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social issues

~Consider Your Ways~

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“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.”― Ezra Taft Benson

I have spent a great part of my  life searching for the one trait all successful people share. I found in my quest for this knowledge”The Common Denominator of Success” revealed successful people’s common characteristic was not hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, although these traits were important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest was the habit of putting first things first. I observed, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either, necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

The Book of Haggai, the second shortest in the Old Testament, communicates this same message: Put first things first. It was written to people like us, who would say that God must be first. But they had drifted away from this truth. They lived with misplaced priorities. Haggai was sent to help God’s people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.

Haggai spoke his message to Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after living in captivity in Babylon. As you recall, Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple some 70 years earlier. When the Jews returned from exile they faced the daunting task of rebuilding. The first returnees made preliminary attempts to clear the debris and lay the foundation for a second temple. Their Samaritan neighbors offered to join in the work, but the Jews refused them. The Samaritans, in turn, threatened the workers and sent men to Persia to lobby against the Jews, bringing the work to a halt.

As years passed, slowly but surely, Jerusalem came to life again. Homes were built, stores opened, commerce established, fields planted, crops harvested, and life began to resemble normalcy. Israel, however, got used to life without the Temple. The foundations were overgrown with weeds. They stood as a mute reminder of the Jews’ failure to take care of God’s house. Fourteen to 16 years passed, and then Haggai appeared on the scene with one prevailing message: It’s time to finish rebuilding the Temple.

It was a message of priority: Put first things first. The Temple was the center for worshiping God. It represented the heart and soul of the Old Testament religion. Although God is everywhere, the Temple was the place on earth where God dwelled in a special sense. For the Temple to lie in ruins was to neglect the worship of God. It was a testimony of misplaced priorities. It was an embarrassment to God and a blemish on his reputation.

Haggai’s message was blunt. He pulled no punches and wasted no words. Haggai spoke like a foreman on a construction project. With a hardhat and tool belt, walking around the construction site, he bellowed out orders. Found here are a few practical steps about putting first things first.

I. Stop making excuses

First, Haggai confronted excuses for the Temple lying in ruins. “The LORD of Hosts says this: These people say: The time has not come for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt” (Haggai 1:2, HCSB). They intended to build God’s house, but just hadn’t got around to it yet. If you were to ask them about it, they would probably say, “I’m all for building the Temple. It is a great cause. But God wants us to take care of our own families first. Times are hard. Jobs are scarce. We need to pray about it some more. We will eventually build it, but not now.” They made excuses.

Billy Sunday defined an excuse as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else.”

It is always easy to make excuses when you don’t want to obey God. We can always find rational justification for not doing what God wants us to do: The time is not right. I’ve got family responsibilities. My kids need me now. When things settle down at work, then I can do something. The first step to putting first things first is to admit our responsibility.

II. Cease being selfish

Closely aligned with excuse making is a selfish mindset that permeates everything. Haggai challenged the people’s selfish behavior. “The word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet: Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:34, HCSB). Paneled houses can mean “covered” or “roofed,” but the point was that it represented the finishing touches. Their homes were not “in process.” No weeds were growing around their unfinished foundations. Their homes were complete while the Temple remained nonexistent.

Please understand: Nothing is wrong with having a nice home. This statement is not an attack on riches or big houses. What’s wrong is to own a nice home while God’s house lies in ruins. What’s wrong is spend all your money on selfish needs while ignoring the things of God. What’s wrong is to spend one’s time, one’s best hours, and one’s talents on selfish pursuits while the things of God are left undone. It is an indictment of misplaced priorities.

It is easy to drift away from God’s agenda to our own. It is easy to pursue selfish desires while ignoring God’s. In fact, it is the default mode of our lives. If we give no thought to how we are living, we will naturally live for ourselves. The bent of our hearts and is always toward selfishness. This is what happened to the Jews Haggai addressed.

Like William Cowper, the hymn writer and pastor, penned: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” That is what happens when we don’t persistently and consistently seek God first.

III. Don’t miss God’s blessings

As a consequence of their excuse-making and selfish living, the people in Haggai’s day experienced hardship. He continues: “Now, the LORD of Hosts says this: Think carefully about your ways: You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to become drunk. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it” (Haggai 1:5-6, HCSB). They sowed plenty of seed, but there was a drought and the crops didn’t yield as much as they had hoped. They had active lifestyles but were not experiencing satisfaction. They were laboring but showing no profit. No matter how hard they tried, they seemed to be spinning their wheels. No matter how much money they made, they could not keep it. Do you know how that feels?

Because of their selfishness the people missed God’s blessings. Haggai points out a sobering reminder: What happens in your heart affects every other part of your life. Because the people had pushed God out of the center, they suffered in every area.

