neighbors

~ Experience the unforced rhythms of grace~

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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.”

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~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.

~Thou are only a Man~

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“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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The early civilizations were well aware of the danger of pride and power and knew that this could destroy kings and empires if not held in check. And thus a philosophy was developed by the very wise Greco-Roman philosophers (lovers of truth) in order to help their rulers and themselves to be vigilant about their behavior, lest they destroy themselves by pride. And thus when any great general (be it an emperor-to-be, a war general, or any victor of a great battle) was honored by a great manifestation such as a triumphal entry into his city-state, a slave (a lowly of lowlies) would ride in the chariot with him and whisper in his ear that he should remember that he is not a god, but a mortal human being.

I think a better source than wiki might be a scholarly treatise aboutRoman triumphal marches by the historian Robert Payne in the book “Rome Triumphant: How the Empire Celebrated its Victories” Robert Payne, 1962, Barnes & Noble Books 1993. In the closing remarks of the book (pg 251), Payne remarks “…it was the anonymous slave standing behind the triumphator, whispering in his ear about the vanity of honours, who represents the greater triumph. The voice of the slave was the voice of humanity,never so desperate as when it passed unheard.– We do not know when the slave first rode in the triumphal chariot and held the golden crown over the conqueror’s head, or when he stepped down for the last time. We do not know whether the triumphator ever spoke to him in reply,or even glanced at him. He appears only briefly in the history of the triumph, and only once do we see him plain –on the Boscoreale cup,where he is depicted as a youth who seems to be filled with a sense of compassionate duty.”

You should be aware that this type of reminder of vigilance is still very meaningful and applied in many ways in modern life as a philosophical heir to the ancient traditition. The warning against pride and care to remember that life is a fleeting gift and should not be squandered on empty vanities that are really meaningless when considering the totality of life’s journey (the human actions of craving for power, riches, adulation, popularity) is just as important today as it was 2500 years ago. Instead of wasting time thinking that you are “God’s gift to humanity”, the reminder states, “try to live life as a good and simple, honest, kind and noble person (like the beautiful shaker hymn: “Tis a gift to be simple…”)

You might be aware of the yearly Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday in the beginning of the Lenten journey when people receive blessed ashes on their foreheads with the words “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return”. This is done not to depress people, but to remind them that true happiness of this life is totally dependant upon our own human goodness to be fantastically good people instead of selfish jerks.

Whenever a bishop (or cardinal) is elected to be a pope (a really tremendous honor in the Catholic Church), before the pope steps out into the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica to greet the City and the World and to be hailed as the new pontiff (Viva el Papa !) something really cool is done that is centuries old. A simple poor franciscan friar stands before the pope with a broom-like staff made with a pile of dry straw. The straw is lit and for a few seconds a huge flame bursts out, but is gone in a mere minute (a straw fire means an empty fleeting fanfare). (This is done three times) Each time the friar utters the words to the pope “sic transit gloria mundi) meaning “and thus passes the glory of this world”. This is of course a reminder that the great Roman pontiff (like the Roman generals and emperors) should remember that he is nothing more than a lowly servant and all the glory and power and wealth of this world is meaningless when compared to the true meaning of life : just be a very very good and kind and honest person – at the end of your life this will be the only measure of true meaning of the nobility and richness of one’s life.

Is it not cool how all of this applies to our lives today ?

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Introduction

Is good enough, good enough? Consider, if you will, that if 99.9 percent were good enough then

  • 2 million documents would be lost by the IRS this year.
  • 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next 60 minutes.
  • 1,314 telephone calls will be misdirected by telecommunications companies every minute.
  • 2,488 books will be shipped with the wrong covers on them each day.
  • Over 5.5 million cases of soft drinks in the next year will be flat.
  • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written each year.
  • 12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.

Obviously, being good enough is not good enough for life in modern society. So why do we think that being good enough is good enough to get us into heaven? You’ve heard people ask, “If I try my best won’t God let me into heaven?” or “Doesn’t God just require me to be better than the average human?” or “Don’t I have to just live a good life to be a Christian?” or “How could a loving God send good people to hell?”

