Second Chance Alliance

~What voice do You Hear?~

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“You cannot arrive at your life’s purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.”
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

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The Bible tells us that we need to be led by the Holy Spirit (see for example Romans 8:12-14 and Galatians 5:16-25). Therefore, it must be possible for every one of us to discern the promptings and guidance of the Holy Spirit within us!

You can hear the voice of God, and this article will teach you how.

It is not the purpose of this article to go into all of the different ways in which God speaks to us, such as dreams, visions, tongues and interpretation, prophecies, and so on, but this article will give you practical guidance in how to discern God’s usual “voice” which He often uses to speak to us.  Jesus Did It!

The Four Voices We Hear  

There are actually four types of “voices” which we hear speaking to us, and it is important that we learn to distinguish each one so that we are able to discern the true voice of God:

 

  • The voice that is perhaps the most obvious is our own voice. In addition to our speaking voice, we also talk to ourselves inside our heads, we see images and pictures inside our heads, we have emotions and feelings and desires, and so on. Our minds tell us what we think, our wills tell us what we want, and our emotions tell us how we feel. The Bible refers to our minds, wills, and emotions as our “flesh nature,” and this article will give you a better understanding of the “voice” of the flesh.
  • Another type of voice which clamors for our attention is the “voice” of other people. Sometimes people say things which are true, noble, and good, and sometimes people say things which are just the opposite. This article will provide some guidance to help you discern what you are hearing from the “voice” of other people.
  • The third type of voice is the “voice” of the devil. The devil has crafty ways of speaking to us which he has perfected over the millennia. He does not appear before us in a red, cloven-hoofed suit and speak out loud to us, he is much more subtle than that. What he does is to throw thoughts into our minds like flaming arrows, and he speaks to us through the worldly ideas and viewpoints that he has injected into other people. By the time you finish this article you will have a better understanding of how to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
  • The fourth and final type of voice is the most important, but it is also the most subtle. It is the voice of God. God does not speak to us in our minds, He speaks to us in our spirits because that is where the Holy Spirit lives. Unfortunately, we tend to spend most of our thought life in our heads, in other words in “the mind of the flesh” (Romans 8:7, AMP), focused on the sensory world around us where our physical senses and our thoughts, feelings, desires, and emotions are constantly being bombarded and stimulated in worldly, carnal, fleshly ways. We tend to live on the shallow surface, so to speak, rarely venturing deeper where the Spirit of God lives within us. The result is that many of us do not know where our spirits are nor how to hear and be led by our spirits. Because of this we leave ourselves wide open to fall for the many deceptions of the devil. This article will help you to begin recognizing the leadings and promptings that are coming from your spirit, and how to be more Spirit-led.  Jesus Did It!

 

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These are the four types of voices that we hear, and in the next several sections we will examine each of these more closely. Hearing from God is not a science, so I have tried to offer plenty of examples from my own experience to help describe some of the ways that God speaks to us. Please don’t let this mislead you, however. In order to “teach by example,” it is obviously important to offer examples of the times when I believe that I have heard from God. However, the danger in doing so is that it might give the impression that I am some kind of “spiritual giant” who always hears from God clearly and accurately and never makes any mistakes. Believe me, that’s definitely not the case! How I wish I could hear God speaking out loud every day, telling me exactly how I can be obedient to Him and serve Him and honor Him! But that’s not how He does things, and I’ll elaborate more on this throughout the article. Like everything else in the Christian walk, hearing from God is a journey, and we are all at different places along the way. The journey never ends and no-one ever “arrives,” and just like everyone else I still have a long way to go in this area of hearing God’s voice. All I have to offer are some things I have learned so far on my journey, which may help you on your journey. I hope that my experiences and examples are helpful in describing some of the ways that God speaks to us, and I am trusting God that soon you will have plenty of your own examples to help someone else who feels frustrated in his or her journey of trying to hear and obey God’s voice.

“The Mind of the Flesh”

Our greatest enemy

Here’s an interesting question for you: Who is our greatest enemy? If you said it’s the devil, you’re wrong! Our greatest enemy is our minds, our wills, and our emotions, which the Bible sometimes refers to as our “sin nature” or our “flesh.” Consider that if we did not have a sinful flesh nature then the devil would have no hold on us. For example, Jesus had a body made of flesh and blood but He did not have a sinful flesh nature as we do, and therefore the devil had no hold on Him (John 14:30).

1 Thessalonians 5:23 says that we are made up of “spirit, soul and body.” Your body is aware of the physical world around you, your spirit is aware of God within you, and everything else is your soul, which is aware of “self.” Your soul is made up of your mind (what you think), your will (what you want), and your emotions (what you feel). Our spirits were “regenerated” (made alive) the moment we were saved (see for example John 3:3-8), and our bodies will be made immortal when Jesus returns for us (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), but we must wage a daily battle against our “flesh nature.” For example, how often do we say or hear things like, “I know I shouldn’t say this, BUT” or “I know I shouldn’t do this, BUT” or “I know I probably shouldn’t eat this, but I’m going to eat it anyway”? Our “flesh nature” pushes us to do what it wants to do, and we often obey our “flesh” even when we know better!  Jesus Did It!

Our flesh is unGodly

You see, the problem is that our “flesh” is unGodly, it is our sin nature, and that’s why the Bible tells us to “crucify” our flesh (as we’ll see in the next section).