What they did not see was that God caused their predicament. They hadn’t stopped to consider that God was trying to tell them something. Haggai screamed: “Hey! It’s God who controls the rain and the harvest. He is withholding his blessing because your priorities are not right. Put his house first and he will bless you.” Jesus said the same thing: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:33, HCSB).

Blessings come through obedience. If we want to experience God’s blessings we will put him first.

IV. Take time to evaluate

With this strong indictment and devastating predicament, the people realized they had caused their own calamities. The people were ready to evaluate their situation. Twice Haggai instructed the people, “Consider your ways” (1:5, 7.). The word consider means to give careful thought to. It was time for the people to do some serious self-examination before the Lord. Haggai wanted the people to stop long enough in their busy schedules to evaluate their life in light of God’s Word. He wanted them to measure the consequences of their actions.

Evaluation is a good thing. That is why teachers give tests and employers hold job reviews. Socrates wrote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Each day we need to evaluate how we spend our time and our money, and how we use our talents. We should examine who we choose as friends, what we set as goals, and where we are going. If God is not first, guess who removed him from his rightful place?

The failure to make constant corrections each day is like a pilot who does not make slight course adjustments in flight. The plane will end up hundreds of miles off course later. The failure to take the proper precautions today will result in severe consequences tomorrow.

When we stop making excuses, cease being selfish, seek God’s blessings, and take time to evaluate, we can see God work in powerful ways. This is what happens when first things are first, when God is first in our hearts. How will we know that we have put first things first? How will we know that God is first place? Here are three indications.

A. We are active in the right things

“Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house. Then I will be pleased with it and be glorified, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:8, HCSB). In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act, a time to consider and a time to do. Those who put first things first are up and doing the right things: spending time with God daily, serving people, honoring him with their time, talents, and financial resources. For the Jews living in Jerusalem, it meant cutting down trees to build God’s house.

B. God is glorified

Why should the Temple be built? That God may be glorified. When God is not first we are indifferent to his glory—his fame and his reputation being spread. But when God is first revealing his glory is first on our minds. In fact, everything we think, say, and do is to honor God and bring credit to him. Whatever your occupation, the chief business of every Christian is to bring glory to God.

C. God blesses us

When the people obeyed, God sent word: “I am with you” (1:13). When God is first, he blesses us. And the sure sign of his blessing was his manifested presence. If God seems distant in your life, perhaps your priorities have gotten mixed up. When you put God first, you experience a new awareness of his presence. That is true blessing.

Conclusion

An instructor at a time-management seminar told the participants to prepare for a quiz. He reached under the table and took out a wide-mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table. Next to the jar were a number of fist-sized rocks. He asked the group, “How many of these rocks do you think we can get inside this jar?” The participants made their guesses. The instructor said, “Let’s find out.” One by one he began to put as many fist-sized rocks as he could into the jar until the rocks inside were level with the top of the jar.

The instructor then asked, “Is the jar full?” All the participants looked at the jar filled with rocks and said it was.

But then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar. The gravel filled the spaces between the big rocks. He grinned and asked again, “Is the jar full?”

The participants were not about to be fooled a second time. They said that the jar was probably not full.

The instructor nodded and said, “Good. You are catching on.” He next took out a bucket of sand and poured it into the jar. Slowly the sand filled the gaps between the rocks and gravel. After the sand settled, the instructor once again asked, “Now, is the jar full?”

The audience roared, “No!”

He said, “Good.” He was pleased that they understood an important principle. The instructor poured a pitcher of water into the jar. At this point he stopped and asked the group, “What’s the point of this?”

Somebody said, “Well, there are always gaps, and if you work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”

But the instructor said, “No, the point is this: If I hadn’t put in those big rocks first, I would never have gotten them in at all.”

What should be your big rocks? God and his house. Put them into your life first.

~ Race and Reality for Blacks In America~

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Even for blacks who make it to college, the problem doesn’t go away. As statistics would have it, 70 percent of all black students who enroll in four-year colleges drop out at some point, as compared with 45 percent of whites. At any given time nearly as many black males are incarcerated as are in college in this country. And the grades of black college students average half a letter below those of their white classmates.

A pressing problem: teachers and police officers monitor, profile and police black and Latino youth and neighborhoods more than white ones.

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When asked during the 2008 campaign if he identified as black, President Obama simply said, “The last time I tried to catch a cab in N.Y.C….” His comment signaled to blacks that he experienced discrimination, while simultaneously illuminating a fatal flaw with race relations in the 21st century — our inability to separate black man from criminal.

In addition to the Department of Education study, sociological research continues to show that blacks and Latinos are more likely to be disciplined in school and stopped by the police. While some may anecdotally argue that black kids are badder than white kids, studies show a more pressing problem — teachers and police officers monitor, profile and police black and Latino youth and neighborhoods more than white ones.

While 75 percent of high school students have tried addictive substances, only specific groups and areas get targeted by the police. As evidence by the e-mail University of Akron sent their black male students, college status does not afford them the privilege to avoid policing. Thus, a black senator is treated similarly to a“potential felon.”

