Father, Adonai, Jesus, we are open now to hear a refreshing word of hope from You, your voice will be heard and we will move in courage and faith to face any suffering, any persecution, any work that you have for us to perform together. We hear your people crying and we know You are inclining your ear to this prayer, the world is dying, the condition & behavior that is ever before you is breaking our hearts as it is yours, but we are your people and we will go to the nations and generations to proclaim victory because our savior is seated on your right hand and has given us strength thru His finished work to change the world, father it won’t happen if we don’t participate with your powerful spirit. Fill us up and send us out Lord to reap the harvest of restoration of laws and unify us to stabilize the injustice in our world and communities.
I want to live a life poured out although I suffer to live
2 Corinthians 4:4-18 The Message (MSG)
3-4 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.
5-6 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
7-12 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!
13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
INTRODUCTION: One day the great artist Michelangelo was hammering and chiseling away at a great block of stone. It was a perfect and a huge block of marble and to the untrained eye, it appeared that Michelangelo was ruining it. Large pieces were falling to the ground as he chiseled at the stone. It is said that a horrified observer said, “Michelangelo, what are you doing? You are ruining a perfect piece of marble!” And Michelangelo replied, “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”
When God is developing us sometimes it feels like we are losing everything. It feels like our whole world is coming to pieces. That’s God chiseling. That’s God the Holy Spirit cutting away everything in our life that does not look like God. It is often a painful process. Sometimes it hurts. Jesus said the branches that do not bear fruit will be cast into the fire, but the branches that do bear fruit will be pruned that they might bear more fruit. Sometimes it hurts.
Have you ever started a ministry–maybe it was prayer, maybe it was teaching, maybe it was evangelism–and you began with such excitement and anticipation of God’s blessings and presence and power. Maybe you saw some initial success. Maybe your Sunday school class was growing. Maybe your prayer group was growing. Maybe your evangelism is successful. But then suddenly something happens that almost knocks the blocks out from under you. Suddenly there are some painful experiences in your life. Maybe you were team teaching and the other teacher bails out. Maybe someone in the prayer group stops coming and starts talking about you. Maybe the finances in your family start to shrink and things get tight. Maybe it seems like just as you start to do something for God, you start to invest yourself in the Lord’s work and things around you seem to be falling apart. And you start asking yourself, “What in the world is going on?” You start questioning whether or not you are in God’s will.
I’d like someone to show me where in the Bible it says that when you are in God’s will, everything will go smooth–no bumps in the road, no opposition from people or devils. Is that in the Bible? Because if it is, I haven’t been able to find it.
In fact, when you look at our text, you might come to the very opposite conclusion. In verse 5 Paul said, “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus. . . .” So they were doing the right thing, they were preaching, and they were saying the right thing, they were preaching Jesus, and they were seeing souls saved. But at the same time, Paul said, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. . .” He said, “the outward man perish. . .”
What did Paul know that we need to know? How is it that Paul and his ministry companions could keep on keeping on, when the more they did for God, the more they were persecuted by the enemy? When they tried to preach the message of hope he was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, hungry, and ultimately beheaded. Why didn’t Paul get mad at God? Why didn’t Paul throw in the towel and quit?
Paul didn’t quit because Paul knew that in the suffering of ministry something of an eternal nature was going on. The outward man perishes, but he did not quit, because the inward man, the spirit man was being renewed day by day. Every storm, every pain, every thorn in the flesh, every beating, every cold night in the dungeon with the executioner standing outside the cell, was merely a blow of the hammer and a pounding of the chisel as large pieces of Paul fell away and the image of Christ was being perfected in him. That’s why Paul could say, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings being made comfortable unto His death” (Phil. 3:10).
We want a quick fix. We want God to make it go away now! And we see some preachers who seem to be able to do it all without setbacks. But that may not be God’s plan for you. You may be asking for deliverance, while God’s plan for you is development. He may be purifying your faith in the fiery trials of life. He may be cutting away the outward man so that the inward man, the spiritual part of your being may breathe and grow to full maturity in the image and likeness of Christ.
I have, to be honest. When God starts cutting away big pieces of Aaron Pratt in order to let the image of Christ grow in me, I often cried out. I often look to heaven and said, “God what are you doing? Why are you allowing me to go through this? I’m doing the best that I can!” Two kids, serving lengthy sentences in prison, a divorce that wiped out everything tangible I had left to survive, two corporations were taken, and two kids dead one to sickle cell anemia, and the other to uterine cancer. I could go on and on, but this homily isn’t about me. it’s about the saving grace of my Lord and savior.
The Christian life is a paradox and sometimes it is difficult to grasp. The outward man has to perish so that the inward man can be renewed. The desires of the flesh have to be crucified in order to let the Spirit have control. Think about it. . .
You gotta die, in order to live.
You gotta lose, in order to gain.
You gotta give to get.
You gotta forgive, to be forgiven.
You gotta be empty before you can be full.
You gotta surrender, in order to win.
Before you can be exalted, you gotta be humbled.
You gotta be last before you can be first.
You gotta become the least so you can be the greatest.
You gotta be like a child, to have God’s power in you.
You gotta be happy about being a servant.
Rejoice when you’re persecuted.
You gotta appreciate problems.
Glory in tribulation.
Bless people that hate you.
Love somebody you’ve never seen.
Follow somebody that you’ve never heard.