For example, try telling Jesus every day, “Jesus, You are my Lord and I am desperately in love with You. I will do anything and everything You say, without questions or hesitations or reservations. I will say what You want me to say, I will go where You want me to go, I will do what You want me to do. I am all Yours, Lord, live Your life through me and receive great glory and honor by my devoted, loving, and unswerving obedience.” Isn’t this the attitude that He wants us to have? Then why do we find it so difficult to say this and to live this way? It’s because we are afraid of what He might call us to do! For instance, you might have a great job and make lots of money and have an affluent lifestyle, but God might call you to leave all of that and to go spend the rest of your life ministering in remote African villages. He has done this before! You might be a shy, self-conscious stutterer, but God might call you to hold large healing and/or evangelism crusades all around the world where you will be speaking in front of thousands and thousands of people. He has done this before! You might be a comfortable, middle-class person successfully climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the “status” of being a member of the “right” clubs or social circles, but God might call you to turn your back on all of that and to begin spending your evenings or weekends in the “slum” areas of town ministering to the homeless or ministering among youth gangs. He has done this before! You might be a small-town housewife with a high school education, but God might call you to go on the road most of the year preaching several times a week in churches, universities, conferences, and so on. He has done this before! God has done every one of these things in certain people’s lives, and there is always the possibility that He might do it in our lives as well. Now, be honest, some of these things just scare the daylights out of us, don’t they? We are afraid to completely give ourselves over to God’s plan for our lives because we are afraid that we might be called on to do things which might embarrass us or stretch us out of our comfort zones. Our flesh doesn’t like the idea of having to go through these sorts of things, even though God will only call us to do things which are best for us. God always has our best interests at heart, but our flesh wants to cast its vote and make its wishes and desires known, and we tend to follow what our flesh wants rather than what God wants. Isn’t it fairly clear that our “flesh nature” tends not to want to obey God?

What does the Bible say about our “flesh”?

Now let’s take a close look at what the Bible has to say about our minds, our wills, and our emotions:

 

  • “And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also].” (Luke 9:23, AMP)
  • The Amplified Bible is often a useful study tool because it provides various shades of meaning to help us more fully understand what the original Greek words mean. According to these shades of meaning in the original Greek, Jesus was saying that we must follow His example by denying ourselves and our own agendas, by disowning ourselves, by forgetting ourselves and our own agendas, by losing sight of ourselves and our own agendas, by refusing ourselves and our own agendas, and by giving up ourselves and our own agendas! This is what it means to “take up [our] cross daily.” This is because our natural interests are contrary to the will of God, our natural feelings are contrary to the will of God, and our natural reasonings are contrary to the will of God. The cross is a place of death, which means that we should daily lose sight of ourselves (as in the verse above) in order to hear and obey God.  Jesus Did It!
  • the mind of the flesh [with its carnal thoughts and purposes] is hostile to God, for it cannot submit itself to God’s Law; indeed it cannot. So then those who are living the life of the flesh [catering to the appetites and impulses of their carnal nature] cannot please or satisfy God, or be acceptable to Him.” (Romans 8:7-8, AMP)
  • The apostle Paul said that the mind of the flesh has carnal (worldly, sinful) thoughts and purposes, and that it is hostile to God and cannot submit to God! Paul went on to say that if we are living according to our “flesh nature” then we cannot please God.
  • “The Lord knows the thoughts and reasonings of the [humanly] wise and recognizes how futile they are.” (1 Corinthians 3:20, AMP)
  • God says that our human thoughts and reasonings are futile!
  • walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh [of human nature without God]. For the desires of the flesh are opposed to the [Holy] Spirit, and the [desires of the] Spirit are opposed to the flesh (godless human nature); for these are antagonistic to each other [continually withstanding and in conflict with each other]” (Galatians 5:16-17, AMP)
  • The apostle Paul tells us that our “flesh” is our Godless human nature, and that our natural desires are opposed to the things of the Spirit and are continually in conflict with the Spirit. The solution, Paul says, is to walk and live habitually in the Spirit, always being responsive to and controlled by and guided by the Spirit within us. When we are busy analyzing things in our minds and trying to figure out the solutions to our problems and so on, it hinders us from hearing the Lord clearly.  Jesus Did It!
  • Now, obviously we need to use our minds and reasoning abilities throughout the day in order to do many of the things that we need to do, but the problem is that we tend to use our reasoning abilities almost exclusively and never bother to consult God on any of the decisions that we make.
  • “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
  • Paul said that his “flesh nature” had been crucified and that he no longer lived for himself. Instead, he allowed Christ to live His life through Paul, and this is the attitude that all of us should have.
  • “Those who belong to Christ Jesus, the Messiah, have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, AMP)
  • “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, NIV)
  • Once again Paul said that our “flesh” (which is made up of our minds, wills, and emotions) is our Godless human nature and our sin nature, which must be crucified with Christ. Jesus Did It!
  • Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. … But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)
  • Here Paul said that it is up to us to put to death whatever belongs to our “flesh” (our earthly nature).

 

As we can see, God has some pretty strong things to say about our “flesh nature,” and none of it is good! In the passages above we are told to deny ourselves and to lose sight of our own agendas. We are told that our minds and thoughts and purposes and impulses and desires are naturally hostile to God! We are told that our reasonings are futile and that our natural desires are antagonistic to and opposed to and constantly at war with the desires of the Spirit. We are told that our “flesh” is our Godless human nature and our sin nature and that it should be crucified and be put to death on a daily basis.

Those are some pretty strong words from the Lord, but the way to begin hearing God better is to quit listening to our flesh so much. That’s not an easy thing to do, but in order to hear God it is important to turn off our reasoning and to put our emotions into neutral when we are listening for an answer from God. Our flesh is always going to cast its vote on what it thinks we should do, but we need to ignore all of that voting and listen to our spirits instead. For example, if we are determined to do something no matter what anyone says, then we might not hear God when He is telling us not to do it. If we have weighed the pros and the cons and we have made the choice which seems to be the most rational to our minds, then we might not feel the need to ask God about it (even though He might guide us to an even better decision). If we really, really want to do something, then our emotions can drown out God when He is trying to prevent us from making a mistake. This illustrates how our wills, our minds, and our emotions can hinder us from hearing the voice of God.   Jesus Did It!

Jesus was “dead to self”

Jesus heard from God better than anyone who ever lived, and one of the main reasons is because He chose to deny His own opinions, interests, goals, thoughts, and so on, and He only did what the Father told Him to:

“Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”” (John 5:19)

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

“So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”” (John 8:28)

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

What it boils down to is that “the mind of the flesh” tends to be unGodly and tends to be directly opposed to the things of God. The reason I have been emphasizing this so strongly is because we are living in a war zone, and to a large degree the battle against the devil takes place in our minds. If we are led by our own reasonings and our own feelings when we make important decisions then it can leave us wide open to be deceived by the devil, and our lives might end up being useless for the kingdom of God.  Jesus Did It!

