Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
John Newton was a wild-living sailor and slave-trader who got saved and became a godly pastor and the author of many hymns, including the beloved, “Amazing Grace.” He said late in his life: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”
Even if your past is not as wicked as John Newton’s, you should be growing in your awareness of those two great facts. The longer I am a Christian, the more acutely I am aware of the exceeding wickedness of my own heart. I can identify with the hymn writer, Robert Robinson, who wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” But, thank God, the more I see my own sinfulness, the more brightly God’s grace shines. As Robinson also wrote, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!”
The story of Peter’s denials is recorded in Scripture to underscore these two great facts: the weakness and sinfulness of even the most prominent saints; and, the greatness and abundance of God’s love and grace toward those who fail. For those who are walking with the Lord, this story warns us to take heed lest we fall. For any who have fallen, the story holds out the hope of pardon through God’s abundant grace if you will turn back to Him.
Even when we fail the Lord badly, if we will repent God will restore us and use us again in His service.
For I am my mother’s daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.
Mary McLeod Bethune
This painting represents the struggles and injustices of African Americans throughout slavery. The eyes in this painting shows the bondage, oppression and slayings that was given at the hands of their oppressors. The tears in this painting shows the inner hurts and pains of slavery and bloodshed. The eyes are the gateway to the soul and it magnifies what’s on the inside. God has given us a new hope which is in his Son Jesus Christ. Not only as a person and race, but also as a people united under God.
Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you are probably reading the book of Jeremiah. This gloomy prophecy about the conquering and exile of Israel is enough to send anyone searching for some spiritual Prozac. Jeremiah is torn between two great loves. He loves God and serves God as a prophet with great passion. He loves the people of Israel and he is terribly sorry to see what they will have to go through. Questioning God, Jeremiah asks, “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no Physician there?” – In other words: “God, aren’t you here anymore?”
It seems a good question for Jeremiah and for us as well when we look at a world at war, countries in crisis from disease, drought and oppression, religion that chooses legalism over compassion and dogma over discernment, and humanity lost in materialism and chronic self-absorption. It is not hard for us to see Iraq, AIDS, Darfur, church crisis and the latest celebrity obsession and say, “God, aren’t you here anymore?”
The Poet T.S. Eliot looked at the state of culture and society when he wrote “The Rock” in 1934 which said:
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
T. S. Eliot seems to re-order Jeremiah’s question. The problem is not that God isn’t with us anymore – but that we are no longer near God. We have changed the life transforming power of Christianity to a set of rules and rituals. We have given up the wisdom of diplomacy and listening for a culture of war and force. We have traded having a knowing relationship with God and others for memorizing scripture, and relying on demographics.
Now, now – I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, – “wow – Aaron’s sure in a gloomy mood – he’s been reading that Jeremiah book a little too long! Maybe a nice psalm or some proverbs would cheer him up…” but have no fear. I have a great joy and hope today and so can you – because the New Testament reminds us we are blessed when we weep – for we shall be comforted. We need only look at history to see our future.
There is a Balm in Gilead
A balm is a healing ointment. Jeremiah is asking about the famous healing lotion made from the commiphora tree of Palestine, the resinous gum we know as Myrrh. (you know the Christmas story – Gold, Frankenstein and Myrrh…er…..Frankincense and myrrh…). Jeremiah is making a spiritual reference to the healing power of God. In the New Testament, baby Jesus will be given this balm to show healing does exist with him. That’s the good news.
Before 1865, African-American spirituals and slave-songs were sung throughout the south. These songs told the gospel and conveyed scripture to people who couldn’t read, and were used for everything from teaching English and counting to new arrivals, to keeping time in a threshing house, to communicating news about the underground railroad (“The Train is Bound for Glory”, and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” were both underground railroad songs). One of the great old hymns to come out of that era was “There is a Balm in Gilead”. An oppressed people who, like Israel, had been captured, enslaved, and ill-used were answering Jeremiah’s question with the New Testament assurance that healing was here to stay. How can we find that assurance today? Let’s look at the song:
Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
First – look to the Holy Spirit for revitalization and renewal. When we feel like the plans for peace we have offered bounced right off the clouds of heaven, or the life work we have given our talent toward has produced mediocre results at best – we need to pray for ourselves and the revival of our mission and our call. Every Christian is called of God. Whether you are called to be a mechanic, a teacher, or a listening friend working on an assembly line – you are called to be there (or to move). Don’t let the joy be leeched from you by those around you with bad attitudes or the determination to be self-absorbed pessimists. Allow God’s Holy Spirit to work in you and make the life you are living a worthy pursuit of hope and healing.
If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus and say, “He died for all.”
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
Second – People of faith need to stop relying on the messengers and start living the message. I know that sounds strange coming from a member of the clergy, but I find it a key issue for our times. Clergy have specific roles we fulfill, but it s not our call to be the community. That’s your job. We need to stop letting other people (leaders, theologians, popular authors) read for us, think for us, determine our beliefs and be the witness for us. We need to take responsibility in our relationship with God and learn to use resources as guides, not crutches. I heard at a ministry conference two years ago that the M.Div. will soon be the “minimum standard” for all clergy, but a doctorate is required for “adequate Christian leadership”. Why do you need a doctorate to live as Christ taught a bunch of fishermen, peasants and tax collectors? Christ didn’t come to make us a collection of sheep led by the educated elite. Christ came to make us a community, lead by a vibrant, personal relationship with our Creator. You don’t have to be Peter, M.Div or Dr. Paul (or even Dr. Phil – thank goodness!) – Be you, use your brain and the resources God places around you, and share the gospel where you are.
Don’t ever feel discouraged, for Jesus is your friend;
And if you lack for knowledge, He’ll never refuse to lend.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
Third – seek God’s wisdom and will. Don’t interpret point number two as meaning Christian leaders should not be college educated. There’s nothing wrong with education – it’s a worthy pursuit. However, our trust should not be in our own intelligence, experiences or credentials. Our trust should be in God’s wisdom, and God has placed that wisdom all over creation. Many Christians have cut off a plethora of God’s knowledge because it isn’t in the Bible or sold at the Christian Bookstore. There is a whole world of God out there – in the knowledge of farmers, through the power of indigenous cultures, in the arena of mathematics and physics (how better to understand how God made the world to turn?), in the mystical algorithm of language and music, and in the instinctual habits of nature. Stop discounting the steady stream of God in the world around you and start listening and learning all that God can have you know.
We need not to succumb to the gloom and doom of Jeremiah, because we know that healing of God is here. We need not reflect the cultural despair of T.S. Eliot because we know how to be near God. We can be people of Gilead with a life witness worth shining for the entire world to see. Then, the healing can begin.
God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement.
“I love being Black. I love being called Black. I love being an American. I love being a Black American, but as a Black man in this country I think it’s a shame That every few years we get a change of name.
Since those first ships arrived here from Africa that came across the sea There were already Black men in this country who were free. And as for those that came over here on those terrible boats, They were called niggah and slave And told what to do and how to behave.
And then master started trippin’ and doing his midnight tippin’, Down to the slave shacks where he forced he and Great-Great Grandma to be together, And if Great-Great Grandpa protested, he got tarred and feathered.
And at the same time, the Black men in the country who were free, Were mating with the tribes like the Apache and the Cherokee. And as a result of all that, we’re a parade of every shade. And as in this late day and age, you can be sure, They ain’t too many of us in this country whose bloodline is pure.
But, according to a geological, geographical, genealogy study published in Time Magazine, The Black African people were the first on the scene, So for what it’s worth, the Black African people were the first on earth
And through migration, our characteristics started to change, and rearrange, To adapt to whatever climate we migrated to. And that’s how I became me, and you became you.
So, if we gonna go back, let’s go all the way back, And if Adam was Black and Eve was Black, Then that kind of makes it a natural fact that everybody in America is an African American.
Everybody in Europe is an African European; everybody in the Orient is an African Asian And so on and so on, That is, if the origin of man is what we’re gonna go on. And if one drop of Black blood makes you Black like they say, Then everybody’s Black anyway.
So quit trying to change my identity. I’m already who I was meant to be I’m a Black American, born and raised. And brother James Brown wrote a wonderful phrase, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud! Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud!”
Cause I’m proud to be Black and I ain’t never lived in Africa, And ’cause my Great-Great Granddaddy on my Daddy’s side did, don’t mean I want to go back. Now I have nothing against Africa, It’s where some of the most beautiful places and people in the world are found. But I’ve been blessed to go a lot of places in this world, And if you ask me where I choose to live, I pick America, hands down.
Now, by and by, we were called Negroes, and after while, that name has vanished. Anyway, Negro is just how you say “black” in Spanish. Then, we were called colored, but ****, everybody’s one color or another, And I think it’s a shame that we hold that against each other.
And it seems like we reverted back to a time when being called Black was an insult, Even if it was another Black man who said it, a fight would result, Cause we’ve been so brainwashed that Black was wrong, So that even the yellow niggahs and black niggahs couldn’t get along.
But then, came the 1960s when we struggled and died to be called equal and Black, And we walked with pride with our heads held high and our shoulders pushed back, And Black was beautiful.
But, I guess that wasn’t good enough, Cause now here they come with some other stuff. Who comes up with this **** anyway? Was it one, or a group of niggahs sitting around one day?
Feelin’ a little insecure again about being called Black And decided that African American sounded a little more exotic. Well, I think you were being a little more neurotic.
It’s that same mentality that got “Amos and Andy” put off the air, Cause’ they were embarrassed about the way the character’s spoke. And as a result of that action, a lot of wonderful Black actors ended up broke. When we were just laughin’ and have fun about ourselves. So I say, “**** you if you can’t take a joke.” You didn’t see the “Beverly Hillbilly’s” being protested by white folks.
And if you think, that cause you think that being called African American set all Black people’s mind at ease…..
Since we affectionately call each other “niggah”,
I affectionately say to you, “niggah Please”.
How come I didn’t get the chance to vote on who I’d like to be? Who gave you the right to make that decision for me? I ain’t under your rule or in your dominion And I am entitled to my own opinion.
Now there are some African Americans here, But they recently moved here from places like Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Zaire. But, now the brother who’s family has lived in the country for generations, Occupying space in all the locations New York, Miami, L.A., Detroit, Chicago- Even if he’s wearing a dashiki and sporting an afro.
And, if you go to Africa in search of your race, You’ll find out quick you’re not an African American, You’re just a Black American in Africa takin’ up space.
Why you keep trying to attach yourself to a continent, Where if you got the chance and you went, Most people there would even claim you as one of them; as a pure bread daughter or son of them. Your heritage is right here now, no matter what you call yourself or what you say And a lot of people died to make it that way. And if you think America is a leader on inequality and suffering and grievin’ How come there so many people comin’ and so few leavin’?
Rather than all this ‘find fault with America’ **** you promotin’, If you want to change something, use your privilege, get to the polls! Commence to votin’!
God knows we’ve earned the right to be called American Americans and be free at last. And rather than you movin’ forward progress, you dwelling in the past. We’ve struggled too long; we’ve come too far. Instead of focusing on who we were, let’s be proud of who we are.
We are the only people whose name is always a trend. When is this **** gonna end? Look at all the different colors of our skin- Black is not our color. It’s our core. It’s what we been livin’ and fightin’ and dyin’ for.
But if you choose to be called African American and that’s your preference Then I ‘ll give you that reference
But I know on this issue I don’t stand alone on my own and if I do, then let me be me And I’d appreciate it if when you see me, you’d say, “there goes a man who says it loud I’m Black. I’m Black. I’m a Black American, and I’m proud
Cause I love being an American. And I love being Black. I love being called Black.
My wife and I were in a pickle two years ago, in a very negative environment and it was very toxic. Our number one goal was to get out of that mind-set and place. We are now ready to heal and get on with our life, to start anew. Yet there are no positives just yet to build on. It takes tenacity and strength to move past a negative stage in life, and we’ve successfully done so. And we are very proud about ourselves.
Where does one begin with nothing at all? A common question many of us ask ourselves is this – How do I get from where I am to where I want to be if there is nothing to build on in the first place?
For example, you want to start a business, but you have no experience in business development. You want to shift to a different career field, but you don’t have knowledge in the area. You want to be the top in what you do but you have no know-how. You want to let go of your past and start on a new journey, but there is nothing for you to start off with. It’s like a catch 22 situation. Like a potter who needs his tools and clay, you can’t create something if there is nothing. And if you can’t create something, you can’t get anything.
Everyone Starts From Nothing
The first thing I want to point out is that everyone starts from nothing. Rich people, poor people, successful people, non-successful people, top achievers, non-achievers – all these people start from a place where they had nothing. Forget about family background, because these aren’t determinants of success – there are as many successful people in this world from poor families as there are from rich families. Let’s focus on one’s personal achievements and knowledge, because these are arguably what one uses to build future success. Let’s take a look at Phillip Buchanon.
Phillip Buchanon is sharing what it’s truly like to become rich — and targeted — in the NFL.
I don’t want to do anything and everything. I want to be a brand that, every time I leverage my name, I want people to feel sure that it’s going to be something good – so whether it be my movies, my perfume, my restaurant, my musical, it’ll be good work, good food and good everything.