Christianity’s a paradox, but it’s the only kind of life worth living.
God uses the issues and struggles and storms of life to perfect our faith. He sent the disciples into a storm. He sent them ahead alone while He stayed back to pray. Why did He do it? I believe He did it on purpose so that they could see in vivid and unforgettable fashion that when their strength was gone when they could do nothing in the flesh, they could look up and see that what was over their heads was under His feet. He came to them walking on the water so that in the midst of despair their faith could be developed.
He wanted them to know, and He wants us to know, that there will be times when we follow God out of Egypt only to run into the Red Sea with the enemy hot on our heals, but if we trust Him, He will deliver and our faith will grow.
We may stand for the truth and refuse to bow to the idols of the world, only to find ourselves being thrown into a fiery furnace, but if we are faithful He won’t let us go through the fire alone, the forth man will step into the fire with us and if we won’t bow to the pressures of life, neither will we burn.
We may be preaching the gospel one moment and find ourselves beaten and thrown into the prison the next, but there has never been a prison built that God could not open. He can open doors that no man can close.
I’m not saying that God will not deliver. He does and He will, but He moves on His time table. He has a plan for your spiritual development and that development may take you through some deserts. It may take you through some valleys. It may take you through some storms. What are you going to do? Are you going to quit? Are you going get mad and bitter at God? Or will you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
CONCLUSION: We are told to glory in infirmities, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, rejoice in suffering, rejoice when fiery trials come, be of good cheer in tribulation. Why, because we know that these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. We know that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” We are looking not on things as they are, not on things temporal, but we are looking ahead to things as they shall be, we are looking for things eternal.
We are God’s workmanship, we are His masterpiece and He is chipping away the stone, releasing the image of Christ in us. It was marred and masked by sin in the Garden of Eden, but God determined to fix the broken vessels and restore the image of God in us.
Exodus 1-10New International Version (NIV)
The Israelites Oppressed
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah;3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.
6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
—Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
Taking time to inventory the great challenges God has delivered me through today has allowed me to get to know Him more intimately. Jesus loved all my hurt and misconceptions about my life away, He turned everything around. I looked in the mirror and saw His character today and for that I say,,. Thank you, Jesus…
That sounds good, doesn’t it? I’ve had enough “heavy stuff” in my life, and I want to enjoy freedom. When you are overloaded with the cares of life you need some help. Your mind needs rest from worrying, your emotions need rest from being upset, and your will needs a rest from stubbornness and rebellion. So you need to be humble enough to call out to God and say, “I need help!” Your beginning doesn’t have to dictate your ending. Get God involved in every area of your life and allow Him to lead you into “real rest.”
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
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.
Everything about me is a contradiction, and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There’s a philistine and an aesthete (a person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art and beauty) in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.
Almost without exception, people and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Though we should know better, we continue to manufacture worries and nurse fears. Yet anxiety is nothing more than wasting today’s time and resources to clutter up tomorrow’s possibilities with yesterday’s struggles. In spite of that, it remains for some a continual preoccupation. This post will takes a straight look at this energy-draining reality. By seeing it at work in another’s life, we may gain sufficient perspective to get through the tough stuff of anxiety. Stands the reason of my joy about my wife success thus far. She has suffered anxiety of life in wanting to complete school, she has suffered turmoil due to wanting to feel the sensationalism of operating as a substance abuse counselor and Psychology clinician within her own company “Second Chance Alliance”. She experiences anxiety from going to class under adverse challenges all the while wanting to cross the finish line of graduation. I am so proud of her holding her position in Christ as a mom and wife and grandmother that is a full time student trying to breakthrough the stigma’s of a unforgiving society and create change for her family and others.
I am Innocent until proven guilty… Maymie Chandler-Pratt Bio 7/9/2015 2:46:23 PM
Hello Instructor Dougherty,
My name is Maymie Chandler-Pratt and I am 53 years young. I currently reside in Southern California where it never rains, it is always sunny, and the crime rate is high and our court systems are overrun with all types of cases, mostly drug cases. I have been married for many years to the same man, my husband Aaron who is an ex Navy Seal with many issues stemming from his 13 years of service and nine campaigns and 7 months as a POW in Libya and has been diagnosed with PTSD and Schizo-affective Disorder. I too was in the Army and even though I saw no war, because of my husband’s issues I too have been diagnosed with PTSD and Schizo-affective disorder by association, Together we share a total of 10 children, 2 are deceased, two are in prison; our daughter Parris for life with no possibility of ever getting out and our son Lee who was sentenced to 15 years with an L. The other 6 are working, and attending college. Our youngest son is 19 and 6′ 6″ tall.
I started attending Argosy in 2011 and in January 2016 I will graduate with my BA in psychology with and emphasis on Substance Abuse Counseling. I chose this career because of my 20 plus years of being addicted to crack cocaine and my own stint in prison for 7 years due to my addictive behaviors. After being released from prison I was placed in a 1453 state mandated drug program where I met up with my counselor who had also been in prison with me. While there she told me that I too should become a substance abuse counselor. My belief after witnessing the healing power of “My higher power” in which I choose to call God, I was convinced that if I could do it then I could help others like me to do it too.
I feel that with my extensive criminal background, I have a lot of experience with the criminal court systems, but I am no expert and I want to be even more enlightened now as a professional as I was as a criminal. I look forward to working with you over the next five weeks.