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Legalizing marijuana could potentially lead to more legitimized policing of black and Latino men. Reducing draconian drug laws would help in sentencing, but still not change the way that black and Latino men are criminalized. In this regard, this criminalizing epidemic is just as much a social problem as it is legal and institutional.

There are a few solutions worth mentioning. Legally, there can be tougher sanctions for racial profiling when individuals are unfairly targeted or searched.

Socially, when individuals meet a “good” black man, they can be seen as the rule and not the exception. Most black men are not criminals or untrustworthy; they are law-abiding citizens. People need to start recognizing social class cues that signal professionalism and decency instead of ubiquitously categorizing black men as dangerous.

It is high time that individuals see not just a black man, but a man who could be a doctor, lawyer, neighbor or even the president. These changes in individuals’ perceptions will a go long way to solve the criminalization of nonwhite bodies.

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I sense a certain caving-in of hope in America that problems of race can be solved. Since the sixties, when race relations held promise for the dawning of a new era, the issue has become one whose persistence causes “problem fatigue”—resignation to an unwanted condition of life.

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This fatigue, I suspect, deadens us to the deepening crisis in the education of black Americans. One can enter any desegregated school in America, from grammar school to high school to graduate or professional school, and meet a persistent reality: blacks and whites in largely separate worlds. And if one asks a few questions or looks at a few records, another reality emerges: these worlds are not equal, either in the education taking place there or in the achievement of the students who occupy them.

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As a Human Behaviorist , I know that the crisis has enough possible causes to give anyone problem fatigue. But at a personal level, perhaps because of my experience as a black in American schools, or perhaps just as the hunch of a myopic psychologist, I have long suspected a particular culprit—a culprit that can undermine black achievement as effectively as a lock on a schoolhouse door. The culprit I see is stigma, the endemic devaluation many blacks face in our society and schools. This status is its own condition of life, different from class, money, culture. It is capable, in the words of the late sociologist Erving Goffman, of “breaking the claim” that one’s human attributes have on people. I believe that its connection to school achievement among black Americans has been vastly underappreciated.

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This is a troublesome argument, touching as it does on a still unhealed part of American race relations. But it leads us to a heartening principle: if blacks are made less racially vulnerable in school, they can overcome even substantial obstacles. Before the good news, though, I must at least sketch in the bad: the worsening crisis in the education of black Americans.

Despite their socioeconomic disadvantages as a group, blacks begin school with test scores that are fairly close to the test scores of whites their age. The longer they stay in school, however, the more they fall behind; for example, by the sixth grade blacks in many school districts are two full grade levels behind whites in achievement. This pattern holds true in the middle class nearly as much as in the lower class. The record does not improve in high school. In 1980, for example, 25,500 minority students, largely black and Hispanic, entered high school in Chicago. Four years later only 9,500 graduated, and of those only 2,000 could read at grade level. The situation in other cities is comparable.

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Blacks in graduate and professional schools face a similarly worsening or stagnating fate. For example, from 1977 to 1990, though the number of Ph.D.s awarded to other minorities increased and the number awarded to whites stayed roughly the same, the number awarded to American blacks dropped from 1,116 to 828. And blacks needed more time to get those degrees.

Standing ready is a familiar set of explanations. First is societal disadvantage. Black Americans have had, and continue to have, more than their share: a history of slavery, segregation, and job ceilings; continued lack of economic opportunity; poor schools; and the related problems of broken families, drug-infested communities, and social isolation. Any of these factors—alone, in combination, or through accumulated effects—can undermine school achievement. Some analysts point also to black American culture, suggesting that, hampered by disadvantage, it doesn’t sustain the values and expectations critical to education, or that it fosters learning orientations ill suited to school achievement, or that it even “opposes” mainstream achievement. These are the chestnuts, and I had always thought them adequate. Then several facts emerged that just didn’t seem to fit.

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~Yep,I’m Black: Colorism~

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Black has never been more beautiful, witnessed by this collection featuring accomplished dark skinned-women from all walks of life. In ‘Dark Girls, ‘ celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o, Pauletta Washington, Cicely Tyson, Judge Mablean, Brandi and Karli Harvey, and 20 other outstanding women share intimate insights into what their dark skin means to them.