Buchanon, a former first-round NFL Draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, played nine years in the NFL and experienced it all; family turning on him, friends stealing from him, and even a robbery that nearly took his life.
But Buchanon survived, and decided that he wants to help the next NFL rookies, who will hopefully avoid all the pitfalls.
This week, Buchanon released his first book, “New Money: Staying Rich“, an in-depth, and at times very scary account of what it’s like to be a professional athlete. Buchanon discusses everything that comes with life in the NFL, and most importantly, what it’s like dealing with the pressures of family members and friends who think that just because you made it big, they did, too.
“When I got to the NFL, I was all dollars and no sense,” “I want to make sure the next generation of athletes doesn’t make the same mistakes.”
The book is the latest venture for Buchanon, who also wrote a comic book on the same subject, and who is continuing to do whatever he can to educate a younger generation. As a matter of fact, he thinks more people in similar situations should also write books.
“I encourage everyone to do stuff like this,” he said. “More people who’ve had success in all fields should be writing these kinds of books.”
Here is Buchanon, discussing how his relationship changed with his mother, once he made it big:
Soon after the draft, she told me that I owed her a million dollars for raising me for the past 18 years. Well, that was news to me. If my mother taught me anything, it’s that this is the most desperate demand that a parent can make on a child. The covenant of having a child is simply that you give your child everything possible, and they owe you nothing beyond a normal amount of love and respect. There is no financial arrangement. If you get old and infirm, and your kids are around to help you out at that point, then you’re lucky. It’s not written in the social contract. The mothers and fathers of the world have been rearing their kids for generations — in every culture imaginable — and it’s a one-way street when it comes to money. If they pay you back someday, and you really are going through hard times, then that’s just a bonus, a gratuity for being a great mother or father.
My mother had said my debt to her was a million dollars before, but this time she was more serious than ever. If you do the math, one million dollars divided by 18 years of raising me was approximately $55,555.55 a year in restitution. Except, at age 17 I decided to move out of my mom’s house, choosing to live with a close friend and his father because I no longer felt secure in my own home. Why, you ask? Because my mother let people come in and out of our house and take what they wanted. So technically, even if we went by her logic, I only owed her $944,444.44 for her services over 17 years.
Is it petty that I’m knocking a year off her calculation? The fact that I have written this paragraph enrages me, merely because I’m entertaining the thought that her argument had any logic at all. Maybe if I had become super rich, I could have written the check and been done with it. But, like blackmail, there is never any end, is there?
Please do not think I’m being ungrateful or cheap. I had already followed the unwritten rule of any NFL New Money Millionaire: I bought my mother a house. I also advised her to sell the old one I grew up in when I put a new roof over her head, but my mother had other plans. Instead of selling my childhood home, she decided to rent it to my aunt. So I had to finance my mother, the budding landlord. Only this wasn’t an investment. It was an encumbrance, because I didn’t share in my mother’s profit-making scheme. For the next seven years, I continued to make mortgage and maintenance payments on both homes.
I learned from this expensive lesson that big-ticket purchases for family members, such as houses and cars, should be evaluated with the following questions in mind: If you were unable to make payments for these purchases, would that particular family member be able to make the payments? Twenty years from now, who will be paying the upkeep on the house? You or your family member?
hen there’s the respect part of the equation. Are these family members respecting the gifts you give? For years, my mother left the lights on in the house without a thought as to how much I paid for electricity. This is a corollary of an old cliche that I’ve heard many times, that your kids won’t turn out the lights when leaving a room until they grow up and have to pay their own utility bills. It used to refer to kids, but in my case it fit right in as applicable to my family of Adult Abusers.
Anger built up inside me as my mother collected rent from our old house and never offered a cent to offset the expenses. It got to a point that I had to kick her boyfriend out. She accused me of messing up her life. What she didn’t see was that her boyfriend was pimping her and me out. He wasn’t bringing anything to the table, just taking.
When I told my mother she would have to take care of the maintenance after I paid off the mortgage on her house, she told me she would not be able to afford the upkeep on a house that big. In fact, she made it seem like it was my fault for picking out a house that big. In part, she was right. I bought her a house with my luxury taste and no real wisdom behind it. It was an uneducated purchase. Many NFL players choose a wiser route: they buy a reasonably sized home, pay for it in cash, keep it in their name, but gift it to their mother.
I tried giving my mother that option the second time around. I offered to buy her a comfortable house in my name for her to live in. This way she wouldn’t have to take out any loans or put my little sister and brothers in a situation where the roof over their heads could be taken away. She’d move out of the house that was too big for her and into this new one. Instead, she opted for $15,000 cash. She told me that if the new house didn’t have space for two living room sets, she didn’t want it.
Here’s what she really meant: She did not want to be embarrassed by downsizing from the home I’d originally bought for her. She was stubborn (a trait I get from her) and decided to take the cash despite my advice. I told her that if I gave her the $15,000, not to come calling when she got into trouble. Needless to say, she ended up calling. And, what’s worse, she lost the house.
I found it ironic that my mother thought she could manage my finances better than I could, yet she could not provide proof of making any money from the schemes she had set up. One day I let my anger get the better of me and asked her, “If you’re so smart, why haven’t you put together a plan to make money off of the money that you are saving from the expenses you aren’t paying?” The year I became a New Money Millionaire, I took every expense off of her hands except for food and fun money. This led her to challenge me to a money-making contest. “Oh, so you think you Phillip f*****g Buchanon? Since you think you’re smarter than your mother, we’re going to have a competition,” she said. “You give me a certain amount of money and you budget yourself a certain amount, and we will see who makes the most money from it.” I laughed, giving her credit for another attempt (a creative one at that), but she tried to fool me again. She even played upon my weaknesses because she knew that I rarely turned down a competition. Of course, I never went for this little scheme because I knew there was no way I could win. My mother would never win either because she’d simply go through the cash in a hurry. Then she’d need another clever idea to get another check. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.
I eventually learned how to deal with the numerous “family emergencies.” Early on, I found myself in too many situations where some relative would come to me and claim they needed something fixed. So I’d write them a check; of course, the problem never got fixed. The check, however, always got cashed. By trying to fix a problem, I created an additional one for myself.
I finally learned how to cope with this type of request. I paid the bills directly to the company or handyman doing the work. It was amazing to see how my family responded when I told them I would take care of it. They tried to lay the heaviest guilt number on me. I can still hear their muttering tones with tinges of disgust: “Nah, man, I’m cool. Forget about it.” This response meant they knew I was on to what they were up to. I had caught them red-handed, committing an act of adult abuse.
It took hundreds of thousands of dollars, far more than the cost of an Ivy League education, to learn this lesson. I can at least attribute it to my mother. It’s true; mothers have a way of making you learn the most important lessons in life.
Facing tragedy, or life storms of any kind, can be extremely difficult. But in the midst of heartache and pain, you can find the hope and courage to go on. With God’s help, the help of caring family members and friends, and the encouragement found in the Bible and other resources, you will receive the necessary strength to overcome.
You may be thinking, I don’t know how I could ever get through this. Or you may be battling powerful feelings of despair, suffering, confusion, fear, worry, and even anger. These are all normal responses to tragedy.
But as difficult as this life storm may be, you are not alone. God is with you always. He loves you, and cares about what is going on in your life. He hears your cries and sees your pain. Moreover, He understands.
The Bible says, “And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God … For since He himself has now been through suffering … He knows what it is like when we suffer … and He is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB). Whatever we endure, His care is certain, His love is unfailing, and His promises are secure.
You Are Not Alone
For he himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5c)
On the morning of October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States faced their worst nightmare … “Superstorm Sandy.” This post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds and its unusual merge with a frontal system affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, leaving death, injuries, and utter destruction in its wake. Families everywhere, especially in hard hit New Jersey and New York, were jolted out of normalcy and the comfort and security of the homes and communities they once knew. They were thrust suddenly and unwillingly into the darkness and despair of loss.
If you and your family have ever been affected by a natural disaster like this, you may feel as if you’ve been abandoned by God. However, if trouble has hit your life in some other disaster or form of tragedy—the death of a loved one, a dreaded medical diagnosis, the loss of home and property, or the loss of your job, you are experiencing your own superstorm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and wonder how you can possibly survive the loss. In times like these, you can feel very much alone.
But you are not alone. In the midst of unspeakable sorrow, God is with you. Even if you do not feel Him near, God is there. He promises to never leave you alone. Therefore, wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after the storm, never losing sight of you, or your suffering. Even as you ponder how you will begin picking up the pieces of your life, God is there … loving you beyond understanding, holding you up, and making a way where it seems there is no way. Reach out for Him today. He is a very present help in times of trouble (see Psalm 46:1).
Taking back your life …
Psalm 139:7-10 says, “I can never be lost to Your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, Your strength will support me” (TLB). What assurance can you find in these verses of Scripture when you are feeling as if God has forgotten you?
In Psalm 23, David pictures the Lord as the Great Shepherd who provides for and protects His sheep (His children). In verse 4, he says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” A shepherd uses his rod to protect his sheep (by using it to beat off wild beasts), and he uses his staff to guide them. What comfort can you find in knowing that God will protect and guide you during this difficult time?
In addition to needing God’s presence in our lives, we also need each other. Talk with your family or friends about the way you are feeling, so that you can share one another’s burdens, and not feel so alone in your suffering.
Conformity involves developing attitudes, opinions, and behaviors to match the attitudes of a specific group. Most people conform to the standard values,also called norms, of many groups without stress and often without even knowing that they are doing so. By itself conformity is neither good nor bad.
Some degree of conformity is necessary for societies to function. For example, when you stop at a red light, you are conforming to the law and to the general agreement that for the good and safety of society, a red light means stop. You stop, even though most of the time there is not a police officer on the scene to enforce the law.
Different societies and different organizations put higher or lower values on conformity. The United States is often said to have been settled by non-conformists. Many of the early colonists were people who did not fit in, for religious, philosophical, economic, or social reasons, with the expectations of society in their native countries. They sought a place to live where the levelof conformity and norms of society were more comfortable for them. In the United States often some degree of non-conformity is still admired today. The ideal of the “rugged individualist” who does things his or her own way is partof American culture.
Other societies put a higher value on fitting in or conforming. There is a Japanese proverb that roughly translates into the saying, “The nail that sticksup gets hammered down,” meaning that it is better not to stand out in a group but to conform. Military organizations are an example of a group that expects a high level of conformity in the behavior of their members and punishes those who do not conform.
All people balance the need to conform and fit in with the need to express their individuality throughout their lives. Some research into birth order suggests that the oldest child in a family is more likely to conform, while laterchildren are more likely to become non-conformists. However, these studies are open to different interpretations and, although interesting, should not beconsidered conclusively true.
Young children tend to be the least aware of the group and society values andare the least influenced by the need to conform. However, with more social interactions and more awareness of others, the need to conform grows. Pre-teens and teenagers face many issues related to conformity. They are pulled between the desire to be seen as individuals of unique value and the desire to belong to a group where they feel secure and accepted. The result is that oftenteens reject conforming to family or general society values, while conformingrigidly to the norms or values of their peer group. An example of this phenomenon is seen when young people join gangs. In joining the gang they are rejecting the community’s way of dressing and behaving. Yet to belong to the gang, they must conform to the gang’s own style of dress, behavior, and speech.
Conformity is tied closely to the issue of peer pressure. Although people feel peer pressure their entire lives, young people who are seeking to define themselves are generally most influenced by the values and attitudes of their peers. Adolescents often encourage friends to do or try things that they themselves are doing in order to fit into to a group. The encouragement can be positive (studying hard to get good grades) or negative (drinking beer after thefootball game).
Deciding how much and which group’s values to conform to are one of the majorstresses of adolescence. Trying to conform to the behaviors of a group thatgo against one’s own beliefs in order to be accepted creates a great deal ofinternal conflict and sometimes external conflict with family members and friends from an earlier time. Defining oneself as an individual and developing aconstant value system forces young people to confront issues of conformity and non-conformity. This is a major challenge of adolescence.
Many studies of young people show that if a person’s friends engage in a behavior – everything from cigarette smoking to drinking alcohol to shoplifting to sexual activity – an adolescent is highly likely to conform to his or her friends’ behaviors and try these activities. The alternative is for the youngperson to seek different friends with values more in line with his own. Often, however, the desire to be part of a group and the fear of social isolationmakes it more appealing to change behaviors than to seek other friends.
Attitudes toward conformity are of particular interest in community health, where conformity may influence the willingness of people to engage in activities such as illicit drug use or high-risk sexual activities, or prompt them toavoid drug rehabilitation programs.
The tendency to conform to a group’s values is of interest to outreach workers because social networks may provide a link to reaching and influencing thebehavior of a wide range of people involved in drug abuse and high-risk sexual activity. If key members of a group accept messages about how to change behavior to reduce risky activities such as needle sharing, drinking and driving, and unsafe sexual behavior, other group members often follow their lead andchange their behavior also.