The Voice of the World

As I said, we are living in a war zone on planet earth. As Christians, we don’t belong to the world, we are aliens and strangers here (John 15:19, 17:15-17, James 4:4, 1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11). We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) serving as ambassadors here (2 Corinthians 5:20). The whole world is under the control of the evil one (1John 5:19), and we should be very careful not to become ensnared in the world’s ways of thinking and the world’s ways of doing things.

The devil speaks to us through worldly views  Jesus Did It!

In the world we are bombarded by loose morality, by various forms of spiritualism and the occult and New Age philosophies, and by other worldly, unGodly messages. This is why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts and minds from being contaminated by the world (see Acts 20:30-31, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Philippians 4:7, 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14, 4:14-15, 2 Peter 3:16-17). We live in the world but we are not of the world (1 Corinthians 2:12, 7:31, James 4:4, 1 John 4:4-5), and we should be very careful about what we are hearing in our daily lives. This is why it is important to be well-grounded in the Word of God.

Sometimes it is easy for the devil to deceive us simply because we do half the job for him by not reading our Bibles in a prayerful, honest, thorough, unbiased way, and we help the devil by being complacent in our Christian life. It is my prayer that by the time you finish this article you will be better equipped to listen with discernment to the Spirit of God within you as you study His Word. Even your pastor is not immune to these biases and “filters,” which is why it is important for you to develop your own spiritual sensitivity and to study the Bible for yourself, allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate to your spirit whatever He chooses to reveal. We should be careful not to let our feelings or our logical reasonings or other people’s opinions be our source of “truth,” but instead we should read the Word of God and listen to His Spirit within us. That is why God gave us both of these things!

The devil can speak to us through Christians!  Jesus Did It!

It is so natural for us to become caught up in what makes sense to us that we forget that often the things of God are far above our understanding. This makes it easy for the enemy to speak to us even through the voice of well-meaning Christian friends, family, pastors, and so on. For example, when God called me to this Internet teaching ministry, I wasn’t sure at first what the call was. I began applying to missionary organizations to see if that was the direction God was leading me, but when I mentioned this to Christians that I knew they sometimes tried to talk me out of it by saying things like, “Why would you want to be a missionary and maybe end up in some remote part of the world?” People mean well, but remember that they are not sensing the same call that you are sensing, so you should be careful sometimes about telling other people, even strong Christian friends, about what God is speaking to your heart.

Here’s an example from the apostle Paul’s life. In Acts 20:22-24, Paul said that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. However, in Acts 21:10-15 a prophet told Paul that he would suffer in Jerusalem, and Paul’s traveling companions pleaded with him not to go there. Paul knew that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, yet all of the Christians around him kept trying to talk him out of it. If Paul had allowed himself to follow his own reasonings and opinions and to be swayed by what other Christians thought, then he would have disobeyed God.

Another example in the Bible concerns the apostle Peter. In Galatians 2:11-14 the apostle Paul said that Peter was swayed by the opinions of others into separating from Gentile Christians, and in turn Peter swayed other Jewish Christians to do the same. In this case, an apostle was led astray by the “voice” of other Christians, and an apostle led other Christians astray! It is easy for us to be deceived, which is why we need to know how to discern whether or not our spirits are bearing witness with what we are hearing from the “voice” of other people (more on this in a later section). All of us have preconceived biases which act as “filters” when we read the Bible, and therefore even your pastor or my pastor can be deceived and teach us things that are incorrect. If an apostle can be deceived then certainly a pastor can! This is why it is important for each one of us to study the Bible for ourselves every day and to ask God for discernment so that we can recognize the Truth when we see it.

Here’s another example. When Jesus told the apostles that He would suffer and die, Peter took Him aside and tried to talk Him out of letting this happen. Do you remember Jesus’ reply? He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23). The devil was speaking through an apostle! Peter was not possessed by the devil, of course, but he was still choosing to follow his own thoughts and reasonings and opinions and emotions, and these are the very things that the devil uses to deceive us. In the very next verse, Jesus then told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Only by choosing not to be slaves to our own reasonings and emotions can we win the battle for our minds and begin hearing the voice of God within us.  Jesus Did It!

God can speak to us through other people

In examining the “voice” of the world, we should recognize that God speaks to us through other people as well, but the only way to know that it is God is if we are listening for discernment deep inside ourselves. For example, after the Lord taught me about healing and I had begun writing the articles in my Healing Training Course, I was at a friend’s house and as I was leaving I saw that their 10-year-old daughter had a cold. I debated within myself whether I should offer to lay hands on her or not because I didn’t know how well the idea would be received, and I missed my opportunity to possibly relieve her of her cold and to give Jesus glory. When I got home, my three-year-old son (Michael) wanted to show me something in his room, but he walked right past the light switch without turning the light on. Normally he is proud that he is now big enough to turn on the light, but that day he began whining that he couldn’t do it, even though he had come back and was standing right next to it and could easily have turned it on. There was a flash of discernment within me which caused me to see that as Michael was whining, “I can’t do it, I just can’t do it, I don’t know how to do it,” it was God’s way of showing me that this was how I was behaving when I debated with myself about laying hands on the 10-year-old girl. I could easily have done it and she might have been healed, but I allowed my mind to talk me out of it. In this case, it seemed that God was speaking to me through my child. On another occasion I was trying to teach Michael something, and I realized that he wasn’t quite old enough and mature enough to grasp what I was trying to teach him. Once again I got that flash of discernment within me, as if God was telling me that as I become more mature in the Lord then I will be laying hands on people when the opportunities arise. These are just a couple of examples of the way that God might speak to you through other people (even if they don’t realize that God is speaking through them), but it requires being sensitive to your spirit within you in order to recognize that God is speaking to you.

