Matthew 12:35-37)
The words we say or write have tremendous power for good or evil. Words can promote love and understanding or inflame prejudice and hatred. It is words that make or break marriages and other relationships. Words can make peace or make war. Our words should always show a spirit of Christian love.
A lie is any false statement made with the intent to deceive someone. We must always be honest in our dealings with other people. The Bible strongly condemns any attempt to deceive with the intent to hurt someone or gain unfair advantage:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (The Ten Commandments, NRSV, Exodus 20:16)
Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit. (NRSV, 1 Peter 3:10)
Gossip or slander is an act of hostility intended to harm someone’s reputation. We must avoid the temptation to misrepresent someone’s character or actions:
An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends. (TLB, Proverbs 16:28)
Becoming a Christian requires change. We must remove old habits and develop new ones. This study considers Bible principles to help us improve ourselves: faith, love, repentance, Bible study, prayer, avoiding temptation, and patience. God’s word is the best source of guidance for self-help and motivation for self-improvement.
Have you ever had difficulty trying to change a habit? Human beings are creatures of habit. We tend to continue acting as we have acted in the past. Like a river flowing through a canyon, the longer a habit continues, the more deeply it becomes ingrained, and the harder it is to change. This is true of all habits, good or bad.
Ephesians 4:22-24 shows that major changes must occur when we are converted to serve God. Old practices and attitudes must be replaced by new ones. Christians must learn good habits like Bible study, prayer, love, faith, patience, attending church meetings, giving, teaching others, etc. We must also eliminate bad habits like foul language, uncontrolled temper, gambling, drugs, smoking, drinking, gossip, lying, pornography, sexual promiscuity, etc.
Knowing what changes to make is not enough. We also need to know how to make them. Change does not come easily. Since the Scriptures provide us to all good works (2 Timothy 3:16,17), they give all the guidance we need. God’s word is the best source of guidance for self-help and motivation for self-improvement.
Let us study 12 specific, practical steps the Bible gives to show us how to change and improve our selves to become what God wants.
Step1: Change Your Purpose in Life.
Before people are willing to act, they must be motivated. A sound sleeper is more likely to get up in the middle of the night if the house is on fire than if he remembers he did not brush his teeth! Christians have some of the strongest possible motives for changing. Consider some:
Love and Dedication to God
Romans 12:1,2 – Christians are transformed (changed) by renewing their minds (cf. Eph. 4:23). To live differently, we must think differently. We must not seek to be like the world but to use our bodies in God’s service.
The Macedonians practiced generous giving because they first gave themselves to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5). Changing our conduct becomes much easier when we are totally dedicated to God’s service. (See also Ecc. 12:13; Matt. 6:33; 16:24.)
1 John 5:3; 4:19,9 – What motivates us to obey God? Our love for Him. What motivates us to love Him? The fact that He loved us. How do we know He loved us? Because He gave His Son to die to save us.
Love is one of the strongest forces in existence. It can move a woman to rescue her children from a burning building or a man to lift an automobile that has crushed a loved one. If you are having difficulty changing yourself, you need to learn to appreciate God’s blessings and mercy. (See also 1 John 2:15-17; Matt. 10:34-37; 22:37-40; John 14:15; 2 Cor. 5:14-17.)
Imitation of Christ
The desire to be like someone we admire is another powerful motivation. Sports heroes inspire young people in athletics. Washington and Lincoln are models for patriotic citizens. So godly people like Abraham, Noah, Ruth, and Mary motivate us to serve God. But the greatest example of all is that of Jesus.
Matthew 10:24,25 – A disciple seeks to be like his master. Christians are disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:26). We should follow His steps because He left us a sinless example (1 Peter 2:21,22).
As we face each decision in life, we should ask, “What would Jesus do?” This will give us strong motivation to change our lives. (See also Gal. 2:20; Matt. 16:24; Col. 3:10).
Desire for Eternal Life, Not Eternal Punishment
1 Corinthians 9:25 – Athletes control their habits so they can win a temporary, earthly honor. Christians have an even stronger motive. We seek the crown of eternal life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10). We should set our minds on our eternal reward, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1-6; 2 Peter 1:10,11; 2 Thess. 1:8,9).
Lack of motivation is a major reason people do not change to please God. They do not have sufficient desire to change. Instead they want to please themselves or their friends and family. Often they are too concerned with the things of this life. Until our motives are right, little else in this study will help us. But when we are determined that serving God is our most important purpose in life, then we will find the means to make the necessary changes.
When we lack the motivation to change, let us think about why we should love God, think about the importance of being like Christ, and think about our eternal destiny.
Step2: Believe You Can Change with God’s Help.
Proverbs 4:23 – Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. The way you act is determined by your attitudes and intentions. People and circumstances may influence you, but you do not have to give in. You do what you decide to do (cf. Matt. 15:18,19; 12:34-37).
1 Corinthians 10:13 – God will not allow temptations that are beyond your ability to bear. He will always make a way of escape. “God is faithful.” He will always keep this promise. It follows that you can break any bad habit and develop any good habit according to God’s will.
Philippians 4:13 – We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. This includes changing to please Him. If we trust our own strength, we will fail. Satan can defeat us. If we use Christ’s strength we will succeed, because Satan can never defeat Him. Perhaps we have failed in the past because we have trusted our own power instead of using Christ’s.
People sometimes convince themselves, “I just can’t change. It’s too late. Besides, I’m only human.” They are not just belittling themselves; they are denying God’s word. They will fail simply because they will give up instead of persisting to use God’s power.
Psalm 37:5 – If you commit yourself to the Lord and trust Him, He will accomplish His will for you. No matter how strong a temptation you face, no matter how long you have practiced a sin, if God says to change, you can change. (See also Eph. 6:10-18; 3:20,21; 2 Cor. 9:8; Josh. 1:5-9.)
Step 3: Study the Bible about Your Habit.
Joshua 1:8 – To succeed in God’s work, meditate on God’s word. List the pertinent Bible passages about each habit you need to change. List reasons why you should change. Meditate on these verses daily, filling your mind with them. (Cf. Psalm 1:2; 119:11.)
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 – Frequently remind yourself of these verses. Write them and place them where they will remind you: on your bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, on your table at mealtime, on the TV knob.
Matthew 4:1-11 – Jesus overcame temptation by quoting Scripture. But this worked only because He knew the Scripture. Memorize verses about your habit so that, when you are tempted, they will come to mind and strengthen you. Quote them to yourself and to those who tempt you. (See also Prov. 3:5,6; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; Eph. 6:17; Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12.)
Step4: Repent of Sin.
Acts 8:22 – Sin requires repentance. Repentance is a change of mind – a determined commitment to cease sin and obey God (see Matt. 21:28,29; Acts 17:30; 11:23). Before one can change his conduct, he must change his mind.
Proverbs 28:13 – Do not cover up your sin, deny it, excuse it, or blame someone else. Admit the error and be truly sorry (2 Cor. 7:10). But sorrow is not enough. We have truly repented only when we are so sorry that we determine to change our conduct.
Most other achievements in life require about 10% ability and 90% just plain determination and hard work. In spiritual matters, every accountable person has the ability to please God; so changing to please God is 100% determined by our choice. God has provided everything we need. The decision is ours.
We will never change until we make up our minds to pursue the means God provides until we succeed. The decision to do this is repentance, and no one will change to please God without it.
Step 5: Develop a Plan of Action.
Proverbs 14:22 – We must devise to do good, not evil. God’s example demonstrates the importance of planning. He purposed man’s redemption (Rom. 8:28), the church (Eph. 3:10,11), the temple (Heb. 8:5), etc. (cf. Gen. 12:1-7). Likewise, God’s servants need to have a plan to succeed in His service (Luke 14:26-33; Dan. 1:8; Psalm 17:3; Acts 11:23; 2 Cor. 9:7).
In what other important endeavors will we succeed without a plan? Consider the forethought needed to build a house, run a business or a household, program a computer, etc. Worthwhile activities, to be successful, need planning.
Likewise, to change your life, you need a specific, practical checklist of steps you will take to change. Analyze the circumstances or causes that lead you to fail to do right, then plan how to avoid those causes. It may help to write your plan down and modify it as needed. This plan will include some specific points we are studying plus other points that fit your specific problem.
Many people fail to change to please God because they never planned to succeed. They did not plan to fail, but they failed to plan!
Step 6: Pray Regularly.
Prayer is essential in two ways.
A child of God should pray for forgiveness.
If you are not yet a child of God, you need to believe in Jesus, repent of sins, confess Christ, and be baptized to be forgiven of sins (Mark 16:16; Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 2:38; 22:16). When you have done those things, you become a child of God (Gal. 3:26,27; Rom. 6:3,4; 1 Peter 1:22,23). If you sin afterward, you need to pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:8-10; Prov. 28:13; Matt. 6:12).
Then pray for God’s help.
Matthew 6:13 – Ask God to “deliver us from evil” (cf. Matt. 26:41). Tell God exactly what your problem is. Pray often and regularly (1 Thess. 5:17; Col. 4:2). Pray especially at the moment when you face temptation (Matt. 26:36-46).
God has promised that, if you ask His help, He will hear and answer (1 Peter 5:7; Phil. 4:6,7; Eph. 6:11,13,18).
Step 7: Seek Help from Other Christians.
James 5:16 – Christians should confess their faults to one another so they can pray for one another. We should bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). If our sins have harmed specific individuals, we should apologize to them (Matt. 5:23,24).
When we are fighting an especially difficult habit, it may help to choose one or two special counselors to talk with regularly. They can give us Bible passages and good advice about how to change. They can encourage us. It may motivate us just to know that others are aware of our problem. And they can surely pray for us.
Public church meetings are especially designed to give encouragement (Heb. 10:24,25; 3:12,13; Eph. 4:15,16). We need to attend regularly for many reasons, but especially we need encouragement as we try to become what God wants us to be.
Step 8: Diligently Practice What is Right.
1 Corinthians 15:58 – Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work. Abundant, steadfast work is needed.
We have discussed several steps to prepare us to change, but none of them can substitute for hard work and dedicated effort. All the good attitudes in the world will not get the job done until we follow through with action. God does not promise change will be easy, but He promises it is possible if we work diligently according to His word.
James 1:22-25 – Be doers of the word, not just hearers. Habits are formed by repeated action. We learn to ride a bicycle by forcing ourselves to practice, even when it feels unnatural and uncomfortable. But repetition produces a habit that then feels natural and enjoyable.
So we change to serve God only when we compel ourselves to do what we know is right and repeat it until it becomes “second nature.” (See also Rom. 6:1-23; Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46.)
Step 9: Substitue Good Habits for Bad Ones.
Ephesians 4:22-32 – Do not just put off theold man. Put on the new man. Note the examples: Speak truth instead of falsehood (v25), work and give to others instead of stealing (v28), speak good instead of evil (v29), show kindness and forgiveness instead of anger and bitterness (v31,32).
Matthew 12:43-45 – A demon left a man but later found the man’s life still empty. He moved back in bringing seven other demons with him! Jesus applied this to Israel, but it is a general principle.
“Nature hates a vacuum.” Remove the air from a bottle, and it will try to get back in. Fill the bottle with something substantial, and the air stays out. So your life cannot stay a spiritual void. It will fill with good or evil. Replace bad habits with good and the bad is less likely to return.
For example, suppose you determine to watch less TV, so you turn it off, but sit in front of it with nothing else to do. Soon you will turn it on again. But if you become actively involved in family activities, Bible study, etc., soon you will replace it with other habits.
For every bad habit you “put off,” find some useful activity to “put on” in its place.
Step 10: Avoid Temptation.
Matthew 6:13 – We should pray, “lead us not into temptation.” If we pray this, surely we obligate ourselves to avoid people, places, and situations that tempt us (cf. Rom. 13:14).
1 Corinthians 15:33 – Evil company corrupts good habits. Note: “Do not be deceived.” Many people think they can return to bad company without returning to bad habits. They are deceived!
Many habits – such as drinking, smoking, drug abuse, gambling, and sexual promiscuity – are begun and continued because of “peer pressure.” Breaking such habits by themselves is hard enough, but it is far more difficult when “friends” urge us to continue them (1 Peter 4:3,4; Prov. 13:20; Ex. 23:2).
Psalm 26:5 – We should hate the congregation of evildoers. Too often people say, “I won’t drink (or dance or gamble, etc.). I’ll just go to the tavern (or dance hall or casino) to be with my friends.” When people have gathered together for the purpose of practicing sin, Christians belong somewhere else! (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11.)
You cannot change a bad habit while continuing to run with the “crowd” that caused the habit. Changing the habit will require changing your friends because the “friends” are part of the habit!
Step 11: Face One Day at a Time.
Matthew 6:33,34 – Do not worry about tomorrow. Today’s temptations will be enough to handle today. Handle tomorrow’s temptations tomorrow – if tomorrow comes.
Often people quit trying to serve God because they are overwhelmed by the sacrifices required to live the rest of their lives for God. But ask yourself this: “Can I practice what is right today – just today?” Of course you can. So when you get up each morning, promise yourself and God, “I will live today for God.” Don’t worry about handling tomorrow. If it comes, you can handle it the same way you will handle today.
Two men were climbing a steep path up a tall mountain. One looked to the top and asked, “How will we ever make it?” The other replied, “One step at a time.” And that is the only way for you to change yourself.
Step 12: Be Patient.
Romans 2:7 – We receive eternal life if we continue patiently in well doing. We must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 15:58).
Galatians 6:9 – Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Your habits did not develop overnight and will not likely disappear overnight. It will take time. If you fall, repent, and ask God’s forgiveness. But get up and go on. Do not give up. (1 John 1:8-2:2)
2 Peter 3:18 – Becoming a mature Christian is a process of growth. You are born again as a baby and gradually grow up in Christ. You may look at mature Christians and think, “Why can’t I be like them?” But they probably took years to mature. Do not be impatient with yourself.
As a child grows, you may notice small changes from day to day. But look at pictures from years ago and you will see amazing differences. So you may not see much change in your service to God today compared to yesterday. But if you diligently apply the steps taught in God’s word, after a period of 5, 10, or 20 years you will see significant changes compared to where you began.
By using the means God provides, you can change to be what He wants. He gives motivation, guidance, and encouragement. All that is left is for you to determine to follow His will and then diligently act on that decision. He provides the tools. You must use them. What choice will you make?
I’m convinced that the two most important questions every one of us has to ask and ultimately get right are, is life a waste of time: Is there a God? If there is a God, has that God spoken and revealed Himself in a way that we can understand and know him?
Really since the beginning of time, the human race has been plagued with questions about life, death, evil, goodness and purpose. Is there a God? If there is a God, has that God spoken and revealed Himself in a way that we can understand and know him?If the answers are no, then it really doesn’t matter if there is a God!
Now lets say – there is a God, what good is that if I can’t know Him and understand what He communicates to me? This is one of my major arguments with Islam and New Age – to them God is not personal or knowable and this is so defeating and fatalistic!
Today, what I want to do is deal with the fundamental statement of the fool…“There is no God!”
But maybe you’re thinking, Pastor, I’ve never seen this God? I realize this, but this is true with gravity and oxygen and your enjoying both right now! You see, you don’t need to see Him physically to experience Him spiritually!
Do you know what’s amazing about this Psalm? This Psalm begins with people who don’t believe in God. And get this:
– There are 41,173 verses in the Bible and God gives one half of one verse to the atheist!
– There are 774,746 words in the Bible and God gives the atheist 11 words.
There was an atheist who was complaining to his friend that there’s no holiday for the atheist. Christians have Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Then his friend said, “Then why don’t you take April 1st!”
I’ve come to realize that there are only 3 things we can do with God, and they’re all found right here in Psalm 14.
Let’s look at them…
1. We Can Deny The Reality of God. Vs. 1a
About 7% of America does just that! They say, “There’s no God, so I’m a fool!” What we just read is the only dialogue God has with the atheist – that’s it! 2 sentences: “There’s no God!” And God says, “Fool”! End of conversation!
This reminds me of a little boy who was talking to his atheist dad at dinner and said, “Dad, do you think God knows that we don’t believe in him?”
Even the most educated genius with the highest I.Q. can be a fool! The person in the natural can know what E=MC square is, but in the spiritual knows nothing about the ABC’s of God!
Think about it – the most brilliant scientist who sees a car – has no problem believing there’s a designer. He sees a portrait and has no problem believing there’s an artist. He reads a book and has no problem believing there’s an author! But when he sees creation, he denies there’s a creator! That’s really amazing to me!
In 1916 Albert Einstein was so disturbed that the universe was not eternal but in fact had a beginning that he wrote about this “Irritating fact”, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant to me…I should like to find a genius loophole.”
But in 1949 he wrote, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
You know, while there really is only about 7% in America who are atheist, the truth of the matter is that there’s more foolish people in America than we admit! More foolish people who claim to be Christians even!
There are 2 types of atheist in America:
– The intellectual – believes there’s no God.
– The practical – behaves like there’s no God.
And the most foolish person in the world today is not the intellectual fool, but rather the practical fool, the one who believes in God but their lifestyle is godless!
The practical atheist says:
There’s a God, but I’m going to live without him.
There is a Bible, but I’m not going to live by it.
There’s a Lord’s Day, but I’m going to sleep it away or go fishing all day!
The most famous atheist of our day was Madelyn Murray O’Hare. Her son William quotes her as saying…“I’m an atheist, not because I’ve searched behind every star and looked under every rock to prove there’s no God. I’m an atheist because I want to live my life as if there’s no God.”
I can understand why she would say this – but why do people who believe in God say this also?
2. We Can Detest Any Response To God.
Don’t miss what I’m about to say…God doesn’t deal with atheism on an intellectual level – because atheism is not an intellectual issue, it’s a moral issue. It’s not so much a mental problem as it is a moral problem! Atheism is not a head problem – it’s a heart problem! Atheism is not a person who cannot believe in God as much as it’s a person who will not believe in God!
Why? Verse 1
The atheist’s biggest problem is not in the evidence but rather the great threat God is to their lifestyle! Think about it…If there’s no God, then there’s no judgment, no punishment, no standard of what’s right or wrong – why not make it whatever you want?
Why not have a fling without a ring? Why not perous with someone else’s spouse? Why not flirt and pervert your vows – after all, to the atheist there’s no judge or standard!
You maybe thinking, “Pastor, you’re exaggerating!” Think again!
Psalm 10:13 “Why do the wicked renounce God? He has said in his heart, you will not require an account.”
Here’s the basic reason we live a life as a practical atheist or an intellectual atheist – there’s no accountability!
Bin laden, Hamas, Hezbollah and all these terrorizing termites around the world, really believe they will get away with such evil acts – and somehow 70 virgins and flowing wine await them in heaven!
From Corporate America to Capital Hill, from cheating spouses to cheating taxpayers, from the drug pusher to the gangbanger, from the porn king to the drag queen – somehow they really think they’ll get away with it all!
Folks, that’s why the intellectual atheist is hell bent to get God out of the School House, Court House, White House and eventually the Church House! And all long, the practical atheist is silently rooting for the intellectual atheist – because they think this just might smooth over their conscience!
Mr. Newdall the man who was trying to get the words, “In God we trust” out of the pledge last year…inwardly he’s screaming, “Stop reminding me that I just might be accountable to God!” Why is Christianity under attack today in such a vicious manner? Mark it down, when people begin with intolerance towards God – they end up intolerant with God’s people! You see when atheistic people see you and me more like Christ – it gets under their skin and their conscience begins to itch away at their deepest level.
Folks…the same reason people can’t find God is the same reason a thief can’t find a police man! It’ll mess up their lives!
3. We Can Delight in a Relationship With God. Vs. 5
It’s not about people doing right, but people being right. Huge difference! People who want to see God with their heart and head!
Jeremiah 29:13 “And you shall seek me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Here’s the key…a real relationship with God is through faith. Not just science, not just by touch – and don’t let anyone ever ridicule you because you live your life by faith, because the atheist does also!
Robert Rowe, An atheist professor from Purdue University, educated at Oxford, once read to his students from his new book, “Even as the evangelical Christian accepts God by faith, I reject the idea of God by faith, but I cannot reject God by reason alone for there is too much evidence of His existence. It is by faith I am an atheist.”