Although society tends to focus on teenagers’ needs to conform and follow fads, and many parents worry about how the desire to conform will influence thedecisions their children must make, issues surrounding conformity continue into adult life. They may be as trivial as choosing the proper clothes to wearto the office so as not to stand out or as serious as choosing whether to have one’s children vaccinated against diseases. Finding a rational balance between belonging and being an individual is a challenge for everyone. Many people who feel as if this area of their lives is out of balance benefit from seeking professional counseling to help them find a level of conformity that is more comfortable for them.
A New York City grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the case of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old unarmed black man who died July 17 in a police choke-hold.
The grand jury found “no reasonable cause” to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was attempting to arrest Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
Amid crowds gathering tonight to protest in Manhattan and growing discord on social media about the decision, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department is opening a federal civil rights inquiry.
Holder, while urging calm in the aftermath of yet another controversial grand jury action, promised that the federal inquiry would be “independent, thorough and fair.”
President Obama said the grand jury decision will spark strong reaction from the public, especially in the wake of a similar decision in Missouri last week not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown.
The biggest crime in the U.S. criminal justice system is that it is a race-based institution where African-Americans are directly targeted and punished in a much more aggressive way than white people.
Saying the US criminal system is racist may be politically controversial in some circles. But the facts are overwhelming. No real debate about that. Below I set out numerous examples of these facts.
The question is – are these facts the mistakes of an otherwise good system, or are they evidence that the racist criminal justice system is working exactly as intended? Is the US criminal justice system operated to marginalize and control millions of African Americans?
Information on race is available for each step of the criminal justice system – from the use of drugs, police stops, arrests, getting out on bail, legal representation, jury selection, trial, sentencing, prison, parole and freedom. Look what these facts show.
One. The US has seen a surge in arrests and putting people in jail over the last four decades. Most of the reason is the war on drugs. Yet whites and blacks engage in drug offenses, possession and sales, at roughly comparable rates – according to a report on race and drug enforcement published by Human Rights Watch in May 2008. While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses – according to 2009 Congressional testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project.
Two. The police stop blacks and Latinos at rates that are much higher than whites. In New York City, where people of color make up about half of the population, 80% of the NYPD stops were of blacks and Latinos. When whites were stopped, only 8% were frisked. When blacks and Latinos are stopped 85% were frisked according to information provided by the NYPD. The same is true most other places as well. In a California study, the ACLU found blacks are three times more likely to be stopped than whites.
Three. Since 1970, drug arrests have skyrocketed rising from 320,000 to close to 1.6 million according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice.
African Americans are arrested for drug offenses at rates 2 to 11 times higher than the rate for whites – according to a May 2009 report on disparity in drug arrests by Human Rights Watch.
Four. Once arrested, blacks are more likely to remain in prison awaiting trial than whites. For example, the New York state division of criminal justice did a 1995 review of disparities in processing felony arrests and found that in some parts of New York blacks are 33% more likely to be detained awaiting felony trials than whites facing felony trials.
Five. Once arrested, 80% of the people in the criminal justice system get a public defender for their lawyer. Race plays a big role here as well. Stop in any urban courtroom and look a the color of the people who are waiting for public defenders. Despite often heroic efforts by public defenders the system gives them much more work and much less money than the prosecution. The American Bar Association, not a radical bunch, reviewed the US public defender system in 2004 and concluded “All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring…The fundamental right to a lawyer that America assumes applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the US.”
Six. African Americans are frequently illegally excluded from criminal jury service according to a June 2010 study released by the Equal Justice Initiative. For example in Houston County, Alabama, 8 out of 10 African Americans qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors from serving on death penalty cases.
Seven. Trials are rare. Only 3 to 5 percent of criminal cases go to trial – the rest are plea bargained. Most African Americans defendants never get a trial. Most plea bargains consist of promise of a longer sentence if a person exercises their constitutional right to trial. As a result, people caught up in the system, as the American Bar Association points out, plead guilty even when innocent. Why? As one young man told me recently, “Who wouldn’t rather do three years for a crime they didn’t commit than risk twenty-five years for a crime they didn’t do?”
Eight. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project reports African Americans are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants and 20% more like to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants.
Nine. The longer the sentence, the more likely it is that non-white people will be the ones getting it. A July 2009 report by the Sentencing Project found that two-thirds of the people in the US with life sentences are non-white. In New York, it is 83%.
Ten. As a result, African Americans, who are 13% of the population and 14% of drug users, are not only 37% of the people arrested for drugs but 56% of the people in state prisons for drug offenses. Marc Mauer May 2009 Congressional Testimony for The Sentencing Project.
Eleven. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics concludes that the chance of a black male born in 2001 of going to jail is 32% or 1 in three. Latino males have a 17% chance and white males have a 6% chance. Thus black boys are five times and Latino boys nearly three times as likely as white boys to go to jail.
Twelve. So, while African American juvenile youth is but 16% of the population, they are 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of the youth in juvenile jails and 58% of the youth sent to adult prisons. 2009 Criminal Justice Primer, The Sentencing Project.
Thirteen. Remember that the US leads the world in putting our own people into jail and prison. The New York Times reported in 2008 that the US has five percent of the world’s population but a quarter of the world’s prisoners, over 2.3 million people behind bars, dwarfing other nations. The US rate of incarceration is five to eight times higher than other highly developed countries and black males are the largest percentage of inmates according to ABC News.
Fourteen. Even when released from prison, race continues to dominate. A study by Professor Devah Pager of the University of Wisconsin found that 17% of white job applicants with criminal records received call backs from employers while only 5% of black job applicants with criminal records received call backs. Race is so prominent in that study that whites with criminal records actually received better treatment than blacks without criminal records!
So, what conclusions do these facts lead to? The criminal justice system, from start to finish, is seriously racist.
Professor Michelle Alexander concludes that it is no coincidence that the criminal justice system ramped up its processing of African Americans just as the Jim Crow laws enforced since the age of slavery ended. Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sees these facts as evidence of the new way the US has decided to control African Americans – a racialized system of social control. The stigma of criminality functions in much the same way as Jim Crow – creating legal boundaries between them and us, allowing legal discrimination against them, removing the right to vote from millions, and essentially warehousing a disposable population of unwanted people. She calls it a new caste system.
Poor whites and people of other ethnicity are also subjected to this system of social control. Because if poor whites or others get out of line, they will be given the worst possible treatment, they will be treated just like poor blacks.
Other critics like Professor Dylan Rodriguez see the criminal justice system as a key part of what he calls the domestic war on the marginalized. Because of globalization, he argues in his book Forced Passages, there is an excess of people in the US and elsewhere. “These people”, whether they are in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib or US jails and prisons, are not productive, are not needed, are not wanted and are not really entitled to the same human rights as the productive ones. They must be controlled and dominated for the safety of the productive. They must be intimidated into accepting their inferiority or they must be removed from the society of the productive.
This domestic war relies on the same technology that the US uses internationally. More and more we see the militarization of this country’s police. Likewise, the goals of the US justice system are the same as the US war on terror – domination and control by capture, immobilization, punishment and liquidation.
What to do?
Martin Luther King Jr., said we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.
A radical approach to the US criminal justice system means we must go to the root of the problem. Not reform. Not better beds in better prisons. We are not called to only trim the leaves or prune the branches, but rip up this unjust system by its roots.
We are all entitled to safety. That is a human right everyone has a right to expect. But do we really think that continuing with a deeply racist system leading the world in incarcerating our children is making us safer?
It is time for every person interested in justice and safety to join in and dismantle this racist system. Should the US decriminalize drugs like marijuana? Should prisons be abolished? Should we expand the use of restorative justice? Can we create fair educational, medical and employment systems? All these questions and many more have to be seriously explored. Join a group like INCITE, Critical Resistance, the Center for Community Alternatives, Thousand Kites, or the California Prison Moratorium and work on it. As Professor Alexander says “Nothing short of a major social movement can dismantle this new caste system.”
May and I are really concerned for our family and our community. I know my faith will see us through this American experience and we will have answers from on high on how to empower our grand children and God’s gifts of human beings in our life. We strive to know His will for our life to help others. Pray without ceasing for us and our world.
My cable company sent a postcard inviting me to check out its latest improvements in TV channels. The card indicated that I needed to contact the company to get the necessary new digital equipment and explained how to hook it up and activate it. After that, the ad said I was just to “sit back and enjoy the World of More.”
The card made me think of the “World of More” that Christians are privileged to live in. When God transports people from the darkness of sin “into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), a whole new life opens up.
Romans 5 tells us some of the more that we have in Christ: We have been “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (v.10) and therefore have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). We have access to God and His grace (v.2). Rejoicing in trouble is now possible because we understand that it’s an opportunity to grow in our character through trusting Him (vv.3-4). Additionally, the Holy Spirit, who has been given to live in us, pours the love of God into our hearts (v.5). And sin no longer has the same hold on us (6:18).
As Christians, we have unlimited access to a real “World of More.” Wouldn’t it be selfish not to invite others to join us in that special world?
The world seeks fulfillment in The pleasures they adore; But those who follow Jesus Christ Are given so much more.
While serving my country in a hostile land I saw God answer my prayers. Held against my will after being in pursuit of the ”mad dog of the Middle East” in 1987, Muammar el-Qaddafi and his family I prayed for a blessing to make it home. I saw God work while serving several prison terms on level four yards and being the focus of antagonism due to the color of my skin, I’ve seen God work in my life when death was not just a scene, but a smell, I’ve seen God heal and work when I lost my kids and I wanted to give up on Him.
As I have reflected over the events of the past few days and months and years of my life I was drawn to the first chapter of James. In the first 13 verses we are given some understanding of the purpose of trials that come our way.
No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like the One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His own Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when He stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence ( 1 Peter 2:21; 3:18; 4:1 ).
The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.
Natural disasters. Terrorist acts. Injustice. Incurable disease. All these experiences point to suffering, and can cause people to question the love and goodness of a God who would let such things occur. In this publication, we seek to consider who God is, and why we can trust Him even when life hurts—and we don’t know why.
Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who could make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief, or killer who doesn’t feel the harm he is doing to himself and to others (Genesis 2:15-17).
We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom, or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of their own shortsighted choices (Ecclesiastes 1-12; Psalms 78:34-35; Romans 3:10-18).
Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But it has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy, and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart is found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering (Job 42:1-17; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8).
If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief, and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 8:18-19).
Let me ask all of you—have you ever been disappointed when things did not go well? Have you been discouraged to the point of losing hope? Have you ever felt that you should simply quit trying?
A person eager to serve the Lord will often find himself hindered from going into full time service. How should he respond to these situations?
This kind of frustration is not uncommon in the scriptures or real life! I know some people who are scared about being called into the ministry. They are not waiting! They are trying to avoid full time service. Perhaps they have seen what it costs.
Another group of people are eager to get into ministry. They can’t wait for the opportunity. They have worked through the other issues. Now they are ready, but they can’t go. It seems God isn’t now ready! Fortunately, we have scriptures and His spirit to rely upon.
Several years ago, I watched some people who never quit trying, who never gave up when they faced disappointment—a group that was down but not out. My wife May and I were in Chicago, and we attended the Northwestern-Michigan State football game. Although we had no allegiance to either team, we were excited about enjoying a cool, crisp fall day at the stadium. For the first half of the game Northwestern dominated, and the second half began the same way. There were 9 minutes and 54 seconds left in the third quarter when they went up on Michigan State by a score of 38-3.
May and I were a bit bored with the game so one-sided. May was getting cold since the wind had picked up and the clouds had rolled in. I wondered if we could leave early without hurting our friend’s feelings. But at that point the game changed. Down by 35 points, Michigan State began to look like a different team, seemingly able to score at will. Their players were convinced that although they were down in the score, they were not out of the game. Their fans, who had been quiet for most of the game, cheered more and more loudly with each scoring drive. With 13 seconds left on the clock, Michigan State kicked a field goal to win by a final score of 41-38.
It was the greatest comeback in NCAA Division One history!
Although they were down, and it looked hopeless for them from where I sat, they never saw it that way. They refused to let the discouragement of being 35 points down take them out of the game. They were down but never out.
As you move into ministry, expect to be down, but don’t let it take you out. Don’t let disappointment and discouragement lead you to defeat. This is my personal battle tonight to abstain from letting frustration and disappointment take me off my God calling.
The apostle Paul’s ministry brought difficulties, disappointments, and even discouragement, but he never quit; he never let it take him out of the work that God had called him to do. At the end of his life he was able to write these words in 2 Tim. 4:6-7: “For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!”
Knowing that he would soon be executed by Nero, Paul wrote this final epistle to prepare his protégée Timothy to fulfill and complete his own ministry after the passing of his mentor. Through this letter to his young friend, Paul helps prepare us to meet the difficulties, disappointments, and discouragements of ministry as well.
In this letter Paul advised Timothy to expect disappointing and even discouraging situations in the future.
So how is that encouraging? Why would Paul refer to the difficulties of ministry when Timothy needed encouragement? I suggest that unrealistic expectations are often the cause of later discouragement and even defeat. In order to be truly prepared for ministry in the real world—whether on a church staff, as a layperson, or perhaps as a missionary—we must expect ministry to be often difficult and sometimes discouraging.