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“This is the responsibility we all owe to ourselves– that the purpose of our existence be to positively affect others with our gift and this does not begin when we feel we have become “something”. It begins when we decide to pick our gift and align it with it’s purpose.”
Chinonye J. Chidolue

 

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~ Why we’re more down than ever—and the crucial role churches play in healing Depression~

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The church is God’s hospital. It has always been full of people on the mend. Jesus himself made a point of inviting the lame, the blind, and the possessed to be healed and to accompany him in his ministry, an invitation often spurned by those who thought they were fine as is. We should not be surprised, then, that the depressed populate not only secular hospitals and clinics, but our churches as well. Yet depression remains both familiar and mysterious to pastors and lay church leaders, not to mention to those who share a pew with depressed persons.

Virtually everyone has experienced a “down” day, often for no clear reason. We might say we “woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” are “out of sorts,” or just “in a funk.” Such polite references are commonplace in America. Yet as familiar as melancholic periods are to us, the depths of a severe depression remain a mystery. We may grasp in part the distress of King David: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10). But most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, “I am forgotten by them as though I were dead” (v.12). Severe depression is often beyond description. And when such deep and painful feelings cannot be explained, they cut to the heart of one’s spiritual being.

Humans are intricately complex creatures. When things go wrong in us, they do so in myriad and nuanced ways. If churches want to effectively minister to the whole of fallen humanity, they must reckon with this complexity. Depression indicates that something is amiss. But what? And what should churches be doing about it?

What is depression?

First we need to clarify what we are talking about. In order to distinguish severe or “major depression” from everyday blues, the American Psychiatric Association offers the following diagnostic criteria:

Major depression is diagnosed when an adult exhibits one or both of two core symptoms (depressed mood and lack of interest), along with four or more of the following symptoms, for at least two weeks: feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions; fatigue; psychomotor agitation (cannot sit still) or retardation (just sitting around); insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much); significant decrease or increase in weight or appetite; and recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation.

This clinical definition is sterile, however, and fails to capture the unique quality of the severely depressed person’s suffering.

Deep depression is embodied emotional suffering. It is not simply a state of mind or a negative view of life but something that affects our physical being as well. Signs of a severe episode of depression include unfounded negative evaluations of friends, family, and oneself, emotional “pain,” physical problems such as lethargy, difficulty getting one’s thoughts together, and virtually no interest in one’s surroundings. Though most of us know at least an acquaintance who has committed suicide, this tragic act baffles us perhaps as much as it pains us. “I just don’t understand,” we say. The irony is that survivors of serious suicide attempts frequently reflect on those attempts with a similar attitude: “I have no idea what came over me.” The pain and mental dysfunction of major depression are that deep.

How big is the problem?

However we choose to define depression, both its frequency and its disruption of normal life are staggering. The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years. In the United States, 5 to 10 percent of adults currently experience the symptoms of major depression (as previously defined), and up to 25 percent meet the diagnostic criteria during their lifetime, making it one of the most common conditions treated by primary care physicians. At any given time, around 15 percent of American adults are taking antidepressant medications.

Studies of religious groups, from Orthodox Jews to evangelical Christians, reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression varies across religious groups or between those who attend religious services and those who do not. So in a typical congregation of 200 adults, 50 attendees will experience depression at some point, and at least 30 are currently taking antidepressants.

How do we explain these numbers? In part, they result from a two-pronged shift in cultural attitudes about depression. Groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and pharmaceutical companies have aggressively promoted the view that depression is not a character flaw but a biological problem (a disease) in need of a biological solution (a drug). The efforts to medicalize depression have helped to remove the stigma attached to it and convince the public that it’s not something to hide. Consequently, depression has come out of the closet.

Some critics argue that along with the disease view of depression comes a lowered diagnostic threshold. Professors Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield argue in The Loss of Sadness (Oxford, 2007) that psychiatrists no longer provide room for their clients’ sadness or life’s usual ups and downs, labeling even normal mood fluctuations “depression.” (Everyday conversation reflects this assumption. When asked how we are doing, we commonly answer “great” or at least “good.” If we reveal that we’re “fine”—or worse, just “okay”—people tend to assume something is wrong and begin probing.)

Critics like Horwitz and Wakefield are half right. It is true that the mental health community has lowered the threshold for recognizing depression. Yet when we trace depression in the United States over the past 20 years using fixed criteria—the very research I do—we still see a significant increase in frequency. So although the numbers may be inflated, and this bump unquestionably serves the profit margins of pharmaceutical companies, we nevertheless have a substantial, documented increase to try to explain.

Our society has reaped considerable benefit from casting a wide net and assuming that everything caught is a disease. We now are more attuned to depression’s burden of emotional suffering, better understand biological factors, and have medications that address those factors. We should be thankful for these significant gains.

Shrunken humanity

Yet redefining depression broadly as a disease has some untoward consequences. This model rightly acknowledges the biological aspect of human nature and how it can become disordered. But it fails to consider other dimensions at play. For example, the disease model ignores social environments as possible contributors to depression, viewing depressed persons as isolated individuals with a strong boundary between their bodies and everything outside. Depressed persons are reduced to broken bodies and brains that need fixing.

Browse any major psychiatric journal and you will read that our genes are the first cause of depression. Given certain environmental challenges, depression emerges. This is true, but it does not go far enough. Most have heard that depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance (such as a deficit in serotonin). Though the biological aspect of depression is more complex than a simple chemical imbalance, depression is nonetheless associated with poor regulation of the chemical messengers in our brains. This is why certain medications can relieve symptoms of moderate to severe depression. But this is not a new biological development; our bodies have not changed significantly over the past 100 years.

We also know that distorted thoughts contribute to depression. Those who are depressed do not evaluate themselves accurately (i.e., I am not as good as others). They fear that their selves are disintegrating (i.e., I am falling apart). They depreciate their value to others (i.e., I am of very little benefit to my family). And they believe they do not have control over their bodies (i.e., I just cannot make myself eat). Aaron Beck, the father of the most popular psychotherapy today, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), proposes that depression derives in large part from these cognitive distortions. Depression is relieved by bringing the distorted views more in line with reality. Evidence supports Beck’s contention, though not in all cases.

But cognitive behavioral therapies have been criticized for focusing on the person as such and ignoring the context of the person within society. Psychotherapist Robert Fancher believes the CBT approach “devalues those attributes of mind most likely both to create culture and to take us beyond the status quo—imagination, passion, and the courageous, painful process of bringing new ways of thinking and living to birth. It amounts to an endorsement of the middlebrow life under the authority of ‘good mental health.’ ” To put it more simply, cognitive therapy tends to reinforce the social norm, focusing almost exclusively on assisting the individual to adapt to the environment.

