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~Whose Church is The Church~

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Galatians 3:26-27The Message (MSG)

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

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

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

The Answer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is the church of Christ?

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

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

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

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

 

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What Must I Do?

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

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

1 Peter 3:21

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

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

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

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

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PASSIONATE LIVING VS. FEAR

STORY…

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

VERSE…

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

POINT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baptism in the Bible

Matthew 28:19

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

Mark 16:16

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

Acts 2:38

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

Acts 8:36

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

Acts 22:16

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

Romans 6:3

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

Romans 6:4

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

1 Corinthians 12:13

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

Galatians 3:27

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

Ephesians 4:5

One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Colossians 2:12

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

1 Peter 3:21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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~Educate to stop Recidivism~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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~I Am Made Alive In Christ~

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“Some of us aren’t meant to belong. Some of us have to turn the world upside down and shake the hell out of it until we make our own place in it.” ― Elizabeth Lowell, Remember Summer

God destroys the barriers that divide us. In Him, there are no insiders or outsiders.

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The text of the message from Eph 2:1-10  passages hinge on two words in v. 4 – “But, God…” With those words darkness is turned light, hopelessness is thrown aside for favor, a desperate situation is changed to one of amazing destiny! We were dead, ‘objects of wrath,’ but because our merciful loving God intervened, we are now SPIRITUALLY alive and destined for HEAVEN.

Seven Way King

My King was born King. The Bible says He’s a Seven Way King. He’s the King of the Jews – that’s a racial King. He’s the King of Israel – that’s a National King. He’s the King of righteousness. He’s the King of the ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of glory. He’s the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords. Now that’s my King. Well, I wonder if you know Him. Do you know Him? Don’t try to mislead me. Do you know my King?

TEXT -Ephesians 2-11-21

Almost every one of us has the unpleasant experience of being an “outsider” at some point in our life.

Ever been ‘shut out?’

Discrimination, that is, choosing to accept or reject people based on color, sex, or religion is a “skill” which we learn fairly early in life.

Little boys form their clubs and put the sign over the door of the clubhouse, “no girls allowed!”

As early as first or second grade, kids have already decided who is cool and who isn’t, who is an insider and who is an outsider.

The little kid who was born with bigger ears than other people, who has clothes that are last year’s style, is marked an outsider and shunned fiercely!

Big people play the same games, just not as openly.

When the black man shows up to apply for the job, a company isn’t hiring, but when the foreman’s son needs a summer job, one is suddenly available.

When a woman of skill and training wants to move into management there is a freeze on promotions, but somehow when that classy young guy makes it known that he might move on if he doesn’t move up, the company finds a place.

Our text is about being invited ‘in.’ Paul expands on the grace message in the first 10 verses. He lays a foundation of theological unity for us, reminding us that ‘in Christ,’ the barriers come down.

Principle- There are no ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’ in the family of God.

Before we read the text – another great one – that stirred me to heights of worship as I studied it again this week, we have to know some of Bible history. The Lord called Abram, out of Ur, invited him to faith, and seeing his obedience, made a covenant, an agreement, with him.

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.” (Genesis 12:1-4, NIV)

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” …”I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Gen 17;1,7-11, NIV)

 

God promised Abraham that his descendants would be His very own people! What a calling, what a privilege! They would represent the Lord before the world. Curiously, the mark of their uniqueness was circumcision. Every Jewish boy, on the 8th day following his birth, would be circumcised, physical mark on his body for life, signifying that he was part of the privileged people of God.

But, He did not set out to create an exclusive club. What did He say? That the descendants of Abraham were to be a blessing to the whole world, showing the world the one true God and his ways.

Human nature being what it is, the ancient children of Abraham closed their society and regarded the rest of the world contemptuously as the “uncircumcised.” They (not all, but most) assumed Gentiles were excluded from the promises of God.

TEXT- “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

(Ephesians 2:11-16, NIV)

The Jewish/Gentile controversy was the HOT BUTTON issue of the Church when Paul was writing. Many of the Jews who accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah, still thought of themselves as insiders because of their religious heritage. Many teachers insisted that Gentile Christians HAD to observe Jewish law – including circumcision, Sabbath observance, and kosher diet. Some of the early churches met together but did not take communion together, dividing between Jewish converts and Gentile converts, even for the holy meal.