See you on the boards…May Pratt
Five months until this temptation to sin by having anxiety will be a hurdle we both are excited to jump..Thanks to all who have been apart of this journey.
Several years ago the National Anxiety Center in Maplewood, New Jersey, released the “Top Ten Anxieties for the 1990s.” The list included AIDS, drug abuse, nuclear waste, famine, and the federal deficit. Since then, in the light of September 11, 2001, the center has revised its list to put “global terrorism” as the leading source of anxiety. Today, we could add the worries of a full-scale war, the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea or China, the risk of losing a good job, and maybe the disquieting thoughts of growing old alone and unwanted.
We all have different lists, but our deep, relentless worries carry a similar effect. They make us uneasy. They steal smiles from our faces. They cast dark shadows on our futures by spotlighting our shameful pasts. They pickpocket our peace and kidnap our joy.
What is anxiety?
Throughout my more than 40 years of christian ministry, whenever I’ve taught or spoken on the topic of anxiety, I’ve always highlighted the relevant counsel of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Type the words worry or anxiety into the search engine of my heart, and Philippians 4 quickly flashes on my mind:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:4-7).
Reading this passage, we immediately discover a four-word command that could be rendered, literally, “Stop worrying about anything!” The word translated “anxious” comes from the Greek verb merimnao, meaning “to be divided or distracted.” In Latin the same word is translated anxius, which carries the added nuance of choking or strangling. The word also appears in German as wurgen, from which we derive our English word worry. The tough stuff of anxiety threatens to strangle the life out of us, leaving us asphyxiated by fear and gasping for hope.
Jesus used similar terms when He referred to worry in His parable of the sower inMark 4. The Master Illustrator painted a picture in the minds of His listeners of a farmer sowing seed in four types of soil. In that parable He mentions a seed being sown among thorns. While doing so He underscores both the real nature and the destructive power of anxiety. Jesus said, “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop” (v. 7; emphasis added). Later, when the disciples asked Jesus about the meaning of the parable, He interpreted His own words. Regarding the seed sown among thorns, He explained, “These are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (vv. 18-19).
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!WORK IT OUT “JESUS”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
According to the gospel accounts, here are the miracles Jesus performed. Though this is an incomplete list according to John 21:25
: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
Before he became a lawyer and prolific supporter of prisoner rights, Daniel Manville spent three years and four months in the slammer for manslaughter. Manville continued to study while incarcerated and eventually earned two college degrees during his sentence. He became enamored with the legal profession and went to law school right after his parole.
He finally passed the bar exams in Michigan and Washington, DC after waiting many years to be approved by the respective boards. Afterwards, Manville worked tirelessly to improve the prison system and represented various inmates and prison guards in civil cases. Nowadays, Manville teaches law at Michigan State University, where he hopes the insights he shares with students inspire them to someday help improve the system as well.
9.The Millionaire Ex-Convict
Uchendi Nwani lived a very Jekyll/Hyde existence during his college years. On the surface, Nwani—raised by his stepfather, who was pastor in one of Nashville’s largest Baptist congregations—played the role of exemplary student to his family and friends. However, Nwani hid a very dark secret underneath that shining exterior: He was a drug dealer, and a very notorious one at that. His greed got the better of him on October 15, 1993, when police caught a million-dollar shipment of cocaine while he was in the middle of an exam during his senior year.
He later turned himself in and did six and a half months of hard labor at a federal boot camp before he returned to finish his studies. To make ends meet, he cut hair at the university salon while living in a halfway house. After he graduated, he opened his own barber shop and school which later became a huge success. Nwani now travels around the country to show that he is living proof that, no matter how low you sink, you really can turn your life around if you don’t give up.
8.The World’s Most Flexible Man
While doing time in prison can be a hardening experience for most people, Mukhtar Gusengajiev used his time there to soften himself up. Gusangajiev was just 17 years old when he fell in with the wrong crowd and was ultimately sentenced to three years for partaking in a fight. While serving his time, Gusengajiev dedicated himself wholeheartedly to practicing meditation and flexibility exercises. After he was released from prison, Gusengajiev did a series of odd jobs before finally ending up in Moscow, where he performed as an artist at a government-owned circus.
Gusengajiev got his big break in 1995 when he was noticed by Jean-Claude Van Damme, who invited him to perform for his movie. Although that movie was ultimately scrapped, that invitation did get Gusengajiev to Las Vegas, where he later became famous for his mind-bending feats of flexibility. Since then, Gusengajiev has performed in several prominent events around the world and taught countless people that discipline can help them achieve their goals in life.
7.Chess Taught Ex-Convict The Right Moves In Life
Chess aficionado Eugene Brown made a lot of questionable decisions early on in his life. Classified as a high-risk youth, Brown frequently mingled with the bad eggs in his hometown of Washington, DC, ending with his participate in a failed robbery attempt and subsequent incarceration in a New Jersey prison. During his stay, Brown met his future mentor, a man named Massey with whom he often played chess. It was during one such game that Brown realized the practical applications of chess to everyday life and how he had been making all the wrong moves up to that point.
After he left prison and went back to his hometown, Brown taught his grandson—who was also experiencing behavioral problems—to play chess, with very positive results. Before he knew it, he had established his own chess club, which became hugely successful teaching young people the right lessons in life. As for Brown, he later became a thriving real estate businessman, but has continued to mentor his young wards in the game of chess and life. A movie based on his story will come out on 2014 starring Cuban Gooding, Jr. in the lead role.