Rob Bell describes the problem: “To be this kind of person—the kind who selflessly serves—takes everything a person has. It is difficult. It is demanding. And we often find ourselves going against the flow of those around us.”Perhaps that is why Warren Wiersbe observed: “Depression and discouragement are occupational hazards of the ministry.”
When our expectations are unrealistic, we risk losing hope and giving up! So I ask you: Is wanting to perform a ministry for the population called Ex-offenders unrealistic? I have never seen so many ministries afraid to gain leverage in this populous of individuals until I put hand to plow to perform this task. Maybe I should lay out before God for a longer period of time to get a clear and concise direction as to whom and how I should align myself to obtain victory in this calling. My signals must be twisted or I am just getting a lot of opposition from our enemy.
We expect to plant a church that reaches the twenty-some-things and to be loved by those we serve. Or we read the latest book on the “whatever church” and expect the same results. Then, when these things never happen, or at least not as quickly as we would like, our disappointment becomes discouragement, and we determine that we have failed and should quit. Or we just quit trying.
Craig Brian Larson says: “Unrealistic expectations curtail the joy and often the longevity of ministry. They can cause me to give up either in deed or in heart. I don’t have to resign to quit. I can simply decide this job is impossible and it is foolish to try.”iiIf the Michigan State football team had decided that winning were impossible, it would have taken them out of the game although they would have continued playing.
Instead of telling Timothy to be encouraged because his ministry would be a great success, Paul did just the opposite. In 2 Timothy 1:8 he called Timothy to embrace the same kinds of experiences that he was having: “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lordor of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel.”
What kinds of suffering was Paul calling Timothy to accept and share?
If we had time to study the entire book, we would see that Paul was not only dealing with the difficulty of persecution, but he also faced disappointment with believers who let him down. 1:15 says that everybody in Asia turned away from him. 4:10 mentions that Demas deserted him because he loved the present age, and 4:16 says that all deserted him when he went to court. How discouraging it must have been to look around and see that his co-laborers were no longer there, that his friends were missing in action when the situation became risky!
There were other difficulties as well. Paul warned Timothy about people such as Alexander, Hymaneus, and Philetus who opposed him or strayed from the truth. Ministry was hard; there were people who disappointed him and others who obstructed the work. At the beginning of both chapters 3 and 4 Paul alerted Timothy that things would get even worse in the future.
Hardships confronted Timothy from every side —persecution from outside the church, disappointment with believers—even co-workers, and opposition from within the church. Paul called him to expect them and to be ready to face them.
What about today? What happens in ministry to discourage those of us ministering to others in any capacity? What should you expect in your future ministry?
I asked some co-workers and other friends in ministry this question so that I could help prepare you. In my very unscientific poll, I asked for the 3 most discouraging things in ministry. The #1 answer was disappointment with other Christians. Their lack of commitment, misplaced priorities, self-centered attitudes, and refusal to serve within the church community were very discouraging to those who answered my questions. The conflict and criticism that comes from other believers appears widespread, if those in my survey are representative.
Ranking behind the disappointment with other Christians was the lack of visible fruit in ministry. The people in my friends’ congregations, Bible studies, or small groups act like the rest of the world. It can be hard to believe that God is doing anything when all we can see of the person’s life looks no different year after year.
BESIDES choosing lawmakers, on November 4th voters in three American states and the District of Columbia considered measures to liberalise the cannabis trade. Alaska and Oregon, where it is legal to provide “medical marijuana” to registered patients, voted to go further and let the drug be sold and taken for recreational purposes, as Colorado and Washington state already allow. In DC, a measure to legalise the possession of small amounts for personal use was passed. A majority of voters in Florida opted to join the lengthening list of places where people can seek a doctor’s note that lets them take the drug. However, the measure fell just short of the 60% needed to change the state constitution. Even so, that such a big state in the conservative South came so close to liberalising shows how America’s attitude to criminalising pot has changed.
All that imprisoning millions of people for nonviolent drug offenses has done is bankrupt us financially and morally, turning people with debilitating addictions into people with debilitating convictions.
The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, largely due to misguided drug laws and mandatory sentencing requirements. Since the 1970s, drug war practices have led to the conviction and marginalization of millions of Americans – disproportionately poor people and people of color – while failing utterly to reduce problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission or overdose deaths. The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to identifying and promoting health-centered alternatives to harmful, punitive drug laws. We are working to stem the tide of low-level drug arrests, to reverse draconian sentencing practices that cultivate discrimination, and to eliminate life-long barriers faced by people with even a minor drug conviction.
If we want to solve our nation’s drug problems, we need to focus less on obtaining convictions and more on preventing addictions. We should be treating people with addictions, not handcuffing them.
The United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners, in part because of the overly harsh consequences of a drug conviction. Many of the 2.3 million people behind bars (and 5 million under criminal justice supervision) in this country are being punished for a drug offense. If every American who has ever possessed illicit drugs were punished for it, nearly half of the U.S. population would have drug violations on their records.
Over 1.6 million people are arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated, placed under criminal justice supervision and/or deported each year for a drug law violation. Yet instead of reducing problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission or overdose deaths, the drug war has actually done more harm than problematic drug use itself, by breaking up families, putting millions of people behind bars, burdening even more people with a life-long criminal record, worsening the health prospects for people who use drugs and significantly compromising public health.
The consequences of any drug conviction are life-long and severe, and are not experienced equally. Despite comparable drug use and selling rates across racial groups, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately punished for drug law violations. Drug violations are an easy solution for police officers pressed for high arrest quotas, resulting in thousands of wrongful arrests that overwhelmingly victimize communities of color.
The Drug Policy Alliance is focused on reducing the number of people swept into the criminal justice system (or deported) for drug law violations, while promoting policies that improve individual and public health. We are guided by the principle that no one should be punished for what they put in their own body, absent harm to others.
Exposing and combating the racism of the drug war is an important part of DPA’s agenda. We work with civil rights and social justice organizations, formerly incarcerated people and other allies to end discriminatory policies and practices that unjustly target and penalize people of color and to advance an equitable health-centered approach to drugs.
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system. We believe that the mass criminalization of people of color, particularly young African American men, is as profound a system of racial control as the Jim Crow laws were in this country until the mid-1960s.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to exposing disproportionate arrest rates and the systems that perpetuate them. We work to eliminate policies that result in disproportionate incarceration rates by rolling back harsh mandatory minimum sentences that unfairly affect urban populations and by repealing sentencing disparities. Crack cocaine sentencing presents a particularly egregious case. Since the 1980s, federal penalties for crack were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine, with African Americans disproportionately sentenced to much lengthier terms. But, in 2010, DPA played a key role in reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and we are committed to passing legislation that would eliminate the disparity entirely.
The life-long penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities. The drug war’s racist enforcement means that all of these exclusions fall more heavily on people and communities of color. DPA is committed to ending these highly discriminatory policies and to combating the stigma attached to drug use and drug convictions.
Two-thirds of women doing time in federal prison are behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses, and the vast majority of them have children they can’t even see. That’s not family values.
The perceived targets of drug law enforcement are men, but many of its victims are women. Women, and particularly women of color, are disproportionately affected by social stigma, by laws that punish those unable or unwilling to inform on others, by regulations that bar people with a drug conviction from obtaining (or that require a drug test to receive) public assistance, and by a drug treatment system designed for men.
Largely as a result of draconian drug laws, women are now a fast growing segment of the U.S. prison population. More than three quarters of women behind bars are mothers, many of them sole caregivers.
Conspiracy offenses represent one of the most egregious examples of the drug war’s inequitable treatment of women. Although conspiracy laws were designed to target members of illicit drug organizations, they have swept up many women for being guilty of nothing more than living with a husband or boyfriend involved in some level of drug sales. Harsh mandatory minimum sentencing may keep them behind bars for 20 years, 30 years, or even life.
The drug war punishes women, particularly mothers, not just for drug law violations but also, it appears, for failing to be “good” women. This translates into a system whereby women who are responsible for childrearing are too readily separated from their children, temporarily or permanently. Even women who do not use drugs may be punished, for example, by welfare regulations that require recipients to submit to invasive and embarrassing monitored drug testing in order to obtain public assistance.
Removing a parent (perhaps the only parent) from the household is immediately destabilizing, and over the long-term it’s devastating. Parents, once released from prison, may be barred from public assistance and housing and face significantly diminished employment opportunities. Children with a parent in prison are several times more likely than other children to end up in foster care, to drop out of school and to become involved in the criminal justice system.
Pregnant women are uniquely vulnerable to criminal justice involvement. Prosecutors across the country have targeted pregnant women accused of drug use, supposedly in the interest of protecting their fetuses. The criminalization of pregnant women is not only an affront to women’s rights; it puts both mother and fetus at greater risk by erecting barriers to drug treatment and prenatal care.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to safeguarding a woman’s right to sovereignty over her own body, and we have been involved in several legal challenges in cases in which women were charged with child abuse, assault, homicide or other offenses because they allegedly used drugs while pregnant. We are also working to increase opportunities for families to remain together while parents (or children) address problematic drug use and to reform draconian conspiracy laws that result in harsh prison sentences for women.
Three years ago the Legislature passed a law resulting in a dramatic change on how California would hold people accountable for violating our laws. AB 109, or Realignment, was passed to address the overcrowding conditions in our state prisons. Touted as freeing nonserious, nonviolent offenders, Realignment ostensibly released low-level criminals from prison. During this time period, over 30,000 inmates have been transferred to local custody or supervision.
It costs about $50,000 a year to lock someone up in a California prison or a county jail — more than 10 times the state’s per-pupil expenditure for public education.
Despite investing hundreds of billions of dollars in new prisons and jails over the past 30 years, California’s correctional facilities are crowded beyond capacity. The state is under a federal court order to reduce its prison population. And after assuming more responsibility for corrections, many counties are releasing inmates early, either under court orders or self-imposed caps on jail crowding.
Building prisons isn’t the answer. But putting fewer people behind bars might alleviate the problem.
Some experts have argued for years that a small investment in education, mental health and crime prevention programs would produce big savings on incarceration. But that’s a long-term strategy in a state with upwards of 190,000 inmates in its prisons and jails.
So the state corrections budget climbed to $9 billion a year. Meanwhile, cheered on by police, prosecutors and the union representing the state’s prison guards, voters and legislators enacted increasingly harsh sentences — and not just for violent crimes. That fueled the need for new prisons and a costly culture of recidivism.
There’s an opportunity to try prevention on a wide scale.
The initiative reduces the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor. Specifically, the initiative:
Mandates misdemeanors instead of felonies for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes,” unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes. A list of crimes that will be affected by the penalty reduction are listed below.
Permits re-sentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors. About 10,000 inmates will be eligible for resentencing, according to Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice.
Requires a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
Creates a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The fund will receive appropriations based on savings accrued by the state during the fiscal year, as compared to the previous fiscal year, due to the initiative’s implementation. Estimates range from $150 million to $250 million per year.
Distributes funds from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.
The measure requires misdemeanor sentencing instead of felony for the following crimes:
Shoplifting, where the value of property stolen does not exceed $950
Grand theft, where the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950
Receiving stolen property, where the value of the property does not exceed $950
Forgery, where the value of forged check, bond or bill does not exceed $950
Fraud, where the value of the fraudulent check, draft or order does not exceed $950
Writing a bad check, where the value of the check does not exceed $950
Personal use of most illegal drugs
The initiative was pushed by George Gascón, San Francisco District Attorney, and William Lansdowne, former San Diego Police Chief.
For a long time, the conventional political wisdom was that no one ever lost an election for being too tough on crime. That wisdom has been turned on its head in recent years, as both politicians and the public are realizing how much damage the lock-’em-up mind-set has caused.
In recent polls asking about the most important problems facing the country, crime ranks way at the bottom. That’s because crime is at its lowest levels in decades, even while overstuffed prisons cripple state budgets.
A familiar retort is that crime is down precisely because the prisons are full, but that’s simply not true. Multiple studiesshow that crime has gone down faster in states that have reduced their prison populations.
An encouraging example comes from California, the site of some the worst excesses of the mass incarceration era, but also some of the more innovative responses to it.
For five years, the state has been under federal court order to reduce extreme overcrowding in its prisons. In response, voters in 2012 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to scale back the state’s notorious “three-strikes” law, leading to the release, so far, of more than 1,900 prisoners who had been serving life in prison — in some cases, for petty theft.
Dire warnings that crime would go up as a result were unfounded. Over two years, the recidivism rate of former three-strikes inmates is 3.4 percent, or less than one-tenth of the state’s average. That’s, in large part, because of a strong network of re-entry services.
The 2012 measure has provided the model for an even bigger proposed release of prisoners that California voters will consider on the ballot next week. Under Proposition 47, many low-level drug and property offenses — like shoplifting, writing bad checks or simple drug possession — would be converted from felonies to misdemeanors.
That would cut an average of about a year off the sentences of up to 10,000 inmates, potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. To keep people from returning to prison, or from going in the first place, the savings would be invested in anti-truancy efforts and other programs like mental health and drug-abuse treatment. Some would go to victims’ services, a perennially underfinanced part of the justice system.