Paul calls on them to see what Christ has done.

TEXT- “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Eph 2:22

It is possible you’re listening to me go on about this and wondering, “What does this have to do with me? That controversy is a non-issue here.” Ah, you’re right and you’re wrong. Discrimination, even in the church, is alive and well in 2017.

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There are people who are ‘churched’ or who have absorbed a cultural worldview that they believe is Biblical, who are not at all shy to say that they are insiders with God. Because they are “good” they believe that God looks with favor on them and they perhaps jealously guard their church club.

Divorced? Not welcome.

Identifying yourself as a homosexual? Not welcome.

Struggling with pornography? Not welcome.

Have a promiscuous past? Not welcome.

Trying to reconcile your education that marginalized God with the authority of the Scripture? Not welcome.

Don’t understand the rituals or words used in church? Not welcome.

Other barriers are raised – too rich? Too poor? Too young, too old? Too many tattoos, hair too long, don’t like the right kind of music? Don’t have the ‘right’ theology?

Ill.- This week I met with some local pastors who minister in churches that are not evangelical.

Somehow our conversation drifted into a discussion of their interaction with some pastors from churches who are more conservative. It was both sad and funny to hear the stories of ignorance and bigotry that were visited on these pastors by those who did not consider them to be ‘real Christians.’

I am sad to say that I get this text from the position of the “circumcision” as an insider.

I grew up with the rituals, absorbed the values, learned the words, lived a life that was morally respectable. For the first 3 decades of my life, I was horribly certain about who was in the family of God and who was not. It’s a habit that dies hard. From time to time, I still find myself spiritually prideful, though much less these days than I once did. I repent, for I realize that my credentials gain me no favor with God. Only Christ does!

Perhaps you’re on the other side of the issue feeling very much the outsider. You may be convinced that because of something you’ve done, or something done to you, that because of who you are … God would never accept you.

TEXT “Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals and so made us equals. Through Him, we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:17-18, The Message)

So, what does any of this mean for our lives?

Three illustrations are used to show what is true who are ‘in Christ’ through faith.

TEXT “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

(Ephesians 2:19-22, NIV)

1. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – citizens of the kingdom of heaven!

Americans, for the most part, spend their entire life within the borders of one nation. American culture is dominant in the world so understanding of blessings may elude us.

I was privileged, many years ago, to spend a few weeks in India. I was among people whose languages I did not know, whose customs I did not understand, whose food was very different. It was a curious thing to be surrounded by people who communicated without me having the least clue of what they were saying. For all I knew, they could have been discussing ME. Physically, I stood 6″ taller than most of the people and my skin was darker by several shades.

When I arrived back in the US, I was glad to be able to communicate. When the customs agent spoke to me, I understood him. When he saw my passport, he waved me through. I was a citizen, with rights and privileges, not an alien who was here as a guest.

Sin made us aliens to God as our text has made plain. The divide could not be bridged by anything we did. God showed mercy! And, more wonderful, secured our citizenship at His expense, by giving His Son as the sacrifice.

When we accept Him, by faith, He grants us entry into the kingdom of God.

2. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – members of God’s family.

I love visitors in our home. But, common courtesy says that if you visit, you don’t go into the refrigerator and start to prepare something to eat without an invitation. If your stay is extended, you don’t just assume that a bedroom is ready for you.

But, when my kids come home, they can walk through the door without knocking, they can sit up to the dinner table without an invitation. They have household privileges!

In Christ, God is your Father and you have run of the house. In fact, you have rights of inheritance!

Eternal life is yours. Heaven is yours. The Father’s wealth is yours!

3. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – an integral part of God’s holy temple.

Paul says we are ‘temple,’ each of us a building block, all of us resting on the Cornerstone, Jesus.

When we come to Christ, we are invited to become part of His Church. We are no longer alone. We are given the privilege of working alongside others to accomplish things we could not even dream about on our own! We are, to change the metaphor, brought onto God’s team, equipped with spiritual gifts, given a place to belong, to serve, to find purpose.