6.From Cocaine To Cuisine
Prior to cooking delicious five-star cuisine, celebrity chef Jeff Hendersoncooked something else entirely dangerous—cocaine. As a teenager, he had manufactured and sold the drug in his native Los Angeles. By the time he was 19, Henderson was earning as much as US $35,000 per week. He was later apprehended and imprisoned for 10 years after one of his men was caught carrying a big shipment. It was in prison that Henderson discovered he had a natural flair for cooking and constantly practiced his culinary skills while on kitchen duty.
After he was released early for good behavior, Henderson worked in some of LA’s top restaurants before he decided to go for broke in Las Vegas. After experiencing many rejections due to his felonious past, Henderson finally managed to land a job at Caesar’s Palace. It was only a matter of time before he finally started getting recognition and awards, including best Las Vegas Chef in 2001. All the fame and success hasn’t gotten to Henderson’s head and he has continued to share his experiences with at-risk youth to show what they can achieve in life with the right choices.
5.The Jewel Thief Who Became An Honorary Police Officer
Most parents would have second thoughts leaving their child alone with the hulking and heavily-tattooed Larry Lawton. After all, he used to be one of America’s most notorious jewel thieves. At one point, he was on top of the FBI’s most wanted list on the eastern seaboard. However, the Lawton of today has entirely focused himself on another mission—to use his own experience in educating and saving young people from a life of crime and imprisonment.
Lawton attributed this incredible turnaround to one moment during his twelve years at federal prison. One of his new-found friends committed suicide in his cell, and Lawton—who was in solitary confinement at the time—felt helpless to save him. After he got out, Lawton established his program, Lawton 911, to help at-risk youth from committing the same mistakes he did. Lawton’s sincere efforts have not gone unnoticed—he wasrecently designated an “honorary police officer” by the local police, the first such ex-convict in the US to receive the honor.
4.From Prison To Poetry
Reginald Dwayne Betts was a classic case of a genius gone awry. Although he was an especially gifted student in his youth, his sass made him difficult to teach, and it was only when teachers gave him books to read that Betts would calm down. For all his smarts, Betts made a pretty dumb error at the age of 16 when he and a friend robbed a man and made off with his car. He was caught, tried as an adult, and sentenced to nine years in prison, where he witnessed the horrors that juvenile prisoners experience mixed in with hardened adult criminals.
To keep his sanity, Betts read almost constantly. He became fixated on poetry when someone slipped him a copy of Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets. After he got out, Betts completed his studies and became an active voice in reforming the juvenile justice system. He also established a reading club for the local young men in his area, which he uses to engender in them a love for reading and poetry.
3.The Founder Of The French National Police
It may surprise some to know that, at one time, the predecessor to the modern French National Police was founded and headed by an ex-convict. Growing up in Napoleon-era France, Eugene-Francois Vidocq lived a very colorful life that saw him charged and jailed for a variety of crimes, such as theft and assuming false identities. After a while, Vidocq offered his assistance to the police and worked as a spy in the criminal underworld. He became so effective in apprehending criminals and solving complex cases that authorities soon created the Surete Brigade, which was later expanded nationwide by Napoleon and renamed Surete Nationale, to assist him.
Under Vidocq’s leadership, the police reduced crime rates significantly. During his stint, Vidocq employed surprisingly modern methods of investigation and even maintained a forensics laboratory, something few precincts did at the time. Although Vidocq would ultimately resign and clash with the police again—largely because he had formed his own private detective agency—such were his legendary exploits that he later became the basis for popular fictional detectives such as Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
2.The Australian Danny Trejo
A lot of movie fans may have already heard about the criminal past life of perennial Hollywood bad guy and anti-hero Danny Trejo, but the Machetestar has a lesser-known Australian counterpart in the form of Mark “Chopper” Read. The Melbourne native grew up with a troubled childhood and started his criminal career by robbing drug dealers. He developed a reputation as a dangerous loose-cannon, accumulating tattoos all over his body and even having most of his ears cut off. He spent time in and out of prison for various offenses such as armed robbery and attempt to abduct a judge.
While in prison, Read wrote several crime novels based on his experiences which later became best-sellers. After his release, Read went on to become a notorious celebrity in the Australian scene, but it was a 2000 movie about his life starring Eric Bana that catapulted Read to worldwide fame. Even when he became clean after his prison time, Read never did let of his mad-dog image—shortly before his death from liver cancer in October 2013, he remarked that he didn’t care if he died as long as he didn’t bleed.
1.The Psychologist Who Received A Presidential Pardon
Noted forensic psychologist Paul Fauteck’s early life can be described as chaotic at best. A native of Wichita, Kansas, Fauteck was a mischievous boy in his youth. His schooling ended abruptly after he was discovered with the wallets of the other boys in the locker room. Afterwards, Fauteck continued to engage in questionable activities, including carrying a concealed weapon and smuggling his Mexican wife into the country. However, what really got Fauteck in trouble was when he joined a group of men who issued counterfeit checks. For that, he was sent to federal prison, where he frequently spent time in solitary confinement for bad behavior.