Dark Girls - Duke, Bill, and Moses, Shelia

Colorism is a persistent problem for people of color in the USA. Colorism, or skin color stratification, is a process that privileges light-skinned people of color over dark in areas such as income, education, housing, and the marriage market. This post describes the experiences of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans with regard to skin color. Research demonstrates that light-skinned people have clear advantages in these areas, even when controlling for other background variables. However, dark-skinned people of color are typically regarded as more ethnically authentic or legitimate than light-skinned people. Colorism is directly related to the larger system of racism in the USA and around the world. The color complex is also exported around the globe, in part through US media images, and helps to sustain the multibillion-dollar skin bleaching and cosmetic surgery industries

Racial discrimination is a pervasive problem in the USA. African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and other people of color are routinely denied access to resources and fair competition for jobs and schooling. Despite this pattern of exclusion, people of color have made great progress in combating persistent discrimination in housing, the labor market, and education. However, hidden within the process of racial discrimination is the often overlooked issue of colorism. Colorism is the process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of color over their dark-skinned counterparts (Hunter 2005). Colorism is concerned with actual skin tone, as opposed to racial or ethnic identity. This is an important distinction because race is a social concept, not significantly tied to biology (Hirschman 2004). Lighter-skinned people of color enjoy substantial privileges that are still unattainable to their darker-skinned brothers and sisters. In fact, light-skinned people earn more money, complete more years of schooling, live in better neighborhoods, and marry higher-status people than darker-skinned people of the same race or ethnicity.

How does colorism operate? Systems of racial discrimination operate on at least two levels: race and color. The first system of discrimination is the level of racial category, (i.e. black, Asian, Latino, etc.). Regardless of physical appearance, African Americans of all skin tones are subject to certain kinds of discrimination, denigration, and second-class citizenship, simply because they are African American. Racism in this form is systemic and has both ideological and material consequences. The second system of discrimination, what I am calling colorism, is at the level of skin tone: darker skin or lighter skin. Although all blacks experience discrimination as blacks, the intensity of that discrimination, the frequency, and the outcomes of that discrimination will differ dramatically by skin tone. Darker-skinned African Americans may earn less money that lighter-skinned African Americans, although both earn less than whites. These two systems of discrimination (race and color) work in concert. The two systems are distinct, but inextricably connected. For example, a light-skinned Mexican American may still experience racism, despite her light skin, and a dark-skinned Mexican American may experience racism and colorism simultaneously. Racism is a larger, systemic, social process and colorism is one manifestation of it. Although many people believe that colorism is strictly a ‘black or Latino problem’, colorism is actually practiced by whites and people of color alike. Given the opportunity, many people will hire a light-skinned person before a dark-skinned person of the same race, or choose to marry a lighter-skinned woman rather than a darker-skinned woman.  Many people are unaware of their preferences for lighter skin because that dominant aesthetic is so deeply ingrained in our culture. In the USA, for example, we are bombarded with images of white and light skin and Anglo facial features. White beauty is the standard and the idea.

Historical origins of colorism Colorism has roots in the European colonial project (Jordan 1968), plantation life for enslaved African Americans (Stevenson 1996), and the early class hierarchies of Asia. Despite its disparate roots, today, colorism in the USA is broadly maintained by a system of white racism.  The maintenance of white supremacy (aesthetic, ideological, and material) is predicated on the notion that dark skin represents savagery, irrationality, ugliness, and inferiority. White skin, and, thus, whiteness itself, is defined by the opposite: civility, rationality, beauty, and superiority. These contrasting definitions are the foundation for colorism. Colorism for Latinos and African Americans has its roots in European colonialism and slavery in the Americas. Both systems operated as forms of white domination that rewarded those who emulated whiteness culturally, ideologically, economically, and even aesthetically. Light-skinned people received privileges and resources that were otherwise unattainable to their darker-skinned counterparts. White elites ruling the colonies maintained white superiority and domination by enlisting the assistance of the ‘colonial elite’, often a small light-skinned class of colonized people (Fanon 1967). Although Mexico experienced a high degree of racial miscegenation, the color-caste system was firmly in place. Light-skinned Spaniards culled the most power and resources, while darker-skinned Indians were routinely oppressed, dispossessed of their land, and rendered powerless in the early colony. Vestiges of this history are still visible today in Mexico’s color-class system.

There is more in comparison to the various race of people, but for the sake of starting this conversation I will post again in a two to three part series.

~Desire Servant-hood Rather than Significance ~

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In our quest for the marks of mature spirituality and leadership ability, we must not bypass that quality which so completely characterized the life of Jesus Christ, the quality of unselfish servanthood. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) The apostle Paul added to this focus when he wrote, “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well” (Phil. 1:4). But then pointing to the Savior as our great example, he quickly added, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.” Paul then followed this exhortation with a strong reminder of the humiliation of Christ (Phil. 2:6ff) who, though being God of very God, emptied himself by taking the form of a slave. There is no question that if we as Christians are going to grow and mature into Christ-like character, we must experience progress in giving of ourselves in ministry to and for others. While we can and should find comfort and encouragement in Christ (Phil. 2:1), when properly grasped, that comfort should propel us into servants of the Savior and one another. Servant living stands opposed to the primary concerns we see today where the focus of our culture and society is more on our own personal happiness and comfort.