LifePoint: We can experience victory and experience His forgiveness and spend eternity with Him – it may start with the head but it’s going to lead to the heart!
You’ve probably never heard of O. W. Saunders, an atheist that spent all of his life without God. He was a popular journalist about a 100 years ago from North Carolina.
At the end of his life he wrote these heart-breaking words…
“I would love to introduce you to the most lonesome individual on earth. I’m talking about the man who doesn’t believe in God. I can introduce you to such a man because I’m that man. By introducing myself, I introduce an atheist or a skeptic that lives in your neighborhood, because he’s everywhere. You’ll be surprised that the atheist envies your faith in God, your subtle belief of heaven after life. He’s jealous of your blessed assurance that you will meet your loved ones in the after life with no sadness or pain.
He would give anything to be able to embrace that faith and be comforted by it, for him, there’s only two things, the grave and the persistence of matter.
The atheist may face life with a smile and a heroic attitude. He may put on a brave front, but he’s not happy. He stands in awe and reverence before the vastness and majesty of the universe, not knowing where he came from or why. He’s appalled by the Why is Christianity under attack today in such a vicious manner? Mark it down, when people begin with intolerance towards God – they end up intolerant with God’s people! You see when atheistic people see you and me more like Christ – it gets under their skin and their conscience begins to itch away at their deepest level.
Folks…the same reason people can’t find God is the same reason a thief can’t find a police man! It’ll mess up their lives!
3. We Can Delight in a Relationship With God. Vs. 5
It’s not about people doing right, but people being right. Huge difference! People who want to see God with their heart and head!
Jeremiah 29:13 “And you shall seek me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Here’s the key…a real relationship with God is through faith. Not just science, not just by touch – and don’t let anyone ever ridicule you because you live your life by faith, because the atheist does also!
Robert Rowe, An atheist professor from Purdue University, educated at Oxford, once read to his students from his new book, “Even as the evangelical Christian accepts God by faith, I reject the idea of God by faith, but I cannot reject God by reason alone for there is too much evidence of His existence. It is by faith I am an atheist.”
LifePoint: We can experience victory and experience His forgiveness and spend eternity with Him – it may start with the head but it’s going to lead to the heart!
You’ve probably never heard of O. W. Saunders, an atheist that spent all of his life without God. He was a popular journalist about a 100 years ago from North Carolina.
At the end of his life he wrote these heart-breaking words…
“I would love to introduce you to the most lonesome individual on earth. I’m talking about the man who doesn’t believe in God. I can introduce you to such a man because I’m that man. By introducing myself, I introduce an atheist or a skeptic that lives in your neighborhood, because he’s everywhere. You’ll be surprised that the atheist envies your faith in God, your subtle belief of heaven after life. He’s jealous of your blessed assurance that you will meet your loved ones in the after life with no sadness or pain.
He would give anything to be able to embrace that faith and be comforted by it, for him, there’s only two things, the grave and the persistence of matter.
The atheist may face life with a smile and a heroic attitude. He may put on a brave front, but he’s not happy. He stands in awe and reverence before the vastness and majesty of the universe, not knowing where he came from or why. He’s appalled by the stupendency of space and the infinity of time, humiliated at the smallness of himself and his own weakness and brevity. of space and the infinity of time, humiliated at the smallness of himself and his own weakness and brevity.
Certainly he yearns for a staff on which to lean, he too carries a cross. For him this earth is but a tricky raft, adrift in the unfathomable waters of eternity with no horizon in site. His heart aches for every precious life upon the raft because he’s always drifting, always drifting, always drifting, where he goes he does not know.”
There may be a Mr. Saunders here today, and I say to you, there is a God who loves you, cares for you and even poured out His life for you and His name is Jesus! And He did all that so you can know for sure that your drifting days are over!
C.S. Lewis halted a generation of would-be converts in their tracks when he famously said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Lewis’ candor is certainly a strange sales pitch today, when Christianity is more often presented as good medicine for life’s ills than a costly call to faith. Today, Jesus is more often equated with the cure-all to felt needs—happiness, inner peace, life purpose and more— than the objective truth of the gospel. “Jesus will make your life better” is the gist of it.
But how does this pitch line up with the gospel? It hardly squares away with Jesus; words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 6:24.) If this is Jesus’ invitation, then we need to drastically change the current call to faith. Instead of making cheap promises, we need to ask the harder question: “Will you follow Jesus even if your life doesn’t get better?” If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better. Too often evangelistic zeal truncates the gospel to be more accessible, more compelling, and more applicable to the felt needs of an audience. Are you sad? Jesus is your joy. Are you depressed? Jesus is your comfort. Are you confused? Jesus is your guidance. Surely, these are all important truths that are part of real faith. But they are not the whole package. If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better.
The False Promise Gospel
But the trend becomes even more disturbing as we observe the fallout of our Jesus-will-fix-all-my-problems kind of faith.
This gospel presentation misleads people to become more focused on their problems than on Jesus Himself. While they step into faith, they stay center stage. And unfortunately, when circumstances do head south, they are ill-equipped to deal with them. When something bad happens, all is lost. Many of us have had tear-filled conversations with friends who are questioning why God would let bad things happen to people, let alone to good people, and even more so to His people. When these questions go unanswered, many people leave faith behind because they are tired of waiting, or they do not trust God to actually show up. Instead they go off in search of their own, more immediate solution. They want comfort and happiness. They’d prefer the port. Ultimately, they are still the center of their lives, not God.
The sincerity of such struggles should not be undermined, nor the biblical precedent for lamenting overlooked. The Bible shows many of God’s people questioning His inactivity or perceived absence. However, it seems that people want to follow Jesus—even enthusiastically for a season—but then jump ship when their lives don’t get better, easier, brighter—you name it.
Perhaps we need to stop and examine if we have set them up for this by portraying a circumstantial spirituality that stops short of the robust faith of the Bible.
Jesus does make your life better. Jesus certainly is the ultimate problem-solver, and it is true that we will find our deepest purpose satisfied only in the life He offered on two crooked beams. But Jesus by no means promises a better life in the sense of all your circumstances. In other words, following Jesus doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly, that every aspiration of your heart will be achieved, and that all your loved ones will live to see 100. Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light but so is the gate wide that leads to destruction, and narrow the one that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14; 11:30.)
Somehow people get the notion that when God blesses, it means that He will give us great things and perfect circumstances—and right now. Or, if God’s blessing is upon us we can expect to have better lives than those who do not believe in Jesus. Blessing equals easier and better. Conversely, sometimes people believe that extended discomfort means there is something they have done wrong, or a lack of faith which inhibits God’s blessing. But what if this is a misconstrued concept of blessing? Can’t the blessing of God involve pain, suffering, waiting and holding on to a truth in spite of our circumstances? Isn’t it a blessing to be disciplined by our loving Father even if it causes discomfort?
In his classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan writes a beautiful hymn about the difficulties of the Christian journey: “This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend, The Difficulty will not me offend. For I perceive the Way to life lies here: Come pluck up Heart, let’s neither faint nor fear; Better, though difficult, the Right Way to go, Than Wrong, though easy, where the End is Wo.”
I can imagine Paul joining in the singing of this song. In his second letter to the Corinthians, after recounting all the challenges he faced following Jesus faithfully—in being mistreated, punished, sorrowful, poor—he concludes that in having nothing, he possessed everything (2 Corinthians 6:1-10.) When Paul’s life and circumstances were destitute, and when he could have been reasonably despondent, he experienced joy. How? He practiced an objective, God-focused Christianity rather than a subjective, me-focused Christianity. He was marked by a spirituality that takes the focus off oneself.
A Fresh Start to Faith
Our circumstances, as important as they may be, are not the primary guidelines for our faith. When we make personal benefits and rewards the starting point of our faith instead of praise that we owe our Savior, we start a walk of faith that is backward in its priorities. Yes, a great truth about God is that He is for us, with us, and even acts on our behalf. But it is His Truth that impacts our circumstances, and not the other way around. Our circumstances, as important as they may be, are not the primary guidelines for our faith. What is supposed to be our hope, our trust, despite whatever may come is that God is true, good, eternal and persistently consistent. Our trust is in God’s character, revealed ultimately in the gospel, and not in how congruent our circumstances are with what we know of God.
Often, circumstances will not be as easy or comfortable as we would prefer. The Bible paints an honest picture of reality: You will sin, you will have challenges in relationships, people will hurt you and you will hurt them, the world is set against you and evil is actively working against you. So, what do we do? The one consistent action of the people of God is a recognition of who God is, what he has done in the past and what He promises to accomplish at the end of time. We can rest our faith on the permanence of this truth.
We believe that no life is beyond the reach of God’s power, and we envision a future in which countless prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, are redeemed, restored, and reconciled through the love and truth of Jesus Christ. We equip local churches and thousands of trained volunteers to spread the Gospel and nurture disciples behind prison walls, so that men and women become new creations in Christ – not repeat offenders. We prepare Christian inmates to become leaders of their families, communities, and churches once they are released back into the community. We support inmates’ families, helping them become reconciled to God and one another through transformative relationships with local churches.
Throughout the long history of corrections, religious persons and religious institutions have greatly influenced the treatment of offenders. For centuries, churches were among the first institutions to provide asylum for accused criminals. The actual establishment of prisons and penitentiaries was a religious idea to that allowed the offender to obtain penance for his crimes, make amends, and convert while being isolated from others. But probably the most significant influence was the establishment of a regular chaplaincy. Correctional chaplains were among the earliest paid non-custodial staff and were the first to provide education and counseling for inmates. Currently, many correctional inmates practice their religion on an individual basis or within the structure of an organized religious program. Religious programs are commonplace in jails and prisons and research indicates that one in three inmates participates in some religious program during their incarceration.
The influence and practice of religion in the correctional setting is as old as the history of prisons. Initial entry of religion into prison was probably carried out by religious men who themselves were imprisoned. The Bible stories of such prisoners include Joseph and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, and John the Baptist, Peter, John, and Paul in the New Testament. Beginning in the days of Constantine, the early Christian Church granted asylum to criminals who would otherwise have been mutilated or killed. Although this custom was restricted in most countries by the fifteenth century, releasing prisoners during Easter time, and requests by Church authorities to pardon or reduce sentences for offenders, remained for centuries with the latter still in existence in a modified form.
Imprisonment under church jurisdiction became a substitute for corporal or capital punishment. In medieval times, the Roman Catholic Church developed penal techniques later used by secular states such as the monastic cell that served as a punishment place for criminal offenders. In 1593 the Protestants of Amsterdam built a house of correction for women, and one for men in 1603. In Rome, what are now the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, built correctional facilities for women, and in 1703 Pope Clement XI built the famous Michel Prison as a house of correction for younger offenders with separation, silence, work, and prayer emphasized. As late as the 18th century, the Vatican Prison still served as a model prison design for Europe and America.
Early settlers of North America brought with them the customs and common laws of England including the pillory, the stocks and the whipping post. During the 18th century isolating offenders from fellow prisoners became the accepted correctional practice. It was thought that long-term isolation, combined with in-depth discussions with clergy, would lead inmates to repent or become “penitent”—sorry for their sins. Thus the term “penitentiary” was derived. West Jersey and Pennsylvania Quakers were primarily responsible for many of the prison reforms. They developed the idea of substituting imprisonment for corporal punishment and combining the idea of the prison with the workhouse. The prototype of this regime was the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia that in style reflected the Quakers’ belief in man’s ability to reform through reflection and remorse.
Even during the 19th century when daytime work was initiated by the Auburn System, solitary confinement at night was still the norm in correctional practice. The forced solitary confinement was thought to serve the same repenting purpose as the older penitentiary. Belief in education as a tool for reducing criminal activity also assisted in the growth of religion in prison. Because of the limited budgets of correctional institutions, Chaplains were often called upon to be the sole educator in many American prisons. The “schooling” often consisted of the chaplain standing in a dark corridor with a lantern hanging from the cell bars while extolling the virtues of repentance.
Volunteers also have a long history in corrections that can be traced back to the beginning of prisons. In the last 200 years many religious groups have entered correctional facilities to provide religious services to inmates. One of the most famous advocates for volunteers in corrections was Maud Ballington Booth, the daughter-in-law of William Booth who founded the Salvation Army. Today, volunteers are vital to religious programs and without them inmate participation would surely be limited. Faith representatives would be unable to minister to the large number and variety of inmates.
Many older correctional institutions are being refurbished or destroyed; replaced with facilities designed for better observation and security. Yet the initial influence of religion on the philosophy and the design of the penitentiary will surely remain in correctional history.
To provide ministry to those that are incarcerated.
To provide aftercare ministry to those released from jail or prison.
To provide ministry to the families of those incarcerated.
Many inmates leave prison as Christians and have a strong desire to participate in a Christian based aftercare program where they can develop relationships with other believers and continue to grow in faith. They need to know that they have a place in the body of Christ, where they are accepted, loved and nurtured.
Why should the community be concerned about the aftercare of ex-offenders?
In the United States, approximately 1,600 people will leave state and federal prisons every day. Most will start their journey back into society with “gate money” ($20 – $200), a one-way bus ticket and little else. Many will be drug abusers who received no treatment for their addictions, sex-offenders who received no counseling and illiterate high school drop-outs who took no classes, and acquired no job skills.
Only about 13 percent of prisoners will have participated in any kind of pre-release program to prepare them for life outside of prison. Nearly 25 percent will be released with no supervision. Nearly two-thirds will return to just a few metropolitan areas in their states where they will be further concentrated in struggling neighborhoods that can ill-afford accommodate them.
Almost all prisoners get out eventually. What happens when they do, however, is not a topic that has held the interest of legislators who passed mandatory sentencing laws, abolished parole boards and eliminated funding for prisoner education and training. As a result, prison sentences have grown longer, while prisons have done nothing to prepare inmates for life outside of prison. A study sponsored by the Virginia Department of Correctional Education tracked recidivism rates for inmates who had pursued an education, and found the rate was 59 percent lower than those who had not. Ironically, even as the evidence in favor of such programs mounts, willingness and capacity to fund them continues to shrink.
Ex-offenders leaving prison have cause to fear the wrath of “free-world” residents, much like Onesimus had cause to fear his former master. In a society that casts a jaundiced eye toward the “usual suspects,” men with limited job skills, who are trying to rebuild their lives with few resources can relate to Onesimus’ situation.
Paul urged Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Onesimus Ministries urges people to help ex-offenders get a fair shot at rebuilding their lives. Onesimus Ministries began as one man ministering to men in a city jail. It has grown to include two residency locations, a bus ministry and other outreach efforts to people with criminal convictions. With a waiting list of 6-12 months for acceptance into the training center, the need is great and growing greater. In our approach to gain leverage and exposure to the various prisons,We are studying Onesimus Ministries brand and operational procedures and submitting to being a alternative facility for those who can get transfers. Please keep our vision before God….
Question: “How can demonic strongholds be overcome?”
Answer: Before demonic strongholds can be overcome, it must be understood exactly what demonic strongholds are. The word stronghold appears only once in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 10:4), and the Greek word translated “stronghold” means “a fortification such as a castle.” In this passage, the apostle Paul is instructing the church at Corinth on how to fight against and “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (v. 5). They do this, not by using the weapons of the world, but by “divine power.” Lofty arguments and opinions are the result of pride and evil and vain imaginations, the very strongholds in which demons reside. This, then, is the essence of demonic warfare—the power of God to overcome the strongholds of demons.
In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul describes the resources that God makes available to His followers—the armor of God. Here we are told how, in an attitude of humility and dependence, we are to avail ourselves of God’s resources. Note that we are to be strong “in the Lord” and “in the power of His might.” We do not take on demonic strongholds in our own strength. We protect ourselves with the first five pieces of defensive armor and wield the one offensive weapon—the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. In verses 12 and 13 ofEphesians 6, Paul continues, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
One of the habits that every believer needs to develop is to focus on Ephesians 6:10-18 and commit himself to “get dressed” spiritually every day. It would go a long way to giving victory over the devil and his schemes. Here Paul states that, while we walk in the flesh (we are living and breathing in this human body), we do not war according to the flesh (we can’t fight spiritual battles with fleshly weapons). Instead, as we focus on the resources and weapons of spiritual strength, we can see God give us specific and real victory. No demonic stronghold can withstand Christians wearing the full armor of God, battling with the Word of God, and empowered by His Spirit.
Question: “What should we learn from the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?”
Answer: The amazing story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young men defying the mighty KingNebuchadnezzar and thrown into a fiery furnace, has captured the hearts of young children as well as adults for centuries. Recorded in the third chapter of Daniel, the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego provides believers today with strong and lasting lessons.
For their refusal to obey the king’s decree to bow down to the idol, three charges were brought against them. They paid no heed to the king and his commands, they did not serve the king’s gods, and they refused to worship the golden statue the king himself had set up. The penalty for their actions was death. Their response to the king was profound:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:15-18).
We cannot but be astonished by their faith in the one true God. At the very outset, their response in the moment of trial confirmed three things: their unswerving conviction of the God of the Bible, their confidence in the God who is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do, and their faith as revealed by their reliance upon the only One who had the power to deliver them from evil. Their acknowledgment of God over the world’s most powerful king resulted in God’s supreme power being revealed to unbelievers. Their faith demonstrates that God is able to deliver us from our own problems and trials.
As believers, we know that God is able to deliver. However, we also know that He does not always do so.Romans 5 tells us that God may allow trials and difficulties in our lives to build our character, strengthen our faith, or for other reasons unknown to us. We may not always understand the purpose of our trials, but God simply asks that we trust Him—even when it is not easy. Job, who endured incredible pain, almost insurmountable agony, and suffering, was still able to say, “Though He may slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
We also know that God does not always guarantee that we will never suffer or experience death, but He does promise to be with us always. We should learn that in times of trial and persecution our attitude should reflect that of these three young men: “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). Without question, these are some of the most courageous words ever spoken.
Jesus Himself said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Even if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to suffer a horrible, painful death in a burning oven, they refused to abandon God and worship an idol. Such faith has been seen innumerable times throughout the centuries by believers who have suffered martyrdom for the Lord.
Nebuchadnezzar was astonished that the fire did not consume Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He was even more amazed when he saw not three, but a fourth person with them: “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25 NKJV). The point here is that, when we “walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), there may be those times of fiery persecution, but we can be assured that He is with us (Matthew 28:20). He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22; Psalms 147:6). He will ultimately deliver us. He will save us … eternally (Matthew 25:41, 46).
The chief lesson from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is that, as Christians, we will never be able to bring the world to Christ by becoming like it. As did these three men, so should we in revealing to the world a higher power, a greater purpose, and a superior morality, than the world in which we live. If we are put before the fiery furnace, we can reveal the One who can deliver us from it. Remember the powerful, yet comforting words, of the apostle Paul:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Our hope when experiencing illness, persecution, or pain lies in knowing that this life is not the end—there is life after death. That is His promise to all those who love and obey Him. Knowing that we will have eternal life with God enables us to live above the pain and suffering we endure in this life (John 14:23).
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalms 34:18). It is encouraging to read what King David wrote in the previously quoted psalm. We can be healed and delivered from a broken heart.
A broken heart can happen when we lose a loved one such as a spouse or a child or even a beloved Friend or stranger. Metaphorically, it is that emotional aching in your chest that happens when you are deeply disappointed or grieved over a life circumstance.
The Lord is Strong; Do not Fear
Psalms 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
I would also like to answer the question why? Why this Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and this list since 2015 click the link to view how many black lives since 2015 http://killedbypolice.net/? Why these many black people? I cannot tell you, and I encourage you to resist anyone who offers a confident answer. God himself did not answer that question for Job, nor did Jesus answer why questions. We have hints, but no one knows the full answer. What we do know, with full confidence, is how God feels. We know how God looks on this nation called ‘America” right now because God gave us a face, a face that was streaked with tears. Where misery is, there is the Messiah.