Law-enforcement officials, not surprisingly, oppose the measure, warning that crime will go up. But they’ve already been proved wrong on three-strikes reform.
Californians — who support the proposition by a healthy margin, according to polls — have now seen for themselves that they don’t have to choose between reducing prison populations and protecting public safety.
It is very rare for lawmakers anywhere to approve legislation to shorten sentences for people already in prison; it is virtually unheard-of to do it by ballot measure. California’s continuing experiment on sentencing can be a valuable lesson to states around the country looking for smart and safe ways to unravel America’s four-decade incarceration binge.
The gang problem in the United States has remained stubbornly persistent over the past decade. Here are the facts: One in three local law enforcement agencies in 2010 reported youth gang problems in their jurisdiction.1 In a 2010 national survey, 45 percent of high school students and 35 percent of middle-schoolers said that there were gangs — or students who considered themselves part of a gang — in their school. Nearly one in 12 youth said they belonged to a gang at some point during their teenage years. Public health and public safety workers who respond to gang problems know that after-the-fact responses are not sufficient. An emergency department doctor who treats gang-related gunshot wounds and a law enforcement officer who must tell a mother that her son has been killed in a drive-by shooting are both likely to stress the need for prevention — and the complementary roles that public health and law enforcement must play — in stopping violence before it starts.
But how can we prevent gang-joining, especially during a time of limited national, state, tribal and local budgets?
To help meet the challenge, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NIJ engaged some of the nation’s top criminal justice and public health researchers to explore what the evidence shows.
The consequences of gangs — and the burdens placed on the law enforcement and health systems in our communities — are significant. Homicide is the second-leading cause of death for American adolescents and young adults: an average of 13 deaths every day among 15- to 24-year-olds.However, the number of violent deaths tells only part of the story. More than 700,000 young people are treated in emergency departments in the U.S. for assault-related injuries every year. Although kids in gangs are far more likely than kids not involved in gangs to be both victims and perpetrators of violence,the risks go far beyond crime and violence. Gang-involved youth are more likely to engage in substance abuse and high-risk sexual behavior and to experience a wide range of potentially long-term health and social consequences, including school dropout, teen parenthood, family problems and unstable employment.
The involvement of judges, prosecutors, social service providers, law enforcement officers, crime victims, community-based organizations, and others is critical to improving the juvenile justice system and reducing youth violence. The Action Plan supports interagency law enforcement teams, or task forces, that coordinate the investigative efforts and suppression tactics of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in weapons, drug, and gang arrests.
In many communities, law enforcement has taken the lead in implementing innovative juvenile crime prevention and intervention efforts as part of an overall community oriented policing approach. Successful public safety and prevention strategies provide comprehensive, targeted community services and support to youth to keep them from becoming the next generation of offenders. Youth-focused community oriented policing that is effectively linked to the juvenile justice system can significantly contribute to the reduction of crime, restoration of order, and eradication of fear in local communities.
Crimes by juveniles are growing across our county and our nation. These crimes encompass so many offenses in the justice system that many are considered violent enough to be adult crimes.
At Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, we have targeted Juvenile Crimes as a major focus of this administration. We want to work with the youth and their family members so that, with everyone working together, we can address the issues before the young minds of our communities lose sight of basic decency and continue on a path of destruction.
Trends show that violent traits appear at a younger age each year. Since September 11, 2001, our youth are more aware of violence on the home front. In Riverside County, terrorism seemed far away, but that is no longer the case. Fear plays a major factor for today’s youth whether it is at home, in the community or at school. Many pre-teens and teenagers try to hide their fears through aggression. Others will withdraw from family and society.
BE PROACTIVE INSTEAD OF REACTIVE
Keeping abreast of behavior changes in your children will help you to become proactive. However, don’t be afraid to react to any of the behavior changes listed. Start by seeking assistance from your child’s school. They can provide you with a host of resources that may include referring you to a school counselor, law enforcement resource officer, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or county mental health professional.
BE ALERT TO BEHAVIOR CHANGES
If you note any of the following, start now to seek solutions to these problems:
Unusual mood swings,
Drastic change in selection of friends,
Friendships where there is little parental supervision in the home,
Unusually hostile or arrogant attitude toward family members or authority figures,
Fixations with music, video games, and TV programs promoting drugs and violence, or
Withdrawal from the family as a unit and preferring to be in seclusion when at home.
SHERIFF SNIFF SUGGESTS
Talk to your children about their daily activities. Talk to your child’s teacher on a regular basis. Be aware of what your children wear to school each day. Update their photos at least every six months. Know where their medical and dental records are. Know their friends and their families. Know what accesses they have on their computer. Know where they are at all times. Involve your children in church, community and school activities.
It is said that a flippant young man once remarked to a preacher in mocking fashion, “You say that unsaved people carry a great weight of sin. Frankly, I feel nothing. How heavy is sin? Ten pounds? Fifty pounds? Eighty pounds? A hundred pounds?”
The preacher thought for a moment, then replied, “If you laid a four-hundred-pound weight on a corpse, would it feel the load?”
The young man was quick to say, “Of course not; it’s dead”
Driving home his point, the preacher said, “The person who doesn’t know Christ is equally dead. And though the load is great, he feels none of it”
The Christian, unlike the average non-Christian, is not indifferent to the weight of sin. He is actually hypersensitive to it. Having come to Jesus Christ, his senses are awakened to the reality of sin. His sensitivity to sin intensifies as he matures spiritually. Such sensitivity prompted a saint as great as Chrysostom, the fourth-century church Father, to say he feared nothing but sin (Second Homily on Eutropius).
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
That passage is a poignant description of someone in conflict with himself-someone who loves God’s moral law and wants to obey it, but is pulled away from doing so by the sin that is in him. It is the personal experience of a soul in conflict.
There has always been debate whether Paul was describing a Christian or a non-Christian in this passage. Some people say there is too much bondage to sin in view for this passage to refer to a Christian. Others say there is too much desire to do good for a non-Christian. You can’t be a Christian and be bound to sin, and you can’t be a non-Christian and wholeheartedly desire to keep the law of God. Therein is the conflict of interpreting the passage.
The Non-Christian View
Those who believe Romans 7:14-25 is speaking of a non-Christian say verse 14 is the key: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. ” Then they point to verse 18, which says, ” I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. ” They conclude that has to be a non-Christian because a Christian knows how to do what’s good. There seems to be an obvious lack of the Holy Spirit’s power here.
The despair of verse 24–“Wretched man that I am!”–seems far removed from the promise ofRomans 5:1-2: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
Romans 6 has many examples of the believer’s freedom from sins power. Verse 2 says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Verses 6-7 say, “Our old self was crucified with [Christ], that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. ” Verses 11-12 say, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin…Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” Verses 17-18 say, ” But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” How can the person who said all that turn around and say, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (7:14)?
Chapter 6 emphasizes the new creation, the new nature, the new identity, the new person in Christ, and the holiness of the believer. In his new redeemed self, the believer has broken sin’s dominion. However, chapter 7 gives the other side.
Every Christian knows from experience that though he is a new creature in Christ, sin is still a problem. In fact, that conflict is pointed out even in chapter 6: ” Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness ” (vv. 12-13). Because it’s still possible for Christians to yield to sin, we are commanded not to.
Arguing that chapter 7 cannot refer to a Christian because of statements in chapter 6 is to misunderstand the intention of chapter 6.
The Christian View
Paul says, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Romans 7:22). That certainly isn’t something a non-Christian could accurately claim. Romans 8:7 says that the unregenerate person is not subject to the law of God.
In verse 25 Paul says, ” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God .” That sounds likea Christian.
The following verses describe Paul’s thwarted desire to do what is right: ” For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate … For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish … I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good ” (vv. 15, 18-19, 21).
Romans 3 tells us that the unsaved person has no such longing to do the will of God: ” There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God … There is none who does good, there is not even one …There is no fear of God before their eyes” (vv. 11-12, 18). Therefore the conflict described in Romans 7 can be true of a redeemed person only.
Another question comes up at this point that has sparked an equally furious debate: What kind of Christian is Romans 7 talking about?
Some believe he’s a carnal Christian–one with a low level of spirituality who is trying in his own strength to keep the law. However Romans 7:14-25 describes a believer who clearly sees the inability of his flesh to uphold the divine standard. The more spiritual or mature a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings will be. An immature Christian doesn’t have such an honest self perception. The legalist is under the illusion that he is very spiritual. I believe Paul is describing himself in this chapter, judging from the extensive use of the personal pronoun “I.”
Some say Romans 7:14-25 describes Paul’s struggle before he was saved or right after he became saved and was still spiritually immature. But again, it is the mature Christian who possesses an honest self-evaluation. And Paul exhibited that in passages other than Romans 7.
1 Corinthians 15:9-10–Paul said, ” For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. “
Ephesians 3:8–Paul considered himself as “the very least of all saints.” That 1 Corinthians was written before Ephesians shows he became more sensitive to sin as time went on. Although in our judgment Paul is the supreme man relative to other men, he saw himself as having fallen from the position of the least of the apostles to less than the least of all believers.
The terms Paul uses in Romans 7 are so precise that we can’t miss his struggle with sin. He states that he hates committing sin (v. 15), that he loves righteousness (vv. 19, 21), that he delights in the law of God from the bottom of his heart (v. 22), and that he thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Christ (v. 25). Those are the responses of a mature Christian.
The change in verb tenses is a clue that this passage applies to a Christian. The verbs in Romans 7:7-13 are in the past tense. They refer to Paul’s life before his conversion and the process of conviction he experienced when he stood face-to-face with the law of God. However in verses 14-25, where we see the battle with sin taking place, they are in the present tense.
I believe Romans 7:14-25 is Paul’s own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled, mature believer. He loves the holy law of God with his whole heart, but finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way his heart wants him to.
This passage is unique in that it contains a series of laments–desperate, repetitious cries of a distressed soul in great conflict. Each lament follows the same pattern. Paul first describes his condition, then gives proof of it, and then explains the source of the problem.
Paul’s First Lament
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (Romans 7:14-17).
The “for” at the beginning tells us Paul isn’t introducing a new subject. He continues to answer the hypothetical accusation in verse 7 that his preaching salvation by grace through faith apart from the law implies that the law is evil. He states to the contrary that “the Law is spiritual,” meaning that it comes from the Spirit of God and is a reflection of His holy, just, and good nature (cf. v. 12).
Although Paul delights in God’s law, he confesses there’s a barrier that prevents him from always obeying it: his carnal or fleshly nature. He doesn’t say he was in the flesh or controlled by the flesh. Romans 8:8-9 says to its Christian audience, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh.” The phrase “in the flesh” refers to an unregenerate condition.
Although Christians are not in the flesh, the flesh is still in us. We are no longer held captive to it, but we can still act fleshly or carnal. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ…for you are still fleshly.For since thereis jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (vv. 1, 3). He reproved the Corinthian Christians for acting in a fleshly or non-Christian way.
Here in Romans 7 Paul says, ” For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh … with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin ” (vv. 18, 25). He admits that the flesh is still present. Flesh is simply a term for our humanness.
Any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. Saying you’re carnal is the same as saying you’re a sinner. For example, when I am angry, insensitive, or don’t pursue God as diligently as I desire, I see my humanness getting in the way of accomplishing all I ought to do.
Paul states in verse 14 that he is “sold into bondage to sin.” Verse 23 gives us a similar statement: ” I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” But how can that be since we as Christians have been delivered from sin? The phrase “sold into bondage to sin” is literally translated “having been sold under the sin.” That refers to the sin principle, the product of the Fall of man, not to individual sins committed.
Being “sold into bondage to sin” doesn’t mean Paul actively committed himself to sinning, as is said about Ahab in 1 Kings 21:20, 25; it means he recognized that in this life we as believers will constantly have to battle sin because of our human nature.
Can Paul’s lament of being sold under sin come from a true believer? In Psalm 51:5 David says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). That sounds like a man who had never been redeemed, doesn’t it? But David was simply looking at one reality about himself. His lament is similar to that of Isaiah, who upon seeing a vision of God said, “Woe is me , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips ” (Isaiah 6:5). All the prophet could see against the glorious holiness of God was his own sin.
Paul put all our experiences with sin into words in Romans 7:14-25. We all know there sin in our lives even though it shouldn’t be there. Although sin is not the product of our new self, we’re still bound to some degree by the body we dwell in. Verse 14 could be paraphrased, “The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, experiencing a bondage to sin at times.”
A self-righteous person deceives himself into thinking he is inherently moral, but verse 15 shows that a Christian led by the Spirit will not think that way. He sees the proof of indwelling sin. Paul’s failure to do what he desired and his doing what he hated reflects a profound inner turmoil. His will was frustrated by his sinful flesh. It’s not that evil won all the time, but that he was frustrated in his attempt to perfectly obey God.
If you’re a Christian, you can identify with that frustration. For instance, no sooner are you complimented for having done something right, and you become proud–you’ve just done something wrong. The spiritual person has a broken and contrite heart, realizing he can’t be all that God wants him to be. Sad to say, many Christians have yet to reach that point. That’s because their comprehension of God’s holy law is so shallow.