Martin Luther, the reformer, wrote, “The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has every plagued the mind of man is the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.” A Bible teacher used to say, “Man is incurably addicted to doing something for his own salvation.”

Let’s examine what the Bible has to say about being good enough.

I. God’s standard is perfection

In one sense, one can be good enough to get to heaven, but they would have to be perfect. God’s standard for entrance into heaven is perfection. On one occasion Jesus identified the two most outwardly religious groups of people in his day the Pharisees and the scribes and told his listening audience, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). On another occasion Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

God’s standard never falls short of complete righteousness and holiness. Anything less than perfection is sin. Think about heaven for a moment. Heaven is a place of the “no more’s” – no more tears, no more sadness, no more pain, no more sickness, no more death. All of those things are caused by sin. The “no more’s” don’t exist in heaven because sin does not exist in heaven. Heaven will be wonderful, not only because of what is present – God, but also because of what is absent – sin.

God’s standard of perfection is not arbitrary. God does not grade on the curve. He does not say, “Oh, you are close enough” or “You have tried really hard to live a good life.” God does not compare. “Well, Bill you are better than John so you are in and John is out, Betty, you are better than Sue, so come right on in.” That would be like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. So what if your jump thirty feet and set an Olympic record, you still splatter.

Now don’t get me wrong, for the most part we are all pretty good. I don’t suppose there are any rapists or murderers among us. If we were grading ourselves on goodness we would rank right up there pretty high on the scale. Let’s call ourselves Danny or Debbie Decent. From our perspective, we do everything right. We pay our taxes, pay our bills, pay attention to our family, and pay respect to our superiors. We are good people.

But God sees us differently. God sees what Danny and Debbie Decent choose to overlook. For as decent as we are walking through life, we make mistakes. For example, we stretch the truth. We might fudge, ever so slightly, on our expense report. We gossip about the new employee. From our perspective, these aren’t big deals. But our perspective does not matter. God’s does. And what God sees is a person wrapped in mistakes.

So let me ask you, is there any sin in your life? If so you are not perfect. You have not met God’s standard of perfection.

II. God’s solution is a pardon

Fortunately, there is good news. There is a solution, a remedy to our imperfection. God’s solution is a pardon found in Jesus Christ. Here’s how is works: “Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! . . . It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. . . . Our sins are taken care of for good” (Heb. 10:12-18 MSG). The apostle Paul described it this way: “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). When Jesus Christ, God’s Son, went to the cross he took our sins, our mistakes, our evil, and our unrighteousness. He was the ultimate sacrifice.

R.G. Lee, former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, was visiting Gordon’s Calvary at Jerusalem, possibly the site where Jesus was crucified. Lee told the Arab guide he wanted to walk to the top of the hill. At first the guide tried to discourage him, but when he saw that Lee was determined to go, he went along. Once on the crest, Lee removed his hat and stood with bowed head, greatly moved. “Sir,” asked the guide, “have you been here before?”

“Yes,” replied Lee, “2,000 years ago.”

And so have we. We were there because our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Now we must go there to find redemption, to find our pardon for our sin.

So, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to going to heaven, whether we are more like Hitler with our evil or more like Mother Teresa with our purity, our sins are no longer the issue. The issue is what we do about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s solution to our not measuring up to his standard. Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. Jesus now offers us a pardon, a release from our sin.

Think about it this way: if a criminal was handed a pardon that would release him from prison, the issue is no longer the crime but rather what he will do about the pardon. If he refuses he will remain in prison. The questions, why he is in prison?, and why is he not out of prison? have two different answers. He is in prison because he is convicted criminal. He is not out of prison because he refuse the pardon. Likewise, the answer to the question, why will a person be in hell? Is because he is a sinner, but the answer to the question, why will he not be in heaven? Is because he did not accept the pardon offered in Christ.