Not everyone will find that answer sufficient. When we hurt, sometimes we want revenge. We want a more decisive answer. Frederick Buechner said, “I am not the Almighty God, but if I were, maybe I would in mercy either heal the unutterable pain of the world or in mercy kick the world to pieces in its pain.” God did neither. He sent Jesus. God joined our world in all its unutterable pain in order to set in motion a slower, less dramatic solution, one that involves us.
One of our neighbors said to me, have you ever read a book ” book called Where Is God When It Hurts,?” Yes. “Well, I don’t have much time to read. Can you just answer that question for me in a sentence or two?” I thought for a second and said, “I guess I’d have to answer that with another question: ‘Where is the church when it hurts?'”
The eyes of the world are trained on this predicament. You’ve seen satellite trucks parked around town, reporters prowling the grounds of your schools. Last week we visited Los Angeles , We were invited to the Ezell Ford wrongful death hearing. As happened here, reporters from every major country swarmed the streets of LA county, looking for an angle. They came to report on evil and instead ended up reporting on the church. The advocates and church leaders were not asking, “Where is God when it hurts?” They knew where God was. With our long history of persecution, the black leaders weren’t for a minute surprised by an outbreak of evil. They rallied together, embraced the killer’s family, ministered to each other, and healed wounds by relying on a sense of community strengthened over centuries.
Something similar has taken place here in Hemet Ca. and abroad. You have shown outrage against the evil deed, yes, but you’ve also shown sympathy and sadness for the family of the one who committed all of these atrocities on black life. Every one of the police involved in these since-less deaths , too, has a memorial on our hearts and in our ministry.
The future lies ahead, and you’re just awakening to the fact that you are an independent moral being. I speak to our youths now, Until now, other people have been running your life. Your parents told you what to do and made decisions for you. Teachers ordered you around in grammar school, and the pattern continued in high school and even into college. You now inhabit a kind of halfway house on the way to adulthood, waiting for the real life of career and perhaps marriage and children to begin.
What happened in Harris County, Texas demonstrates beyond all doubt that your life—the decisions you make, the kind of person you are—matters now. There are countless students and member families who have no future in this world due to the illness called hatred.
That reality has hit home more than ever since we have attempted to pursue our vision of Second Chance Alliance. So many doors have shut just because we want to help those who have been hit with the mass incarceration epidemic. Watching human life be denied employment they are truly qualified for because they’ve done the same work in Prison for several years and now that they are free no one wants to believe in them. We watch and record the devastation this draconian practice has on a human being.
Samuel Johnson said when a man is about to be hanged, “it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” When you’re homeless and broke without a community to return to that will assist you in the necessities of life, it concentrates the mind. When you survive another day of brutality and separation due to stigma’s, it concentrates the mind. I realized how much of my life focused on trivial things. During my seven months of captivity in Lybia and prison terms severed , I didn’t think about how many books I could write about these issues or what kind of car I drove (it was being confiscated by the feds ). All that mattered boiled down to four questions. Whom do I love? Whom will I miss? What have I done with my life? And am I ready for what’s next? Ever since that day, I’ve tried to live with those questions at the forefront.
You know, too, that the world has fallen. Here in America, you know that as acutely as anyone on this planet.
I ask you also to trust that the world, your world, will be redeemed. This is not the world God wants or is satisfied with. God has promised a time when evil will be defeated, when events like the shootings Thursday’s movie theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana and every black life will come to an end. More, God has promised that even the scars we accumulate on this fallen planet will be redeemed, as Jesus demonstrated to Thomas.
I once was part of a small group with a Christian leader whose name you would likely recognize. He went through a hard time as his adult children got into trouble, bringing him sleepless nights and expensive attorney fees. Worse, my friend was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Nothing in his life seemed to work out. “I have no problem believing in a good God,” he said to us one night. “My question is, ‘What is God good for?'” We listened to his complaints and tried various responses, but he batted them all away.
A few weeks later, I came across a little phrase by Dallas Willard: “For those who love God, nothing irredeemable can happen to you.” I went back to my friend. “What about that?” I asked. “Is God good for that promise?”
I would like to promise you an end to pain and grief, a guarantee that you will never again hurt as you hurt now. I cannot. I can, however, stand behind the promise that the apostle Paul made in Romans 8, that all things can be redeemed, can work together for your good. In another passage, Paul spells out some of the things he encountered, which included beatings, imprisonment, and shipwreck. As he looked back, he could see that somehow God had redeemed even those crisis events in his life.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us,” Paul concluded. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39). God’s love is the foundational truth of the universe.
Clinging to Hope
Trust a God who can redeem what now seems unredeemable. Ten days before the shootings on this Virginia Tech, Christians around the world remembered the darkest day of human history, the day in which evil human beings violently rose up against God’s Son and murdered the only truly innocent human being who has ever lived. We remember that day not as Dark Friday, Tragic Friday, or Disaster Friday—but rather as Good Friday. That awful day led to the salvation of the world and to Resurrection Sunday, an echo in advance of God’s bright promise to make all things new.
Honor the grief you feel. The pain is a way of honoring those who died, your friends and classmates and professors and prisoners. It represents life and love. The pain will fade over time, but it will never fully disappear.
Do not attempt healing alone. The real healing, of deep connective tissue, takes place in community. Where is God when it hurts? Where God’s people are. Where misery is, there is the Messiah, and on this earth, the Messiah takes form in the shape of his church. That’s what the body of Christ means. Remember each of you reading this post is a (CHURCH).
Finally, cling to the hope that nothing that happens, not even this terrible tragedy, is irredeemable. We serve a God who has vowed to make all things new. J. R. R. Tolkien once spoke of “joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” You know well the poignancy of grief. As healing progresses, may you know, too, that joy, a foretaste of the world redeemed.
“As I have said, the Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain. It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking question “Why?” Instead, it raises the very different, forward-looking question, “To what end?”We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with him. And that process may be served by the mysterious pattern of all creation: pleasure sometimes emerges against a background of pain, evil may be transformed into good, and suffering may produce something of value.”
I have never seen a statue erected depicting Jesus as a man of sorrow, but still we worship
Halfway through the year… and it is time to evaluate which direction we all are heading.
I wanted to remind each of you that our pursuit of God should be about progress and not perfection. When we strive for perfection in our walk for God it often times leads us to disappointment and then we oftentimes will become more distant with God and those in our lives who are encouraging us to grow in our walk with God.
My prayer is for each of you to evaluate your life and ask yourself, “Are you loving God and others more now than you were a year ago?”
If you answer yes, then keep seeking God with passion and continue to be that encouragement to others in your life around you.
If you answered, probably not. Well, don’t get discouraged and pull away from God and those trying to encourage you. Instead, realize that you now can move forward toward what God has planned for you.Don’t forget that there is nothing better in our life than being exactly where God has us. Right now, where you are you can be someone who impacts others for Christ.
Seek that eternal mindset and focus on things that matter for an eternity.
This week take some time to pray and ask God to help you grow in Christ and that He would enable you to Love Him and Love others more this year than last year.
Live with Eternity in Mind!
Our days are eternal.
Yes, you and I will live forever in heaven, but have we ever reflected upon the fact that not only are our heavenly days eternal, but that the moments we are living here and now will live forever in the mind of God, and therefore live on in eternity? “Our days pass quickly and are over like a sigh” reads the Psalms.
Yet, not so fast. Do my actions truly pass away? Or am I called to give an account for them before the throne of God? Often I find it easier to forget the days past, to look only to the future. I don’t think God wants me to live in the past, but instead, He frees me from my guilt and calls me to continual reconciliation.
What I often forget, sometimes conveniently, is that my actions nevertheless remain eternal in the mind of God. The love which I pour out in my daily duties is a love that lasts – something eternal which will either bring sorrow or consolation to the heart of Jesus throughout time and eternity.
A Satisfying Road?
What a thought, that my actions today have more of a everlasing lasting meaning than I can fathom. That each day, each sacrifice, builds one upon another, and forms a path to heaven. Sometimes I am tempted to believe that the endless repetition of days, each following in similar succession, only serve to cover and erase the previous ones. I forget the beautiful truth that my daily walk of life can instead define a path to God, a road which I can look back upon with satisfaction.
Perhaps the path that I now cultivate may one day guide another wandering soul to God. Perhaps the thorns which I attempt to clear along the road will make the traveling smoother for those who come behind me. Most importantly, I think of my children and the road which they will walk. Are my actions in traveling the road ahead of them, or even alongside of them, leading them on a straight and narrow way? Will they look ahead to my guiding figure, or will they struggle to know which turns to make?
Ultimately, I can never find my way alone. The generations before me, following the Church throughout the ages, with Christ and His disciples leading the way, serve as my compass. Thank goodness for the shining example of the saints, and for the living saints in our midst, who exhibit daily a testimony to love.
How often do I thank those around me for their positive example, which inspires and calls me on to stay the course, and to finish the race?
Do I reflect upon their examples and consider how to serve as an inspiration to others in my own actions?
Joseph had a lot of things going his way in life at first. He was handsome. He was the first son born to Jacob through Rachel, and therefore, he was his father’s favorite son. He had great dreams that made him feel good about himself. But then one day his entire life changed. Can you imagine how it must have felt to know your brothers hated you so much that they would sell you out of their lives? He was forced to leave the comfortable life he had known, full of love from his parents, and go forth into the unknown. How frightening that must have been for a boy of 17. Yet, God had His hand on Joseph. God had a divine purpose for this young man. Joseph didn’t know why God had chosen this path for his life until the very end, yet he never seemed to waver. God was always in control. Joseph kept his eyes on God, and He used Joseph greatly. What an encouragement to us. Let God use you where you are. Let Him use you in the hard times, as well as the good times.
The story of Joseph spans many chapters, Genesis 37-50. We could actually do an entire study just on the life of Joseph, but because of time limitation, we will just focus on the key events in his life.
“Lord, thank you for the lessons you teach me through Joseph’s life. Encourage me through his life to seek you more intimately and to trust you for every situation that comes into my life. Keep me mindful that you are always in control.”
1. How would you describe Joseph’s relationship with his brothers?
2. Could Joseph have prevented the jealousy of his brothers? Why or why not?
3. How would you describe his relationship with his father Jacob?
4. In verses 21-27 Reuben and Judah came to Joseph’s defense. Why would these two, of all the brothers, try to save Joseph?
5. How do you see God’s sovereign hand at work throughout this chapter?
6. How do you see God’s hand at work in your own life?
We are told in Genesis 37:3 that Jacob made Joseph a varicolored tunic. What was the significance of this tunic and what impact might that have had on his brothers?
How was God already developing Joseph’s gifts at the age of 17?
God “broke” Joseph by taking him out of comfortable circumstances
and stretching him. God often has to “break” us before He can use us.
How has God “broken” you? How did it “strengthen” you?
Are you willing to let God do whatever He needs to in your life to make you usable to Him? If not, why? Be honest with the Lord, and ask Him to make you willing, trusting His loving and sovereign hand in your life.
DAY 2: Joseph’s Early Life in Egypt
Chapter 38 seems like an “interruption” to our story of Joseph in Egypt, but it is a narrative of what took place back in Canaan during this time, especially concerning the life of Judah. We pick up our narrative of Joseph in Chapter 39.
1. The king’s cupbearer and baker offended him, resulting in their being thrown into prison with Joseph. What do you learn about Joseph from the way he responded to them in prison?
2. The rest of the chapter tells of their dreams, Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams, and how the interpretations were later fulfilled. In Genesis 40:14-15 and 20-23, how was life once again “unfair” to Joseph?
Genesis 41:1-8 tells us of Pharaoh’s dream and his inability to find someone able to interpret it. In verses 9-14, the cupbearer finally remembers Joseph and his interpretation of their dreams in prison, and Pharaoh called for Joseph to come and interpret his dream. Joseph interpreted the king’s dreams, which foretold of the coming seven years of great abundance in Egypt (41:29) and the following seven years of famine (41:29). Joseph proceeded to tell Pharaoh what should be done (41:32-37).
3. Why did Pharaoh place Joseph in charge of Egypt (41:38-45)?
4. How old was Joseph at this point (41:46)?
5. How had God worked in Joseph’s life during his captivity (see 40:8 and 41:16)?
6. How can you keep a proper perspective when you know you have been “wronged” by others and you are paying the unjustified consequences?
Who are some other people in the Bible who had “delays” in their lives?
There is no mistake in where God has you.
Allow Him to use you where you are.
How are you allowing God to use you right where you are?
There is often a delay before seeing God work through us.
Delays are a necessary time of spiritual preparation.
How do you see God’s hand in the “delays” in your life?
Josephs’ life teaches us that disappointments are vital to spiritual growth
because they demand faith and resting all hope upon God.
V. Raymond Edman wrote, “Delay never thwarts God’s purposes;
it only polishes His instrument.”1
1. Jacob sent his sons, with the exception of Benjamin, to Egypt to buy grain during the famine. When his brothers came before Joseph, why didn’t he just tell them who he was and why do you think he recognized them but they did not recognize him?
2. Why do you think Joseph responded to his brothers in the way he did?
3. Describe what his brothers were feeling in verses 21-23?
In Genesis 42:29-38, the brothers returned to Canaan to retrieve their younger brother Benjamin, having left Simeon back in Egypt. Jacob first refused to let them take Benjamin, but after all the grain was eaten, he sent his sons back to Egypt with Benjamin (43:1-15). When Joseph saw Benjamin, he responded with emotion (43:16-34). In Genesis 44, Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan and played a little trickery on them. He “threatened” to keep Benjamin as his slave, and Judah pleaded with him to keep him instead of Benjamin. This brings us to Chapter 45, when Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers.
4. What was Joseph’s perspective on what his brothers had done to him when he was seventeen?
5. What emotions were his brothers most likely experiencing when they realized this was indeed Joseph?
6. How do you view painful or hurtful events in your life? How have hurtful events molded your life?
7. How is one able to gain the type of perspective that Joseph had about his life?
Read the entirety of Genesis 42-45. Trace Joseph’s actions throughout these chapters toward his brothers. Why did he do what he did?
We must trust God with our emotions when we are
face to face with those who have hurt us deeply.
Is there someone who has wounded you deeply? How have you handled it? Can you trust God’s sovereign hand in the midst of it?
Is there someone you need to forgive?
DAY 5: Joseph’s Last Days
In Genesis 46-47 Jacob moved his family to Egypt. God once again spoke to him, encouraging him to not be afraid to go to Egypt and reminding him of His promise to make him a great nation (Gen. 46:1-4). Genesis 48-49 records Jacob’s final days. Today we look at Joseph’s last days after his father Jacob died.
What was Joseph trying to convey to his family in verse 24?
Why would he want his bones carried back to Canaan?
God is in control even when it seems that your world is
spinning madly out of control.
Is there something going on in your life today that is hard for you to understand? Take it to the Lord and trust His hand.
God uses even the negative motives of others to bring about His perfect purpose.
Meditate on Genesis 50:20. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Joseph had a divine purpose. His life was not always easy and was filled with ups and downs. Yet Joseph found favor with God and he allowed God to use him wherever he went. Where does God want to use you? What is His divine purpose for your life? Are you focused on Him, or are you focused on your circumstances and the situation in which you find yourself? Let God use you to accomplish His divine purpose through you.
The church is God’s hospital. It has always been full of people on the mend. Jesus himself made a point of inviting the lame, the blind, and the possessed to be healed and to accompany him in his ministry, an invitation often spurned by those who thought they were fine as is. We should not be surprised, then, that the depressed populate not only secular hospitals and clinics, but our churches as well. Yet depression remains both familiar and mysterious to pastors and lay church leaders, not to mention to those who share a pew with depressed persons.
Virtually everyone has experienced a “down” day, often for no clear reason. We might say we “woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” are “out of sorts,” or just “in a funk.” Such polite references are commonplace in America. Yet as familiar as melancholic periods are to us, the depths of a severe depression remain a mystery. We may grasp in part the distress of King David: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10). But most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, “I am forgotten by them as though I were dead” (v.12). Severe depression is often beyond description. And when such deep and painful feelings cannot be explained, they cut to the heart of one’s spiritual being.
Humans are intricately complex creatures. When things go wrong in us, they do so in myriad and nuanced ways. If churches want to effectively minister to the whole of fallen humanity, they must reckon with this complexity. Depression indicates that something is amiss. But what? And what should churches be doing about it?
What is depression?
First we need to clarify what we are talking about. In order to distinguish severe or “major depression” from everyday blues, the American Psychiatric Association offers the following diagnostic criteria:
Major depression is diagnosed when an adult exhibits one or both of two core symptoms (depressed mood and lack of interest), along with four or more of the following symptoms, for at least two weeks: feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions; fatigue; psychomotor agitation (cannot sit still) or retardation (just sitting around); insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much); significant decrease or increase in weight or appetite; and recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation.
This clinical definition is sterile, however, and fails to capture the unique quality of the severely depressed person’s suffering.
Deep depression is embodied emotional suffering. It is not simply a state of mind or a negative view of life but something that affects our physical being as well. Signs of a severe episode of depression include unfounded negative evaluations of friends, family, and oneself, emotional “pain,” physical problems such as lethargy, difficulty getting one’s thoughts together, and virtually no interest in one’s surroundings. Though most of us know at least an acquaintance who has committed suicide, this tragic act baffles us perhaps as much as it pains us. “I just don’t understand,” we say. The irony is that survivors of serious suicide attempts frequently reflect on those attempts with a similar attitude: “I have no idea what came over me.” The pain and mental dysfunction of major depression are that deep.
How big is the problem?
However we choose to define depression, both its frequency and its disruption of normal life are staggering. The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years. In the United States, 5 to 10 percent of adults currently experience the symptoms of major depression (as previously defined), and up to 25 percent meet the diagnostic criteria during their lifetime, making it one of the most common conditions treated by primary care physicians. At any given time, around 15 percent of American adults are taking antidepressant medications.
Studies of religious groups, from Orthodox Jews to evangelical Christians, reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression varies across religious groups or between those who attend religious services and those who do not. So in a typical congregation of 200 adults, 50 attendees will experience depression at some point, and at least 30 are currently taking antidepressants.
How do we explain these numbers? In part, they result from a two-pronged shift in cultural attitudes about depression. Groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and pharmaceutical companies have aggressively promoted the view that depression is not a character flaw but a biological problem (a disease) in need of a biological solution (a drug). The efforts to medicalize depression have helped to remove the stigma attached to it and convince the public that it’s not something to hide. Consequently, depression has come out of the closet.
Some critics argue that along with the disease view of depression comes a lowered diagnostic threshold. Professors Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield argue in The Loss of Sadness (Oxford, 2007) that psychiatrists no longer provide room for their clients’ sadness or life’s usual ups and downs, labeling even normal mood fluctuations “depression.” (Everyday conversation reflects this assumption. When asked how we are doing, we commonly answer “great” or at least “good.” If we reveal that we’re “fine”—or worse, just “okay”—people tend to assume something is wrong and begin probing.)
Critics like Horwitz and Wakefield are half right. It is true that the mental health community has lowered the threshold for recognizing depression. Yet when we trace depression in the United States over the past 20 years using fixed criteria—the very research I do—we still see a significant increase in frequency. So although the numbers may be inflated, and this bump unquestionably serves the profit margins of pharmaceutical companies, we nevertheless have a substantial, documented increase to try to explain.
Our society has reaped considerable benefit from casting a wide net and assuming that everything caught is a disease. We now are more attuned to depression’s burden of emotional suffering, better understand biological factors, and have medications that address those factors. We should be thankful for these significant gains.
Yet redefining depression broadly as a disease has some untoward consequences. This model rightly acknowledges the biological aspect of human nature and how it can become disordered. But it fails to consider other dimensions at play. For example, the disease model ignores social environments as possible contributors to depression, viewing depressed persons as isolated individuals with a strong boundary between their bodies and everything outside. Depressed persons are reduced to broken bodies and brains that need fixing.
Browse any major psychiatric journal and you will read that our genes are the first cause of depression. Given certain environmental challenges, depression emerges. This is true, but it does not go far enough. Most have heard that depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance (such as a deficit in serotonin). Though the biological aspect of depression is more complex than a simple chemical imbalance, depression is nonetheless associated with poor regulation of the chemical messengers in our brains. This is why certain medications can relieve symptoms of moderate to severe depression. But this is not a new biological development; our bodies have not changed significantly over the past 100 years.