Do you know what makes a Christian want to carry out God’s law? His new nature within, which, according to 1 John 3:9, does not sin. When he goes against his new nature, it isn’t the law that is responsible, but the sin that still resides in his frail human body. A Christian will naturally pursue the moral excellence of God’s law. The more mature a Christian is–the more he loves the Lord, submits to the Spirit’s direction in his life, and grows in his understanding of God’s holiness–the greater will be his longing to fulfill the law.
Verse 17 sounds like Paul refuses to take the blame for his sin. It’s as if he’s blaming an inanimate object instead of himself. However, in verse 14 Paul acknowledges that he himself is sinful. Accepting responsibility for our failure challenges the teaching that God doesn’t hold us responsible for our sin because sin is tied to our old nature.
Yet verse 17 goes beyond Paul’s admitting that he is responsible for his sin. He specifies what part of him is responsible by making a more technical distinction: the sin that dwells in his flesh.
Paul’s reasoning in verse 17 is reminiscent of Galatians 2:20: “I [the old nature] have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. ” After salvation, sin no longer resides in a person’s innermost self, which is recreated to be like Christ. Yet sin finds its residual dwelling in our flesh. That’s why Paul said nothing good dwelt in his flesh (v. 18).
There’s a big difference between surviving sin and reigning sin: sin no longer reigns in us, but it does survive in us. We are like an artistically unskilled person who has a beautiful picture in clear view, but has no ability to actually paint it. What we need to do is ask the Master Artist to put His hand on ours to help us paint the strokes we never could have painted independently of Him. We experience victory over sin only when we yield ourselves to the One who can overcome the flesh.
Galatians 5:17 says, ” For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. ” Galatians 5:16 tells us how to win: ” But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. ” The Holy Spirit gives us victory. But let me warn you that the more victory you experience as you mature in Christ, the more you will recognizesin in your life.
Paul’s Second Lament
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me (Romans7:18-20).
In verse 18 Paul gives a more technical identification of the part of him that is actually sinning than he has previously: the sin that dwells in his flesh. The flesh isn’t necessarily evil in and of itself, but it’s where sin finds its base of operation.
In verses 18-19 Paul isn’t saying he can’t figure out how to do anything right. He’s saying he can’t obey to the extent his heart longs to. If you examine your spiritual growth, you should have a greater hatred for your sin now than you did before you understood how serious sin is and how holy God is. Although spiritual growth results in a decreasing frequency of sin, growth also involves a heightened sensitivity to it.
What Paul says in verse 20 is just like what he says in verse 17. Although he had a new nature, he still fought against sin and sometimes lost. Those losses seemed overwhelming to him compared to the perfection of God’s holy law. Nevertheless his sensitivity to sin was a normal–not morbid–result of justification by faith.
At this point you might figure Paul would give up, having adequately made his point. But he starts a third lament to emphasize his frustration and sorrow over sin.
Paul’s Third Lament
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members (Romans7:21-23).
In contrast to the law of God, Paul saw another law or standard that was making demands on him: the law or principle of evil. Evil battles every good thought, word, and deed. Rather than our sin nature’s being eradicated in this life, as some theologians have concluded, Paul tells us that evil is present within us and creates conflict.
Verse 22 tells us that Paul delighted in God’s law. The phrase “in the inner man” could be translated, “from the bottom of my heart.” Paul, deep down, had a great love for the law of God. That part of us “is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16), “strengthened with power through [God’s] Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).
In verse 23 Paul identifies the source of his problems as the sin that resides in human nature. Sometimes the battle went in favor of his unredeemed flesh and brought him into captivity. That implies Paul is speaking as a redeemed person because unredeemed people can’t be brought into captivity–they’re already there. When sin wins the victory in the spiritual struggle, the believer becomes a slave to the sin that at least temporarily masters him.
The author of Psalm 119 experienced the same conflict Paul did. His psalm reflects his deep longing for the things of God.
My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word. My eyes fail with longing for Your word, while I say, “When will You comfort me?” Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes (vv. 81-83).
If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction (v. 92).
Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (v. 97).
I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law (v. 113).
I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (v. 131).
Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight (v. 143).
I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law (v. 163).
Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble (v. 165).
I have longed for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight (v. 174).
The measure of spirituality that the psalmist expresses is somewhat intimidating. That is why the last verse in Psalm 119 is so surprising: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (v. 176). You might think that a person with such an intense love for God’s law would not experience the failure of going astray spiritually. But that is the conflict all believers experience.
Why do we sin? Because God didn’t do a good enough job when He saved us? Because He gave us a new nature that isn’t complete yet? Because we’re not prepared for heaven yet and still need to earn our way in? No, it’s because sin is still present in our humanness, which includes the mind, emotions, and body.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3 Paul says, “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds) (KJV).” Although we still have physical bodies, we are engaged in spiritual warfare using spiritual resources.
Paul’s three laments reveal the conflict every believer experiences with sin. From that conflict the believer cries out for deliverance.
Oh,wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver mefrom the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.
As if three laments aren’t enough, Paul lets out a wail in verse 24 that exceeds them all in intensity. He cries out in distress and frustration with his spiritual conflict. Can this be the despair of a Christian–let alone that of the apostle Paul? But Paul wasn’t the only godly person who refused to keep silent about inner turmoil.
Psalm 6 (KJV)–David cried out, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also very vexed [terrified]; but thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh, save me for thy mercies’ sake…I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears” (vv. 1-6). David was saying, “I’m sick and tired of not being everything I ought to be!”
Psalm 130 (KJV)–The psalmist wrote, “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope (vv. 1-5).
In verse 24 Paul rhetorically asks who will rescue him from the sin that resides in his body. “The body of this death” literally refers to our physical body, which is subject to sin and death.
I remember reading that near Tarsus, where Paulwas born, lived a tribe that inflicted a most gruesome punishment upon a convicted murderer. The tribe fastened the body of the murder victim to that of the killer– tying shoulder to shoulder, back to back, arm to arm–and then drove the killer from the community. The bonds were so tight that he could not free himself, and after a few days the decay in the dead body transferred itself to the living flesh of the murderer. In expressing his desire to be free from the sin that clung to his flesh, Paul might have had that ghastly punishment in mind.
In verse 25 Paul says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” That’s a dramatic change from his laments over sin and death. Paul always kept things in proper perspective.
Romans 8–Paul was assured of ultimate triumph through Jesus Christ over the conflict with sin: ” For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. … For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body ” (vv. 18-19, 22-23). We Christians await the final phase of salvation. We’re still looking to that day when we are redeemed in body as well as soul. So Paul thanks God in Romans 7:25 that the end of the conflict will come through Christ when we enter into His presence and are glorified.
1 Corinthians 15–“For this perishable must put on imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 53, 57). That last phrase is almost the same one Paul uses in Romans 7:25 in reference to our bodily resurrection and glorification.
2 Corinthians 5–“For indeed while we are in this tent [body], we groan, being burdened [with our humanness]; because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (v. 4).
Philippians 3–“We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (vv. 20-21). Ours is a triumphant hope!
Yet the battle goes on. We cry with the poet Tennyson, who wrote, “Ah for a new man to arise in me, that the man I am cease to be!” (Maud, x. 5). The battle won’t be over until Jesus gives us immortality. Full deliverance awaits glorification. But we can experience victory here and now in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Gossip and slander are frequently found even among those who consider themselves good Christians. Few things, however, are more harmful to a community. It can start innocently enough. One person makes a comment to a third person about something someone else did or said. Perhaps this first person doesn’t even intend the comment to be negative. The person hearing the comment, however, sees it as reflecting badly on the person being spoken about. Instead of clarifying the situation, he passes on this juicy tidbit of gossip, possibly distorting it even more in the process. The telling of this rumor ceases to be merely gossip and becomes slander, that is, the making of claims detrimental to a person’s reputation with reckless disregard for the truth, disregard for the fact that one possesses no substantial evidence for these defamatory claims. The whole process is deeply opposed to charity and very harmful to the relationships between people. The slide below illustrates the origin and spread of such malicious rumors:
Such things are, regrettably, all too real and all too common.
The biblical rules for dealing with the faults people commit are aimed to avoid this culture of gossip and slander.
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reprove him openly, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:1 18)
Sometimes we think church is supposed to be a sacred space, where we only talk about certain things or only address certain subjects. There are subjects we would talk about in our families, for example, or among friends, but it seems like we feel afraid to discuss them in church.
Yet when I read the New Testament, it doesn’t seem to me like Paul had this fear—or that he made this separation between secular and sacred. When he wrote to the congregations where he was ministering, he spoke directly to what they were going through and what he saw in them, regardless of topic.
Our churches can take note from this, I think.
In fact, I think if we neglect to talk about things that are trending in wider culture, we miss opportunities to invite new followers of Jesus to see these topics in different ways. We miss the chance to call disciples deeper into their walk with Jesus, and we give popular culture the chance to have the final say on these issues.
Here are 10 things I think every church needs to be talking about:
Sex has become such a mainstream part of wider culture, you can hardly go through a day without being bombarded with sexual messages. Television commercials are sexualized, magazine covers are right at eye level as you go through the checkout line at the grocery story, and catalogs that come in the mail are sexier than they once were.
As if that isn’t enough, the ease of access to the Internet makes pornography and other sexual addictions that much easier to come by.
We have to be talking about sex in our congregations, or we give culture permission to override what God teaches about sex, love and the sacredness of our bodies.
Marriage is hard. If you’re married, you know what I mean. If you’re single, you’ll probably know sooner or later. We need to be encouraging married couples to keep working on their marriages, even when it’s difficult. We need to remind people about the purpose of marriage so they don’t lose sight.
It’s no surprise that when people don’t understand God’s true purpose for marriage and marriage becomes hard, many marriages will end in divorce. We need to be sensitive about how we talk about divorce, recognizing that, statistically speaking, a large portion of your audience will be divorced or come from a divorced family.
But we need to talk openly and honestly about God’s plan for marriages, as well as his redemptive power even in the midst of broken circumstances.
When we choose to follow Jesus, that decision should impact every area of our lives, including finances. Most pastors I know hate to talk about money. They’re each trying to avoid the stigma that pastors are always trying to get money from their congregation. Be willing to check your motives on this: Are you trying to get money from the people in your church, or do you really want to help people manage their resources in a godly way?
Addictions reveal themselves in all kinds of ways: Alcohol. Drugs. Pornography. Food. Internet. Exercise. Chances are, most people in your congregation suffer from at least a common addiction, and maybe a more serious one, and it’s preventing them from a satisfying, fulfilling relationship with Jesus.
We need to recognize there are people who are walking in the doors of our churches each Sunday who aren’t sure about Jesus. They might be new believers, they might not be believers, and they might be long-time members of our churches. Let’s give these people room to ask questions and room to answer them.
God is not scared by our questions. Let’s not make a villain out of doubt.
7. Mental Illness
The church cannot continue to ignore this conversation. We have to create a safe place for people who are afflicted to find hope and healing. We have to be willing to talk about it honestly.
8. Physical Health and Healing
Nobody wants to talk about this in our current culture, but Jesus makes a strong connection in the Gospels between our physical health and our spiritual health. Often He heals a person’s soul and their body simultaneously. I’m struck by the way He often asks, “Do you want to be well?”
Most people who come to church on Sundays are not asking themselves what they think about Calvinism vs. Armenianism. Most are asking these questions: Who am I? Why do I matter? Everything that matters about our walk with Jesus flows out of the answer to these questions. Don’t miss the chance to answer them.
10. Social Justice
We live in a place and time where we have more expendable resources than ever before. It might not feel like we’re rich, but we are, and that wealth comes with incredible responsibility. Are you talking with your church about how they can use their time, money and other resources to bring justice to the world? Are you promoting and partnering with any of the hundreds of social justice initiatives around the world? Are you helping people get connected?
Why do you think the way you do? Are the choices you make truly your own, or do influences beyond your control unduly sway your opinions?
Besieged by a cacophony of sights, sounds, impressions, images and emotions—all competing for our time, attention and thoughts—our minds are daily exposed to far more information than we can consciously process. Even in sleep we integrate people, places and events into partly real, sometimes frightful and at other times wildly whimsical dreams. The sheer volume of ideas and information incessantly bombarding our minds creates for us an information crisis, a battle for control over what we think and believe.
The battle for your mind is a reality that you cannot afford to ignore. Believe it or not, you are the focus of relentless efforts to alter your beliefs, and some of the subtle skills meant to shape the way you think are astonishingly powerful and effective.
Commercial advertising is a widely recognized example. Marketing efforts thrive on shaping public habits and influencing choices.
Honest and legitimate advertising is a benefit to consumers and a valuable information source in any modern economy. Yet not all advertising honestly represents the facts, as illustrated by the old saying “Let the buyer beware.”
Beguiling and seductive schemes are so sophisticated and pervasive that America’s NBC Nightly News telecast with Tom Brokaw includes a regular feature called “The Fleecing of America.” Like it or not, you are the target in a never-ending struggle for control over the way you think—and behave.