True teamwork is something awesome to see. The recent World Series was dominated, not by a couple of superstar players, but by the Houston Astros, who were a stellar team! Unlike Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers pitcher, Houston Astros pitcher, Brad Peacock, was good, but not a star yet. We saw a team effort and a team win.

And, what is the purpose of this temple? To be a place for ‘insiders’ to form a holy club, to be a fortress to shut out the wider world? To be a place of privilege for a few?

TEXT – “Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22, NLT)

God brings us together in His Church so that we will make Him, invisible, a visible Presence here on Earth!

Outsider? Insider?

Do you feel like God is far away because of your past or your messed-up present?

Too something – dysfunctional, broken, sin-scarred to be useful?

Or are you feeling self-satisfied because you think of yourself as one the good guys?

The fact – “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” the Words says.

We are all separate from God unless we humble ourselves to enter through the common door of access, through Jesus Christ. And when we are ‘in Christ’ we are invited to

Closing, He Lives: Who is He Preacher, Jesus, My King

STORY…

Paul Tournier was a brilliant thinker and writer, and an influential Christian therapist during his time. Doctors from around the world traveled to his home in Switzerland to learn from him. He wrote, “It is a little embarrassing for students to come over and study my ‘techniques.’ They always go away disappointed, because all I do is accept people.”

VERSE…

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10)

A gospel song refers to a hill called Mount Calvary, but the Gospels never say, “Mount Calvary.” Some Bible versions translate the place where Jesus was crucified to be the Aramaic word Golgotha, meaning the Place of the Skull. Others translate it as the Latin word Calvary. Luke 23:33 says, “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left” (NKJV).

Jesus was crucified on Mount Calvary. According to John 19:20, it was near Jerusalem. Hebrews 13:11-13 (based on Leviticus 16:27) explained that, while the animal’s blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, most of the animal was burned outside the camp. Jesus likewise was crucified outside the city in a maelstrom of activities over a six-hour period, with everything focused on Him.

O How I love Jesus, Why? Because:

David says
The Heavens declare the glory of God
And the firmament showeth His handiwork
No means of measure can define His limitless love
No far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply
No barriers can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing

He’s enduringly strong
He’s entirely sincere
He’s eternally steadfast
He’s immortally graceful
He’s imperially powerful
He’s impartially merciful

Jesus was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of twenty-five events occurred between 9 AM and 3 PM. Among them were the public execution itself; the soldiers offering him vinegar laced with gall; two thieves being crucified either side of Jesus; darkness falling over the land for three hours; the temple veil being torn in two from top to bottom; an earthquake shaking the earth; soldiers piercing Christ’s side when they found him already dead; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus burying the corpse with seventy-five pounds of spices; women standing at a distance watching Him die, and in close proximity in the garden as the rich men buried Him.

What do you say he is Preacher:

He’s God’s Son
He’s the sinners’ Saviour
He’s the centerpiece of civilization
He stands alone in Himself
He’s August
He’s unique
He’s unparalleled
He’s unprecedented
He’s supreme
He’s pre-eminent
He’s the loftiest idea in literature
He’s the highest personality in philosophy
He’s the supreme problem in higher criticism
He’s the fundamental doctrine in true theology
He’s the cardinal necessity of spiritual religion

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of ten decisions were made. Among them: Jesus refused the vinegar-wine; the soldiers divided His clothes; Pilate asked for the centurion’s guarantee that Christ had died; the women left the cross for home, where they prepared spices and observed the Sabbath.

Who is He Preacher:

He’s the miracle of the age
He’s the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him
He’s the only one able to supply all of our needs simultaneously
He supplies strength for the weak
He’s available for the tempted and the tried
He sympathizes and He saves
He guards and He guides
He heals the sick
He cleansed the lepers
He forgives sinners

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of sixteen statements were made. Among them: Christ’s seven words; Pilate’s sign called him King of the Jews; the leaders and others mocked him for destroying the temple, but not saving himself; the thieves and soldiers abused him for what they perceived failures; the man who lifted a wine-soaked hyssop plant to Christ’s parched lips wanted to see if Elijah would come and remove him; the centurion called Jesus a son of the gods.