We also know that distorted thoughts contribute to depression. Those who are depressed do not evaluate themselves accurately (i.e., I am not as good as others). They fear that their selves are disintegrating (i.e., I am falling apart). They depreciate their value to others (i.e., I am of very little benefit to my family). And they believe they do not have control over their bodies (i.e., I just cannot make myself eat). Aaron Beck, the father of the most popular psychotherapy today, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), proposes that depression derives in large part from these cognitive distortions. Depression is relieved by bringing the distorted views more in line with reality. Evidence supports Beck’s contention, though not in all cases.
But cognitive behavioral therapies have been criticized for focusing on the person as such and ignoring the context of the person within society. Psychotherapist Robert Fancher believes the CBT approach “devalues those attributes of mind most likely both to create culture and to take us beyond the status quo—imagination, passion, and the courageous, painful process of bringing new ways of thinking and living to birth. It amounts to an endorsement of the middlebrow life under the authority of ‘good mental health.’ ” To put it more simply, cognitive therapy tends to reinforce the social norm, focusing almost exclusively on assisting the individual to adapt to the environment.
We now know much more about the neuroscience and cognitive patterns associated with depression, and have found fairly effective biological and therapeutic treatments. But we still do not have an answer to the pressing question behind this virtual epidemic: Why now? In order to get at this question, we must look beyond biological and psychological factors.
Things fall apart
“Life’s tough,” said one of my professors of medicine, and I knew what he meant. A young intern, I was seeking empathy after surviving a night on call without a wink of sleep. I had forgotten to look up a reference he had recommended the day before. He wanted the reference, not an excuse. But life was busy, chaotic, and demanding, and I was having trouble holding everything together.
Everyday life in 21st-century American society can be tough. The constant pressure of negotiating increasingly complex and sometimes harsh social realities takes a toll. Depression is in part a withdrawal by the weary into an inner world, an attempt to create a protective cocoon against real-world demands. Whatever personal factors contribute to an individual’s depression, the broader epidemic suggests that living in disordered social conditions makes things worse.
But when compared with preceding generations of Americans, we are, on the whole, healthier, safer, better off financially, and more educated. So where is the disorder?
The truth is, these barometers don’t tell the whole story. In the workplace, many of us sit in comfortable surroundings compared with those of our ancestors, who fought cold, wind, and rain. Yet we feel as much uncertainty as they did and much less control over our work. Our jobs are not secure, and due to specialization, many of us do not have the flexibility to move easily and quickly from one job to another. We work long hours, often with a sense of being “behind,” and do not recognize boundaries between work and non-work. (Is the office Christmas party work or recreation?) We compare ourselves with other colleagues when comparisons are fruitless, or find ourselves being compared unfairly. When we come up short, we feel the burden of unrealistic expectations we have placed on ourselves or have received from others. We are given responsibilities with little authority and even fewer resources, and feel we have no control over job expectations or even how we use our work time. Many of us are subject to sometimes dehumanizing corporate or economic systems not of our own making and seemingly beyond our influence. We feel small, insignificant, and expendable.
Some Americans find their everyday reality so tough that they try to escape it via substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, petty theft, or embezzlement. Consider substance abuse. Nearly 15 percent of Americans will struggle with alcoholism in their lifetimes, and over 10 million Americans are actively using illicit substances. Among those who are dependent on opiates such as heroin or prescription pain relievers, depression rates may be as high as 50 percent. Though depression can lead to increased substance use, the much more common path is for substance use, often begun as an escape from the pressures of life, to lead to serious episodes of depression. At that point a vicious cycle ensues, as depression leads to increased substance use, and substance use to worsening depression.
While most of us have daily contact with many people, our generation is nevertheless a lonely crowd. In his classic Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putman suggests that America’s stock of “social capital”—networks among individuals and the reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them—has declined substantially over the past few decades. We are less likely to vote, give blood, play cards, join in league bowling, or have friends or neighbors over for dinner. Perhaps some of these opportunities to build social networks have been replaced with others, such as soccer games or Facebook. Yet we are increasingly disconnected from family, neighbors, and friends.
And the nature of the relationships we do have is changing. Many have become what British sociologist Anthony Giddens labels “pure relationships”—”pure” in that they are detached from any social context, external structure, or security. There is no covenant, community, or being to orient the relationship or provide ongoing assurance, direction, and support. All of this must be generated by the relationship itself, which exacts a heavy burden. We can never relax in pure relationships because there is no pledge of fidelity or constancy on which to rest. We must “maintain” these relationships ourselves. Over time, constant vigilance and sustained insecurity often lead to frustration, anxiety, and weariness. These relationships are just too hard to keep up.
Complex societies built on interdependence require trust, yet this precious public resource continues to decline as society becomes even more complex. “Who can you believe these days?” has become a familiar refrain. Reality, we are told, has become little more than the shared worldview of small communities. In response, some encourage us to accept all views, but this leaves us disoriented. Others suggest we cling tenaciously to our views and mistrust anything new, leaving us isolated and alienated. From this double bind, the leap to a symptom of severe depression—paranoia—is not that far. The depressed lose confidence not only in themselves, but also in those around them.
Finally, no symptom is more central to depression than the loss of hope. And if last year’s election cycle revealed anything, it was that hope is at a premium in American society. Fear of catastrophe—due to terrorists, financial collapse, or ecological disaster—haunts our times. Some busy themselves with survival strategies, withdrawing from communal concerns to personal preoccupations. Many more, uncertain about the future, anxiously gorge themselves on our culture’s smorgasbord of instantly gratifying diversions.
Opportunity for the church
Uncertainty, insignificance, and powerlessness. Destructive, self-indulgent escape. Loneliness and isolation. Fear and distrust. Loss of hope. Retreat. Although hasty and incomplete, this sketch of the early-21st-century American cultural mood picks up dark details masked by indices of societal well-being. It also reminds us that to focus exclusively on the individual in our efforts to understand the depression epidemic is to miss the forest for the trees.
When used wisely, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy can restore stability to individuals so that they can better negotiate everyday challenges. For those in the thick of paralyzing depression, the effects of medicine and CBT might even prompt gratitude for common grace. And they should give thanks. Yet neither of these approaches provides much help in understanding or addressing the more fundamental and intractable problems of which the depression epidemic is a symptom. These approaches provide needed relief, but not answers or prevention.
The medical models come up short because they can only go as far as their understanding of the subject of the problem will take them. And both slight their subject: human beings. Cultural institutions and authorities may sometimes treat human beings as if we are nothing but brains in bodies, but this does not make it so. For those with eyes to see, the depression epidemic is in part a witness to the complexity of human nature. In particular, it reminds us that we are social and spiritual (as well as physical) creatures, and that a fallen society’s afflictions are often inscribed on the bodies of its members. We have misjudged humanity if we expect our bodies to be impervious to social travail. (“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground,” Luke 22:44.)
In fact, sometimes an episode of what looks like depression does not indicate that the human organism is malfunctioning, but is instead being true to her spiritual-social-physical nature. Embodied emotional pain can be an appropriate response to suffering in a world gone wrong. The author of Lamentations must have felt such pain as he gazed upon the destruction of Jerusalem around 588 B.C. “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city” (Lam. 2:11). Christians are called to weep with those who weep, and should welcome emotional pain that results from empathy and draws us alongside the afflicted. If we have grown numb to the pain and suffering around us, we have lost our humanity.
Christian teaching about sin and its reverberating effects frees the church from surprise about the disordered state of human affairs. We can acknowledge the effects of sin both within and without. We can look at wrecked reality squarely in the eye and call it what it is.
And thanks be to God, who raised the One who entered fully into our condition, breaking the power of sin, death, and hell, that we not only can name wrecked reality, but also lean into it on the promise that Christ is making all things new.
Those who bear the marks of despair on their bodies need a community that bears the world’s only sure hope in its body. They need communities that rehearse this hope again and again and delight in their shared foretaste of God’s promised world to come. They need to see that this great promise, secured by Christ’s resurrection, compels us to work amidst the wreckage in hope. In so doing, the church provides her depressed members with a plausible hope and a tangible reminder of the message they most need to hear: This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ as embodied in his church is the last word.
More than 600,000 people are released from prison in the United States each year, and a great many of them return to their families and communities with complex and challenging needs. Prisoners reentering society are often suffering from substance use problems, mental illnesses and health concerns. They must navigate social service systems to find housing, jobs and support. And too often, recently released prisoners find themselves once again incarcerated.
“I have been clean now for 16 years and six months with God’s help, and I am trying to stay that way, but with no help for people who have compromised the contract of life it is very hard not to go back to that way of life. I want people to realize that is why people do time, get out and do it again. They can’t survive any other way.”
Virtually every felony conviction carries with it a life sentence. Upon being released from prison, ex-offenders face a vast and increasing maze of mandatory exclusions from valuable social programs and employment opportunities that impede their hopes of success in the free world. These exclusions range from restrictions on the ability to get a driver’s license to a lifetime ban on eligibility for federal welfare. In adopting this array of civil disabilities, federal, state and municipal governments have endorsed a social policy that condemns ex-offenders to a diminished social and economic status, and for many, a life of crime. Recently the American Bar Association concluded that the dramatic increase in the numbers of persons convicted and imprisoned means that this half-hidden network of legal barriers affects a growing proportion of the populace. More people convicted inevitably means more people who will ultimately be released from prison or supervision, and who must either successfully reenter society or be at risk of reoffending. If not administered in a sufficiently deliberate manner, a regime of collateral consequences may frustrate the reentry and rehabilitation of this population, and encourage recidivism.
To: Congressman Mark Takano
Democrat from California, District 41
1507 Longworth House Office Building
From: Aaron and Maymie Chandler-Pratt
Second Chance Alliance Re-entry Program Founders
To Whom It May Concern;
My name is Maymie Chandler-Pratt and my husband’s name is Aaron. Together we advocate against the hiring practices used to discriminate against ex-offenders.
This bill proposal created in 2013 is here-by updated on this 13th day of July in the year 2015, on the behalf of the ex-offenders in the world who “really” desire an opportunity to become employed but are not the opportunity because of their criminal background.
This bill proposal was given to Congressman Mark Takano, who informed us that he had taken it to his Washington, DC office for review therefore, in light of the Presidents, decision to grant pardons to the 46 ex-offenders recently and on behalf of the millions of other ex-offenders who are being released or have already been released, we hereby re-submit this bill proposal for review of those modifications as stipulated in the proposal.
If this bill proposal is granted, it is our belief that it will help to reduce that rate of recidivism which would in turn help to reduce the prison population. It is also our belief that with the creation of re-entry programs that are directly connected to employers willing to hire ex-offenders that this will also help them to recreate themselves and become law abiding citizens once again and can make a positive imprint on society instead of a negative one.
It is our hope that someone will take a look at this proposal that was written two years ago and placed in the hands of someone whom we felt would be able to get it reviewed. Now that the President has started to release more ex-offenders back into society there is going to become a greater need for jobs, housing and retraining.
In prison an inmate is given the opportunity to work and not for minimum wage but for an amount much lower that minimum wage (i.e., .08 cents to .36 cents) an hour. Our belief is this; if inmates can be hired within the prisons to work in the same types of jobs in society, then why are businesses still so reluctant to hire ex-offenders who have no violent crime history? The way that it stands today, those men and women who were pardoned and released have a better chance of getting hired than the millions of others that are trying to get a job so that they can survive and thrive in society and not return to prison.
Please help us to get this bill reviewed and passed so that we together can start to rebuild our country by employing ex-offenders, who can by working, pay into social security and reduce crime and reduce the rate of recidivism.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter and I look to hear from you soon. Our home phone number is 951-357-2572 and the cell is 951-210-8246.
Aaron and Maymie Chandler-Pratt
Second Chance Alliance Re-entry Program Founders
Bill Proposal: Advocates against Felon Employment Discrimination Act
The purpose of this bill is to stop the employment discrimination of felons throughout the United States and to modify the hiring wait times from 7 to 10 years, to a more reasonable wait time of 1 to 2 years or less depending on the crime committed.
The (Senate or House of Representatives) of the United States of America hereby enacts as follows:
This act shall be known as the Advocates against Felon Employment Discrimination Act
Reinstate people with felonies their right to work, and modify the hiring requirements in
companies from the unrealistic term of 7 to 10 years to 1 to 2 years for ex-offenders who are 8. willing and able to earn an honest living wage and are skilled in those areas of work.
Require companies to hire people with felonies after a period of 1 to 2 years after said
person has completed parole and has successfully complied with terms of release presented
by the parole board; (Drug Rehabilitation, boarding house residency, random drug testing) 13. and have demonstrated a desire to work by enrolling in classes to improve their work skills 14. and their moral turpitude.
Require companies to at least have bonding agents and resources within the HR department
which will allow companies to be compensated with tax write offs as an incentive to hire ex-18. offenders
SECTION 5: Funding
The cost of the implications of this proposal should not exceed the amount of $1,000,000.00 21. dollars.
Funding for this bill will come partly from the Advocates against Felon Employment
Discrimination Act fundraising committee and participating government programs.
SECTION 6: Regulations
The EEOC has historically taken the position that an employer’s policy or practice of
excluding individuals from employment because they have criminal conviction record is
unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unless the policy or practice is
justified by a business necessity. If the information was erroneous or the conviction was not
job-related, employees and applicants have a right to file a discrimination claim with their 30.state equal employment opportunity agency. The government will impose sanctions on 31.companies which are offering employment that have no direct correlation with the crime that 32.was committed by person’s applying for a job if they don’t hire a person with a felony on 33.their background that is older than 1 to 2 years. For most offenders it is difficult to prove that 34.a possible employer illegally discriminated 35.against them even with an expungement. In 35.California an individual’s criminal history is 36.never erased, but rather erases the word
“conviction” and replaces it with “dismissed in 37.Furtherance of Justice” in the disposition.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly permits felon
disenfranchisement, but it has been pointed out that constitutional approval of felons’ 40.political powerlessness is not the same as constitutional approval of government prejudice 41.toward the politically powerless. Such prejudice may violate the Equal Protection Clause, 42.which contains no provision authorizing discrimination against felons. A “discrete and 43.insular” minority subject to prejudice, in particular, may be considered particularly vulnerable 44.to oppression by the majority, and thus a suspect class worthy of protection by the judiciary. 45. SECTION 7: Penalties
The penalties for not hiring a person with felonies older than 2 to 5 years on their background
and who are willing to work and are skilled in that field or position will be a fine of $5000.00
dollars and or if the information was erroneous or the conviction was not job-related,
employees and applicants information was erroneous or the conviction was not job-related,
employees and applicants have a right to file a discrimination claim with their state equal
employment opportunity agency. If a felon is bonded by a company and hired on, and is later 52. found to not be in compliance with the bonding agreement he/she shall be terminated.
SECTION 8: Definitions
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal law
enforcement agency that enforces laws against job discrimination. The EEOC investigates
discrimination complaints based on an individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex,
age, disability, genetic information and retaliation for reporting, participating in and/or
opposing a discriminatory practice. The EEOC also mediates and settles thousands of
discrimination complaints each year prior to their investigation. The EEOC is also
empowered to file discrimination suits against employers on behalf of alleged victims and to
adjudicate claims of discrimination brought against federal agencies.
Moral turpitude: A legal concept in the United States that refers to conduct that is
considered contrary to the community’s standard of justice, honesty and good morals. As of 64. 1998, seven states absolutely barred felons from public employment. Other states had more 65. narrow restrictions for instance, only covering infamous crimes or felonies involving moral 66.turpitude.
Over inclusive: relating to legislation that burdens more people than necessary to accomplish
the legislation’s goal. Some laws have been criticized for being over inclusive; for instance, a
law banning all ex-offenders from working in health care jobs could prevent a person
convicted of bribery or shoplifting from sweeping the halls of a hospital. The law in Texas
requires that employers consider things like the nature and seriousness of the crime, the
amount of time since the person’s committed the crime, and letters of recommendation all be
taken into account even when the applicant has a felony.
SECTION 9: Effective Date
This bill shall take effect approximately and at a minimum of 1 year after passage before the
This bill is not asking that the hiring requirements be abolished totally, but that they are modified from the unrealistic 7 to 10 year wait in order to be eligible for “legal” employment, to a more realistic waiting time requirement of 1 to 2 years or less depending on the crime committed.
On June 25, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective (SAFE) Justice Act (H.R. 2944). This bill is massive, a whopping 144 pages long, and touches almost every single part of the federal criminal justice system, from trial to sentencing to life after release. This legislation would limit the application of federal drug mandatory minimum sentences to only the most high-level crime organizers and kingpins. Judges would have more flexibility to sentence people below mandatory minimum drug and gun possession offenses when the person has a minor record or the crime was driven by addiction or mental illness. It would also allow for federal prisoners to earn time off their sentences for good behavior and completing rehabilitative programming.
The best part: many of these reforms would be retroactive, affecting people who are already in prison, and reducing prison overcrowding and high prison costs for taxpayers.
Lawmakers know the criminal justice system is flawed from top to bottom. They recognize the injustice, and many speak out about it. But we want them to do more than talk, we want them to vote to change the system. They need to hear from you, their constituents.Tell your U.S. Representative to support the SAFE Justice Act today. The more members of Congress who support the bill, the more likely it is that we’ll get them to act on it this year!
Thanks for your support of our work and for telling Congress it’s time for action!
WASHINGTON – A Detroit man sentenced to life in prison on drug offenses in 1999 is among nearly four dozen federal inmates who had their sentences commuted today by President Barack Obama as being too harsh.
Patrick Roberts, 65, is currently incarcerated in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., according to corrections records, and has lost several previous attempts to have his sentence reduced.
Federal court documents say he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine and marijuana and was sentenced to life imprisonment, under rules which were in place at the time, because of his four prior drug convictions.
Obama today commuted the sentences of 46 federal prisoners convicted on drug charges, ordering their terms to end Nov. 10 of this year. Roberts’ was the only one from Michigan.
The president has issued nearly 90 commutations in all during his two terms in office, most of them to nonviolent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under old sentencing rules which, had the crimes been committed today, would have resulted in shorter sentences.
The president sent each prisoner a letter confirming the commutation and asking each to make the most of the opportunity he or she was being given.
In a video message, Obama explained his decision, saying the inmates “were not hardened criminals but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years.”
“Their punishments didn’t fit the crime,” Obama said in the message.
“I’ve made clear to them that re-entering society is going to require responsibility on their part and hard work and smarter choices,” the president continued. “But I believe that at it’s heart, America’s a nation of second chances and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”
Administration officials said they expect Obama will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term in January 2017. On Tuesday, the president was also expected to discuss, in an address to the NAACP, ways of bringing “greater fairness to our criminal justice system while keeping our communities safe,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a blog post.
In a statement from the U.S. Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said today’s commutations grew out of Obama’s request a year ago that the agency develop criteria for identifying prisoners who were nonviolent, low-level offenders who received overly harsh sentences.
“The President’s decision to commute the sentences of 46 more individuals today is another sign of our commitment to correcting these inequities,” she said.
April 7th 2015 :
President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 convicted federal prisoners Tuesday, shortening their sentences for drug-related crimes.
Eight of the prisoners who will have their sentences reduced were serving life sentences. All but one of the 22 will be released on July 28.
The White House said Obama made the move in order to grant to older prisoners the same leniency that would be given to people convicted of the same crimes today.
“Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. “Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years—in some cases more than a decade—longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.”
In issuing the commutations Tuesday, Obama has more than doubled the number he’s granted in his presidency. Before Tuesday, he had issued just 21 and denied 7,378 commutations in his more than six years. It was the most commutations issued by a president in a single day since President Clinton issued 150 pardons and 40 commutations on his last day in office.
And it could represent the crest of a new wave of commutations that could come in Obama’s last two years in office. Last year, the Justice Department announced a new clemency initiative to try to encourage more low-level drug offenders to apply to have their sentences reduced. That resulted in a record 6,561 applications in the last fiscal year, at least two of which were granted commutations Tuesday, according to the Justice Department.