Right and wrong influences
Under the right circumstances, the influence of others on our lives can be beneficial. People who positively affect our thinking expand our understanding and knowledge. They stimulate our minds and expand our horizons, increasing the excitement and challenge of life itself. From them we learn and grow. Emotionally, we benefit immensely from their nurturing influence. Our fellow human beings contribute enormously to our personal development.
But not all who seek to shape our views are constructive. This is especially true of the massive efforts at work to eradicate society’s standards and values. The previously mentioned adage “Let the buyer beware” is just as applicable to this intellectual and spiritual domain as it is to the marketplace.
In general, irrational ideas foster irrational behavior. How you think controls the way you live and how you relate to other people. Your thoughts will influence your decisions and thus your actions. Ultimately, in this sense, you are what you think.
Consider these questions: Who exerts the greatest influence on your personal opinions? What are the external pulls that sway your thinking the most? What are the sources that affect the standards for your behavior? If you address these questions honestly, you’ll find their answers disturbing as well as profound.
Let’s examine some commonly recognized influences that shape the choices millions of people make every day, noticing the colossal impact those influences have on the behavioral standards of society. Then let’s look at some of the direct and concerted endeavors to modify—and in some cases abolish—almost all standards and values. Finally, let’s squarely face another momentous question: Who should have the greatest influence on how we think and the choices we make, and what is our personal responsibility?
Influence of television and movies
Television is the most powerful medium ever invented for conveying ideas and information to large numbers of people. Remarkably effective and influential, television is drastically altering our society’s thinking and behavioral patterns, even encouraging so-called alternative lifestyles.
Film critic Michael Medved describes the profound impact of the TV and movie business on society. The power of the entertainment business “to influence our actions flows from its ability to redefine what constitutes normal behavior in this society,” he writes. Entertainers have “assumed a dominant role in establishing social conventions. The fantasy figures who entertain us on our TV and movie screens, or who croon to us constantly from our radios and CD players, take the lead in determining what is considered hip, and what will be viewed as hopelessly weird” ( Hollywood vs. America , Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, 1992, p. 261, emphasis added throughout).
Mr. Medved notes that society’s standards and values are incrementally but constantly altered by the entertainment media: “According to all available research on the subject, the most significant aspects of influence are gradual and cumulative, not immediate, and they occur only after extended exposure . . . What this means is that the full impact of today’s media messages will only be felt some years in the future” (Medved, p. 260).
“Hollywood no longer reflects—or even respects—the values of most American families. On many of the important issues in contemporary life, popular entertainment seems to go out of its way to challenge conventional notions of decency” (Medved, p. 10).
Music to whose ears?
All too often popular music represents the cutting edge of a philosophy that influences its adherents to seek to undermine all established conventions. Combining catchy tunes with sometimes blatantly antisocial lyrics, popular music exerts a near-incessant influence on many young people. Most adolescents can easily and flawlessly recite the words to today’s most-played tunes, yet they stumble over memorization work at school. Even adults can recall lyrics that were popular decades ago, but they flounder over names and phone numbers of friends.
Music’s influence is profound and pervasive. It is one of the most effective tools to alter the attitudes and outlook of those hearing it, both positively and negatively. It reaches emotions and reasoning simultaneously, ensuring a lasting impact.
For those immersed in the cynical hostility that has characterized much of popular music in recent decades, the consequences can be devastating. Consider the rationale behind the promotion of some music-industry artists:
“Those in the rock business understood very well that the music’s subversion of authority was a large part of its appeal to the young. An impresario who developed one star after another was asked how he did it. He said, ‘I look for someone their parents will hate’ ” (Robert H. Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah , Regan Books, 1996, p. 23, emphasis added).
Tragically, however, all too many parents find themselves inadequately equipped to explain right from wrong. A recent survey of American adults by the Barna Research Group reveals that 71 percent of Americans still believe in right and wrong, that such a thing as sin exists. But the survey also found that most adults simply grasp no clear concept of right vs. wrong.
An article that accompanied the survey observed that “77 percent of non-Christians said, ‘There are no absolute standards for morals and ethics.’ Yet, shockingly, the majority of born-again Christians—64 percent—agreed with the secular culture that morality is relative. No wonder our lives are indistinguishable from the surrounding culture . . . The church has ‘tons of teachers’ yet it ‘doesn’t seem to be making a difference’ ” ( Southern California Christian Times , June 1996).
Who should set your standards?
Intelligent moral standards serve simply as practical rules for considerate conduct. They establish our ethics, ideals and values. They allow society to function in peace and safety for the benefit of all. Proper moral standards should be carefully thought-out principles for distinguishing right from wrong. Without them, we retain no guidelines for the way we live.
Who holds the prerogative to set absolute standards for the way we think and behave? Some among the academic elite do well to tell us that human traditions are not reliable sources; they are too often contradictory and parochially biased. But they are wrong to tell us that absolute standards of right and wrong do not exist. There most certainly is a source for absolute standards for humanity. The Almighty God, He who created mankind, reveals to us how we should live.
“The distortions and insults about organized religion [in movies and television],” writes Mr. Medved, “will continue unabated as long as our popular culture continues its overall campaign against judgment and values. A war against standards leads logically and inevitably to hostility to religion because it is religious faith that provides the ultimate basis for all standards” (Medved, p. 89).
Only the God who created us can define perfect and reliable guidelines for human conduct. He reveals them to us through the Holy Scriptures. Make no mistake: God’s Word is not of human origin. It carries the highest authority possible.
God cares how you think
How we think—our ideals and beliefs—are important to God. Yet our normal way of thinking is quite different from His. Through the prophet Isaiah, God describes the scope of our universal human problem: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah:55:8-9, emphasis added throughout).
The apostle Paul explains the reason for the gulf between the values of God and most humans: People tend simply to tune out God’s instruction. “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened” (Romans:1:20-21, New Revised Standard Version).
How wrong thinking began
The rejection of God’s guidance is nothing new. It began as far back as the Garden of Eden. There “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan,” began an influence and distortion of human thinking that still grips humanity (Revelation:12:9).
Essentially, Satan’s line to Eve was: “Don’t believe God and trust His words. Trust yourself. Eat the forbidden fruit. Then you will have all the wisdom you need to determine good and evil” (Genesis:3:1-5). Eve was impressed. The devil kindled in her the desire to decide right and wrong for herself.
Eve eagerly fell for Satan’s seductive pitch. Then she persuaded Adam that the two of them were capable of deciding such matters for themselves. They chose to disobey God. They lost their inheritance in Eden and began a life of toil and hardship, all because they allowed their thinking to be swayed by Satan, the archadversary of God (verses 6, 17-19). Satan won this early battle for the human mind. With relatively few exceptions, he has continued to win ever since.
God wants you to think like Him. He wants the principles expressed in His laws to live in your heart and mind (Hebrews:10:16), to form the foundation for your convictions, your thoughts and the way you choose to live your life. He wants to establish in your mind appropriate standards for human behavior—a clear understanding of right and wrong (1 John:3:4).
The apostle Peter expresses God’s concern for the way you think. “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter:3:1-3). New International Version).
Learning to think clearly
Paul goes further, giving timeless guidelines for what we should allow to enter our minds: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, NIV). Wholesome thinking flows from honesty and truth, from a knowledge of what is right, pure and admirable.
Paul describes the results of behavior based on thinking that rejects God’s standards: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians:5:19-21, NIV).
An outstanding model of clear, level-headed thinking is recorded for our benefit: the personal example of Jesus Christ. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul (Philippians 2:5). He admonished: “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” (verses 2:3-4).
Clear, wholesome thinking puts concern for others as a priority—equal to concern for oneself. It is founded on genuine love for others.
A matter of choice
We live in a society that prides itself on its new ways of thinking, many of which have really been around as long as mankind has existed. Because of the sheer force of these ideas, we are confronted with a personal battle for control of our thoughts and values in the face of almost overwhelming opposition.
God will never force us to think like Him. Even to ancient Israel He said, “. . . I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life . . .” (Deuteronomy:30:19). God provides the guidance, but the choice to heed or ignore it is always ours.
Those who would abolish standards of conduct often imply that acceptance of values defined by anyone besides yourself—whether God or man—is an abdication of choice.
To blindly accept the ideas of others would, of course, be abdicating personal responsibility. However, to carefully examine, comprehend and adopt the wisdom of God is the mark of one who makes informed and intelligent choices. Acting only on feelings and emotion shows neither discretion nor intelligence.
Corrupting power behind the scene
What is the real source of our society’s rejection of godly values? The apostle Paul explained that his God-given mission to earth’s inhabitants was “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God . . .” (Acts:26:18).
The Bible reveals Satan as a powerful unseen force influencing humanity. He is described as “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” a being influencing men and women to lead a life of “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Ephesians:2:2-3, NIV).
Satan’s influence is so pervasive that it affects every area of life in every society. How great is his power over humanity? He “deceives the whole world”! (Revelation:12:9).
Through thousands of years of deceiving people, he has become the “god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel . . .” (2 Corinthians:4:4, NRSV). The influence of Satan and his demons is such that they can sway even the opinions and decisions of world leaders (Revelation:16:14).
Surprising to many, Satan has succeeded in influencing religious beliefs and institutions. He manages to disguise his own ostensibly Christian ministry and religious assemblies (2 Corinthians:11:3-4, 13-15; Revelation:3:9).
He does not present his ways as the greedy, self-centered, vain practices they really are. Nor does he show their destructive, painful end, leading inexorably to suffering and death (Proverbs:14:12; 16:25). On the contrary, he masquerades his thoughts and way of life as enlightenment, fulfillment and satisfaction. God’s Word warns us that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians:11:14, NRSV).
Besides religion, Satan’s ideas invade such arenas as business, education, philosophy, government and science. No human interest or endeavor escapes his intrusion. Indeed, we read that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John:5:19).
Does Satan influence your mind?
The consequences of Satan’s influence on mankind’s thought processes have proved devastating. Seldom has the world seen peace; 150 million people have died in wars in just this century. In the same time, more than 100 million have died from diseases, pandemics and natural disasters. Humanity possesses the ability to erase human life from earth many times over.
In spite of constant attempts to improve our lot, thousands live on the verge of starvation, and millions go to sleep hungry every night. A fourth of earth’s population lives under totalitarian regimes with little control over basic decisions that affect their lives.
Under Satan’s influence, human thinking has become so absorbed with self-gratification that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot” (Romans:8:7-8, NRSV).
The prophet Jeremiah recognized that people are blinded by the deceit of their own evil intents. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah:17:9).
Satan has succeeded at turning humanity away from God. The apostle Paul describes the inevitable, tragic results of rejecting God and His way of life:
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans:1:28-32, NIV).
Who will win?
God calls some out of this immoral, ungodly, Satan-dominated world. He calls them to fight the influences around them, to resist the tendencies and desires of their own minds. This deeply personal battle, however, is not the sort of conflict we often envision. This battle “is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against . . . the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians:6:12, NRSV).
This struggle pits us against the ingrained, self-centered habits and ways of thinking that have influenced us from birth, as well as a personal foe determined to separate us from God: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter:5:8-9, NIV).
Who will determine your values? Who will win the battle for your mind? Will you allow the influences of Satan on society to control and corrupt your personal beliefs and convictions? Or will it be “God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”? (Philippians 2:13).
A godly victory is possible only by establishing righteous standards as your values. That will require you to make difficult choices.
The apostle Paul expressed it so well in these words: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds [on our minds]. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians:10:3-5, NIV).
Who you allow to exert the greatest influence on your life is your choice. Will you permit God, by seeking His knowledge and assistance, to win the battle for your mind?
The surprising truth about living in the strength of weakness
What do you think makes someone a winner in life? Is it wealth, education, prominence, or fame? This world’s standards are quite different from the Lord’s: our culture esteems the self-made man, but God’s scale for success measures by dependence, not strength. Instead of looking for strong, independent people, He seeks those who know they’re weak and inadequate.
The apostle Paul was a man who knew how to live victoriously. As he neared death, he summed up his life with these words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). He expressed no hint of disappointment or regret but, rather, bold confidence that he had fulfilled God’s purpose.
That’s how the Lord wants all of us to live. No Christian wants to come to the end of life and feel remorse over wasted opportunities to live for Christ. Today is the day to evaluate whether you’re following the apostle’s example.
• Paul fought the good fight. When you trusted Christ as your Savior, you entered a battleground. Satan lost your soul, but he’s not about to give up. He’ll do anything to make you useless for the kingdom of God. The bad news is that you are no match for the Devil—it’s impossible for you to win this fight in your own strength. But Christ has given you His armor and the sword of His Word so you can stand firm (Eph. 6:10-17).
• He finished the course. Paul likened the Christian life to a marathon. God has designed a specific path for each of us and has bestowed gifts and abilities to enable us to fulfill His purposes and finish the course. This race is long and filled with distracting obstacles, but Christ hasn’t left us to struggle on our own. His Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us along the way.
• And he kept the faith. After revealing Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus entrusted him with a priceless treasure: the gospel. The word keep means “to guard,” and that’s what Paul did as he preached and defended the faith—whether to Gentile skeptics or religious Jews.