Let me see if a story will not help clarify this issue. Many years ago a young boy shot and killed a man while gambling. In those days, murderers were sentenced to hang. But the townspeople were so concerned for the young lad that they gathered a petition asking the judge to pardon the boy. Finally, the judge agreed but only on one condition. The judge would wear a clergyman’s robe and collar and carry the pardon between the pages of the Bible.

As the judge approached the boy’s cell, he could hear the young man cursing and swearing at him. “Get out of here, preacher, I don’t want what you have to offer.”

“But, son,” the judge replied, “You don’t understand.”

“I understand fine,” said the boy. “I don’t want what you have to offer.”

The dejected judge left the jail. Later the guard told the boy that it was the judge who was dressed like a minister. Between the pages of the Bible was an authorized, sealed pardon for his release.

When the day of execution arrived, just before they put a black sack over the boy’s head, they asked if he had anything to say.

He replied, “I am not dying because I killed a man. I am dying because I rejected the pardon.”

You see the issue is not your sin. The issue is what you will do with Jesus Christ. Our fault before God is not necessarily our sin – He made a remedy for that. Our fault before God is rejecting the pardon.

“Yea, but,” I can hear some people say. And then the question: How could a loving God send good people to hell? The question itself reveals a couple of misconceptions. First, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice, as when the judge honored the choice of the condemned boy who rejected the pardon. Hell is the ultimate expression of God’s highest regard for the dignity of man. He has never forced us to choose him, even when that means we would choose hell. As C. S. Lewis stated: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it.”

No, God does not “send” people to hell. Nor does he send “people” to hell any more than the judge sent the boy to be hung. That is the second misconception.

The word people is neutral, implying innocence. Nowhere does scripture teach that innocent people are condemned. People do not go to hell. Sinners do. The rebellious do. The self-centered do. The ones who reject God’s pardon do.

So how could a loving God send people to hell? He doesn’t. He simply honors the choice of sinners.

III. God’s salvation is through personal faith

So what must we do? We must, by faith, accept Jesus’ finished work on the cross as God’s only accepted way to enter heaven. God’s salvation is through personal faith in Jesus Christ. We must trust in what he has done for us.

Ten of the eleven world religions teach a salvation by good deeds. Christianity stands alone with its emphasis on faith rather than works for salvation. The Scriptures say, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift – we don’t work for it, we don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it. We simply trust God for what he has done through his son, Jesus Christ.

It is like a medicine. You can believe a certain medicine will help you, but until you trust it enough to take it, it won’t do anything for you. Faith is more than believing in God. It is trusting in him to the point of receiving Christ into your life.

Conclusion

Was there a time when you honestly realized that you were a sinner and admitted that to God? Do you truly understand that Christ took your place on the cross? Do you understand that the real issue is not your sin, but what you will do with Jesus Christ? Have you received Christ alone for your salvation?

Treating People Right

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Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.

 Og Mandino

treating people right

One of your biggest problems and mine are people problems – learning how to get along with other people.  There is a short poem that goes –

“To dwell above with those you love – that will be glory.
To dwell below, with those you know – that’s a different story.”

We have been going through the book of James and in James chapter two he tells us how to get along with people – how to treat people right.  He gives us the principle, the problem and the prescription on Treating People Right.  Let’s look first at:

I.  The PRINCIPLE

Follow along as I read James chapter two verse one:

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.” James 2:1 (NKJV)

Whenever James begins a sentence with “My brethren” – watch out!  He’s getting ready to nail you.  He’s getting ready to talk about prejudice, partiality and favoritism.  Go ahead and circle the word “partiality”.  The Greek word is a compound word that means “to receive” and “face”.  It literally means “to receive someone because of what you see” – by outward appearance.  But beware – outward appearance – what we see when we look at a person – is a superficial judgment of someone.  James is telling us, “Don’t do that.  Don’t accept people based on what you see on the outside.  The Good News Bible says:

“Never treat anybody in a different way according to their outward appearance.”  James 2:1 (GN)

All of us do it though – don’t we?  If someone has an outward appearance that is pleasing to us – we treat them differently than if we don’t like what we see.  Here are some common ways that we judge people:

GENDER – Is the person male or female.  Depending on your gender you respond in different ways.