After a while Fauteck finally decided to go on the straight path, a decision galvanized by his father’s death just before he left prison. He later moved to Chicago, where he eventually ran an advertising agency while he finished his studies in psychology, having been told by his psychologist friend that he had a natural aptitude for helping people. In time, Fauteck became one of Chicago’s most respected psychotherapists. He also became a forensic psychologist for the local justice system, where he worked for more than a decade before he retired. The culmination of Fauteck’s long and arduous road to recovery came in 1992 when he received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush. Although retired at present, Fauteck continues to push for improved rehabilitation programs to give ex-convicts a better second start in life.
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As a POW, “I said I want to go home, as an inmate “I said I want to go home, As a free man addicted to fame and fortune and cocaine and the game of life, “I said I want to go home, as a believer in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, “I am saying I want to go home. After trauma and bad choice in life one can only feel empathy for Charlie in this video. I feel so much empathy for those who are coming home having to adjust to society that isn’t prepared to show forgiveness and any empathy for their plight of life. I saw this tonight as I was watching my Metv channel and I was crushed because my wife and I have spoken to sixteen people who are facing these fears of adjustment that are coming their way as they are getting released with no life skills nor family to assist them. We cry real tears of passion as we entreat God for finances and a building to help instill hope for those ex-offenders who really want to live the rest of their life independent and restored.
What does it take to break the cycle of criminal life and incarceration? Based on the accounts of those who have lived this experience, it requires an intense will to change attitudes and behavior to improve one’s life, a willingness to learn new skills, and an ability to overcome rejection time after time. The obstacles that are in store for the ex-offender who is released into society are enormous.
Transitioning from a prisoner number to an adult person expected to take on adult responsibilities can be overwhelming for many ex-inmates, particularly those who were incarcerated for long periods of time. The prison industry is flourishing because America is locking up more people than any country in the entire world – 2 million-plus and counting – most convicted of non-violent offenses.
The subsequent psychological, sensory and physical impact that many of these returnees experience often goes unaddressed and isn’t discussed very often by politicians or mainstream media, even though each day many of us will share space with someone who has spent a significant portion of his life in a cage.
Every one of us should be concerned because these men and women are of us and will be returning to us, our communities, many to our own families. This is dedicated to better understanding the impact of this system’s “corrections” from those who lived it.
Family and supporters
Former prisoners should ideally receive counseling before release and as part of their release plan to help move through the potentially challenging moments they may experience upon re-entry. Likewise the family should – also ideally – be offered counseling before the inmate is released, particularly the children of soon-to-be ex-prisoners. Caretakers of the children during the incarceration need to know the pitfalls that could occur and learn the tools to protect everyone emotionally while remaining as supportive as possible during the readjustment period.
The family members are changed people as a result of the inmate’s incarceration, just as the inmate is, and so things will likely not ever get back to the way they once were. Supporters should always offer encouragement and guidance geared toward smoothing out potentially bumpy transitions and not make the returnee feel as though they owe them something for having supported them while incarcerated nor exacerbate negativity that only serves to further divide and cause pain within the family.
Ex-prisoners may not readily accept the advice of others because they are finally free to not follow anyone else’s orders and so may make errors in judgment when dealing with seemingly simple situations. Opportunists may take advantage of some of these vulnerable returnees, as some can be easily manipulated and led into situations that are detrimental to them. Former friends and dangerous influences may arise and ex-prisoners may even fall into some old patterns.
Ex-prisoners may not readily accept the advice of others because they are finally free to not follow anyone else’s orders and so may make errors in judgment when dealing with seemingly simple situations.
Even when mistakes are made, the last thing returnees need to deal with is ridicule or condemnation, breeding resentment and deterring badly needed support. Many have been terrorized mentally and physically at the hands of guards and other inmates and have deep scarring that no one can see from the outside looking in. Comparing one ex-prisoner’s successes to another’s lack thereof is meaningless because each individual’s journey through their prison years varies greatly and so shall their journey upon release.
“I had a family. I had a house. I had a car. I had a job. … I was making good money. Everything was going well, and now I don’t have the patience for anything. … I have problems with my physical self. I have aches in my body and my legs. … [My] life is a lot harder. No matter how many visits, phone calls and letters you have shared with people, you still don’t know how much they have changed over a lengthy period of time until you’re actually around them regularly, and they feel the same way about you.”
“My son wasn’t a baby anymore and he hadn’t seen me in 10 years. Now he was 12. He wouldn’t let me hug him. He wouldn’t even shake my hand. I’m trying to understand this. I cry every night.”
“I want to prove to myself and those who stuck by me that I can make it right. I’m so scared of letting anyone down after the burden I’ve been.”
“Everything has been taken from me while inside. My mom had been taken from me, my dad has been taken from me, I have no family at all out here and I am completely on my own with $75 and nowhere to go. I was engaged when i got locked up at 18 – now I’m 45, the rest of my teens, all of my 20s, 30s and most of my 40s gone! My only child was born while I was inside and is now himself an inmate and so we’ll never be together.”
“I live with my mother in my old neighborhood. I need a pardon in order to get paid for wrongful imprisonment. After all they’ve taken from me, you’d think they’d at least provide me with my basic needs. I’m embarrassed to depend on my family as a 45-year-old man to have to eat.”
