#Ebola

~Part-1 Of A Nation That’s Doomed~

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He who obeys God’s laws finds him a father. He who disobeys them, finds him a judge.

Daniel D. Palmer

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

~Life Journey~

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My Journey of Restoration– Click to view…

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

Lao Tzu

John Newton was a wild-living sailor and slave-trader who got saved and became a godly pastor and the author of many hymns, including the beloved, “Amazing Grace.” He said late in his life: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”

Even if your past is not as wicked as John Newton’s, you should be growing in your awareness of those two great facts. The longer I am a Christian, the more acutely I am aware of the exceeding wickedness of my own heart. I can identify with the hymn writer, Robert Robinson, who wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” But, thank God, the more I see my own sinfulness, the more brightly God’s grace shines. As Robinson also wrote, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!”

The story of Peter’s denials is recorded in Scripture to underscore these two great facts: the weakness and sinfulness of even the most prominent saints; and, the greatness and abundance of God’s love and grace toward those who fail. For those who are walking with the Lord, this story warns us to take heed lest we fall. For any who have fallen, the story holds out the hope of pardon through God’s abundant grace if you will turn back to Him.

Even when we fail the Lord badly, if we will repent God will restore us and use us again in His service.

~When Is It Appropriate to leave a Church?~

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People leave churches, and they give all kinds of reasons for it. They will say stuff like “I’m not being fed.” or “We’re trying to help another ministry.” You may be tempted to blame it all on the shallow, self-centered, consumer mindset of American Christians—and, sure, there’s a lot of that. Be that as it may, let’s check out some of the reasons why the Jones family might just up and leave your church next week, and what you can do about it.

It is the conversation with church members every pastor dreads but inevitably comes to every man who has shepherded a local flock: “Pastor, we need to meet with you and discuss our future at the church. We have been praying about transferring our membership to another church.” Naturally, you ask the inevitable question, “Why?” The answers are as varied as the variety found in wayfaring members, ranging from “The church up the street has more to offer my youth/children” to “We just don’t find things exciting here anymore,” or most troubling, “We love you and your preaching, pastor, but we don’t really like this church.”

There are certainly legitimate reasons to leave a church and sadly, it sometimes become necessary or even a duty to find a more biblically faithful body. Sometimes churches become theologically or morally bankrupt, leaving a sound believer no choice. But it seems in our self-intoxicated, consumer-driven evangelical culture, what is often referred to as “church hopping” seems to have reached a virtual epidemic. There are a number of reasons for this reality with biblical illiteracy, a loss of a robust ecclesiology, a distaste for authority, the disappearance of church discipline and the decay of meaningful church membership ranking high among them.

When should you leave a church? I think it is helpful to first think through a number of reasons why not to leave a church. Here are a few illegitimate reasons for leaving a church, reasons I have heard over the years:

  • Because our children want to go to another church. The most spiritually immature (presumably) members of the family should not single-handedly make the most important decision facing a family. This is perhaps the most common reason I have heard for people leaving a church, and I find it deeply troubling.
  • Because there aren’t many people here my age. The body of Christ is supposed to reflect the culture which is made up of a diversity of ages and backgrounds. The church is not a social club, but the gathering of sinners saved by grace. The world should be at odds to explain the church. It should wonder, “What is it that brings together such a diverse collection of people in such a tight bond of love?”
  • Because I don’t like the music. The contemporary/traditional question is usually wrongheaded, in my opinion. Of greater importance is the question: What is the content of the songs being sung? Is the church singing good theology? Tune and text must fit one another, but I find that this debate usually falls out along generational lines.
  • Because the pastor’s sermons are too long. Preaching is the central act of Christian worship and should receive the lion’s share of the time.
  • Because there are many sinners in the church. As Luther put it, followers of Christ aresimul iustis et peccator, simultaneously a saint and a sinner. The local church is a hospital for the sick. Obviously, there is a serious sickness where open, wanton, unconfessed sin is tolerated, but that is not what I have in view here.
  • Because the pastor doesn’t do things the way we did back in 19__ (add your favorite year). Tradition can be helpful, but traditionalism is where churches go to die a thousand deaths.
  • Because they don’t have a good youth/children’s program here. Parents are the spiritual caretakers for the children. The church should merely reinforce the biblical truths taught in the home. No church program will adequately shepherd our children; that is the calling of parents, particularly fathers.
  • Because the worship/preaching is boring. The aim of worship is God’s glory, not our amusement.
  • Because they have/don’t have Sunday school. I realize many adherents of family integration will disagree with me here, but I want to argue respectfully that the Gospel and theological truth—not secondary convictions—are the proper unifying point for a local church.