APPEARANCE – We discriminate often because of appearance.  “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  There is a lot of truth in that statement.  In various cultures and generations our concept of beauty changes.  How do you judge people?  Do you judge them immediately on how they look?  How they dress?  If a man has long hair and a beard – do you threat them different than if they were clean shaven?  Do you judge a person based on how many body piercings or tattoos they have?  Do you judge a person because they are wearing overalls rather than slacks and collared shirt?

ANCESTRY – is another area we judge people.  What is their family background?  Who do they belong to?  Do they come from good stock?

RACE – What is their ethnic background?  What is the color of their skin?  What is the language that they speak?

AGE – How old are they?  Are they from my generation – or are they too old or too young?

ACHIEVEMENT – Our society gushes over winners and forgets losers.  One minute you’re a hero – the next you’re a zero.

WEALTH – This is the most common distinction around the world.  Are you rich or are you poor?  What is your economic status?  What attitude do you have about people who have more money than you?

II. The PROBLEM

All of us judge others by a variety of factors.  All of us show favoritism base on a variety of elements.  This is the area that James picks up on in verses two thru four of James chapter two:

“For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2:2-4 (NKJV)

Two guys are strangers.  They arrive at the church at the same time.  The first guy is wealthy – that can be seen by the clothes that he wears.  The other guy doesn’t have much money – that can be seen by the clothes that he wears also.  The ushers standing at the door take the wealthy man and seat him in the place of honor.  The poor man they tell him to go and stand in the corner.  James tells us that it should not be this way.  James tells us that we should not show favoritism because of a person’s affluence.  We should not show favoritism because of the amount of money a person has in his or her bank account.

James says there are three problems with favoritism.

1.  Favoritism is UNGODLY

If you want to be Godly – if you want to be more like Jesus – you can’t play favorites.  Look at what James tells us in verse nine of chapter two:

“If you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” James 2:9 (NKJV)

In Romans chapter two verse eleven it says:

“For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:11 (NKJV)

The word partiality can also be translated as “favoritism”.  Faith and favoritism are incompatible.  We are to respect all people – we are to treat them fairly.  Jesus treated everyone with dignity.  God loves – every one.  If there is one place in the world where there should NOT be any kind of discrimination – it is in the church.  The church ought to be a place where all people are welcomed – no matter how they dress or the color of their skin or how many tattoos they have.  Jesus does not show favoritism – and if you do – you are not acting in a Christian manner.

Not only is favoritism ungodly:

2.  Favoritism is UNREASONABLE

Look at what the Bible says in James chapter two verses five and six:

“Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.” James 2:5-6 (NKJV)

Go ahead and circle the phrase, “God has chosen the poor”.  The Bible is not saying that it is good to be poor and bad to be rich or poor.  James is not saying that only the poor will be saved.  Every one in this room is rich – wealthy – compared to the majority of the world.  What the Bible is telling us is that, “Wealth in itself – does not deserve special treatment – it does not deserve special attention.  Every one has been made into the image of God – regardless of how much money they have in their pocket, wallet or purse.

Do you remember the first beatitude?  It is found over in Matthew chapter five – do you remember what it says?  It says:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 (NKJV)

A few months back I did a whole series on The Beatitudes titled – “Nine Attitudes to Live By”.  Do you remember what I said this beatitude dealt with?  It dealt with the attitude of humility.  When we compare our holiness – our righteousness – our purity with that of God’s – all of us are paupers – all of us are bankrupt – all of us are poor.  God has chosen the humble of this world – the poor of the world – to show those who are full of pride how to receive a blessing.  God has chosen the poor of this world – to show the rich how to be rich beyond compare.  Favoritism became of what one has in one’s bank account is not only ungodly it is also unreasonable.