Everything about me is a contradiction, and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There’s a philistine and an aesthete (a person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art and beauty) in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.
Almost without exception, people and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Though we should know better, we continue to manufacture worries and nurse fears. Yet anxiety is nothing more than wasting today’s time and resources to clutter up tomorrow’s possibilities with yesterday’s struggles. In spite of that, it remains for some a continual preoccupation. This post will takes a straight look at this energy-draining reality. By seeing it at work in another’s life, we may gain sufficient perspective to get through the tough stuff of anxiety. Stands the reason of my joy about my wife success thus far. She has suffered anxiety of life in wanting to complete school, she has suffered turmoil due to wanting to feel the sensationalism of operating as a substance abuse counselor and Psychology clinician within her own company “Second Chance Alliance”. She experiences anxiety from going to class under adverse challenges all the while wanting to cross the finish line of graduation. I am so proud of her holding her position in Christ as a mom and wife and grandmother that is a full time student trying to breakthrough the stigma’s of a unforgiving society and create change for her family and others.
I am Innocent until proven guilty… Maymie Chandler-Pratt Bio 7/9/2015 2:46:23 PM
Hello Instructor Dougherty,
My name is Maymie Chandler-Pratt and I am 53 years young. I currently reside in Southern California where it never rains, it is always sunny, and the crime rate is high and our court systems are overrun with all types of cases, mostly drug cases. I have been married for many years to the same man, my husband Aaron who is an ex Navy Seal with many issues stemming from his 13 years of service and nine campaigns and 7 months as a POW in Libya and has been diagnosed with PTSD and Schizo-affective Disorder. I too was in the Army and even though I saw no war, because of my husband’s issues I too have been diagnosed with PTSD and Schizo-affective disorder by association, Together we share a total of 10 children, 2 are deceased, two are in prison; our daughter Parris for life with no possibility of ever getting out and our son Lee who was sentenced to 15 years with an L. The other 6 are working, and attending college. Our youngest son is 19 and 6′ 6″ tall.
I started attending Argosy in 2011 and in January 2016 I will graduate with my BA in psychology with and emphasis on Substance Abuse Counseling. I chose this career because of my 20 plus years of being addicted to crack cocaine and my own stint in prison for 7 years due to my addictive behaviors. After being released from prison I was placed in a 1453 state mandated drug program where I met up with my counselor who had also been in prison with me. While there she told me that I too should become a substance abuse counselor. My belief after witnessing the healing power of “My higher power” in which I choose to call God, I was convinced that if I could do it then I could help others like me to do it too.
I feel that with my extensive criminal background, I have a lot of experience with the criminal court systems, but I am no expert and I want to be even more enlightened now as a professional as I was as a criminal. I look forward to working with you over the next five weeks.
See you on the boards…May Pratt
Five months until this temptation to sin by having anxiety will be a hurdle we both are excited to jump..Thanks to all who have been apart of this journey.
Several years ago the National Anxiety Center in Maplewood, New Jersey, released the “Top Ten Anxieties for the 1990s.” The list included AIDS, drug abuse, nuclear waste, famine, and the federal deficit. Since then, in the light of September 11, 2001, the center has revised its list to put “global terrorism” as the leading source of anxiety. Today, we could add the worries of a full-scale war, the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea or China, the risk of losing a good job, and maybe the disquieting thoughts of growing old alone and unwanted.
We all have different lists, but our deep, relentless worries carry a similar effect. They make us uneasy. They steal smiles from our faces. They cast dark shadows on our futures by spotlighting our shameful pasts. They pickpocket our peace and kidnap our joy.
What is anxiety?
Throughout my more than 40 years of christian ministry, whenever I’ve taught or spoken on the topic of anxiety, I’ve always highlighted the relevant counsel of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Type the words worry or anxiety into the search engine of my heart, and Philippians 4 quickly flashes on my mind:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:4-7).
Reading this passage, we immediately discover a four-word command that could be rendered, literally, “Stop worrying about anything!” The word translated “anxious” comes from the Greek verb merimnao, meaning “to be divided or distracted.” In Latin the same word is translated anxius, which carries the added nuance of choking or strangling. The word also appears in German as wurgen, from which we derive our English word worry. The tough stuff of anxiety threatens to strangle the life out of us, leaving us asphyxiated by fear and gasping for hope.
Jesus used similar terms when He referred to worry in His parable of the sower inMark 4. The Master Illustrator painted a picture in the minds of His listeners of a farmer sowing seed in four types of soil. In that parable He mentions a seed being sown among thorns. While doing so He underscores both the real nature and the destructive power of anxiety. Jesus said, “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop” (v. 7; emphasis added). Later, when the disciples asked Jesus about the meaning of the parable, He interpreted His own words. Regarding the seed sown among thorns, He explained, “These are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (vv. 18-19).
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!WORK IT OUT “JESUS”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
According to the gospel accounts, here are the miracles Jesus performed. Though this is an incomplete list according to John 21:25
: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
Answer:The doctrine of common grace pertains to the sovereign grace of God bestowed upon all of mankind regardless of theirelection. In other words, God has always bestowed His graciousness on all people in all parts of the earth at all time. Although the doctrine of common grace has always been clear in Scripture, in 1924, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) adopted the doctrine of common grace at the Synod of Kalamazoo (Michigan) and formulated what is known as the “three points of common grace.”
The first point pertains to the favorable attitude of God toward all His creatures, not only toward the elect. “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). Jesus said God causes “his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) and God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). Barnabas and Paul would later say the same thing: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). In addition to His compassion, goodness, and kindness, God also sheds His patience upon both the elect and the non-elect. While God’s patience for His own is undoubtedly different from His patience with those whom He has not chosen, God still exercises “longsuffering” toward those whom He has not chosen (Nahum 1:3). Every breath that the wicked man takes is an example of the mercy of our holy God.
The second point of common grace is the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society. Scripture records God directly intervening and restraining individuals from sinning. InGenesis 20, God restrained Abimelech from touching Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and affirmed it to him in a dream by saying, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). Another example of God restraining the wicked hearts of evil men is seen in God’s protection of the land of Israel from being invaded by the pagan nations on their border. God commanded the men of Israel that three times a year they would leave their plot of land to go and appear before Him (Exodus 34:23). To ensure the protection of God’s people from invasion during these times, even though the pagan nations surrounding them desired their land year-round, God promised that “no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God” (Exodus 34:24). God also restrained David from taking revenge on Nabal for scorning the messengers that David sent to greet Nabal (1 Samuel 25:14). Abigail, Nabal’s wife, recognized God’s grace when she pleaded with David not to seek vengeance against her husband, “since the Lord has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands…” (1 Samuel 25:26). David acknowledged this truth by responding, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you…” (1 Samuel 25:34).
This second point of common grace not only includes God’s restraining of evil, but also His sovereignly releasing it for His purposes. When God hardens the hearts of individuals (Exodus 4:21;Joshua 11:20;Isaiah 63:17), He does so by releasing His restraint on their hearts, thereby giving them over to the sin that resides there. In His punishment of Israel for their rebellion, God gave “them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices” (Psalm 81:11-12). The passage of Scripture best known for speaking of God’s releasing of restraint is found inRomans 1where Paul describes those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. God “gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:28).
The third point of common grace as adopted by the CRC pertains to “civic righteousness by the unregenerate.” This means that God, without renewing the heart, exercises such influence that even the unsaved man is enabled to perform good deeds toward his fellow man. As Paul said of a group of unregenerate Gentiles, they “do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Romans 2:14). The necessity of God restraining the hearts of the unredeemed becomes clear when we understand the biblical doctrine oftotal depravity. If God did not restrain the evil that resides in the hearts of all men, hearts which are “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), humanity would have destroyed itself centuries ago. But because He works through common grace given to all men, God’s sovereign plan for history is not thwarted by their evil hearts. In the doctrine of common grace, we see God’s purposes stand, His people blessed, and His glory magnified.
Question: “What is the significance of a red heifer in the Bible? Is a red heifer a sign of the end times?”
Answer:According to the Bible, the red heifer—a reddish-brown cow, probably no more than two years old which had never had a yoke on it—was to be sacrificed as part of the purification rites of the Mosaic Law. The slaughtering of a red heifer was a ceremonial ritual in the Old Testament sacrificial system, as described inNumbers 19:1-10. The purpose of the red heifer sacrifice was to provide for the water of cleansing (Numbers 19:9), another term for purification from sin. After the red heifer was sacrificed, her blood was sprinkled at the door of the tabernacle.
The imagery of the blood of the heifer without blemish being sacrificed and its blood cleansing from sin is a foreshadowing of the blood of Christ shed on the cross for believers’ sin. He was “without blemish” just as the red heifer was to be. As the heifer was sacrificed “outside the camp” (Numbers 19:3), in the same way Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:11-12).
The Bible does teach that one day there will be again be a temple of God in Jerusalem (Ezekiel chapters 41-45). Jesus prophesied that the antichrist would desecrate the temple (Matthew 24:15), and for that to occur, there obviously would have to be a temple in Jerusalem once again. Many anticipate the birth of a red heifer because in order for a new temple to function according to the Old Testament law, a red heifer would have to be sacrificed for the water of cleansing used in the temple. So, when a red heifer is born (which is quite unusual) it might be a sign that the temple will soon be rebuilt.
Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”
It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.
To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”
It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.
The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.
The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:
“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”
When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.
If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.
My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:
“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”
About the smug heart, I have written previously:
Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!
Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.
That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.
I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:
1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
This week the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of same sex marriage in all 50 states. My friends, we are witnessing the end of federalism in our nation. In a single vote, 5 folks basically just told the states to “stick it.”
Furthermore, we are in effect nullifying the First Amendment.
Consider this: what happens when a gay couple goes into a church wanting to plan a ceremony and the pastor says no? We now have a conflict between the First Amendment and individual behavior.
Dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia summed up his disgust with this ruling in a footnote on page 7 (note 22). He says, “If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
With this ruling, the Supreme Court is essentially saying individuals have civil rights based on their sexual behavior, and setting up a monumental battle with the free exercise of religion. This could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back – that camel being the up till now silent, passive Americans who have been cowed into “tolerating” societal changes that go counter to their fundamental beliefs.
As reported by the Christian Post in April, “The United States Supreme Court may soon liberate the biblically conservative church from old “prejudices” that should have long ago been “jettisoned,” forcing it into “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity,” in the words of a recent writer in The New York Times.”
“Homosexuality must be removed from the “sin list” and, according to an MSNBC commentator, traditional marriage proponents must be forced “to do things they don’t want to do.” Sadly, this crusade will be like the Marxist “liberation” movements that promised to “free” people, but really were about control and suppression. The culmination may come as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on same-sex marriage cases beginning April 28. By July 1 the Court possibly will issue an official ruling regarding the constitutional right to homosexual marriage. The Court’s decision may impact the form of biblically based churches dramatically. Churches that hold to a strict and conservative interpretation of the Bible’s teaching about gender and marriage may find themselves “Romanized”. The elites of first century Rome would not allow the church an institutional presence in society. “The Christian churches were associations which were not legally authorized, and the Roman authorities, always suspicious of organizations which might prove seditious, regarded them with jaundiced eye,” writes Kenneth Scott LaTourette.”
I found the statement “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity” as rather odd. And the comments from the MSNBC commentator of “traditional marriage proponents being ‘forced’ to do the things they don’t want to do” as somewhat threatening.
These statements by progressive socialists are indicative of a lack of regard and respect for the First Amendment right of religious liberty. Here is where I see an incredible philosophical battle looming. Now that SCOTUS has ruled there is a constitutional right to marriage – which I fail to see how that could be construed — and the radical gay left decides to push the envelope against churches, it will be a strategic miscalculation for the liberal left.
This is why the solution of civil unions should have been the solution. If the country is “forced” to accept something that goes counter to a traditional value, there will undoubtedly be push back. And that push back will result in a galvanizing issue which I do not believe the liberal progressive left fully comprehends.
t’s simple — in the 2012 presidential election there were some five to seven million evangelical Christian voters who sat it out. They were not inspired and therefore did not participate. However, I believe with this decision, the left has overextended itself — as it has already based on courts overturning electorate decisions – and you will see a social conservative issue that will have greater prominence. Some on the center-right will say, drop it, that’s a bad policy recommendation. This issue will not lend itself to dismissal and cognitive dissonance — there must be a solution. The social conservative issue of marriage will not be thrown upon the ash heap. It shouldn’t be the prominent issue, but it does have cross interest appeal.
The Christian Post postulated, “What happens if local churches that do not embrace same-sex marriage find their legal status shaky or non-existent, as well as parachurch groups, conservative Christian colleges, church-based humanitarian agencies, and all other religious institutions – Christian and otherwise – supporting the traditional view of marriage. Without state-recognized corporate status everything from mortgages and building permits to employment and hiring practices is threatened – all of them essential for institutional function.”
“Journalist Ben Shapiro notes that there is already a movement on the state level “to revoke non-profit status for religious organizations that do not abide by same-sex marriage.” The Supreme Court’s decision could make churches refusing to comply “private institutions engaging in commerce,” and therefore subject to laws already in place. Refusal to perform a same-sex wedding would put a church out of business. Current trends seem to flow against conservative religious institutions. All the elites that set and propagate cultural consensus are aligned in support of same-sex marriage – the Entertainment Establishment, Information Establishment, Academic Establishment, and Political Establishment.”
However, are the entertainment, information (media), academic, and political establishments truly representative of American culture? Or do they just have a more prominent position, making us believe they have a majority opinion?
There has been little talk about how, during the Obama wave of 2008, same-sex marriage ballot proposals in two states did not win as liberal progressives and the gay left had hoped – in Florida and California. The quiet point that no one wanted to comprehend was that countless droves of black voters swarmed to the polls. And as they voted for the “first black president” they did NOT vote to bring about gay marriage in their states. Why? Because of traditional biblical beliefs. Now, in 2008, Obama stated he didn’t support gay marriage — when he decided to flip flop — the hushed-up secret was the anger and disdain this caused with many black pastors and ministers. We all know the Democrats wholeheartedly depend on an obedient black electoral patronage — what if 25 percent of blacks say no? Click to view pt;2 Part 2
All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.
THE PRESIDENT: For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong, the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.
THE PRESIDENT: For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.
The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this. We see that now. And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country — by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.
We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway and we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.
A Letter From Black America
Yes, we fear the police. Here’s why.
Last July 4, my family and I went to Long Island to celebrate the holiday with a friend and her family. After eating some barbecue, a group of us decided to take a walk along the ocean. The mood on the beach that day was festive. Music from a nearby party pulsed through the haze of sizzling meat. Lovers strolled hand in hand. Giggling children chased each other along the boardwalk.
Most of the foot traffic was heading in one direction, but then two teenage girls came toward us, moving stiffly against the flow, both of them looking nervously to their right. “He’s got a gun,” one of them said in a low voice.
I turned my gaze to follow theirs, and was clasping my 4-year-old daughter’s hand when a young man extended his arm and fired off multiple shots along the busy street running parallel to the boardwalk. Snatching my daughter up into my arms, I joined the throng of screaming revelers running away from the gunfire and toward the water.
The shots stopped as quickly as they had started. The man disappeared between some buildings. Chest heaving, hands shaking, I tried to calm my crying daughter, while my husband, friends and I all looked at one another in breathless disbelief. I turned to check on Hunter, a high school intern from Oregon who was staying with my family for a few weeks, but she was on the phone.
“Someone was just shooting on the beach,” she said, between gulps of air, to the person on the line.
Unable to imagine whom she would be calling at that moment, I asked her, somewhat indignantly, if she couldn’t have waited until we got to safety before calling her mom.
“No,” she said. “I am talking to the police.”
My friends and I locked eyes in stunned silence. Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.
We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.
As far as we could tell, no one had been hurt. The shooter was long gone, and we had seen the back of him for only a second or two. On the other hand, calling the police posed considerable risks. It carried the very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. We had seen witnesses treated like suspects, and knew how quickly black people calling the police for help could wind up cuffed in the back of a squad car. Some of us knew of black professionals who’d had guns drawn on them for no reason.
This was before Michael Brown. Before police killed John Crawford III for carrying a BB gun in a Wal-Mart or shot down 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park. Before Akai Gurley was killed by an officer while walking in a dark staircase and before Eric Garner was choked to death upon suspicion of selling “loosies.” Without yet knowing those names, we all could go down a list of unarmed black people killed by law enforcement.
We feared what could happen if police came rushing into a group of people who, by virtue of our skin color, might be mistaken for suspects.
For those of you reading this who may not be black, or perhaps Latino, this is my chance to tell you that a substantial portion of your fellow citizens in the United States of America have little expectation of being treated fairly by the law or receiving justice. It’s possible this will come as a surprise to you. But to a very real extent, you have grown up in a different country than I have.
As Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, puts it, “White people, by and large, do not know what it is like to be occupied by a police force. They don’t understand it because it is not the type of policing they experience. Because they are treated like individuals, they believe that if ‘I am not breaking the law, I will never be abused.’”We are not criminals because we are black. Nor are we somehow the only people in America who don’t want to live in safe neighborhoods. Yet many of us cannot fundamentally trust the people who are charged with keeping us and our communities safe.
As protest and revolt swept across the Missouri suburb of Ferguson and demonstrators staged die-ins and blocked highways and boulevards from Oakland to New York with chants of “Black lives matter,” many white Americans seemed shocked by the gaping divide between law enforcement and the black communities they are supposed to serve. It was no surprise to us. For black Americans, policing is “the most enduring aspect of the struggle for civil rights,” says Muhammad, a historian and director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. “It has always been the mechanism for racial surveillance and control.”
In the South, police once did the dirty work of enforcing the racial caste system. The Ku Klux Klan and law enforcement were often indistinguishable. Black-and-white photographs of the era memorialize the way Southern police sicced German shepherds on civil rights protesters and peeled the skin off black children with the force of water hoses. Lawmen were also involved or implicated in untold numbers of beatings, killings and disappearances of black Southerners who forgot their place.
In the North, police worked to protect white spaces by containing and controlling the rising black population that had been propelled into the industrial belt during the Great Migration. It was not unusual for Northern police to join white mobs as they attacked black homeowners attempting to move into white neighborhoods, or black workers trying to take jobs reserved for white laborers. And yet they strictly enforced vagrancy laws, catch-alls that gave them wide discretion to stop, question and arrest black citizens at will.
Much has changed since then. Much has not.
To a very real extent, you have grown up in a different country than I have.
Last Fourth of July, in a few short minutes as we adults watched the teenager among us talking to the police, we saw Hunter become a little more like us, her faith a little shaken, her place in the world a little less stable. Hunter, who is biracial and lives with her white mother in a heavily white area, had not been exposed to the policing many black Americans face. She was about to be.
n the phone, she could offer only the most generic of suspect descriptions, which apparently made the officer on the other end of the line suspicious. By way of explanation, Hunter told the officer she was just 16. The police called her back: once, twice, then three times, asking her for more information. The interactions began to feel menacing. “I’m not from here,” Hunter said. “I’ve told you everything I know.”
The fourth time the police called, she looked frightened. Her interrogator asked her, “Are you really trying to be helpful, or were you involved in this?” She turned to us, her voice aquiver. “Are they going to come get me?”
“See,” one of us said, trying to lighten the mood. “That’s why we don’t call them.”
We all laughed, but it was hollow.
My friend Carla Murphy and I have talked about that day several times since then. We’ve turned it over in our minds and wondered whether, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have called 911.
Carla wasn’t born in the United States. She came here when she was 9, and back in her native Barbados, she didn’t give police much thought. That changed when she moved into heavily black Jamaica, Queens.
Carla said she constantly saw police, often white, stopping and harassing passersby, almost always black. “You see the cops all the time, but they do not speak to you. You see them talking to each other, but the only time you ever see them interact with someone is if they are jacking them up,” she said. “They are making a choice, and it says they don’t care about you, it tells you they are not here for your people or people who look like you.”