When we compare our life to Paul’s, we may feel discouraged and defeated. After all, who could possibly live up to his example? Although we tend to think of the apostle as a “super Christian,” he would be the last one to claim the glory for a well-lived life. He had learned the secret: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
The principle of dependence
Man is inadequate to fulfill God’s purposes, but Jesus provides everything we need. In his letters, Paul used the term “in Christ” to describe this dependent relationship. To live “in Christ” means we are walking around in human bodies that are overflowing with the very life of Jesus. He dwells within us through the Holy Spirit, making us capable of achieving whatever He directs us to do.
Jesus used the analogy of a vine and branches to describe this relationship. The only way a branch can bear fruit is by abiding in the vine so the sap can flow through it. In the same way, a Christian must maintain a connection with Jesus in order to become and do what He desires. In fact, Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Do you really believe this? Before you respond, think back over the last week. What kinds of situations did you face on the job, at home, or in church? Did you depend on Christ for wisdom, courage, and strength, or did you rely on yourself?
The problem of pride
One of the greatest obstacles to a dependent life is our own foolish pride. We forget that God is our Creator and Sustainer, and we are all totally dependent upon Him, even if we don’t realize it. Without the Lord, we couldn’t take our next breath or have any hope of eternal life. We’re totally unable to save ourselves; no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Those who live in pride have simply closed their eyes to the reality of their condition.
The potential of a dependent life
Although many people can boast of impressive accomplishments, anything they’ve achieved in their own strength will have zero eternal value. The only way to realize our full potential is to be rightly related to God through His Son, living in submission and reliance upon Him. With the almighty presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we tap into supernatural strength to accomplish what we can’t humanly do.
Yet despite God’s abundant power, many Christians are still living in defeat. When asked to serve the Lord in a challenging way, they claim, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that!” The real problem is unbelief. They aren’t seeing the situation from God’s perspective. He’s promised to strengthen us to do all things within the parameters of His will, but we’re afraid of failure. Fear draws a line around our life and limits God’s work in and through us. Self-made boundaries always hinder us from becoming the people He wants us to be. If we automatically say no to a God-given challenge, we are not living in our full potential. The Lord wants to do so much more in us than we generally let Him.
But our potential in Christ doesn’t just refer to accomplishments and service. It also applies to our attitudes. Paul talked about learning to be content in every circumstance, whether in need and hardship or comfort and abundance (Phil. 4:11-13). We see this same attitude demonstrated in his life when he suffered from “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Christ told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul’s response shows that he had truly learned the value of a dependent life: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” If you and I could learn this lesson, we would be more like Paul because we’d recognize that Christ in us is sufficient for every heartache, burden, and sorrow we experience.
The practice of dependence
Now, the big question is, How do you move into a life of total dependence upon Christ? The first step is to acknowledge that you are completely inadequate to be and do what God desires. Your only hope of living a victorious life is to develop the mindset of Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” If you’ll begin each morning with this attitude and let it shape your decisions throughout the day, you’ll begin to glimpse what He is able to do in and through you. The more you surrender to His plans and obey by relying on His strength, the more you’ll live in your full potential.
If it is not in the interest of the public it is not in the interest of business.
When you start a small business, you are instantly the leader, whether you have had any training in leadership or not. However, there is help. Leadership theories abound, and you can choose the approach, or combination of approaches, that will suit your personal style and your business needs. Being eclectic in choosing what parts of theories to use does not mean improvising. It means studying various theories and combining them into a thoughtful approach.
Early leadership theories focused on the traits leaders need. These include physical and mental stamina, action-oriented judgment, need for achievement, ability to motivate people and adaptability. You can use a trait approach to determine your starting place. Find what leadership traits you already possess, and focus on ones you want to acquire. This can give you a foundation for leading your workforce while exploring other aspects of leadership you may want to incorporate.
Some leadership theories focus not on traits of leaders, but behaviors they engage in. Under this approach, you will find that emphasizing working toward concrete objectives makes for a strong leader. In addition, showing concern for people, having the ability to issue directives and involving others in decision making help a leader excel. The advantage of this approach is that you don’t have to concern yourself with whether you have specific traits; you only have to learn behaviors that make good leaders. You can use this approach of acquiring behaviors to expand upon your skills as a leader.
Contingency theories state that leadership emerges under certain conditions. For example, if followers respect the leader, the goals are clear and the organization has conferred power on the leader, that leader is more likely to be affective. This approach allows you to look at the structure of your company and the culture you encourage among employees. You can establish your authority by demonstrating that you have power as the owner, have set achievable goals and have earned the respect of your workforce based on your treatment of employees and the quality of your decisions. The focus here is on the work environment.
Many recent theories encourage leaders to make employees better people, appeal to their higher natures and inspire them to achieve more than they thought they could. This leadership approach tends toward inspiration and positive reinforcement of strong character traits in others. To be this kind of leader, you must emphasize values and encourage others to embrace those values.
Methods for Combining Theories
To use an eclectic approach to leadership theory, you should choose elements from all four approaches and join them together as a cohesive whole. For example, you can begin by finding a trait in yourself, such as mental stamina; combine it with a behavior you embrace, such as working toward concrete objectives; add an emphasis on your authority as company founder; and demonstrate your strong values around a work ethic. This technique of choosing one element from among each of the four approaches gives you a single approach in the end
Great leaders make their teams feel safe. Nowhere is this more critical than with ambitious growth and innovation initiatives, where a key to team success is comfort with ambiguity.
“In the military they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that they may gain.”
Every great growth story is framed by a movement. This brief, entertaining talk shares how they are started.
“It’s important to focus on not just the leader, but the followers, because you will find that new followers emulate the followers, not the leader.”
Is your company killing creativity? The points Ken makes apply equally as well to the board room as they do to the class room.
“What we do know is this; if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. We run our companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes.”
Second Chance Alliance a resilient, innovative, pro-social creative and thriving community for all organization. We inspire, lead and unite an eclectic community of faith, professionals and including disenfranchised individuals, nonprofits, business, and government to overcome barriers to economic opportunities and ensure Hemet, Riverside and Moreno Valley communities continues to thrive. Our history is being made all the while we develop and gain exposure in the eyes of our targeted communities and cities and professionals associated with human empowerment and political legislators. Second Chance Alliance will be launching The Volunteer Project Leader program, it is a national training initiative that aims to transform casual volunteers into active community leaders by equipping them with the leadership skills and tools they need to make meaningful and lasting change in their communities.
In James 5, James defines and describes the deep and intimate connection that should exist between Christian brothers and sisters. Confession (5:16) requires deep openness and revealing of that which we would rather hide—our sins. But James says that confession of sin is to be met with prayer, not judgment. He goes on to say that the healing mentioned in verse 16 is related to the covering of sins in verse 20. Confession must be coupled with a change of action. Without change, confession is merely a response to guilt feelings. Godly sorrow for sin leads to a different direction in life. When we hear others’ confessions, we help each other to continue on the path of righteousness.
One of the most difficult inner conflicts we have is our desire to be known versus our fear of being known. As beings created in the image of God we are made to be known—known by God and also by others. Yet due to our fallen nature, all of us have sins and weaknesses that we don’t want others to know about. We use the phrase “dark side” to refer to aspects of our lives that we keep hidden. And we use slogans like “put your best foot forward” to encourage others to show their best side.
One reason we are unwilling to risk being known is that we fear rejection and ridicule. But when we discover that God knows us, loves us, and is willing to forgive even the worst thing we have done, our fear of being known by God begins to fade away. And when we find a community of believers who understands the dynamic relationship between forgiveness and confession, we feel safe confessing our sins to one another (James 5:16).
The life of faith is not about showing only our good side. It’s about exposing our dark side to the light of Christ through confession to God and also to others. In this way we can receive healing and live in the freedom of forgiveness.
Lord, help me to expose my sin,
Those secret wrongs that lurk within;
I would confess them all to Thee;
Transparent I would always be. —D. DeHaan
The voice of sin may be loud, but the voice of forgiveness is louder. —D. L. Moody
I do not deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites.
There is no question that the National Football League deserves to be under the national media microscope. The apparent proliferation of NFL players committing violent or abusive acts, and the soft punishments imposed on them by the League have deeply and understandably troubled millions of Americans. Perhaps most egregiously, it seems that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was content to bury the evidence that former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice viciously struck his wife.
How can a professional athlete continue to comfortably live life as a felon and common everyday human beings are denied everything as a felon? With a slew of domestic violence cases permeating the NFL, some football fans arebenching America’s favorite fall pastime.
Even after the league enacted tougher punishments for domestic violence and three accused players sat out during games Sunday, the Twitter hashtag #BoycottNFL and calls for Commissioner Roger Goodell’s removal are running rampant.“No football for me today. Fire Goodell and I may return. #BoycottNFL @nflcommish @nfl #FireGoodell,” Scott Allen tweeted.And the women’s rights group Ultraviolet flew a banner over the New York Giants-Arizona Cardinals game Sunday, saying Goodell must go.
There is no question that the primary goal of this latest campaign on the left is to impose some form of reform on the institution of professional football.
“If pressure from the public keeps this ugly enough that advertisers go further than issuing statements of disappointment and actually turn away, we might just see the kinds of structural reforms that offer some measure of reform at the NFL,”
The call to reform the National Football League would be understandable, though a little excessive, if it was only this recent spate of domestic violence accusations and the NFL’s apparent desire to shield their players from consequence for their actions that spurned the left to demand the reform of professional football. But it is not.
Reforming or even federally regulating this uniquely American game has been a pet cause for many on the left for years.
In early 2013, President Barack Obama told The New Rebublic that he would not allow his son, if he had one, to play the notoriously violent game. His comments came amid a fiery controversy which waxed and waned as most do – a feature of the modern ADD news cycle — about evidence that professional football players suffer from concussive brain injuries long after they leave the field for good.When MSNBC’s Alex Wagner asked Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) if there was “bipartisan support to regulate safety in the NFL,” the congressman said there should be. At the very least, he added, mandatory education programs in public schools about on-field safety should be implemented.In that segment, The Nation magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel added that the NFL is culpable for the care of its players because of what she claimed was the League’s historic efforts to cover up the damage their players suffer.
For the most part, the left stays on message; Professional and college football are violent, cutthroat games, and they need to be regulated for the good of the players and the fans. Occasionally, however, the veil slips and the perpetually outraged reveal that their true target all along was the game of football itself.
The focus of this post is to present the concept of integrity in professional athletes. Professional athletes are public figures and as such their personal lives become public information in many cases. There are many athletes who display a high degree of integrity in their actions while others do not. Professional athletes are role models and as such their decisions and actions influence a number of people who look up to them. When an athlete has a run in with the law it displays badly on the profession and the team to which they belong. However, there are those who display a high degree of integrity and professionalism but do not seem to get the recognition beyond their immediate community/region.
Many professional athletes are an asset to their communities and deserve to be recognized for their contributions beyond their community. Today it seems that those who have problems get more of the attention while others who contribute positively to their community do not. Those professional athletes who are arrested and convicted of a felony should be penalized financially. There are times that have been in the news where professional athletes have been called on the carpet for their actions. In some cases players have been suspended from playing. When this occurs their pay should also be forfeited, if it is not.
All professional athlete contracts should have a clause establishing rules for acceptable behavior and the penalties for breaking them. If such rules exist they should be more publicized. Everyone makes mistakes and people should be allowed some consideration to some extent. However if the actions and/or behavior is continually repeated and/or involves the committing of a felony offense for which they have been convicted, then their contract should be terminated. It is better to have athletes who respect their profession than those who constantly bring embarrassment. Embarrassment applies to their profession, their team and their community. Conviction must be in a court of law not public opinion. While some fans may not be happy about the situation they must remember that professional sports need to instill integrity in the profession. Professional sports will gain respect from the public if they promote integrity and enforce the penalties that are in place for violations.
Integrity in our society seems to be lacking today and professional sports can be a leader in making a statement that integrity is important. It must be remembered that being accused of a crime such as a felony does not mean that the person is guilty. Therefore, no penalty or restriction should be imposed unless a conviction is achieved through a court of law. Sometimes news coverage of public personalities gives the impression they have been tried and convicted. News organizations should carefully cover any situation involving professional athletes as to not give the impression the accused is guilty. Many news organizations do cover the news honestly while presenting the facts. Athletes who are convicted, not just accused of felonies should not be continually paid for their behavior especially if it interferes with their performing the responsibilities for which they have contracted.
It must also be considered that as public figures there are those who will try to get attention by accusing professional athletes for crimes they did not commit. This is wrong. Prosecutors should consider the evidence before deciding a case against a professional athlete. If witnesses (s) constantly change their minds it does not provide a reliable basis for making a decision to prosecute. Accusations which constantly change in the details, in my opinion, do not warrant wasting government time and money to prosecute. There are enough cases in our court system. Our courts do not need to be flooded with unwarranted cases that are not supported by valid and reliable evidence.
Another point that must be made is that any person who has a valid accusation against a professional athlete should not be afraid to bring their evidence to the applicable prosecutor. Prosecutors should treat any person bringing evidence against a professional athlete with respect. If it is found that any person or persons bringing accusations against a professional athlete is deemed to be totally unsubstantiated, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us,while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!