“Every night I pray and pray for the prisoners I left behind. I feel so badly for them living under such horrible conditions and promised many of them I would help them when I got out. My one friend is getting out of prison this week; she has been locked up for eight years. … She was 18 when she got locked up. I want to see her, but part of me wants to leave that part of me behind! I want to help, but how can I help? I barely have my feet on the ground as it is. But I promised I would and she is counting on me for support.”
“I went into a serious depression and was put on a medication that drove me into a prison within myself. It took the program staff several months to realize I wasn’t talking to anyone or eating, that I had lost about 30 pounds. I was ‘gone’ even though I was performing my required duties. After all those years of taking care of myself, to be so strong and resourceful and get myself paroled – by God’s grace – and then not know how to do anything for myself was really difficult.”
The real world
A study of the attitudes of released prisoners in the United States revealed that most expected to be labeled “ex-cons” and treated as failures and pariahs. Getting paperwork together to apply for services such as a birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license etc. is very difficult and yet very urgent in order to become recognized as a person in this system. Learning bus and subway systems or even walking routes may be difficult because of the changes that have taken place in the landscape.
A steady diet of encouragement is necessary in order to try and help them find a new “normal” in their life and set and achieve goals. The feelings of alienation may still be present, no matter how many people may feel that they are close to the inmate.
A steady diet of encouragement is necessary in order to try and help them find a new “normal” in their life and set and achieve goals.
“The dysfunctional consequences of institutionalization are not always immediately obvious once the institutional structure and procedural imperatives have been removed. This is especially true in cases where persons retain a minimum of structure wherever they re-enter free society. Moreover, the most negative consequences of institutionalization may first occur in the form of internal chaos, disorganization, stress and fear. Yet institutionalization has taught most people to cover their internal states, and not to openly or easily reveal intimate feelings or reactions. So, the outward appearance of normality and adjustment may mask a range of serious problems in adapting to the freeworld,” .
“(W)hen severely institutionalized persons confront complicated problems or conflicts, especially in the form of unexpected events that cannot be planned for in advance, the myriad of challenges that the non-institutionalized confront in their everyday lives outside the institution may become overwhelming. The facade of normality begins to deteriorate, and persons may behave in dysfunctional or even destructive ways because all of the external structure and supports upon which they relied to keep themselves controlled, directed, and balanced have been removed. …
“Parents who return from periods of incarceration still dependent on institutional structures and routines cannot be expected to effectively organize the lives of their children or exercise the initiative and autonomous decisionmaking that parenting requires. …
“Those who remain emotionally over-controlled and alienated from others will experience problems being psychologically available and nurturant,” .
“It felt like I was walking into another world again. I couldn’t believe it. Because I’ve been fighting so long, when (my release) eventually came, I didn’t know whether to take it or run back inside.”
“I was very frightened to walk across a street. I couldn’t judge the time, distance and speed of on-coming traffic. I had a problem with my sensory depth perception from bars being right in front of my face. I realized it was a problem after wildly running in an almost panic across the street, only to see the on-rushing traffic to remain still considerable distances down the street. I told myself, ‘You’ve got a problem, so get over it – fast.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I worked and worked on it.”
If you won’t consider donating to our cause, Then can we solicit your prayers and faith that this vision will not depart from our hearts nor will we faint until it materializes. I want to thank you in advance for whatever you decide to do especially for your time in reading this post.
Someone has defined friendship as “knowing the heart of another and sharing one’s heart with another.” We share our hearts with those we trust, and trust those who care about us. We confide in our friends because we have confidence that they will use the information to help us, not harm us. They in turn confide in us for the same reason. This week the winds of adversity have blown strong with deceit, arrogance, and piety from family and friends alike. I found myself troubled beyond measure today because of all the mess in the world that is more important than some of the family issues and church issues I have had to deal with.
We often refer to Jesus as our friend because we know that He wants what is best for us. We confide in Him because we trust Him. But have you ever considered that Jesus confides in His people?
Jesus began calling His disciples friends rather than servants because He had entrusted them with everything He had heard from His Father (John 15:15). Jesus trusted the disciples to use the information for the good of His Father’s kingdom.
Although we know that Jesus is our friend, can we say that we are His friends? Do we listen to Him? Or do we only want Him to listen to us? Do we want to know what’s on His heart? Or do we only want to tell Him what’s on ours? To be a friend of Jesus, we need to listen to what He wants us to know and then use the information to bring others into friendship with Him.
Sweet thought! We have a Friend above, Our weary, faltering steps to guide, Who follows with His eye of love The precious child for whom He died.
One of the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry is dealing with difficult people. These are people who need help but seem to challenge you at every turn as you try to provide that help. How should the church respond and minister in these situations? Everyone has to relate to difficult people—and most of us have been difficult people ourselves at one time or another! Therefore, every Christian should know how the gospel guides us in these relationships.
Two passages that guide me in this are 1 Peter 4:8 and Ephesians 3:14-19. In the 1 Peter passage, we are called to “love one another deeply.” The word translated deeply can also mean “constant”. “Keep love constant” would be a good translation. The word describes something that is stretched or extended. The love of the saints keeps stretching, in both depth and endurance. This connects nicely with Ephesians 3 where Paul prays that we would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Persevering love grows out of the gospel. You must start here if you are going to find the strength and incentive to go the distance with people.
With these scriptures as guidance, I offer a list of ten pastoral skills that I learned as I discipled one individual who came with many difficult problems.