What if, for one day, Jesus were to become you? What if, for twenty-four hours, Jesus wakes up in your bed, walks in your shoes, lives in your house, assumes your schedule? Your boss becomes His boss, your mother becomes His mother, your pains become His pains? With one exception, nothing about your life changes. Your health doesn’t change. Your circumstances don’t change. Your schedule isn’t altered. Your problems aren’t solved. Only one change occurs.
What if, for one day and one night, Jesus lives your life with His heart?
Your heart gets the day off, and your life is led by the heart of Christ. His priorities govern your actions. His passions drive your decisions. His love directs your behavior.
What would you be like? Would people notice a change? Your family – would they see something new? Your coworkers – would they sense a difference? What about the less fortunate? Would you treat them the same? And your friends? Would they detect more joy? How about your enemies? Would they receive more mercy from Christ’s heart than from yours?
And you? How would you feel? What alterations would this transplant have on your stress level? Your mood swings? Your temper? Would you sleep better? Would you see sunsets differently? Death differently? Taxes differently? Any chance you’d need fewer aspirin or sedatives? How about your reaction to traffic delays? (Ouch, that touched a nerve.) Would you still dread what you are dreading? Better yet, would you still do what you are doing?
Would you still do what you had planned to do for the next twenty-four hours?
Pause and think about your schedule. Obligations. Engagements. Outings. Appointments. With Jesus taking over your heart, would anything change?
Keep working on this for a moment. Adjust the lens of your imagination until you have a clear picture of Jesus leading your life, then snap the shutter and frame the image. What you see is what God wants. He wants you to “think and act like Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
God’s plan for you is nothing short of a new heart.
“You were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God – made to be truly good and holy” (Ephesians 4:23-24).
God wants you to be just like Jesus. He wants you to have a heart like His.
I’m going to risk something here. It’s dangerous to sum up grand truths in one statement, but I’m going to try. If a sentence or two could capture God’s desire for each of us, it might read like this:
God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.
If you think His love for you would be stronger if your faith were, you are wrong. If you think His love would be deeper if your thoughts were, wrong again. Don’t confuse God’s love with the love of people. The love of people often increases with performance and decreases with mistakes. Not so with God’s love. He loves you right where you are. To quote my wife’s favorite author:
God’s love never ceases. Never. Though we spurn Him. Ignore Him. Reject Him. Despise Him. Disobey Him. He will not change.
Our evil cannot diminish His love. Our goodness cannot increase it. Our faith does not earn it any more than our stupidity jeopardizes it. God doesn’t love us less if we fail or more if we succeed.
When my daughter Parris was a toddler, I used to take her to a park not far from our home. One day as she was playing in a sandbox, an ice-cream salesman approached us. I purchased her a treat, and when I turned to give it to her, I saw her mouth was full of sand. Where I intended to put a delicacy, she had put dirt.
Did I love her with dirt in her mouth? Absolutely. Was she any less my daughter with dirt in her mouth? Of course not. Was I going to allow her to keep the dirt in her mouth? No way. I loved her right where she was, but I refused to leave her there. I carried her over to the water fountain and washed out her mouth. Why? Because I love her.
God does the same for us. He holds us over the fountain. “Spit out the dirt, honey,” our Father urges. “I’ve got something better for you.” And so He cleanses us of filth: immorality, dishonesty, prejudice, bitterness, greed. We don’t enjoy the cleansing; sometimes we even opt for the dirt over the ice cream. “I can eat dirt if I want to!” we pout and proclaim. Which is true – we can. But if we do, the loss is ours. God has a better offer. He wants us to be just like Jesus.
Isn’t that good news? You aren’t stuck with today’s personality. You aren’t condemned to “grumpydom.” You are tweakable. Even if you’ve worried each day of your life, you needn’t worry the rest of your life. So what if you were born a bigot? You don’t have to die one.
Where did we get the idea we can’t change? Jesus can change our hearts. He wants us to have a heart like his. Can you imagine a better offer?
The Heart of Christ
The heart of Jesus was pure. The Savior was adored by thousands, yet content to live a simple life. He was cared for by women (Luke 8:1-3) yet never accused of lustful thoughts, scorned by His own creation but willing to forgive them before they even requested His mercy. Peter, who traveled with Jesus for three and a half years, described Him as a “lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Peter 1:19). After spending the same amount of time with Jesus, John concluded, “And in Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5).
Jesus’ heart was peaceful. The disciples fretted over the need to feed the thousands, but not Jesus. He thanked God for the problem. The disciples shouted for fear in the storm, but not Jesus. He slept through it. Peter drew his sword to fight the soldiers, but not Jesus. He lifted His hand to heal. His heart was at peace. When His disciples abandoned Him, did He pout and go home? When Peter denied Him, did Jesus lose His temper? When the soldiers spit in His face, did He breathe fire in theirs? Far from it. He was at peace. He forgave them. He refused to be guided by vengeance.
He also refused to be guided by anything other than His high call. His heart was purposeful. Most lives aim at nothing in particular and achieve it. Jesus aimed at one goal – to save humanity from its sin. He could summarize His life with one sentence: “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Jesus was so focused on His task that he knew when to say, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4) and when to say, “It is finished” (John 19:30). But he was not so focused on his goal that he was unpleasant.
Quite the contrary. How pleasant were His thoughts! Children couldn’t resist Jesus. He could find beauty in lilies, joy in worship, and possibilities in problems. He would spend days with multitudes of sick people and still feel sorry for them. He spent more than three decades wading through the muck and mire of our sin yet still saw enough beauty in us to die for our mistakes.
But the crowning attribute of Christ was this: His heart was spiritual. His thoughts reflected His intimate relationship with the Father. “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me,” he stated (John 14:11). His first recorded sermon begins with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” (Luke 4:18). He was “led by the Spirit” (Matthew 4:1) and “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). He returned from the desert “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).
Jesus took his instructions from God. It was His habit to go to worship (Luke 4:16). It was His practice to memorize scripture (Luke 4:4). Luke says Jesus “often slipped away to be alone so He could pray” (Luke 5:16). His times of prayer guided Him. He once returned from prayer and announced it was time to move to another city (Mark 1:38). Another time of prayer resulted in the selection of the disciples (Luke 6:12-13). Jesus was led by an unseen hand: “The Son does whatever the Father does” (John 5:19). In the same chapter He stated, “I can do nothing alone. I judge only the way I am told” (John 5:30).
The Heart of Humanity
Our hearts seem so far from His. He is pure; we are greedy. He is peaceful; we are hassled. He is purposeful; we are distracted. He is pleasant; we are cranky. He is spiritual; we are earthbound. The distance between our hearts and His seems so immense. How could we ever hope to have the heart of Jesus?
Ready for a surprise? You already do. You already have the heart of Christ. Why are you looking at me that way? Would I kid you? If you are in Christ, you already have the heart of Christ.
One of the supreme yet unrealized promises of God is simply this: if you have given your life to Jesus, Jesus has given Himself to you. He has made your heart His home. It would be hard to say it more succinctly than Paul did: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
He has moved in and unpacked His bags and is ready to change you “into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul explained it with these words: “Strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
If I have the mind of Jesus, why do I still think so much like me?
Part of the answer is illustrated in a story about a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century. She was quite wealthy but also quite frugal.
The people were surprised, then, when she decided to be among the first to have electricity in her home.
Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door. He asked if her electricity was working well, and she assured him it was. “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said. “Your meter shows scarcely any usage. Are you using your power?”
“Certainly,” she answered. “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”
She’s tapped in to the power but doesn’t use it. Her house is connected but not altered. Don’t we make the same mistake? We, too – with our souls saved but our hearts unchanged – are connected but not altered. Trusting Christ for salvation but resisting transformation. We occasionally flip the switch, but most of the time we settle for shadows.
What would happen if we left the light on? What would happen if we not only flipped the switch but lived in the light? What changes would occur if we set about the task of dwelling in the radiance of Christ?
No doubt about it: God has ambitious plans for us. The same one who saved your soul longs to remake your heart. His plan is nothing short of a total transformation:
He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him along the same lines as the life of His Son. – Romans 8:29
You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. –Colossians 3:10
God is willing to change us into the likeness of the Savior.
Shall we accept His offer?
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What about you? Are you willing to let God have His way in changing you from the inside out into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about gaining a heart like Jesus’! ~ Devotionals Daily-Are you a tabernacle?-click to view…
God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement.
“I love being Black. I love being called Black. I love being an American. I love being a Black American, but as a Black man in this country I think it’s a shame That every few years we get a change of name.
Since those first ships arrived here from Africa that came across the sea There were already Black men in this country who were free. And as for those that came over here on those terrible boats, They were called niggah and slave And told what to do and how to behave.
And then master started trippin’ and doing his midnight tippin’, Down to the slave shacks where he forced he and Great-Great Grandma to be together, And if Great-Great Grandpa protested, he got tarred and feathered.
And at the same time, the Black men in the country who were free, Were mating with the tribes like the Apache and the Cherokee. And as a result of all that, we’re a parade of every shade. And as in this late day and age, you can be sure, They ain’t too many of us in this country whose bloodline is pure.
But, according to a geological, geographical, genealogy study published in Time Magazine, The Black African people were the first on the scene, So for what it’s worth, the Black African people were the first on earth
And through migration, our characteristics started to change, and rearrange, To adapt to whatever climate we migrated to. And that’s how I became me, and you became you.
So, if we gonna go back, let’s go all the way back, And if Adam was Black and Eve was Black, Then that kind of makes it a natural fact that everybody in America is an African American.
Everybody in Europe is an African European; everybody in the Orient is an African Asian And so on and so on, That is, if the origin of man is what we’re gonna go on. And if one drop of Black blood makes you Black like they say, Then everybody’s Black anyway.
So quit trying to change my identity. I’m already who I was meant to be I’m a Black American, born and raised. And brother James Brown wrote a wonderful phrase, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud! Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud!”
Cause I’m proud to be Black and I ain’t never lived in Africa, And ’cause my Great-Great Granddaddy on my Daddy’s side did, don’t mean I want to go back. Now I have nothing against Africa, It’s where some of the most beautiful places and people in the world are found. But I’ve been blessed to go a lot of places in this world, And if you ask me where I choose to live, I pick America, hands down.
Now, by and by, we were called Negroes, and after while, that name has vanished. Anyway, Negro is just how you say “black” in Spanish. Then, we were called colored, but ****, everybody’s one color or another, And I think it’s a shame that we hold that against each other.
And it seems like we reverted back to a time when being called Black was an insult, Even if it was another Black man who said it, a fight would result, Cause we’ve been so brainwashed that Black was wrong, So that even the yellow niggahs and black niggahs couldn’t get along.
But then, came the 1960s when we struggled and died to be called equal and Black, And we walked with pride with our heads held high and our shoulders pushed back, And Black was beautiful.
But, I guess that wasn’t good enough, Cause now here they come with some other stuff. Who comes up with this **** anyway? Was it one, or a group of niggahs sitting around one day?
Feelin’ a little insecure again about being called Black And decided that African American sounded a little more exotic. Well, I think you were being a little more neurotic.
It’s that same mentality that got “Amos and Andy” put off the air, Cause’ they were embarrassed about the way the character’s spoke. And as a result of that action, a lot of wonderful Black actors ended up broke. When we were just laughin’ and have fun about ourselves. So I say, “**** you if you can’t take a joke.” You didn’t see the “Beverly Hillbilly’s” being protested by white folks.
And if you think, that cause you think that being called African American set all Black people’s mind at ease…..
Since we affectionately call each other “niggah”,
I affectionately say to you, “niggah Please”.
How come I didn’t get the chance to vote on who I’d like to be? Who gave you the right to make that decision for me? I ain’t under your rule or in your dominion And I am entitled to my own opinion.
Now there are some African Americans here, But they recently moved here from places like Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Zaire. But, now the brother who’s family has lived in the country for generations, Occupying space in all the locations New York, Miami, L.A., Detroit, Chicago- Even if he’s wearing a dashiki and sporting an afro.
And, if you go to Africa in search of your race, You’ll find out quick you’re not an African American, You’re just a Black American in Africa takin’ up space.
Why you keep trying to attach yourself to a continent, Where if you got the chance and you went, Most people there would even claim you as one of them; as a pure bread daughter or son of them. Your heritage is right here now, no matter what you call yourself or what you say And a lot of people died to make it that way. And if you think America is a leader on inequality and suffering and grievin’ How come there so many people comin’ and so few leavin’?
Rather than all this ‘find fault with America’ **** you promotin’, If you want to change something, use your privilege, get to the polls! Commence to votin’!
God knows we’ve earned the right to be called American Americans and be free at last. And rather than you movin’ forward progress, you dwelling in the past. We’ve struggled too long; we’ve come too far. Instead of focusing on who we were, let’s be proud of who we are.
We are the only people whose name is always a trend. When is this **** gonna end? Look at all the different colors of our skin- Black is not our color. It’s our core. It’s what we been livin’ and fightin’ and dyin’ for.
But if you choose to be called African American and that’s your preference Then I ‘ll give you that reference
But I know on this issue I don’t stand alone on my own and if I do, then let me be me And I’d appreciate it if when you see me, you’d say, “there goes a man who says it loud I’m Black. I’m Black. I’m a Black American, and I’m proud
Cause I love being an American. And I love being Black. I love being called Black.
Making Investments That Last
I heard about this man who bought a parrot. It was a beautiful parrot but he had a really bad mouth. He could swear for five minutes straight without repeating himself. The man was embarrassed because the bird was driving him crazy in front of people.
He tried to appeal to the bird by asking him to clean up his language. The parrot promised to change but nothing happened. In fact, his swearing increased in both volume and frequency.
It finally got to be too much, so the guy grabbed the bird by the throat and started shaking him and yelled, “Quit it!” But this just made the parrot angry and he swore more than ever.
Then the guy got really mad and locked him in a kitchen cabinet. That really aggravated the bird and he started clawing and scratching and making all kinds of racket. When the guy finally let him out, the parrot let loose with a stream of swear words that made the man blush.
At that point, the guy was so ticked off that he threw him into the freezer. For the first few seconds the bird squawked and screamed and thrashed around. And then there was silence.
At first the guy just waited, but then he started to wonder if the bird was hurt. After a couple minutes of not hearing anything, he was so worried that he opened the freezer door. The bird calmly climbed onto the man’s outstretched arm and said, “I’m really sorry about all the trouble I’ve been giving you. I make a solemn promise and vow to clean up my language from now on.”
The man was astounded. He couldn’t believe the transformation that had come over the parrot as a result of being in the freezer for only a couple minutes. The parrot then turned to the man and said, “I just have one question…what did the chicken do?”
This morning we’re going to learn about 4 vows, or promises, that the people of God made in Nehemiah 10. We’ll tackle these in Part 2 of the message a little later on. While God’s people weren’t thrown in the freezer, they did feel the sting of God’s spoken Word in chapters 8 and 9. After hearing what God wanted from them, and owning their own persistent rebellion, verse 38 of chapter 9 says that the people made a “binding agreement” to follow the Lord wholeheartedly. They put it in writing and sealed it. Putting a seal on a document is a serious matter because it meant taking a solemn oath before the Lord. Those who agreed to this covenant are listed in 10:1-27.
The law governing oaths and vows is found in Numbers 30:2: “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” Ecclesiastes 5:4 says, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.” Since an oath involved the name and possible judgment of God, it was not to be taken lightly. Jesus also warned against using empty oaths in Matthew 5:33-37.
Examples of people making vows and covenants with God, only to break them later on. InExodus 24, the Israelites promise to do “everything the Lord has said.” But in less than six weeks, these same people construct a golden calf and bow down in worship before it. InMark 14:29, Peter promises Jesus, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Hours later, Peter responds to a servant girl’s questions by swearing in verse 71: “He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’”
That leads to a question. Are vows of any use today? I think they are for at least two reasons. First, they help us focus. When you make a vow, you are saying that you are going to do something specific. We can say, “Lord, I need to witness more” or we can say, “I’m going to invite my neighbor to the Christmas cantata and I’m going to give a book to him so that I can open up a conversation with him.”
Second, vows allow us to express our love. That’s why couples make vows during a marriage ceremony. They’re the language of love. Love is more than just a feeling, it’s a commitment or promise to be married until death do us part.
God is a covenant-keeping God, even when we don’t keep our end of the deal. You may have made some promises to God in the past that you haven’t kept. You may have broken some vows. If you have, you’re not alone. Jeremiah 31:32 says that God’s people broke the covenant on a regular basis. Verse 33 says that He will one day make a new covenant in which he says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Jesus inaugurated this new covenant. Listen to what He said in Mark 14:24: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” In the Old Covenant, we are expected to live up to our end completely everything comes from us. In the New Covenant, nothing comes from us, and everything comes from Jesus. Because of His grace, we can surrender, submit and obey out of love, not fear.
While it may be helpful to make a vow or an oath to God today, remember this: We don’t succeed as Christians because we make promises to God, but because we believe the promises of God and act upon them.
Having said that, many of us never come to the point of getting serious in our walk with God simply because we never get specific with Him. We hear sermons and sense the Spirit’s tug at our heart, but until we decide to be completely committed to Him, we won’t be. As we celebrate communion this morning, I invite you to use this time to think through any decisions the Lord wants you to make. Perhaps you’ve been challenged or convicted by the Lord during this series. Listen to Him and decide right now to put into practice what you know you need to do. If you’ve broken some promises with Him or with others, confess it right now. 1 Corinthians 11:28 tells us to examine ourselves before we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion.
“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.”
― Bill Cosby, Fatherhood
Fathers and Sons
Being a father is life’s fullest expression of masculinity. But for many males, life consists of a search for the lost father. My son Aaron and I have had a intricate time being together and bonding due to the complexities that once plagued my life. I was given another day that wasn’t promised to me. My morning started at 4;30 am with me screaming at the top of my voice with the words NO!!!NO!!!, sweating and shaking with thoughts that sounded like this, what if something happens to me before I get my relationship with little Aaron right? My dad died in February without our being able to reconcile our father son relationship and I know that’s why this matters so much to me.
We know that raising children is the central experience of life, the greatest source of self-awareness, the true fountain of pride and joy, the most eternal bond with a partner. We know that being a father is life’s fullest expression of masculinity. So why did so many men forgo this for so long, and will the current crop of post-patriarchal fathers fare any better?
FOR A COUPLE OF hundred years now, each generation of fathers has passed on less and less to his sons–not just less power but less wisdom. And less love. We finally reached a point where many fathers were largely irrelevant in the lives of their sons. The baby was thrown out with the bathwater, and the pater dismissed with the patriarchy. Everyone seemed to be floundering around not knowing what to do with men or with their problematic and disoriented masculinity.
In addition, over the same 200 years, each generation of fathers has had less authority than the last. The concept of fatherhood changed drastically after the Industrial Revolution. Economics suddenly dictated that somebody had to go out from the home to work. Men were usually chosen, since they couldn’t produce milk. Maybe they would come home at night or just on weekends.
As a result, masculinity ceased to be defined in terms of domestic involvement-that is, skills at fathering and husbanding -and began to be defined in terms of making money. Men stopped doing all the things they used to do. Instead, they became primarily Father the Provider, bringing things home to the family rather than living and working at home within the family.
This gradually led fathers to find other roles to fulfill when they visited home after working somewhere else: Father the Disciplinarian: “Wait till your father comes home!” and Father the Audience: “Tell Daddy what you did today.”
FATHER THE PROVIDER
I always made it the excuse to why I clung to the streets and the games I played outside my home while trying to provide a higher life for my kids. I worked, I hustled and I paid the price for all of the unnecessary things I did because of greed. My kids are still somewhat distant, but most of them have forgiven mom and dad for having to leave them for a number of years.
If all father’s functions were economic, if all his status was measured by how well he provided, the rich and economically powerful father became a potential tyrant; but the father who wasn’t rich and famous was an inescapable failure, a disappointment, a buffoon. The father’s position in the family was no longer determined by how well he functioned as a father, but was scored by his status in the eyes of the world, in a set of economic contests in which there were few men winning by being the richest of them all, and most men losing.
Once a father had moved out of family life and became part of the work crew, family values ceased to be his primary definers of himself. He adopted instead the values and job descriptions of the other workers. His work ceased to be something he did for the sake of his family and became work for the sake of work.