The preoccupation with self today is readily seen in slogans like, “be all you can be” or “experience your potential” and in the titles and subtitles of books like The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life; The Total Woman; Joy in Sex, More Joy in Sex, and the list goes on and on. While many of these books may contain biblical truth or genuine help in dealing with certain problems people face as human beings, the message, whether explicit or implicit, suggests the prime goal we should be pursuing is our own comfort and the experience of some form of self-expression rather than growth in the character and quality of the life of the Savior. Simply put, our modern day society, and this includes a great number of Christians, is focused on making satisfaction its goal, indeed, its religion. There is much more concern for self-fulfillment than for pleasing God and truly serving Him and others as seen in the life of Jesus. Typical of today is the enormous number of how-to-books not just for the secular world, but for the Christian community. These are aimed at directing us to more successful relationships, becoming more of a person, realizing one’s potential, experiencing more thrills each day, whipping ourselves into shape, improving our diet, managing our money, and on it goes. Again, while many of these things are important and have their place, it does take the focus off what is truly the heart of Christianity—knowing and loving God, and out of that resource and relationship, living as servants in the power of the Spirit according to the example of Christ.

But what exactly is servanthood? Servanthood is the state, condition, or quality of one who lives as a servant. Further, a servant is first of all one who is under submission to another. For Christians, this means submission to God first, and then submission to one another. Then, as one in submission, a servant is one who seeks to meet the real needs of others or of the person he is serving. To put it another way, servanthood is the condition or state of being a servant to others, of ministry to others rather than the service of self. It means willingly giving of oneself to minister for and to others and to do whatever it takes to accomplish what is best for another.

However, when serving others and their needs, if the underlying motive and goal is some form of self love, like the praise of others for the service rendered, then one’s service is in reality hypocritical. This type of service is really aimed at serving selfish ends—usually in the futile pursuit of personal significance through something like praise, power, or status.

Christ’s plan and that which produces maximum blessing to the world and the church is servanthood. A servant is one who, even when in positions of leadership seeks to lead and influence others through lives given in ministry for the blessing of others and their needs. As the following passages will demonstrate, the Lord Jesus came as a servant with a commitment to serve. Just think, if He had come to be served, our redemption could and would never have taken place. Likewise, our failure to live as servants throws up a huge barrier to effective ministry as representatives of the Lord Jesus.

Components of Servanthood from New Testament Passages

Since servant living was epitomized so completely by the Lord Jesus, we would naturally expect a number of passages to explicitly deal with this issue. While space will not allow an indepth exegesis, it is hoped that the following highlights drawn from several New Testament passages will draw our attention to a few vital principles that describe the spiritually mature quality of living as servants.

MATTHEW 20:20-28 (SEE ALSO MARK 10:35-45)

20:20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked something from him.20:21 He said to her, “What do you want?” She said, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”20:22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 20:23 He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 20:24 When the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers. 20:25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high position use their authority over them. 20:26 It must not be this way among you! But whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant. 20:27And whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

A consideration of Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10:35-45 shows us that there are basically two options open for people. Either we will seek to serve ourselves, a choice that nullifies our capacity to live as disciples, or we will learn to live as servants out of a faith relationship with God through Christ. In Matthew 6, the Lord stated it this way, “No one is able to serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. No one is able to serve God and possessions” (Matt. 6:24). When we serve money, we are really serving ourselves and our own desires for what we think money will purchase like significance, power, pleasure, security, or status. Money is not evil and having it is not evil, but if it becomes our master, it controls our values, priorities, and pursuits rather than God, and that is evil (see 1 Tim. 6:8-10).

Christ shows that His organization or organism, the body of Christ, is to function on the basis of service or servant-like ministry to others. Spiritually mature people who experience His life are those who have first of all developed a servant’s heart like that of the Savior. Thus, a true concept of mature Christian leadership means serving one’s followers and teaching them by example to be servants of others.

A mother approached the Lord, probably at the request of her sons, and sought a position of status for them. Why? Foolishly thinking that such status would give them happiness and significance, they wanted positions of authority, praise, and power. Our Lord’s answer showed that first of all they had been wrongly influenced by the attitudes of the world (vs. 25). Rather than thinking with the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5; 1 Cor. 2:16b) as His disciples should think, they were thinking like an unregenerate world. Thus, if they were to serve as His disciples, their thinking and orientation needed drastic transformation (see Rom. 12:1-8).

Naturally, the model for mature spirituality and leadership and all Christian living is the Lord Jesus. It is instructive to note that in this context of serving, He spoke of Himself as the Son of Man. This was a favorite designation of Himself (one used some 90 times) and a Messianic title based on Daniel 7:13-14. As such, it linked Him to the earth and to His mission, but it also stressed His pre-eminence, dignity, and authority (see Luke 6:5; John 6:62). The contrast between who He was, the Son of Man, and what He did, humble Himself, is stressed by the word “even” as given in Mark 10:45, “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…” This Messianic title draws our attention to His awesome humility as one who, though God of very God and Messiah Himself, came in order to serve and to give his life a ransom. In other words, He came to serve in order to set men free to be the people God had created them to be.