I will call her Tonya. She is in her 40’s and seems to be a sincere believer in Christ. She is in a bad marriage. She is someone who would classically be labeled bipolar or manic-depressive. She has successfully isolated herself from people in her church because once they get to know her, they become overwhelmed by her. Here is the challenge: How do I love Tonya well? What will it look like to be useful to her in her growth in grace? These lessons have taken me many years to learn—and I am still learning with other “Tonya’s” that God graciously and wisely places in my life. I will speak directly to you, the reader, about the difficult people God calls you to serve. Sometimes I will refer to Tonya in particular and sometimes to difficult people as a whole.
Lesson 1. Pay Attention to the Heart (Yours and Theirs)
The category of the heart must be kept on the radar at all times.
Yours—God has ordained that this person be in your life. The first pastoral exercise is to pay attention to the common temptations to sin that different kinds of difficult people pose to you. Manipulative “borderline personality”? Angry and oblivious? Addicted and deceitful? Unstable “bipolar”? You may be tempted to overpower, or to appease, or to avoid such people. You will likely move typically in one of these directions or bounce back and forth between them in an effort to get some relief. You end up, if you are not carefully attending to your own heart, sinfully responding to the challenges that the difficult person is bringing into your life. If you do this, how then can you call this person to respond to life in godly ways when you aren’t even responding in godly ways? This, by the way, is true of any relationship.
Theirs—As you get to know difficult people, you begin to see the particular types of suffering that each person has experienced. You begin to see typical ways that the person tends to respond. With people who evidence what may be a more physiological component, keep that in mind as you seek to pastor them well. With someone who is manic-depressive, don’t let behavior on either extreme of the continuum fool you. Don’t get hijacked by the momentary emotional state. With Nancy, many elements were at work at any given moment when I would talk with her: a bad day with her husband, children, person in the church, no sleep, fear of the future… or a good day with her husband, children, person in the church, and lots of sleep. Each person is responding in either a godly or ungodly way to events. What patterns do you see as you get to know them and move towards them? What are their typical ungodly ways of dealing with life and what tends to drive those behaviors? There will be opportunities to help a person see these things. Find simple Scripture passages that will provide guidance during these times, and experience the joys of biblical repentance in the midst of the difficulty.
Lesson 2. Clearly Define Who Sets the Agenda
The common language that is often used here is the language of “boundaries”. I think that can be helpful but it does not go deep enough. Who sets the agenda in any relationship? God does. The only difference is what the agenda will be not who sets it. God sets the agenda in all of our relationships and He does here as well. Recognizing this, reminds you that you—the helper—are also under the gaze of God. The language of “boundaries” typically gives the impression that as the helper, you must set boundaries in order to protect yourself from being taken advantage of. If we think of this in terms of God setting the agenda, the end result will be you loving the person well rather than just protecting yourself.
With Nancy, because God set the agenda, there were times when I made sacrifices that were appropriate. Some of these decisions affected my family and lifestyle: the phone call at home late at night, or the sudden appearance at my house or office. Then there were other times that I told her I could not speak with her at that moment but would be willing to talk to her at some later time that we both agreed would work. There were times though, that I was tempted to agree to speak to her immediately because I did not want her to dislike me, or I was fearful that she would tell someone in the church that I had not cared for her like a good pastor should. Saying no at these times was an expression of godliness and love for Nancy. There were instances that I told her to go home and get some sleep and then call me that afternoon at the office. Grace-driven acceptance of a person does not mean open-ended availability.
It is important that you take the initiative to communicate some guidelines for the relationship and to alert the person that there will be many times when you will not be available. Be clear about when and where you may be contacted. Do this with love and then have godly courage to say no a few times early on when you think the person has moved beyond what is appropriate for the moment. If you are too available, it will likely lead to anger in you, because you assume that the person should respect boundaries like other people do. Don’t make that assumption. Another reason to set limits for people is because otherwise it may be too easy for them to go to you before they cry out to God. You, in effect, could be the very person who is making it too easy for them to avoid dealing directly with and depending upon Christ.
Lesson 3. Have Biblically Realistic/Optimistic Goals
Here is a place where your theology of the Christian life means everything. The doctrine of sanctification sees the Christian life through the biblical lens of slow, steady, back and forth progress. It’s realistic: change is incremental. It’s also optimistic: there is progress. For me, as I got a handle on the practical pastoral implications of this biblical understanding of the Christian life, it made all the difference in the world.
When Nancy was really depressed, I was thankful that she was still coming to church and seeking help. When she was particularly upbeat and euphoric, I would avoid being duped and then let down when she was depressed again. Without this leveling view of the Christian life, you will be a manic-depressive enabler!