He didn’t slow down when he’d achieved a level of sufficient comfort; instead, he strove even harder to get the approval of his fellow workers and to earn glory in their eyes. He worked because he worked; that was what he did because that was what he was. He was no longer paterfamilias, he was homolaboriosus. In the endeavors and identity dearest to his heart and heaviest on his schedule, he was a working man, and his family should understand that their claims on his time came second best.
In his mind, he had moved out. He had gone to conquer the world.
FATHER THE SUCCESS
When society decided that raising children was women’s work and that making money was the single-minded point of men’s lives, fathers became too busy for their children and boys began to grow up without fathers. That would not have been critical if there were uncles and cousins and grandfathers and older brothers around to model masculinity for boys. But our ideas of mental health and the goals of the housing industry required that families trim themselves down to the size of a married couple and their children.
Reducing the family to such a tiny, isolated, nuclear unit made it mobile enough for the purposes of industrial society. Workers were no longer rooted in the land or community. Now nothing came between a man and his job. Companies could extract the utmost loyalty from employees by making them a part of the family of work and cut them further away from the family of home. Men on the Daddy Track were severely penalized, much as women on the Mommy Track are now.
The children of this generation may grow up with the idea that a father’s life is his work, and his family should not expect anything more from him.
I recall one man, talking about the problems of his son, saying, “I don’t know what Betty could have done wrong raising that boy. I know it wasn’t anything I did, since I was busy working and left it to her. I barely saw the kid so I couldn’t have done anything wrong.”
Life for most boys and for many grown men then is a frustrating search for the lost father who has not yet offered protection, provision, nurturing, modeling, or, especially, anointment. All those tough guys who want to scare the world into seeing them as men and who fill up the jails; all whose men who don’t know how to be a man with a woman and who fill up the divorce courts; all those corporate raiders who want more in hopes that more will make them feel better; and all those masculopathic philanderers, contenders, and controllers–all of them are suffering from Father Hunger.
They go through their adolescent rituals day after day for a lifetime, waiting for a father to anoint them and treat them as good enough to be considered a man.
They call attention to their pain, getting into trouble, getting hurt, doing things that are bad for them, as if they are calling for a father to come take them in hand and straighten them out or at least tell them how a grown man would handle the pain.
They compete with other boys who don’t get close enough to let them see their shame over not feeling like men, over not having been anointed, and so they don’t know that the other boys feel the same way.
In a scant 200 years–in some families in a scant two generations–we’ve gone from a toxic overdose of fathering to a fatal deficiency. It’s not that we have too much mother but too little father.
THE MYTHS OF MASCULINITY
Our modern mythmakers are busy tackling the relationships between fathers and sons to find connections between pre-patriarchal and post-patriarchal consciousness, between the old fear of the too-powerful father and the new longing for a father to love and teach and anoint us.
The pain and grief and shame from the failed father-son relationship seem universal, as evidenced in the popular movies of the past few decades which had father-and-son themes that overshadowed anything going on between men and women.
Father-son myths attracted huge audiences in the 1970s and ’80s. Men feared being like their fathers, but they wanted desperately to bond with them even if they could never really please them enough to feel anointed.
In 1989, the film that set the tone for the Men’s Movement was Field of Dreams. Baseball, with its clear and polite rules and all its statistics and players who are normal men and boys rather than oversize freaks, is a man’s metaphor for life.
In this magical fantasy, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) tells us his life story: how his mother died when he was two so his father gave up his efforts to play pro baseball in order to raise his son.
Costner hears a voice from his cornfield telling him “If you build it, he will come.” He understands the message to mean that if he mows his cornfield and builds a baseball diamond, his father’s hero, Joe Jackson, will appear. He does. Then Costner’s dad appears in his baseball uniform, and father and son solemnly play a belated game of catch. Father and son don’t talk much, they just play catch with total solemnity. And it is quite enough.
What goes on between the father and son-and what does not go on between them–is surely the most important determinant of whether the boy will become a man capable of giving life to others or whether he will go through life ashamed and pulling back from exposure to intimacy with men, women, and children.
A NEW GENERATION OF NURTURERS
It takes the fulfillment of all these relationships for a boy to become a man who is able to live in peace and cooperation with his community and to give something back to his family. Fathering makes a man–whatever his standing in the eyes of the world-feel strong and good and important, just as he makes his child feel loved and valued.
Mercifully, parenting is not an efficient process–the old concept of “quality time” is a cruel cop-out. A father who gets to hang out with his children is reliving the joys of his own childhood. The play is the thing.
Becoming Father the Nurturer rather than just Father the Provider enables a man to fully feet and express his humanity and masculinity. Fathering is the most masculine thing a man can do.
Will this new generation discover the healing power of fatherhood? As I look at the young men coming into manhood now, I see many who are willing to risk being hands-on fathers in a way that was rare in my generation. My son and son-in-law and nephews, for instance, are yearning for children, not just children to have but children to raise.
They are not alone. I feel optimistic about the sort of fathering these guys will do. The trend is dear: the boys who got fathered want to be fathers, and the boys who didn’t fear it.
To me the phrase “No Justice, No Peace” is not so much a threat as much as it is a cry of the heart. It is not simply a call to protest, but also a naming of the powers and what those powers have done.
A lack of justice has resulted in a lack of peace.
So many of the people of color, in particular the people of African descent in my life went to bed on last night without a sense of peace. And I am not sure that some of my non-Black friends understand why.
There is a lack of peace because of the painful reminder that historically black lives are valued less than the lives of others. This painful truth is reiterated by the invoking of names like Emmett Till, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant III, and Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown,and now Walter Scott It is reinforced through disparities in legal sentencing, in execution rates, and in drug policing.
To view the many fallen people of color and others please click this link:
Heavy hearts now lack peace because of the lack of justice in our nation.
But there is a lack of peace also because of the very real fear that many of us parents who have children of color, will feel every time our kids walk to the store. It is the twinge of fear and lack of peace that I and other black men feel every time we are profiled just because of the way we look.
No peace because of no justice.
Soon after the story of Trayvon’s killing became national news I found that many of my white friends did not understand the hurt and anger that I and many others felt. Likewise after the verdict was read, I again received messages from friends who didn’t get the powerful response that they witnessed on social media sites. A lack of understanding is alright, but a lack of care, a lack of concern is not.
After the jury’s verdict came down I like so many others was stunned. Dumbstruck. Silently screaming. My first instinct was to go for a walk and cry. To be quiet. But there is a time for silence and there is a time to raise our voices. Mine is now raised in calling for justice, in calling for divine intervention, grace, and guidance, and in calling out to all of us to work for change.
So now that we see that there is neither justice nor peace, what is next?
We must work for both: To fix a broken justice system and a to fix the broken peace within our hearts and within our communities.
A lack of justice and a lack of peace is a call for action on two different fronts. This means organizing to change dangerous laws like the “Stand Your Ground” and the “Stop and Frisk” policies as well as heartless gun laws in our country. But it also means working to restore peace on an individual level. This is reaching out to those who are hurting. Preaching and writing about this not only prophetically, but also pastorally. It’s working not only to change laws, but to change a culture that is far too violent in the first place. It’s not only ensuring that the taking of black life is prosecuted just the same as when a white life is lost, but it is working to build abeloved community in which no lives are lost to unnecessary violence. Change laws, get guns off of the street, and change our culture.
The “WAR” on drugs is another bogus attempt to render Justice to our communities that failed. Here is a video and a case we are working with FAMM to overturn: https://youtu.be/C_ES5m4ovPM
Please watch Julie’s video, and share it with people you know. Because the fight for sentencing reform isn’t just about wasted money or prison over-crowding, it’s about real human beings.
It’s amazing how death will rob some people of vital core values and simple compassion for another human being. Having been raised by a man of tremendous “Pedigree” and ethics, I am very proud and thankful for his determination to em-plant honor and values within the woven fabric of my being and my siblings. It has been a month since his great sleep, but I am still trying to put pieces together from the painful ordeals that took place on this day of blessing for Johnny Pratt, but a tragedy for me. To see the behavior of my sibling really enhanced the death of my dad. Watching my brother have no honor in his conduct towards me and his Great God, who blessed him with a great Father was almost as horrible as watching my team of white brothers wearing a trident and American flag on their shoulders just like me, took the same oath and served with honor until one night while deployed they looked at me and said, now nigger who will protect you now?
My brother called me three days after my fathers passing, he wouldn’t even allow me to eulogize my father, nor would he. Our dad was a great man who instilled determination and education into our lives. He talked about being black in America and what’s expected of us during family dinners. As he would retire to the family den with us following close behind to have current events and synergizing talks he would always start with the pledge of allegiance and then state without fail that “honor” can be taken to eternity. He would remind us that no matter where we go in life that our conduct against racism will help those who hate and that it would allow them to see what a patriot of black culture looks like. My dad always spoke about having faith and trusting the only “Truth” there is and that is the Good News of the gospel.
Good news invades the dark spaces. Good news invades the bad spaces and sheds light where there isn’t any at all. This is the nature of the gospel. It’s what it does. On a thousand different topics, what the gospel does is invade brokenness, mistrust, anger, unforgiveness, hate, fracturing of relationships, and it enters into that brokenness and reconciles.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded the little nation of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia, knowing it would be next on Saddam’s hit list, called Washington and asked for help. Regardless of your political persuasion, you would have to agree on that occasion, then President Bush was at his best. Because President Bush picked up the phone and he called England and Canada and Spain and France, Italy, Turkey and numbers of other countries around the world and built the famous Coalition.
Men and women from different backgrounds, races, classes, cultures and personalities all gathered in the Gulf with one singularly focused agenda—to draw a line in the sand. To serve notice on this madman that not only could he not take more territory, he would have to relinquish the territory he had already taken. The Coalition was to serve notice on him that his days of rule in the Gulf were over.
Now there is another mad person in history and he’s called the devil. He’s come on territory that he has not created and does not own. He has brought with him death and disease and destruction. But God has responded by building his own coalition, made up of black people and white people and red people and yellow people; made up of tall people and short people; made up of people from various classes and backgrounds, to draw a line in the sand. To serve notice on this mad one that not only can he not take over more territory, he must relinquish the territory he already has. That coalition is called the church.
Our soldiers showed up with new, high-tech weaponry. Now, when Saddam looked across and saw five hundred thousand men and women with all this high-tech weaponry, you know his momma ain’t raised no dummy. He said, “I need a Plan B.” That’s when he launched scud attacks on Israel. His strategy was to draw Israel into the war in order to split the Coalition, believing that if he could draw Israel into the war his Arab brothers would not fight against another Arab brother alongside their archenemy, Israel. So he launched scud attacks to split the Coalition. Of course that’s when the heroes of the war showed up—Patriot Missiles. They were electronically released from their silos and met the scuds in heavenly places. And because the Coalition held, the war ended in just a few days.
You see, when you are in a war you don’t care about the color or class or culture of the man fighting next to you, as long as he is shooting in the same direction you are. If you know
Jesus Christ, you are in a war. This army that we are a part of is made up of people who are different from you, different from me. We may have all come over here on different ships but we are in the same boat now.
Modeling multi-ethnic community
The problem we face is that 11:00 on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. The problem that we face is that the people of God are not holding the standard of God high enough. That society can see that God has created one body with a lot of different looking faces. Unless we are willing to transcend, unless we are willing to rise above the efforts and intimidations of the enemy to allow history, background, culture, class and all the other human idiosyncrasies to divide the common call of Christ, then we will never see the impact of the church in reclaiming the culture.
Make no mistake about it—it won’t come because of your political affiliation. For God doesn’t ride the back of donkeys or elephants. The solutions to our problems won’t be delivered on Air Force One. It reminds me of a story of Joshua when he was in battle array, ready to go to war, inJoshua chapter 5. He came across this man who was getting ready to go into battle himself. He was a huge guy. He was captain of a large army. Joshua looked at him and said “Whose side are you on? Before I go to war I need to know whose side you are on, because if you are on their side then we are going to lose. If you are on our side then we have help to win, so whose side are you on?”
The man looked at him and said “Obviously you are thoroughly confused. I am neither on your side, nor am I on their side. I’m captain of the Lord’s Army. I did not come to take sides. I came to take over.”
That’s God’s agenda. He did not come to distinguish between Baptists and Methodist and Episcopalians and Pentecostals. He came to take over. He came to set a whole new agenda that all of his armed forces must operate under. It’s amazing how when we come to a gathering like this, we can be one in the name of Christ. But when we leave, we go back into our own uniqueness, not understanding that there is only one army here. Not understanding that God has called a coalition to operate in his unified way. Because, brothers and sisters, the test of the power in this room is not measured inside this room.
Whether you are black or white, Hispanic or Asian, Baptist or Methodist … whether you have an outgoing personality or an ingrown personality, there’s only one color that matters. That’s the color red, the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
Identifying the rot of racism
Peter was a man who had to come face to face with this problem. This problem of diversity. This problem of difference. This problem of unity. Peter was a staunch Jew. He was a super Jew. He was proud to be Jewish. Committed to being Jewish and was faithfully Jewish. One day while having devotions on the top of his roof, God gave him a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all manner of food on it. Peter said, “Not so Lord. Not so. I can’t eat that unclean food, the food that the Gentiles eat.”
God then gave him a lesson of a lifetime. “Don’t call unclean what I call clean. Don’t use your past standards to govern your present actions. This is a new ballgame now. I’ve created a new entity called the church.” He was then sent down to the home of Cornelius, where he introduced Gentiles to the new reality of a King. This cross-cultural experience made such a great impact that he even went over to dine with the Gentiles on their side of town.
That dinner event is recorded for us in Galatians 2. Finally, he had the chance to eat Gentile “soul” food. So he crosses the railroad tracks and goes dining at the “Soul Shack” where the Gentiles were living. He’d always wanted to taste pig feet and hog moths and chittlin’s. He always wanted to know what fat back and pork chops and ham tasted like. There he had his opportunity, ordained by God.
And so we find him dining with the Gentiles. Finding out he could have fellowship with people who are different than he was. Finding out what all the hoopla was all about regarding their background, their history, their worldview, and their diet. What he was finding out was all the good cooking he had been missing in all of his years as a Jew. That’s what he found out.
And so in Galatians 2, we find him dining with the Gentiles, enjoying a glorious, sumptuous, marvelous, magnanimous meal. In fact, he had even brought some of his Jewish friends with him and they were all seated and dining together. But a problem occurred in verse 12. It says, “For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they came he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof fearing the party of the circumcision.”
Peter, the Super Jew, was there dining with his new brothers and sisters in Christ, the Gentiles. All was fine until some of his homies from the hood showed up. Some of the boys from the hood showed up. Some of his Jewish friends sent by James, who are castigating him for what he was doing. “How dare you, Peter, our leader!” “How dare you! Don’t you know we don’t do that in this neighborhood? Don’t you know that in this neighborhood we don’t fraternize. I know we are all one in Christ and all that, but that’s theology. Let’s get practical. In this neighborhood we don’t do that. How could you Peter?”
And Peter was afraid of the circumcision, the text says—he was afraid of what his other brothers in Christ thought. What the rest of the family of God felt. He disregarded the truth of the Word of God told to him in Acts chapter 10. And it says that he withdrew himself. Now you have to understand this is no small withdrawal. This is Peter really withdrawing.
Whenever you see the list of disciples in the New Testament, Peter’s name is always first. Because he was the leader of the disciples. So when he withdrew, it says in verse 13, that the rest of the “Jews joined him in his hypocrisy.” With the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. Peter is the leader. We all know that a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.
When he fails as a leader to lead centered on the Bible, his congregation follows. The great tragedy of our day is that our pulpits have failed to deal with the issue of diversity, so our pews don’t know what to do about the issues of diversity. Because the church has not come to grips with this issue, the people of God have failed to be inclusionary when it comes to the oneness of the body.
And he withdrew; the rest of the Jews went with him. It’s interesting that the text says, “Even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” Not my boy Barnie. I mean anybody but Barnabas. You see, Barnabas was raised in Cyprus. Cyprus, of course, is a Gentile colony. So he was raised with Gentiles, went to school with Gentiles, played ball with Gentiles. That’s how bad racism is. It can take a good man and make him bad.
Calling sin what it is
Barnabas, the encourager, is now one of the ones to withdraw because of the pressure, the power, the potency of failed Christianity. Led by Peter, influenced by his own race. He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for one thing. Paul wanted some pork chops too. The text in verse 11 says that Paul showed up and when “Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” He says in verse 14, “And when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of them, ‘If you being a Jew, live like the Gentiles, and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews.'” He says, “You’ve got inconsistent Christianity.”
Now, notice his response. How did he deal with racism, classism, culturalism, whatever the dividing issue is in the neighborhood where you live, the area where you minister? How did he deal with it? Did he have a workshop on race relations? Did he have a seminar on unity?
No. The text says, “When I saw him I opposed him to his face. I opposed him personally. I opposed him publicly. I opposed him biblically.” You see, we have failed to treat this issue as a sin. We called it a cultural orientation. We called it a historical backdrop. We have given it names of heritage in history, but we have not called it is, what Paul called it, “sin.
Three positions abound today on the question of whether Christ is the only way to salvation. All three can be detected by how each answers these two fundamental questions: First, Is Jesus the only Savior? More fully: Is the sinless life of Christ and his atoning death and resurrection the only means by which the penalty of sin is paid and the power of sin defeated? Second, Is faith in Christ necessary to be saved? More fully: Is conscious knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection for sin and explicit faith in Christ necessary for anyone to become a recipient of the benefits of Christ’s atoning work and so be saved?
Pluralism answers both questions, ‘No.’ The pluralist (e.g., John Hick) believes that there are many paths to God, Jesus being only one of them. Since salvation can come through other religions and religious leaders, it surely follows that people do not have to believe in Christ to be saved.
Inclusivism answers the first question, ‘Yes,’ and the second question, ‘No.’ To the inclusivist (e.g., Clark Pinnock), although Jesus has accomplished the work necessary to bring us back to God, nonetheless, people can be saved by responding positively to God’s revelation in creation and perhaps in aspects of their own religions. So, even though Christ is the only Savior, people do not have to know about or believe in Christ to be saved.
Exclusivism answers both questions, ‘Yes.’ The exclusivist (e.g., Ron Nash, John Piper, Bruce Ware) believes that Scripture affirms both truths, first, that Jesus alone has accomplished the atoning work necessary to save sinners, and second, that knowledge of and faith in Christ is necessary for anyone to be saved. The remainder of this article offers a brief summary of some of the main support for these two claims.
Jesus is the Only Savior
Why think that Jesus is the only Savior? Of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.
1. Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. Why does this matter? Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus’ conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. Christ must be both God and man to atone for sin (see below), but for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
2. Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:1; Philippians 2:5; 1 Timothy 2:5), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. Man he must be, but a mere man simply could not make this infinite payment for sin. But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
3. Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 2:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 9:13; 1 Peter 2:21), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. This prefigured the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. But no one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
4. Christ alone died a penal, substitutionary death (Isaiah 53:4; Romans 3:21; 2 Corinthians 2:21; Galatians 3:10), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And because Christ lived a sinless life, he did not deserve to die. Rather, the cause of his death was owing to the fact that the Father imputed to him our sin. The death that he died was in our place. No one else in the history of the world has died because he bore the sin of others and not as the judgment for his own sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
5. Christ alone rose from the dead triumphant over sin (Acts 2:22; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:16), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The Bible indicates that a few people, other than Christ, have been raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17; John 11:38), but only Christ has been raised from the dead never to die again, having triumphed over sin. The wages of sin is death, and the greatest power of sin is death. So, Christ’s resurrection from the dead demonstrates that his atoning death for sin accomplished both the full payment of sin’s penalty and full victory over sin’s greatest power. No one else in the history of the world has been raised from the dead triumphant over sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.
Conclusion: Christ alone qualifies as Savior, and Christ alone is Savior. Jesus’ own words could not be clearer: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And the Apostle Peter confirms, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These claims are true of no one else in the history of the world. Indeed, Jesus alone is Savior.