Since in this passage the Lord was correcting the thinking of His disciples, this clearly illustrates how we need to spend time with Him in His Word that we might allow His life and the teaching of Scripture to transform our thinking and thus our sources of trust, aspirations, and actions.

When the other disciples got wind of the request of the two, they became indignant and a certain degree of division occurred among the disciples. This shows how longing and striving for position, power, and praise quickly ruins relationships in the body of Christ and creates disunity and division. Servant living does the opposite.

Principle: the purpose of serving others is to set them free to love and serve God, not to make them our servants or to serve our wants or needs. We are all responsible to serve one another, but never in order to be served or to satisfy our immature cravings.

MATTHEW 23:11-12

23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 23:12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Greatness in God’s kingdom is never to be found in position or power or in the praise and opinions of men, but in servant-like service to others.

We see again that one of the greatest hindrances to service or servant living is the desire for some form of exaltation—position, praise, prestige, and power. Those who take the secular route so typical of the world and who exalt themselves will eventually be humbled. They will not only eventually lose the very status they seek, but if they are believers, they will also lose rewards in the kingdom.

Following the statement of verses 11-12, the Lord began to pronounce woes on the Pharisees who typically longed for status and praise. These woes illustrate some of the consequences when men fail to live as servants.

LUKE 22:24-30

22:24 A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 22:25 So Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 22:26 But it must not be like that with you! Instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. 22:27 For who is greater, the one who is seated at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

22:28 “You are the ones who have remained with me in my trials. 22:29 Thus I grant to you a kingdom, just as my Father granted to me, 22:30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The setting here is that of the Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, both of which spoke of Christ in His person and work as the suffering servant who would die for our sin. This scene presents a graphic picture of how preoccupation with self-centered interests (position, praise, and acceptance by others) ruins our capacity to even properly worship and relate to the person and work of the Savior. Because they were seeking their happiness and significance by trying to manage their own affairs they were blinded to what He was seeking to teach them and to what His life meant to them.

Servant living will be rewarded in the future. One of the hindrances to servant living is man’s impatience and his desire to be served now! Therefore, one of the keys to effective service is faith and constant orientation with the weight of eternity (2 Cor. 4:15-18). When we seek our reward now through the praise of men as did the Pharisees, we lose the power of God on our lives and ministries and we lose rewards in the future (cf. Matt. 6:1-4). But why do we do that? In unbelief, we turn from resting in God’s wisdom to our own foolishness through which we seek to handle life by our own plans or machinations.

JOHN 13:1-5 AND 12-17

13:1 Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. He had loved his own who were in the world, and now he loved them to the very end. 13:2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. 13:3 Jesus, because he knew that the Father had handed things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 13:4 got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 13:5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. . .

13:12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13:13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 13:14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 13:15 For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you. 13:16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 13:17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Perhaps no passage illustrates the source and nature of the heart of a servant more than John 13. Here, in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion the Lord Jesus dramatically drove home the issue and nature of what it means to be a servant. Imagine the scene. All had been prepared for this last meal with the disciples with the exception of one thing. According to the custom of the day a servant, with a basin of water and towel in hand, would wash the feet of the guests who had walked down the dirty, dusty roads of Palestine. But who would take the position of this servant and perform the task? I can just see the disciples looking around expecting someone else to do this, but never for a moment considering it himself. Then out of the blue, as a perfect picture and lesson of servanthood, the Lord Jesus rose to the task, laid aside His outer garment, put a towel around his waist, took water in a basin and began washing the feet of the disciples, all of which was a fitting analogy of yielding His privileges and assuming the role of a slave.

First, we should note that the source of Jesus’ actions lay in His knowledge and security of who He was and where He was going (vss. 1-3). Jesus was completely aware of His sovereign authority, His origin, and coming destiny as He submitted and depended by faith in what the Father was doing (cf. vv. 1, 18). Thus, in that confidence, He voluntarily took the place of a slave and washed the feet of His disciples. His thinking and action contrasts sharply with the self-seeking insecurity of the disciples, none of whom were willing to pick up the towel and take the place of a servant (cf. Matt. 20:20-24; Mark 9:33-34; Luke 22:24-30).

Christ’s security, His love, and His confidence in the Father and future allowed the Lord Jesus to assume the position of a servant, an amazing example of condescension (vss. 4-6). This attitude, faith, and action portrayed His entire ministry on earth (cf. Phil. 2:5-8) and provides us with the perfect example of what He wants to do in our lives. But this also demonstrates how servant living is accomplished in us—through faith and understanding of who we are in Christ and by confidence in the eternal glories of the future. After Jesus finished washing the feet of the disciples, He returned to His place and made this very pointed application:

John 13:12-15 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you.