Those are invalid reasons for leaving a church and there are dozens more besides. But there does come a time when seeking a new church home is a legitimate consideration. So, when should one leave a church? John MacArthur is helpful on this point. He advises (and provides biblical rationale) that you should consider leaving a church if:

  1. Heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7–9).
  2. The leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).
  3. The church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Cor. 5:1–7).
  4. Unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9–11).
  5. The church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).
  6. The church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Tim. 3:5).

When members or friends have discussed leaving a church with me through the years, I have typically advised them to stick around and be a gracious, reforming presence and avoid exacerbating the problems in their local body. Both joining a church and leaving a church are serious business, business for which those involved will give an account before God. Even if it does become clear that leaving is best for us or our family, our attitude must be chastened and humble on the way out. In part II, I hope to look at what our attitude should be when we decide to change churches.

~Invest in obedience rather than sacrifice~ Pt-1

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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?”

Vow Making
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.

~Work That Pays Off In Human Life Restoration: It’s Worth It!!!!~

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MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization based in New York City and Oakland, CA. MDRC mounts large-scale demonstrations and uses randomized controlled trials to measure the effects of social and educational policy initiatives.

Former Prisoners

The driving force behind MDRC is a conviction that reliable evidence, well communicated, can make an important difference in social policy.

People who have spent time in prison often have difficulties finding work and establishing independent lives after their release. MDRC is testing the effectiveness of programs to help former prisoners overcome barriers to employment and reduce their chances of rearrest.

MDRC is committed to finding solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing the nation — from reducing poverty and bolstering economic self-sufficiency to improving public education and college graduation rates. We design promising new interventions, evaluate existing programs using the highest research standards, and provide technical assistance to build better programs and deliver effective interventions at scale. We work as an intermediary, bringing together public and private funders to test new policy-relevant ideas, and communicate what we learn to policymakers and practitioners — all with the goal of improving the lives of low-income individuals, families, and children.

Today’s blessings are the opportunities we embrace while in hot pursuit of performing ministry and acquiring full alignment with partners and other organizations who are caring about ex-offenders and their families. The many veterans who are displaced and substance abusers are apart of our focus groups as well. We are happy to share with you that Second Chance Alliance is not an all knowing entity, but we are a humble wanting to gain leverage in our approach to effective re-entry solutions in our present community. We are in a work group for the next two weeks called (CHAMPS)

Changing Attitudes and Motivation in Parolees (CHAMPS) Evaluation

Project Overview

With 750,000 people released from prisons each year, there is a pressing need for rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of reentry strategies. Former prisoners face a range of challenges to successful reentry into the community, including low levels of employment and substance abuse problems, all of which impact recidivism rates. Although the prisoner reentry issue has attracted substantial attention and funding in recent years, very little is known about the components of effective reentry programs. It is unknown what in-prison activities are best able to prepare offenders for the return to the community, what works best to stabilize people after they are released, and what long-term efforts are needed to help former prisoners become productive citizens. One avenue for affecting outcomes may be through parole, but little is known about what parole practices are most effective for whom and how additional services aimed at improving offenders’ cognitive and behavioral functioning can complement the work of parole officers.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance, in a collaborative effort with the National Institute of Corrections and the National Institute of Justice, is implementing an innovative parole-based intervention with a well-known cognitive behavioral therapy program as part of a Demonstration Field Experiment on prisoner reentry, known as Changing Attitudes and Motivation in Parolees (CHAMPS).

The National Institute of Justice has selected MDRC and its partner, George Mason University, to conduct a multisite random assignment study to test this reentry model intended to: (1) improve offenders’ motivation to change; (2) address cognitive and behavioral functioning regarding crime-prone thoughts and behaviors; and (3) address core factors that affect offender performance while under community supervision following release from prison.