Faith in Christ is Necessary to be Saved
Why think that faith in Christ is necessary to be saved? The teaching of the apostles is clear, that the content of the gospel now (since the coming of Christ) focuses directly upon the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, and that by faith in Christ one is forgiven of his sin and granted eternal life. Consider the following passages that support the conviction that people are saved only as they know and trust in Christ as their Savior.
1. Jesus’ own teaching shows that the nations need to hear and repent to be saved (Luke 24:44). Jesus commands that “repentance and forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The people Jesus here describes are currently both unrepentant and unforgiven. To be forgiven they must repent. But to repent they must hear the proclamation of Christ’s work in his name. And this is true for all the nations, including Jews who haven’t trusted Christ. Jesus does not envision the “nations” as already having saving revelation available to them. Rather, believers must proclaim the message of Christ to all the nations for people in those nations to be saved.
2. Paul teaches that even pious Jews, and everyone else, must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Romans 10:1). Paul’s heart’s desire and prayer is for the salvation of his fellow Jews. Even though they have a zeal for God, they do not know that God’s righteousness comes only through faith in Christ. So these Jews, even though pious, are not saved. Whoever will call upon the name of Christ (see Romans 10:9along with Romans 10:13) will be saved. But this requires that someone tell them. And this requires that those are sent. Missions, then, is necessary, since people must hear the gospel of Christ to be saved.
3. Cornelius’s story demonstrates that even pious Gentiles must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Acts 10:1, Acts 10:38; Acts 11:13; Acts 15:7). Far from being saved before Peter came to him, as some think, Cornelius was a pious (Acts 10:2) Gentile who needed to hear of Christ, and believe in Christ, to be saved. When Peter reports about the conversion of the Gentiles, he declares that only when he preached did Cornelius hear the message he needed to hear by which he would “be saved” (Acts 11:14; cf. Acts 15:8). Despite his piety, Cornelius needed to hear the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to be saved.
Conclusion: Jesus is the only Savior, and people must know and believe in Christ to be saved. May we honor Christ and the gospel, and manifest our faithfulness to God’s word, by upholding these twin truths and living in a manner that demonstrates our commitment to them.
In March of 2014, I began my visitation to three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:
It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.
Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”
Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”
Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).
You’ve seen the statistics. If you’re in ministry, you’ve probably witnessed the problem firsthand. The Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are leaving the church in droves, and staying away. Approximately 70 percent of those raised in the church disengage from it in their 20s. One-third of Americans under 30 now claim “no religion.”
There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S.—and approximately the same number of suggestions for how to bring them back to church. But most of the proposals I’ve heard fall into two camps.
The first goes something like this: The church needs to be more hip and relevant. Drop stodgy traditions. Play louder music. Hire pastors with tattoos and fauxhawks. Few come right out and advocate for this approach. But from pastoral search committees to denominational gatherings to popular conferences, a quest for relevance drives the agenda.
Others demand more fundamental change. They insist the church soften its positions on key doctrines and social issues. Our culture is secularizing. Let’s get with the times in order to attract the younger generation, they say. We must abandon supernatural beliefs and restrictive moral teachings. Christianity must “change or die.”
I think both approaches are flawed.
Chasing coolness won’t work. In my experience, churches that try to be cool end up with a pathetic facsimile of what was cool about 10 years ago. And if you’ve got a congregation of businessmen and soccer moms, donning a hip veneer will only make you laughable to the younger generation.
The second tack is worse. Not only will we end up compromising core beliefs, we will shrink our churches as well. The advocates of this approach seem to have missed what happened to mainline liberal churches over the last few decades. Adopting liberal theologies and culturally acceptable beliefs has drastically reduced their numbers while more theologically conservative churches grew.
There is no one silver bullet for bringing Millennials back to church. But here are a few actions to help us reach the next generation more effectively.
Adopt a Different Tone
As the culture has grown more secular, many Christians have struggled to adjust. The church once had pride of place in North American society. Now it seems we’re increasingly getting pushed to the margins. Christian morality is no longer assumed and our beliefs are suddenly considered strange.
This loss of cultural capital has caused many to shout louder in hopes of regaining influence. But adopting a shrill, combative tone only exacerbates the problem. It’s the surest way to alienate outsiders, especially Millennials. Author and historian John Dickson urges Christians to move from a posture of “admonition to mission.” Dickson lives in Australia, a decidedly post-Christian country. In our increasingly secular culture, it’s a lesson we need to take to heart. Let’s stop being shocked when our unbelieving neighbors fail to act like Christians and take a more winsome tone when we communicate the gospel.
Foster Intergenerational Relationships
I’ve read virtually all of the books on Millennials and the church, and I’ve adopted my own thoughts about Generation Ex (Read Generation Ex -Christians by Drew Dyck). If there’s one lesson to take away from this corpus of literature, it’s this: inter-generational relationships are crucial. The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
We’re surprised when even our most ardent young people walk away, but we shouldn’t be. If they didn’t have relationships with older Christians in the congregation, in all likelihood, they’re gone. When they age out of youth group, they age out of the church. Churches must find ways to pair older Christians with teens and to engage Millennials outside the church (many of whom are starving for mentors). This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve seen my own kids abandon their faith and cultural teaching to the point of going to prison for life and living contrary life styles. My going to prison and losing their respect I feel contributed to their posture now, but I am going to worship and believe God for their return.
The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
Present a Bigger God
Many evangelical churches present a one-sided vision of God. We love talking about God’s love, but not his holiness. We stress his immanence, but not his transcendence. How does this affect Millennials? I like the way Millennial blogger Stephen Altrogge puts it in Untamable God.
Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?
Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well.
I’ll be talking more on this topic at http://www.yelp.com/biz/world-conquerors-church-oakland on Febuary 20th-22. Pray for our travel and a deeper dive into how churches can convey a compelling vision of God for Millennials, as well as the whole congregation.
In an attempt to improve ourselves and our calling to perform ministry May & I have embarked upon volunteering three days a week at a local church/substance abuse center. We are also performing phase 2 of peer-counseling to enhance our adapting skills to the mission we have been called to perform in our community. Association with many groups has opened our eyes to Social Psychology and how it is used to fashion and shape peoples behavior.
We have ceased to think theologically about the ministry. Instead, we characterize it almost exclusively in functional or institutional terms. There are at least two reasons for this shift in emphasis. On the one hand there are the new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures, and on the other the requests of parishioners, the denominational programs, and the culture of the local community.
How is it that so many people started saying “Awesome!”, or started wearing Uggs?
These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice.
Psychologists are studying how social norms, the often-unspoken rules of a group, shape not just our behavior but also our attitudes. Social norms influence even those preferences considered private, such as what music we like or what policies we support or even what beliefs we entertain as it relates to denominational choices of churchs. Interventions that take advantage of already-existing group pressures, the thinking goes, should be able to shift attitudes and change behaviors at less cost in effort and resources.
Norms serve a basic human social function, helping us distinguish who is in the group and who is an outsider. Behaving in ways the group considers appropriate is a way of demonstrating to others, and to oneself, that one belongs to the group.
But surprisingly little is known about how attitudinal norms are established in groups. Why do some people in a group become trendsetters when it comes to ideas and objects?
“The questions are among the most challenging” in the field, said H. Peyton Young, a professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Dr. Young studies how norms influence economic behavior. “It’s definitely a big open research area where there’s a certain amount of dispute.”
One question is whether there is always a leader that sets or changes the norm, or whether norm change occurs organically over time, even in the absence of a strong leader.
What is Christian Counseling?
Christian counseling focuses on intertwining the disciplines of faith and psychology to provide an approach to mental and emotional health that pulls from biblical teachings. Practitioners of this style of counseling incorporate religious scripture and teachings to guide you through challenging life issues. When facing turbulent life events, incorporating and strengthening your faith may be the missing piece in finding proper treatment.
Origins of Christian Counseling
Rooted deep within biblical accounts, this form of therapy places an emphasis on fundamental values and beliefs that comprise the framework of modern Christianity. Ministers, Reverends, and other religious figures must seek licensed training and accreditation to provide this service to you, much like a secular clinician. In 1968, Christian counselors officially formed the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation to provide a model for current and future counselors. These counselors are bound not only to religious code, but secular standards of ethical practice as well.
Social psychology is “the study of the ways in which the imagined, implied or actual presence of others affects our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As an African American growing up in Washington D.C. (at the time one of most diverse cities in America), My first brush with social psychology was on my neighborhood streets. “On my block alone, there were nine different nationalities represented. “I was used to growing up with all sorts of different kids, dealing with cultural conflicts, celebrating everyone’s different holidays and special occasions—that was the norm for me.”
When I was in third grade, My mom took us to a multiethnic church comprising four equally proportioned groups: African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and whites. There, I listened to songs and prayers in languages far beyond English. We also had racial slurs hurled at us in a local church’s Vacation Bible School. These and other experiences piqued my interest early on about fundamental questions of social psychology, such as, “Why don’t groups get along?” and “Why do they perceive each other inaccurately?”
Much has been written about various aspects of pastoral theology, but there is a remarkable scarcity of literature that explores the theological issues that lie behind it. The doyen of modern pastoral methods, Seward Hiltner, has said:
Most American ministers—scholars though they may be—are functionalists at heart… . We think and feel or work our way into even the most recondite of theoretical matters only by first exploring them in relation to our functions of ministry.
Much of modern pastoral psychology is an abandonment to this American pragmatism. It is an aping of American scholarship as it demonstrates its pragmatic motivation. There seems to be a disdain for a careful study of the biblical view of the ministry.
Such is the minister’s dilemma. He is faced on the one hand with the traditional biblical definitions (though often poorly developed and frequently caricatured) and on the other with the set of functional expectations by which his service is judged. In addition he is strongly influenced by the attractiveness of new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures. Therefore he faces basic ambiguities in performing his task.
The minister serving in today’s secular culture is also confronted with an eroded image of the pastor. He is no longer the most educated man in the community or the one who elicits the mental image of a paragon of virtue. One is more likely to think about Elmer Gantry(Elmer Gantry is a novel written by Sinclair Lewis in 1926 that satirically represents aspects of the religious activity of America within fundamentalist and evangelistic circles and the attitudes of the 1920s public toward it) or to recognize that a recent Gallup poll showed that only eight percent of the population recommended the role of the clergyman as the preferred profession, far behind the doctor, engineer-builder.
Today , May and I are diligently looking for the reconciling benefits of social psychology, working with groups to raise our awareness of their social mis-perceptions and bringing conflicting groups together to find ways to collaborate. We are reading( Disunity in Christ) Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, is helping churches and faith-based groups transcend deep-seated divisions. it explores how social psychology reveals fragmentation in the body of Christ. Filled with many personal stories, the book highlights, among other things, how differences become divisions, and how the prevailing marketing culture feeds unhealthy competition between groups.
“The cognitive processes that drive categorization are most powerful when they are hidden from sight we have found this to be true within various church communities we frequent. “Once individuals become consciously aware of these processes . . . the processes begin to lose their power.” May and I had the opportunity to witness another facet of cognitive processes helping groups to recognize those assumptions. It was practiced while working with a Young Life group in a, low-income, mostly African American neighborhood in Riverside Ca., after noticing the divisive ways that the group (8 to 10 African American girls) talked about Somali girls at their school. The facilitator began asking the girls questions that helped them see their assumptions. “When you give people the opportunity to see how others misperceive them, “it makes them more interested in seeing how they misperceive others.”
More Than ‘Unity Events’
As May and I launched our campaign to perform outreach we scheduled several meetings to obtain buy in from various denominations. The joint venture began well, we had gained support to utilize one pastors 501c3 to obtain the needed resources and another pastor support to allow us the use of his church to process the recipients. “The joint venture began well but soon ended quite poorly, leaving behind a trail of distrust, negative emotions, and bruised egos.”
We shifted our focus of work with the pastors to explore what happened:
After hearing each pastor’s side of the story, it became clear to me that . . . each pastor had very different ideals about what a leader does and does not do, and each pastor projected his ideals onto the other pastor and negatively evaluated him based on criteria that pertained to those ideals. Essentially, each pastor gave the other a failing grade on leadership because they had very different criteria for evaluating leadership.
By working with us, the pastors uncovered their differing concepts of leadership and how that had led to misunderstanding and failed collaboration.
These are the ten books we plan to read along with an intense daily devotional for 2015.
Cleveland’s work awakens us to the language we use, particularly the ways in which we draw boundaries between us and them. “We must take active steps to expand our category of us, “so that they are now included in us. We’ve learned that the mere act of categorizing Christian groups into smaller, homogeneous groups leads us to devalue, misperceive, and distance ourselves from them.”
Once a divide goes up between groups, they tend to exaggerate each other’s differences—and cause further division in the body of Christ. Churches, “tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Christianity has been turned into a marketplace in which you can make money off your brand.” Pastors and churches are pressured to distinguish themselves from others, as we compete for the loyalty of members and seemingly scarce resources. We need a theology, deeply rooted in our essential unity in Christ that acts and speaks accordingly, seeking commonality and emphasizing shared characteristics between groups.
Instead of deepening the chasms between groups, we need sustained conversation. I would like to go one one step further, noting that one-time cross-cultural unity events are “not the way to go.” Although well-intentioned, such events tend to squeeze minority groups into the majority culture. Rather, healing and witness to unity in Christ comes from the long, messy work of naming issues of power and privilege. What we need are “long-term, ongoing partnerships that are proximal and mutually engaging.”
Alongside sustained conversations, we need ministries on which our groups can collaborate. I recall how many churches in Washington D.C. ran VBS programs with the exact same curriculum at different times. “It’s our empire approach to doing church,” that fuels such redundant behavior. I also maintain that it’s better for a church to pick a single church of a differing social group (race, ethnicity, or even political inclination) and to deeply partner with that church rather than to host sporadic events with many churches. My experience has shown that churches who immerse themselves in this kind of cross-cultural partnerships never regret it. “Yes, it’s hard,” “but it’s so much richer.”
The call to follow Jesus, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us, is a costly one. The way of Christ is undoubtedly difficult as we lose ourselves, but as we follow in it, we find the abundant shared riches of God’s kingdom. Cleveland’s work rouses us from the patterns of speech and action that we mindlessly fall into within the confines of a homogenous social group. It points us toward healing: the healing of the church, the healing of our neighborhoods, and ultimately the healing of our own fragmented souls. May we have the courage to follow her lead.
I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words— love God, love your neighbor. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth, and it is—God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness; secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Chris
So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:2. Let’s look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much—though not all—of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory—it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, forever.
Here are three perspectives—past, present, and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatological purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical, and the eschatological, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: “he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.” In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13: “He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, ‘If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example”—notice the word— “that you should do as I have done to you.”
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday—and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is, just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2—“walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behavior should be characterized by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing, and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example—there is that word again—so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world”—that is us. And in His commissioning in John 17 He says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.” These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are “sent into the world.” As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: “We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.”
This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in His mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance, and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled, A Today Sort of Evangelism, wrote this:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians—that is, Christlike—there would be no more Islam today.”
That brings me to my third point—Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness, but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
My cable company sent a postcard inviting me to check out its latest improvements in TV channels. The card indicated that I needed to contact the company to get the necessary new digital equipment and explained how to hook it up and activate it. After that, the ad said I was just to “sit back and enjoy the World of More.”
The card made me think of the “World of More” that Christians are privileged to live in. When God transports people from the darkness of sin “into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), a whole new life opens up.
Romans 5 tells us some of the more that we have in Christ: We have been “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (v.10) and therefore have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). We have access to God and His grace (v.2). Rejoicing in trouble is now possible because we understand that it’s an opportunity to grow in our character through trusting Him (vv.3-4). Additionally, the Holy Spirit, who has been given to live in us, pours the love of God into our hearts (v.5). And sin no longer has the same hold on us (6:18).
As Christians, we have unlimited access to a real “World of More.” Wouldn’t it be selfish not to invite others to join us in that special world?
The world seeks fulfillment in The pleasures they adore; But those who follow Jesus Christ Are given so much more.
For the second time in a week, a conservative blog has published excerpts from what it described as a Twitter feed maintained by Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was shot and killed last month by a neighborhood watch volunteer patrolling a gated community.
The new blog post on the dead teenager’s social media account, which features an image of him making an obscene gesture and quotes from a message that includes an abbreviation for an obscenity, was posted on The Daily Caller, a site founded by Tucker Carlson, a conservative pundit, and Neil Patel, who once worked as an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Since it was reported later on Thursday that a white supremacist hacker recently broke into social media accounts apparently maintained by Trayvon Martin, it is possible that the photograph of the obscene gesture could have been created through digital manipulation and might not be genuine.
In an update to the original Daily Caller post, the blog points out that The Orlando Sentinel had published an almost identical image of the teen, in which he was not making that gesture. Perhaps unaware that the teen’s Twitter account had reportedly been hacked, the Daily Caller blogger did not raise the possibility that the gesture might have been added recently in Photoshop, writing: “It’s likely that the two images were successive photos shot from the same camera at roughly the same time. It’s also remotely possible, but less likely, that Martin himself added the hand before posting the image to his Twitter account.”
Like the site’s previous post on another Twitter feed apparently maintained by Trayvon Martin, the information published on Thursday seems to have been selected to reinforce the argument that the victim of the fatal shooting was a menacing figure who might plausibly have been mistaken for a criminal. That impression is reinforced by the fact that while the post mentions and links to what appears to be a MySpace account set up by Trayvon Martin in 2009, The Daily Caller’s editors chose not to display any of the many photographs posted there that show him in a far softer light: holding up a birthday cake with his name on it, fishing with his father, dressed in a suit for his prom, looking excited to inspect an aircraft engine.
Similarly, the selection of Twitter updates published on Monday by The Daily Caller was accompanied by what appears to be a profile photograph he used, in which he was wearing a grill, a type of removable dental jewelry associated with rappers, but did not show or discuss the eight other Twitpic photographs associated with and linked to from the account. Those images — a bag of candy, a pencil drawing of the name ‘Tray’ sketched by his girlfriend; a school lunch; a tattoo of his mother Sybrina’s name; portraits of two girls; a football field; a new pair of sneakers — which remain online even though the associated Twitter account has been closed, paint an image of a fairly ordinary teenager’s life.
The Daily Caller’s selection of messages posted to that account — which used a nickname featuring a word that is a racial slur on African-Americans, but has been reclaimed by some young people as a term of endearment — includes several riddled with obscenities, but excludes others that might make the author seem more sympathetic, like a poignant update posted last month that read: “You never notice da bad until all da good gone away.”
BILL HAS GONE AND DONE IT AGAIN…
They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English.
I can’t even talk the way these people talk:
Why you ain’t,
Where you is,
What he drive,
Where he stay,
Where he work,
Who you be…
And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk.
And then I heard the father talk.
Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth.
In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living.
People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an Education, and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around.
The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal.
These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids.
$500 sneakers for what?
And they won’t spend $200 for Hooked on Phonics.
I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit.
Where were you when he was 2?
Where were you when he was 12?
Where were you when he was 18 and how come you didn’t know that he had a pistol?
And where is the father? Or who is his father?
People putting their clothes on backward:
Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong?
People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn’t that a sign of something?
Isn’t it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?
What part of Africa did this come from??
We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a thing about Africa …..
I say this all of the time. It would be like white people saying they are European-American. That is totally stupid.
I was born here, and so were my parents and grand parents and, very likely my great grandparents. I don’t have any connection to Africa, no more than white Americans have to Germany , Scotland , England , Ireland , or the Netherlands . The same applies to 99 percent of all the black Americans as regards to Africa . So stop, already! ! !
With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap ……… And all of them are in jail.
Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem.
We have got to take the neighborhood back.
People used to be ashamed. Today a woman has eight children with eight different ‘husbands’ — or men or whatever you call them now.
We have millionaire football players who cannot read.
We have million-dollar basketball players who can’t write two paragraphs. We, as black folks have to do a better job.
Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us.
We have to start holding each other to a higher standard..
We cannot blame the white people any longer.’
~Dr.. William Henry ‘Bill’ Cosby, Jr., Ed..D.
WELL SAID, BILL
It’s NOT about color…
It’s about behavior!!!