Having pointed to His actions as an example for them, Christ then drove home an inescapable lesson, here defined as a “solemn truth.” If He, their master and the One they worshipped, assumed the role of a servant to minister to others, then certainly they must likewise take the towel of servanthood as a minister to others rather than seek to elevate themselves. Ironically, and contrary to the thinking of the world, true blessing comes in serving others.

16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

PHILIPPIANS 2:1-8

2:1 If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2:2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well. 2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 2:6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped, 2:7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!

This classic passage on the humiliation of Christ (verses 5-8) is here set forth as the supreme example for unselfish servant living for Christians. The apostle presents the Lord Jesus as One who, in his supreme superiority, manifests what is the model for all Christians; it points us to the humility needed to live as servants of others. Though existing in the form of God with all the rights and prerogatives of deity, Christ Jesus emptied Himself by taking on the form of a slave, by becoming true humanity. Christ veiled His deity and voluntarily laid aside the right to use and manifest His divine prerogatives in submission to the Father. In doing this, He humbled Himself that He might die even the death of the cross.

But the focus we dare not miss is Paul’s statement in verse 1 and the implications drawn from this. The main verb of the passage is “complete my joy.” Seeing men and women come to Christ in faith gives joy, but as one devoted to seeing believers mature into Christ-like living (see Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:13), nothing could give Paul greater joy (vs. 2) than to see believers live unselfishly serving one another with the mature mind of Christ (vss. 2-5). But before the apostle says “complete my joy,” he begins by getting the Philippians to think through what was theirs in Christ by the work of God. Literally, the text begins with four “if” clauses. He wrote, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort by love, if any fellowship in the Spirit, if any affection and mercy…” In Greek, these are first class conditional clauses, which, for the sake of argument or for a response from the reader, assumes the statement to be true. It is what can be called the response condition. Paul was not questioning the reality of these blessings in Christ. Rather, he used the first class condition as a kind of rhetorical device to get the reader to think through the issue and respond properly. The point is there is encouragement, comfort by love, and fellowship in the ministry and power of the Spirit, and the result—compassion and mercy that all believers should have for others.45 But we must never turn such blessings into merely personal comfort. The goal and result must be servant living, living as expressed especially in verses 3-5:

2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well. 2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.

The fundamental issue in living as servants, as those committed to meeting the needs of others, is a deep down humility that is willing to pick up the servant’s towel regardless of one’s status or station in life. No matter what one’s station or condition in life, whether king or peasant, slave or free, rich or poor, strong or weak, brilliant or slow of mind, nobleman or common, etc., in Christ God calls all Christians to live as servants serving others with the Lord Jesus as the perfect example of One who, though God of very God, took upon Himself “the form of a servant.”

… When Jesus Christ came into the world, it was not to come into a wealthy man’s home where all material things might be His. The home was characterized by poverty. He did not come into a royal home so that He might be respected as heir apparent even though He has the right to rule this earth. He was not born in Caesar’s home so that in due course He might follow His father to the throne. His station in life was that of a servant. A servant is characterized not so much as a person to be despised, but as someone without rights; a servant submits himself to the will of his master. What Paul emphasizes is that, when Jesus Christ came into the world, He came as One who had no rights of His own. The One who had all the rights that belonged to the eternal Son of God gave up the exercise of these rights; He came into the world as a servant who has no rights but is subject to the authority of another.46

The real test of whether we are truly maturing and learning to become a Christ-like servant is how we act when people treat us like one. I see so much suffering in the church and amongest leadership. Let’s read the word and become more intimate with His character as it relates to how He endured to complete the “Finished work” of our Father.

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~One Gospel Is Required~

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Two Questions, Three Positions

Three positions abound today on the question of whether Christ is the only way to salvation. All three can be detected by how each answers these two fundamental questions: First, Is Jesus the only Savior? More fully: Is the sinless life of Christ and his atoning death and resurrection the only means by which the penalty of sin is paid and the power of sin defeated? Second, Is faith in Christ necessary to be saved? More fully: Is conscious knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection for sin and explicit faith in Christ necessary for anyone to become a recipient of the benefits of Christ’s atoning work and so be saved?

Pluralism answers both questions, ‘No.’ The pluralist (e.g., John Hick) believes that there are many paths to God, Jesus being only one of them. Since salvation can come through other religions and religious leaders, it surely follows that people do not have to believe in Christ to be saved.

Inclusivism answers the first question, ‘Yes,’ and the second question, ‘No.’ To the inclusivist (e.g., Clark Pinnock), although Jesus has accomplished the work necessary to bring us back to God, nonetheless, people can be saved by responding positively to God’s revelation in creation and perhaps in aspects of their own religions. So, even though Christ is the only Savior, people do not have to know about or believe in Christ to be saved.