We are elated to be apart of this training group because it solidifies our platform to be successful model that will be in position to offer a comprehensive focus group of professionals to assist us in our vision objectives at Second Chance Alliance.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The overarching goal of this study is to test the effectiveness of parole supervision strategies and a targeted cognitive behavioral intervention to improve outcomes and reduce recidivism for parolees. The evaluation will use a random assignment research design to measure the impact of the following interventions:

  • The National Institute of Corrections’ Next Generation relationship and desistence model, which is designed to improve the techniques used by parole officers in supervising and interacting with offenders. The model stems from a relationship theory as well as risk-need-responsivity framework where services are recommended to address risk factors that may create problem behaviors for offenders. Selected parole officers will deliver this model after receiving training.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy consisting of Motivational Enhancement Therapy sessions followed by Thinking for a Change sessions. Treatment providers, not parole officers, will deliver this intervention.
PARTNERS
Ralph Serin, Carlton University
Caleb Lloyd, Carlton University
Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color
Despite progress on many fronts, young men of color still face many obstacles to success in American society and suffer disproportionately from economic and social disadvantage. In recent years, foundations and state and local governments have launched major initiatives to address this pressing issue. For example, in 2011, the City of New York created the Young Men’s Initiative, a $42-million annual program, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundation, to invest in the success of the city’s young men of color. In February of this year, the Obama Administration announced “My Brother’s Keeper,” a multimillion-dollar push by the government, foundations, and businesses to “build ladders of opportunity and unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color.”
In light of the momentum building to improve the fortunes of young men of color, Second Chance Alliance is engaged in taking a look at what is known about this population and highlight programs that are shown by rigorous research to be making a difference. Our research will first examine the special challenges and struggles of young men of color in the labor market, including problems related to their disproportionate involvement in the criminal justice system and their experiences in the educational system. Young men of color have become increasingly disconnected from the positive systems, institutions, and pathways designed to help people achieve success — high school diplomas, enrollment in and completion of postsecondary education or training, and ultimately career ladders leading to well-paying jobs. Given these facts, the natural next question is: What can be done? Does this group of young men constitute, as some have labeled them, a “lost generation”?2 Or are there interventions that can provide real hope and real results? Is there, in fact, a way to move away from deficit-focused characterizations of young men of color to ones that recognize and build on their resilience and strengths?3 Policy interest in assisting young men of color has waxed and waned over the years, and not enough has been learned from past efforts to build better policies and programs. For instance, in the late 1970s, the Department of Labor funded the Youth Incentive Entitlement Pilot Projects (YIEPP), which guaranteed part-time and summer jobs to all young people in particular neighborhoods or cities as long as they stayed in or returned to school. The results were very encouraging: YIEPP virtually erased the large gap in unemployment rates between white and black youth.4 But the program was cut short in the early 1980s, when policy interest in this topic receded, and there was little follow-up. It is hoped that current efforts to improve outcomes for young men of color will include a robust documentation and learning agenda to ensure that the knowledge base of successful strategies grows larger. This stands the reason of our attempts to forge alliances and gain knowledge from all who are in this field of study so we can formulate best practices into information and models for our “YOUTHS”.
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~ A Work In Process By The Loving Hand Of God~

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There’s a time in your life where you’re not quite sure where you are. You think everything’s perfect, but it’s not perfect… Then one day you wake up and you can’t quite picture yourself in the situation you’re in. But the secret is, if you can picture yourself doing anything in life, you can do it.

Tom DeLonge

My imperfect state;

Crocked smile,round belly, ingrown toe nails, negative thoughts, pridefulness, stubbornest, jealousy, envy, over compulsion disposition,impatience,unforgiving,addictions to foods and other things not good for me or my temple. There are many more issues with me that I care not to be transparent about at this time.

Most of the world’s successful models are pencil thin and for ads in magazines and posters, their faces and bodies are touched up so that they look perfect. Sadly, millions of girls and women measure themselves against these impossible standards and come up short. We saw this recently in America the Beautiful, a documentary by Darryl Roberts. He notes that in 2004 alone, Americans spent 12.4 billion dollars on cosmetic surgery. Mothers are now putting children as young as five on diets or paying for breast implants for their 15-year-old daughters. In Korea, facelifts and other surgeries have reached epidemic numbers. These are but a few of the indicators of a worldwide obsession with physical perfection fueled by the fashion and entertainment industries.

During the Olympic Games in Beijing, we realized that the sports world is also fixated on perfection. Most of the stories focused on a few stars who managed to win Gold Medals with nearly flawless performances. We felt sorry for the other competitors who had worked hard and deserved their time in the spotlight just for showing up.