We now know much more about the neuroscience and cognitive patterns associated with depression, and have found fairly effective biological and therapeutic treatments. But we still do not have an answer to the pressing question behind this virtual epidemic: Why now? In order to get at this question, we must look beyond biological and psychological factors.

Things fall apart

“Life’s tough,” said one of my professors of medicine, and I knew what he meant. A young intern, I was seeking empathy after surviving a night on call without a wink of sleep. I had forgotten to look up a reference he had recommended the day before. He wanted the reference, not an excuse. But life was busy, chaotic, and demanding, and I was having trouble holding everything together.

Everyday life in 21st-century American society can be tough. The constant pressure of negotiating increasingly complex and sometimes harsh social realities takes a toll. Depression is in part a withdrawal by the weary into an inner world, an attempt to create a protective cocoon against real-world demands. Whatever personal factors contribute to an individual’s depression, the broader epidemic suggests that living in disordered social conditions makes things worse.

But when compared with preceding generations of Americans, we are, on the whole, healthier, safer, better off financially, and more educated. So where is the disorder?

The truth is, these barometers don’t tell the whole story. In the workplace, many of us sit in comfortable surroundings compared with those of our ancestors, who fought cold, wind, and rain. Yet we feel as much uncertainty as they did and much less control over our work. Our jobs are not secure, and due to specialization, many of us do not have the flexibility to move easily and quickly from one job to another. We work long hours, often with a sense of being “behind,” and do not recognize boundaries between work and non-work. (Is the office Christmas party work or recreation?) We compare ourselves with other colleagues when comparisons are fruitless, or find ourselves being compared unfairly. When we come up short, we feel the burden of unrealistic expectations we have placed on ourselves or have received from others. We are given responsibilities with little authority and even fewer resources, and feel we have no control over job expectations or even how we use our work time. Many of us are subject to sometimes dehumanizing corporate or economic systems not of our own making and seemingly beyond our influence. We feel small, insignificant, and expendable.

Some Americans find their everyday reality so tough that they try to escape it via substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, petty theft, or embezzlement. Consider substance abuse. Nearly 15 percent of Americans will struggle with alcoholism in their lifetimes, and over 10 million Americans are actively using illicit substances. Among those who are dependent on opiates such as heroin or prescription pain relievers, depression rates may be as high as 50 percent. Though depression can lead to increased substance use, the much more common path is for substance use, often begun as an escape from the pressures of life, to lead to serious episodes of depression. At that point a vicious cycle ensues, as depression leads to increased substance use, and substance use to worsening depression.

While most of us have daily contact with many people, our generation is nevertheless a lonely crowd. In his classic Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putman suggests that America’s stock of “social capital”—networks among individuals and the reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them—has declined substantially over the past few decades. We are less likely to vote, give blood, play cards, join in league bowling, or have friends or neighbors over for dinner. Perhaps some of these opportunities to build social networks have been replaced with others, such as soccer games or Facebook. Yet we are increasingly disconnected from family, neighbors, and friends.

And the nature of the relationships we do have is changing. Many have become what British sociologist Anthony Giddens labels “pure relationships”—”pure” in that they are detached from any social context, external structure, or security. There is no covenant, community, or being to orient the relationship or provide ongoing assurance, direction, and support. All of this must be generated by the relationship itself, which exacts a heavy burden. We can never relax in pure relationships because there is no pledge of fidelity or constancy on which to rest. We must “maintain” these relationships ourselves. Over time, constant vigilance and sustained insecurity often lead to frustration, anxiety, and weariness. These relationships are just too hard to keep up.

Complex societies built on interdependence require trust, yet this precious public resource continues to decline as society becomes even more complex. “Who can you believe these days?” has become a familiar refrain. Reality, we are told, has become little more than the shared worldview of small communities. In response, some encourage us to accept all views, but this leaves us disoriented. Others suggest we cling tenaciously to our views and mistrust anything new, leaving us isolated and alienated. From this double bind, the leap to a symptom of severe depression—paranoia—is not that far. The depressed lose confidence not only in themselves, but also in those around them.

Finally, no symptom is more central to depression than the loss of hope. And if last year’s election cycle revealed anything, it was that hope is at a premium in American society. Fear of catastrophe—due to terrorists, financial collapse, or ecological disaster—haunts our times. Some busy themselves with survival strategies, withdrawing from communal concerns to personal preoccupations. Many more, uncertain about the future, anxiously gorge themselves on our culture’s smorgasbord of instantly gratifying diversions.

Opportunity for the church

Uncertainty, insignificance, and powerlessness. Destructive, self-indulgent escape. Loneliness and isolation. Fear and distrust. Loss of hope. Retreat. Although hasty and incomplete, this sketch of the early-21st-century American cultural mood picks up dark details masked by indices of societal well-being. It also reminds us that to focus exclusively on the individual in our efforts to understand the depression epidemic is to miss the forest for the trees.

When used wisely, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy can restore stability to individuals so that they can better negotiate everyday challenges. For those in the thick of paralyzing depression, the effects of medicine and CBT might even prompt gratitude for common grace. And they should give thanks. Yet neither of these approaches provides much help in understanding or addressing the more fundamental and intractable problems of which the depression epidemic is a symptom. These approaches provide needed relief, but not answers or prevention.

The medical models come up short because they can only go as far as their understanding of the subject of the problem will take them. And both slight their subject: human beings. Cultural institutions and authorities may sometimes treat human beings as if we are nothing but brains in bodies, but this does not make it so. For those with eyes to see, the depression epidemic is in part a witness to the complexity of human nature. In particular, it reminds us that we are social and spiritual (as well as physical) creatures, and that a fallen society’s afflictions are often inscribed on the bodies of its members. We have misjudged humanity if we expect our bodies to be impervious to social travail. (“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground,” Luke 22:44.)