And:

3.  Favoritism is UNLOVING

Look at what James tells us in verses eight and nine:

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors (sinners).” James 2:8-9 (NKJV)

The Bible says that how you treat people matters – how you treat people counts.  We are to treat people in the same way that we would want to be treated.  That is “the royal law.”  God is appalled if we treat people unfairly – if we treat people unjustly – if we show favoritism.  Look at what first John chapter four tells us:

“If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” 1 John 4:20-21 (NKJV)

The Bible says that how we relate to people shows how much we really love God.  Folks – favoritism is unloving.

How then should I treat people?  Let’s now look at:

III. The PRESCRIPTION

In order to treat people right – you must love people.  In order to be a person that people are attracted to – you must love people.  In order to become a strong healthy church – you must love people.  In order to follow the commandments of God – you must love people.  People are attracted to a place where they feel loved.

A survey was conducted of 8,600 people from congregations in 39 different denominations.  What was found should not surprise us.  They found that growing churches are more loving to each other and to visitors than declining churches.  Loving churches attract more people regardless of their theology, denomination or location.  Most churches that are growing today have learned how to love.  Overall – a church that loves people – is a church that grows.  It’s love that reaches people.  You don’t argue a person into the kingdom of heaven – you love them into the kingdom.

How can we show love?  There are three steps:

1.  ACCEPT everybody

Have you ever been in a church of spiritual snobs?  I have.  They act like they are better than you.  Do you know why people have a hard time accepting others?  They confuse acceptance with approval.  There is a big difference between acceptance and approval.  You can accept a person and still not approve of their lifestyle.  They may be doing something totally contrary to the Word of God, but you can accept them as a person.

The Bible tells us:

“Accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God.” Romans 15:7
Christ accepted us while we were still sinners.  We need to do the same with others.  The church is to be a hospital for sinners – not a hotel for the saints.  Jesus said, “I have come to seek and to save – those who are lost.”  We need to accept those who have lost their way.  It should not matter where people have been – what dark alley they have be down.  Some of us have been down dark alleys too.  We need to accept people – just as they are.

The second thing we need to do is:

2.  APPRECIATE everybody

This goes further than acceptance.  To appreciate someone you need to find something that you like about the person – something that you admire.  With some people this may require a little creativity.  You may have to look for a while.  If nothing else you can value them for their uniqueness.  We need to appreciate everyone.  Look at what Philippians chapter two says:

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)

All of us are different from one another.  God likes it that way.  He has created each of us unique.  We need to not only accept one another – with all our differences – and we need to value one another – we need to appreciate one another.

The third thing we need to do is:

3.  AFFIRM everybody

Give everybody a lift whenever you can.  Don’t tear them down.  No one likes to be told how bad they are.  But they sure like to get a pat on the back.  Look at what the Bible tells us in First Thessalonians:

“Speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (MSG)

Be an encourager not a complainer – be an encourager not a condemner – be an encourager not a critical person.  When people stumble, don’t criticize – sympathize.  Lift people up – don’t tear them down.

Jesus gives us the best example on how people are to be treated.  Do you remember the story of the woman that He met at the well?  It’s found in John chapter four.

It seems that Jesus was passing through the land of Samaria – a practice which many Jews would not do – because they considered the Samaritans unclean.  But there in a village Jesus stopped because He was tired and thirsty.  There He met a Samaritan woman.  There all the barriers were in place.  She was the wrong race.  She was the wrong gender.  She had the wrong lifestyle.  She was a sinner – and yet Jesus showed her love and compassion.  He accepted her – He appreciated her – He affirmed her – even with all the barriers that would keep most of us from talking to her – He talked to her.  He loved her.  He forgave her.  He showed her how she could enter the Kingdom of Heaven – how she could have a relationship with God.

Do you remember the verse from Romans chapter fifteen that we read earlier?  Let me quote it again just in case you forgot:

“Accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God.” Romans 15:7 (GW)

Folks – how do you treat people?  Jesus set the standard.  The Bible tells us to, “accept each other in the SAME way that Christ accepted you.”  Do you treat people in same way that Jesus treated you?  Do you treat people in a way that would bring honor and glory to God?  James tells us that the royal law is this:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – this is the “royal law”.  This is the way we are to treat one another.