Lesson 4. Redefine Love
If you do not re-define love biblically, you will be very disappointed if you are called to help other people— especially difficult people. A succinct definition of love is found in I John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” That’s it. Love means death. Let me nuance that some. Loving people well is the most inefficient thing you could ever do, but according to Jesus, it is the godliest thing you can ever do. I John 3:16 goes on to say, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Another way of thinking about this is exchanging the word “servant hood” in place of the word “success.” We are not called to fix people; we are called to serve them. The sooner we lay hold of this biblical priority, the sooner we will not be undone when someone does not “get better” right away or remains in our lives for a long time. Imagine in John 13, when Jesus washes his disciple’s feet—if he thought in terms of success—he would have kicked the bucket over, screamed at the disciples and stomped out. When you look at the characters in the room that night, success would not have been a word that would come to mind. And yet Jesus served. Paul Miller makes this wonderful observation in his book Love Walked Among Us, “Jesus’ tenderness with people suggested to me a new, less “efficient,” way of relating. Love, I realized, is not efficient.”1
It was through the “Tonya’s” in my life that I realized what it was like to work with people. It’s messy and inefficient and I don’t like that. And yet, it was just where God wanted me. I needed Nancy as much— if not more— than she needed me. I needed her in the sense that I needed to be more like Christ. I needed to see how much I wasn’t like him. I needed to see how desperately selfish I was and that if I did not redefine love along biblical lines, I would continue to be a selfish person who only met with people because I had to.
Lesson 5. Give the Person Hope
For someone like Tonya, change doesn’t seem to be something that is very visible or tangible. There were times when she was so discouraged that she thought suicide was a possible option. One of the practical ways to help someone like Nancy have hope is by clearly defining some things that can reasonably be accomplished and stating these in simple measurable ways.
Ask the person, “What do you want to see God do in your life over the next week?” You will be amazed how this reframes the person’s view of the future. This question encourages them to think about the possibilities of being different and of living differently in the coming week. Maybe their circumstances will not change, but maybethey can change instead. The simpler the goals are— the better. Do this within the context of the gospel and Christ’s covenant love for them.
Lesson 6. Call the Person to Serve
Another critical place a difficult person often needs to grow is in the area of loving others. The Bible says that everyone has been given gifts and can encourage, bear burdens, and be used in the lives of other people. As you attend to the heart issues in a person’s life and as you frame the relationship to serve the sanctifying purposes of God, a hopeful call to loving others is only appropriate.
Nancy had a husband and two children whom she could love and serve. She was surrounded by other wives who were struggling in their marriages. It is not good for difficult people to simply “take” from their families and friends. This is destructive behavior that is not pleasing to God and it is driven by a host of attitudes that God will not bless. Calling people to serve others will move them towards people and outside of themselves. It will help them see that they are valuable members of the body of Christ,and are not the only people who struggle.
Lesson 7. Connect the Person with the Body of Christ
This is important for two reasons. First, it is only within the context of others that difficult people are going to die to themselves. Secondly, it is only within the context of other people that you can adequately help the person. My experience is that difficult people need a host of helpers that are all doing basically the same thing in concert with one another.
I always encouraged Tonya to stay connected. I knew that I was not sufficient for her growth. But that is nothing new, is it? We all need many people around us speaking into and acting in our lives and on our behalf. I would structure contexts for discipleship for her. Thankfully, she would do a lot of this on her own, too. Though sometimes her involvement with others was selfishly motivated, thankfully it was with wise women who knew how to love her well. She was also connected to a small group Bible study where she was surrounded by a group of people who would keep up with her.
Your failure to do this reveals as much about your heart as it does the heart of the difficult person. When people are overly needy, and we do not share the load, it reveals that we may be overly needy of their need of us!
Lesson 8. Work Wisely with Other Helpers
It is inevitable as you work with difficult people that you will be criticized by them. Sometimes they will do this to your face, but most of the time they will do it with others who are reaching out to them. The illustration that I think works here is the illustration of a child. If the child does not get what is wanted from one parent, the child will complain to other parent in an effort to get it. If you are helping a difficult person, chances are you are not the only person in their lives. They are amazingly connected! If you know this from the outset, you can begin to find out who else they depend on. With that information, you can wisely seek appropriate ways to make sure that the various helpers do not get caught between the complaints of the difficult person. When a difficult person complains to you about someone who has not helped them, use this as an opportunity to remind the difficult person that the person they are speaking about does care for them. Encourage the others to do this as well.
There were occasions with Nancy where I would have to remind her of how much God had been good to her by giving her the friends she had. It was also an opportunity to challenge her to learn to love even when she was not getting what she wanted from others.
Lesson 9. Connect the Person to Christ Himself
What could be more obvious and yet what could be least obvious. People need something and someone more than you. They need Christ. If you are not careful, you may be the one person that keeps them from him if you love yourself more than you love the difficult person. One of the temptations in pastoral ministry is to forget who the Chief Shepherd of the sheep is. A gentle reminder: it is not you. I remember being in the midst of a broader family crisis with Nancy. The weight of it all was coming down on me. Sometime that week a friend called me and sensed the weight in my voice. He spoke gently and lovingly to me when he said, “Tim, remember, you are not the ultimate shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is.” His words cut and healed at the same time. They called me to repent of my people, control, and success idolatries. At the same time, they reminded me that Jesus was more concerned for and able to help this person than 1000 pastors working at once. We need to connect people to Christ to remind them as well as ourselves that we are not the Chief Shepherd of the sheep.
Lesson 10. Remember: We are All Difficult People
Finally, a helpful reminder that is always appropriate to remember as we serve difficult people. From God’s point of view, aren’t we all difficult people? Romans 5:8 sums it up nicely when it says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Verse 10 goes on to say, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.”
These 10 lessons are practical ways that I have grown in wisdom within the context of pastoral ministry. Helping difficult people is challenging but if you see it as extension of the gospel into the everyday lives of God’s people, your path will be clearer and your love more “constant” because it depends less on you and more on the God who calls you to do it.