In fact, sometimes an episode of what looks like depression does not indicate that the human organism is malfunctioning, but is instead being true to her spiritual-social-physical nature. Embodied emotional pain can be an appropriate response to suffering in a world gone wrong. The author of Lamentations must have felt such pain as he gazed upon the destruction of Jerusalem around 588 B.C. “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city” (Lam. 2:11). Christians are called to weep with those who weep, and should welcome emotional pain that results from empathy and draws us alongside the afflicted. If we have grown numb to the pain and suffering around us, we have lost our humanity.

Christian teaching about sin and its reverberating effects frees the church from surprise about the disordered state of human affairs. We can acknowledge the effects of sin both within and without. We can look at wrecked reality squarely in the eye and call it what it is.

And thanks be to God, who raised the One who entered fully into our condition, breaking the power of sin, death, and hell, that we not only can name wrecked reality, but also lean into it on the promise that Christ is making all things new.

Those who bear the marks of despair on their bodies need a community that bears the world’s only sure hope in its body. They need communities that rehearse this hope again and again and delight in their shared foretaste of God’s promised world to come. They need to see that this great promise, secured by Christ’s resurrection, compels us to work amidst the wreckage in hope. In so doing, the church provides her depressed members with a plausible hope and a tangible reminder of the message they most need to hear: This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ as embodied in his church is the last word.

~Sponsorship and Ministry Alliance that Build Ropes not Strands~

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Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.

Gail Devers



We have confirmed our sponsors and ministry alliances today. There will be a coalition of churches in Menifee  and Hemet California that will partner with Second Chance Alliance to perform evangelistic outreach and prison ministry in the inland empire. This meeting opened a vast amount of resources for us to make the public aware of our vision to empower our communities with assistance with re-entry services and disciple making for the Kingdom of God.

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We’ve all been there. The business announces an exciting new project. You organize an implementation team. The team’s excited, the kick-off is great, the first stand-up meetings rock. Then, fast forward three months and the team is struggling. Decision makers are hard to find or uninvolved in the day-to-day. Business decisions still haven’t been made. Stakeholders are fighting for their political ‘must haves’ that were hardly mentioned at the start.

What happened? This is a team that was not set up to succeed at the start of the project.

When we talk about “setting up teams to succeed — from the start,” we mean it is crucial to build a common vision of project success.  This is the strongest kind of business alignment there is. The better job we do on this, the better chance a project has to succeed.

Hanging on by a single thread?

Building common vision is like creating a shipyard rope. When you manufacture rope, you first spin fibers into yarns.  Next, the yarns are formed into strands by twisting.  Finally, you intertwine those strands further to create — Voila! — rope.

An individual fiber is easily broken when you pull it hard. Strands, while stronger, can be easily cut. By the time you have transformed those same strands into rope, however, you have created something exponentially stronger, capable of towing ships thousands of tons in weight.

A project vision owned by one person is like that individual strand. It is vulnerable to the stresses of the “project shipyard.”  One person’s project vision doesn’t benefit from the diverse knowledge and perspectives brought by team members from different organizational areas.  And, if that single person is absent, progress slows and decisions get second-guessed.

Compared with teams unified by a clear, common understanding of project goals, single-vision projects often miss key requirements, suffer from unpredictable project rhythms and often have difficulty adapting to change. Therefore, it is vital that the project sponsor actively engage with the team to help them take ownership for the project vision.

The strength is in the twisting

When done well, the process of building common vision meshes a team’s understanding of the initiative into a single narrative.  This collaboration creates a clear story line that both leadership and team grasp because they all contribute to it.  Because the vision belongs to the team, team members remind each other and reinforce the project “raison d’être,”(the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence)while overcoming the real world challenges that all projects encounter.

The process of building common vision encourages clarity and a consensus view of project success. For this reason, building a shipyard-tough project vision usually includes structured face-to-face discussions that ensure the tough questions are asked. Those most  affected by the decisions can contribute their perspectives. The decisions the team makes based on these talks drive downstream requirements.

This is why we say building common vision is the best kind of alignment.  Common vision connotes collaboration and transformation. For example, front-line staffers learn and internalize the reasons why the project exists in the first place. Abstract-thinking managers learn about probable customer or quality side effects of their envisioned change. Specialists contribute little-known knowledge that can make the difference between successful adoption and user avoidance.

Even the hard-driving project sponsor becomes sensitized to important nuances he may have overlooked. Together, team members work through and address each obstacle. The give and take builds a bond. The experience transforms the group in a way not easily replicated by going straight to the details of written requirements.

Is your project shipyard tough?

Ask these questions and you’ll know:

  1. Has the project sponsor set out clear “must do” business outcomes for the project?
  2. Have business members of the team articulated a vision of project success in non-technical language?
  3. If you ask three project members to define the project’s success criteria, do you get the same answer?
  4. Does the business understand what they are getting in a way that gives them insight into progress?
  5. Has the business sponsor actively worked with the project team to discuss and address challenges and obstacles they see in achieving the project’s purpose?

The team with a strong common vision, like the shipyard rope, is resilient because its diverse interwoven strands bring the strength of diversity, but ultimately twist tightly in the same direction. Many strands melded into one become a strong, durable force for achieving a successful outcome.

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Second chance Alliance has asked the tough questions for the overall project and we have asked the tough questions about short term projects for the coming months. We will be working in Beaumont Ca, with Our greenhouse and garden project at the Ray Strebe Center (home of Pass Resource Center and the Beaumont work center) – has blossomed this year and is now a small nursery offering over 32 varieties of tomatoes including black, green, yellow and orange tomato plants. The purpose of this endeavor is to raise public awareness about healthy eating and to present to the public  our “Brand”. We will also be heading up a health clinic and free grooming and clothing outreach with ‘The Rock” church in Hemet and Riverside at Fairmount park in April and May for more information stay tuned to our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MayandAaronSecondchancealliance.

There is also in the planning a revival to offer families the opportunity to link up with our vision as volunteers and disciples for the common cause to build community and to advance the building up of the kingdom of God. We will be looking for professionals in the Mental Health field and substance abuse. We have a vast amount of early child care development specialist coming out of the Corner Stone church and the Rock church, but we desire community involvement with the same opportunities our partners and sponsors have aligned themselves with.