Is there another way of looking at all this? The Western ideal of beauty usually salutes things that are perfect, pretty, lasting, or spectacular. But in Japan, there is an emphasis on wabi-sabi, an aesthetic stemming from Taoism and Zen Buddhism that honors the simple and the unpretentious (wabi) and the beauty that comes with age or much use (sabi). In this view, simplicity, naturalness, and fragility are valued. Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, defines it as “a beauty of all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is the beauty of things modest and humble. It is the beauty of things unconventional.”

We all have objects in our home that are imperfect and beautiful: an old chair that has been with us for years, a faded tablecloth brought out for special occasions, a piece of jewelry that has been repaired. They all have wabi-sabi. In Dwellings, Linda Hogan recognizes the beauty of imperfection in an old rake:

“My own fragile hand touches the wood, a hand full of my own life, including that which rose each morning early to watch the sun return from the other side of the planet. Over time, these hands will smooth the rake’s wooden handle down to a sheen.”

What an incredible image of beauty: a rake handle worn down through use over the years. We think of other images that make the same point: cancer patients with bald heads, elders with plenty of wrinkles, a dog hobbling valiantly on three legs. We also salute groups of nonprofessionals who are far from perfect but whose spirit is carried in their performance: church choirs, amateur theater troupes, school bands, and local crafts groups. They are living examples of what poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen says in Stranger Music:

Ring the bells that can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

In many spiritual traditions, artists deliberately leave a mistake in a handmade object to signify that they know that they cannot make perfection; only God is perfect. We’ve heard this about Navajo rings and Persian rugs. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reverences the beauty in garbage. Following his lead, Barbara Ann Kipfer offers this gatha:

“In the garbage, I see beauty. In beautiful things, I see the garbage. One cannot exist without the other.”

The wabi-sabi things of our lives are spiritual teachers opening our eyes to our own impermanence and mortality. You probably have a teapot, a treasured ornament, or some other family heirloom that has been passed down through the generations. It has, as the saying goes, “seen better days,” but it still has the ability to touch your heart.

As a spiritual practice, take one of those items and reflect upon it. What makes it beautiful? Is it a shape, a color, a texture? Do you admire it because it is worn smooth with age? Or is it beautiful because it evokes certain feelings in you? Perhaps it reminds you of the person who gave it to you or shared it with you?

“Wabi-sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else,” writes Koren. “Beauty can spontaneously occur at any given moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.”

An experience of beauty can also usher us into an amplified appreciation of the divine presence, that “something more” in our existence. Yes, God’s handiwork is evident in the glorious vistas of nature and the beautiful people and things that literally take our breath away. But God is also evident in and through the imperfect, the humble, the modest, and the unconventional. Indeed, these things may be the most accessible samples of divine grace.

God selected Jacob and chose him to be His expression as a prince of God, and Jacob went through a long process of transformation and maturity to become one who not only wrestles with God but also is a prince of God, expressing God and representing Him on earth.

It is amazing to see in the life of Jacob how a supplanter and a cheater was dealt with and broken to become a prince of God, someone honorable, mature, and lofty. All his life, Jacob struggled: he struggled with his brother even from his mother’s womb, he struggled to get the birthright and the blessing, he struggled with Laban to get Rachel and was cheated by Laban, etc.

Outwardly Jacob was struggling with people and situations, but inwardly he was actually struggling with God. As one who struggled with God, Jacob was dealt with and broken to be transformed and become Israel, the prince of God (Gen. 32:28).

God’s purpose in dealing with Jacob was to transform him into Israel, one who bears God’s image to express Him and exercises His dominion to represent Him (Gen. 1:26; 32:28).

In our Christian life we also have many struggles – we struggle with people, situations, education, things, etc but actually we struggle with God. Our Christian life is a life of struggling with God to be transformed by God into a prince of God, a corporate man who expresses God with His image and represents Him with His authority (Rom. 12:2; 5:17).
1 Pet. 2:4-5 Coming to Him, a living stone, rejected by men but with God chosen and precious, you yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

God’s purpose in His selecting us, predestinating us, and calling us is to transform us (the pitiful sinners) into royal sons so that we may reign with Him as kings (Rev. 22:5). For this, we need to go through a long process of transformation to have the natural life replaced with the divine life of Christ by the continual dispensing of the life-giving Spirit into all our soul, so that we may be made in the same image as Christ from glory to glory, even as from the Lord Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

God doesn’t want us to have a change in behavior or outwardly correct our living but to metabolically transform us by the addition of the divine element to our being and the removing of our natural element so that Christ would be living in us!

~Being Different Takes Courage~

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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.