What does he do Preacher;

He discharges debtors
He delivers the captives
He defends the feeble
He blesses the young
He serves the unfortunate
He regards the aged
He rewards the diligent
And He beautifies the meek

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where many conversations were held. The two recorded were the stirring dialogue between Jesus and the penitent thief and the rancorous dialogue between the priests and Pilate over the wording in Pilate’s sign nailed above Christ’s head.

Do you Know Him preacher?

My King is the key of knowledge
He’s the wellspring of wisdom
He’s the doorway of deliverance
He’s the pathway of peace
He’s the roadway of righteousness
He’s the highway of holiness
He’s the gateway of glory
He’s the master of the mighty
He’s the captain of the conquerors
He’s the head of the heroes
He’s the leader of the legislators
He’s the overseer of the overcomers
He’s the governor of governors
He’s the prince of princes
He’s the King of Kings
And He’s the Lord of Lords

That’s my King

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where at least five requests were made. Among them: the leaders asked Jesus to prove Himself by coming off the cross; Jesus asked John to provide sanctuary for Mary; the priests asked Pilate to remove the bodies before sunset.

My King
His office is manifold
His promise is sure
His life is matchless
His goodness is limitless
His mercy is everlasting
His love never changes
His word is enough
His grace is sufficient
His reign is righteous
His yoke is easy
and His burden is light

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary wherein a sacrifice only He could make, He secured a victory only He could win.

I wish I could describe Him to you
He’s indescribable
He’s indescribable
He’s incomprehensible
He’s invincible
He’s irresistible
I’m trying to tell you
The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him
Let alone a man explain Him
You can’t get Him out of your mind
You can’t get Him off of your hands
You can’t outlive Him
And you can’t live without Him
The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him
but they found out they couldn’t stop Him
Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him
The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree
And Herod couldn’t kill Him
Death couldn’t handle Him
And the grave couldn’t hold Him

That’s my King!

Become a child of the heavenly father.

Become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Be joined to the great church of God.

He always has been
And He always will be
I’m talking about
He had no predecessor
and He’ll have no successor
There was nobody before Him
and there’ll be nobody after Him
You can’t impeach Him
and He’s not going to resign

That’s my King!

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~I am solely Rich In Christ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

..Is My Being, Really In Christ or Myself?

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“Money is really worth no more than as it can be used to accomplish the Lord’s work. Life is worth as much as it is spent for the Lord’s service.”
― George Müller, The Autobiography of George Muller

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“By this we believe….” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?” —John 16:30-31

Now we believe….” But Jesus asks, “Do you…? Indeed the hour is coming…that you…will leave Me alone” (John 16:31-32). Many Christian workers have left Jesus Christ alone and yet tried to serve Him out of a sense of duty, or because they sense a need as a result of their own discernment. The reason for this is actually the absence of the resurrection life of Jesus. Our soul has gotten out of intimate contact with God by leaning on our own religious understanding (see Proverbs 3:5-6). This is not deliberate sin and there is no punishment attached to it. But once a person realizes how he has hindered his understanding of Jesus Christ, and caused uncertainties, sorrows, and difficulties for himself, it is with shame and remorse that he has to return.

We need to rely on the resurrection life of Jesus on a much deeper level than we do now. We should get in the habit of continually seeking His counsel on everything, instead of making our own common sense decisions and then asking Him to bless them. He cannot bless them; it is not in His realm to do so, and those decisions are severed from reality. If we do something simply out of a sense of duty, we are trying to live up to a standard that competes with Jesus Christ. We become a prideful, arrogant person, thinking we know what to do in every situation. We have put our sense of duty on the throne of our life, instead of enthroning the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to “walk in the light” of our conscience or in the light of a sense of duty, but to “walk in the light as He is in the light…” (1 John 1:7). When we do something out of a sense of duty, it is easy to explain the reasons for our actions to others. But when we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation— just obedience. That is why a saint can be so easily ridiculed and misunderstood.

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“Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him, and expect help from Him, He will never fail you.” ― George Müller

~We Can Turn Mass Incarceration Around~

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You Just Got Out of
Prison. Now What?

A Cycle of Poverty and Incarceration

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

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

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

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

Systems of Disinvestment Have Led to Increased Incarceration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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