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We will also be heading up a Community Culture consideration initiative that will offer our young adults the platform to speak out about what keeps them from engaging the ministry for support and family ties. All that participate will receive a twenty five dollar gift card to Target and a Second Chance Alliance tee-shirt or hat. The picture above will be used on the flyers. Please pray our strength and successful outcomes with all our ministerial aspirations.

~Moving Re-entry Forward with Second Chance Alliance~

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As federal and state correctional institutions steadily release record numbers of ex-offenders each year, the communities into which prisoners are released are unprepared to sustain the economic and social burden of the massive reentry movement. As a result, reentering ex-offenders lack the support needed to reintegrate themselves into society and to lead productive, law-abiding lives. This blog first explores political trends that account for the increase in incarceration rates over the last two decades and the resulting social, legal, and economic challenges of reentry both ex-offenders and their communities face. Only recently has the government begun to respond to these problems by establishing reentry courts that specialize in ex-offender transition, support, and supervision. After questioning the efficiency and institutional competence of reentry courts, the Article suggests two alternative ways in which the legal community might help to manage ex-offender reentry. First, public defender offices could evolve into a less specialized and more integrated role through which they could represent ex-offenders in a variety of matters related to reentry. Second, law schools could provide students with clinical opportunities through which to explore creative, non-traditional solutions to representation of ex-offenders. Ultimately, collaboration between lawyers and communities will be necessary to provide ex-offenders with the resources they need for successful reintegration.

The distance between a prison and an ex-offender’s home community generally can be traversed by bus. But this conventional form of transportation masks the real distance the ex-offender must travel from incarceration to a successful reintegration into her community. Indeed, in many ways, the space that she must cross is more akin to what one imagine takes place in time travel. The ex-offender, of course, remains the one constant throughout the trip across time. She/He possesses the personal strengths and weaknesses that she/he has always had. But because time has effectively stood still for her, she has no real frame of reference for the changes she will encounter. Armed with little more than her own instincts and innate abilities, she is thrust instantaneously into a world that is at once foreign and intimidating in its differences and complexities. Her home community barely resembles that which she left behind. Yet, more than physical changes await her. The community that she enters has undergone significant economic, technological, and social changes that perhaps its insider now takes for granted, but that will be all too apparent to our time traveler—the outsider. The insider will be familiar with the norms of conduct, the formal and informal structures that exist in this environment, and the relationships that govern how residents interact and thrive. The outsider will not know the rules. And yet, we will expect the ex-offender—the quintessential stranger in a strange land—to enter this dramatically different environment and simply fit in without information, without significant support, and without meaningful preparation. If she does not manage to succeed on her own, she must then face the ultimate consequence—a return to her own time, a return to prison.

Second Chance Alliance has two ex-offenders that have traveled this road. We are proud to say that having this testimony has afforded us the knowledge needed to assist others. We are well on our way to be a positive motivating force within our surrounding communities as a solution to the re-entry dilemma for ex-offenders. We have a series of work shops coming out in April to inform the chosen populous of individuals. We will be hosting hair cuts and clothing, food baskets for the individuals and families. We will also have several of our partners hosting dental screenings and health awareness workshops. There are several job referrals and educational initiatives for the offering also.

Community Emergency Shelter

Single Men & Women 

This shelter is a 30-60 day program that serves adults by providing temporary housing along with assistance in obtaining important documents, job readiness, computer workshops, counseling, meals, hygiene supplies and bible studies. This program holds 129 beds for qualified single men and women with separate dormitories for each gender. This facility is managed by Shelter Director Toni Adkins, who leads a paid staff of 17 full and part-time employees to facilitate this year-round emergency shelter.

 

Address:

2840 Hulen Place, Riverside, CA 92507 (951) 683-4101

Hours of Operation:

4:00 pm-8:30 am. Initial intake and screening Mon, Wed, Fri at 1:00 pm

Family Emergency Shelter

Families

This 60-90 day program is offered to single parents with children, couples with children and single women. It offers a safe haven to help families move toward self-reliance, where case management focuses on rapid re-housing, employment and increased income. It is a dormitory setting with 50 beds. Proof of custody, social security numbers for all members and identifications for adults are required for entry. Clients are provided with life skills workshops, meals, showers and laundry facilities. Case managers can also assist with finding housing and employment, identifying income issues and starting a savings plan. This facility is managed by Shelter Director Toni Adkins, who leads a paid staff of 10 full and part-time employees.

Address:

2530 Third Street, Riverside, CA 92507 (951) 275-8755 (951) 275-8755 Hotline

Hours of Operation:

4:00 pm-7:45 am

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Recovery Homes

Single Men & Women

This 12-24 month program is designed to help men and women recover from homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and other dysfunctional behaviors. Its focus is a year of discipleship recovery with an optional additional year of  “re-entry.” Using a biblical curriculum to help expose the underlying roots of addiction, the program brings healing and closure to the past and builds a new foundation for the future. Staff members provide reinforcement in the participant’s decision to change his or her lifestyle, requiring them to attend anger management, life skills and marriage/family counseling in a Christian-based 12-step program. There are 3 sober living recovery homes with a total of 60 beds. These programs are managed by Program Director Juan Salinas who oversees these homes with the assistance of each location’s live-in Resident Manager.

Address:

The men’s recovery home is located in Murrieta, CA, while the women’s home and men’s re-entry home are located in Riverside, CA

Hours of Operation:

24 hours a day

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Healthcare Services

Path of Life is the only organization in the Riverside area offering healthcare services to the homeless. We offer our healthcare services at sites where homeless people congregate without regard to their ability to pay. These sites include shelters, soup kitchens, and drop-in centers. We also have a fully mobile RV equipped with two exam rooms we call ‘Health in Motion’. Finally, we offer a Street Medicine Program that sends a medical team straight to the locations that the most hard to reach and vulnerable homeless individuals congregate. We provide basic primary care, chronic disease management, cancer screening, laboratory services for testing, pharmaceuticals, eye care, and dental. Over 35 physician and nurse volunteers offer their services in this program, led by Medical Director Dr. Moses.

Address:

17 locations throughout Riverside County

Hours of Operation:

Varies by location and program

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~ A Work In Process By The Loving Hand Of God~

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

Tom DeLonge

My imperfect state;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Is Christianity Real In My Home?~

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“Christians know what they believe, but they don’t know why they believe.”

It’s become such a truism, Paul Little titled his books after it — almost fifty years ago. But “How do I know this is true?” is one of the best and most important questions students can ask about their faith.

For those students who have been steeped in Christian culture, it is far too easy to know what you’ve “caught” rather than what’s been “taught.” But both the caught and taught should be subject to serious examination by those wanting to take their faith seriously.

All of these are significant questions that have reasonable, scholarly, and detailed answers.

As adults, we can help our children and their friends wrestle through these important questions by wrestling through them ourselves.

Our experience with thousands of young people each year reveals that they are either eager for answers or they’ve made up their mind. Often, they’ve made up their mind — not because of reason or logic — because they want to live a lifestyle that is counter to what Christianity teaches is best for them. Discerning why a student is struggling with the truth of Christ establishes an important baseline.

There’s no magic bullet for a young person who is struggling with whether Christianity is true. However, for a teen seeking truth, there are many fantastic resources available. Whether they have already made up their minds or are honestly searching for answers, we’re certain that all the evidence leads to Christianity!

Let this be an encouragement to you and a challenge as a parent: Create a culture in your home of asking questions about the authenticity of Christianity. Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know,” but don’t leave it there! Follow that statement with “…but let’s seek out the answer, together.”

Remember, you aren’t walking alone, and you won’t find yourself without resources in this journey. We can’t answer all the questions your kids are asking in this short post, but we can give you a few easy-to-use resources if you desire to plunge into this topic. Start the conversation with us by contacting us on any of our social media sites.

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~Re-inventing Self~

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https://m.facebook.com/MayandAaronSecondchancealliance

My desire to jump into a new line of work seemed perfectly obvious and natural to me because I wasn’t changing my strongest, underlying interest: Why do we humans do such unexpected and often irrational things?

“You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” ~C. S. Lewis

Change means reinvention. Each time a major shift happens in our lives—leaving a job or a relationship, moving, losing a loved one—we have to take control of who we will become or risk never reaching our full potential.

I’ve reinvented myself several times in my life. Most adults have.

But what I always forget is that we have to choose reinvention. Each time I’ve done it, I’ve forged my new path deliberately and with foresight.

When I’ve waited for my future to find me, I’ve waited in vain, lost in confusion and sadness, or I’ve gotten tangled up in a situation I didn’t want.

One morning, after struggling for months with grief and loss, I woke up and realized that I was having so much trouble moving forward partly because I had no idea what it was that I wanted to move toward. I was thinking about my past, but not what I wanted for my future.

Man with hands up

That morning, I woke with a vision: a crowd of people from the life I needed to leave behind with the sun rising opposite them and me standing between the two, the sun beating down on my face.

In the vision, I decided, finally, to turn from the group and walk toward the sun, my new life.

That vision told me what I needed to hear—that I had to take control of my future instead of letting my pain choose for me.

1. Create a vision for your future.

Sit quietly, close your eyes, and imagine the people, places, or situations that you need to leave behind. Now, imagine the future that you want, whether it’s simply a feeling, a group of people, or a situation such as a wonderful new job.

Imagine how it will feel to be in that new place.  Allow the picture to shape your future, the warm emotions began to appear on your face.

Stand for a moment and silently voice your appreciation for everything that came before. Once you’ve thanked the past, turn your focus toward God, and with compassion and gratitude, imagine yourself walking away from the past and into the future.

2. Write about your reinvention.

Imagine a scene from it or write about how you’d like it to play out. Where are you living? What do you do in the mornings, afternoon, and evenings? Who are your friends? What do you spend your days doing?

Continue writing for as long as this exercise feels invigorating and exciting. Write scenes, dialogues, lists, and plans. Make the future come alive. Write about how it will feel to be there. Keep your writing somewhere where you will look at it occasionally. Feel free to add to it.

3. Surround yourself with visual reminders of the life you’d like to create.

If it’s a new job in a particular field, put objects or images from that field someplace where you’ll see them every day. If it’s a home, find a picture of a house that you love and put it near your front door. It can be anything that reminds you of what you’re moving toward.

4. Now that you have a vision of your future, break it up into workable tasks.

What do you need to do, every day, to create that vision? Look for work? Meet new people? Search for a place to live in your chosen town? Make it specific. Make a list of everything you need to do and a schedule for when you’ll do it. Then do it and commit to keep doing it, one day at a time.

5. Every day, go back to that vision of you walking toward your future.

Every morning or evening, close your eyes and see yourself walking into the rising sun, toward your dreams, and reconnect with why you’re moving toward this new possibility.

Reinvention is neither easy nor always smooth. Often, we encounter resistance. We don’t want to let go, even of things that cause us pain or that are obviously already out of our grasp. We often struggle with limiting beliefs or stories about ourselves that hold us back from trying new things.

But there is one way to keep your compass pointed to this new life, even in the midst of any resistance or struggles you may encounter on your path.

Each time you find yourself slipping into old habits—isolating yourself, making excuses not to look for work, procrastinating on a task that might help you advance in your career—don’t bother wondering why you’re doing it or beating yourself up.

Just ask yourself this: “What can I do in this moment to keep moving forward?”

Then, no matter what you feel in the moment—lonely, self-critical, tired, lazy, or disappointed—do something to maintain momentum, even if it’s one small thing. There’s an old adage that says that true courage isn’t about not feeling fear; it’s about feeling fear and acting anyway.

Choose courage instead of letting your fear choose your future for you.

 

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I’m currently reading  Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; it’s provocative in terms of making me think about the way I think – and is making me think about ways that I might “reinvent” myself (which, like Madonna with varying degrees of success, I try to do regularly. Ha!).  I’d suggest picking that up, if you’re interested in the way our brains work, and how we might rethink how we process information and make decisions – and so, identify how to reboot, reinvent and re-examine our biases and assumptions about the world.  How we make decisions and choices is critical to how you decide to reinvent yourself.