Exclusivism answers both questions, ‘Yes.’ The exclusivist (e.g., Ron Nash, John Piper, Bruce Ware) believes that Scripture affirms both truths, first, that Jesus alone has accomplished the atoning work necessary to save sinners, and second, that knowledge of and faith in Christ is necessary for anyone to be saved. The remainder of this article offers a brief summary of some of the main support for these two claims.

Only One Way? The Exclusivity of Jesus Christ and the Gospel

Jesus is the Only Savior

Why think that Jesus is the only Savior? Of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.

1. Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:26), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. Why does this matter? Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus’ conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. Christ must be both God and man to atone for sin (see below), but for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

2. Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:1; Philippians 2:5; 1 Timothy 2:5), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. Man he must be, but a mere man simply could not make this infinite payment for sin. But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

3. Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 2:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 9:13; 1 Peter 2:21), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. This prefigured the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. But no one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

4. Christ alone died a penal, substitutionary death (Isaiah 53:4; Romans 3:21; 2 Corinthians 2:21; Galatians 3:10), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And because Christ lived a sinless life, he did not deserve to die. Rather, the cause of his death was owing to the fact that the Father imputed to him our sin. The death that he died was in our place. No one else in the history of the world has died because he bore the sin of others and not as the judgment for his own sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

5. Christ alone rose from the dead triumphant over sin (Acts 2:22; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:16), and as such, he alone qualifies to be Savior. The Bible indicates that a few people, other than Christ, have been raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17; John 11:38), but only Christ has been raised from the dead never to die again, having triumphed over sin. The wages of sin is death, and the greatest power of sin is death. So, Christ’s resurrection from the dead demonstrates that his atoning death for sin accomplished both the full payment of sin’s penalty and full victory over sin’s greatest power. No one else in the history of the world has been raised from the dead triumphant over sin. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Conclusion: Christ alone qualifies as Savior, and Christ alone is Savior. Jesus’ own words could not be clearer: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And the Apostle Peter confirms, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These claims are true of no one else in the history of the world. Indeed, Jesus alone is Savior.

Faith in Christ is Necessary to be Saved

Why think that faith in Christ is necessary to be saved? The teaching of the apostles is clear, that the content of the gospel now (since the coming of Christ) focuses directly upon the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, and that by faith in Christ one is forgiven of his sin and granted eternal life. Consider the following passages that support the conviction that people are saved only as they know and trust in Christ as their Savior.

1. Jesus’ own teaching shows that the nations need to hear and repent to be saved (Luke 24:44). Jesus commands that “repentance and forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The people Jesus here describes are currently both unrepentant and unforgiven. To be forgiven they must repent.  But to repent they must hear the proclamation of Christ’s work in his name. And this is true for all the nations, including Jews who haven’t trusted Christ. Jesus does not envision the “nations” as already having saving revelation available to them. Rather, believers must proclaim the message of Christ to all the nations for people in those nations to be saved.

2. Paul teaches that even pious Jews, and everyone else, must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Romans 10:1).  Paul’s heart’s desire and prayer is for the salvation of his fellow Jews. Even though they have a zeal for God, they do not know that God’s righteousness comes only through faith in Christ. So these Jews, even though pious, are not saved. Whoever will call upon the name of Christ (see Romans 10:9along with Romans 10:13) will be saved. But this requires that someone tell them. And this requires that those are sent. Missions, then, is necessary, since people must hear the gospel of Christ to be saved.

3. Cornelius’s story demonstrates that even pious Gentiles must hear and believe in Christ to be saved (Acts 10:1, Acts 10:38; Acts 11:13; Acts 15:7). Far from being saved before Peter came to him, as some think, Cornelius was a pious (Acts 10:2) Gentile who needed to hear of Christ, and believe in Christ, to be saved. When Peter reports about the conversion of the Gentiles, he declares that only when he preached did Cornelius hear the message he needed to hear by which he would “be saved” (Acts 11:14; cf. Acts 15:8). Despite his piety, Cornelius needed to hear the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to be saved.

Conclusion: Jesus is the only Savior, and people must know and believe in Christ to be saved. May we honor Christ and the gospel, and manifest our faithfulness to God’s word, by upholding these twin truths and living in a manner that demonstrates our commitment to them.

~Giving Life~

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One of the goals of our outreach this year is to introduce us to the four key traits of keeping young adults in church for in a group of people that are pursuing Jesus (healthy) and pursing Jesus’ priorities (missional). December 31 st May and I were given an awesome opportunity to perform ministry with six different churches and I must say they were all tailored to the youth and young adults of those various communities. Having that experience has shifted our focus to a more vast attempt to provide a culture for the young adults and youths of our communities. We are adding a Internet Cafe and Evangelistic preparation environment to our business scope and ministry aspirations. We have prayerfully entreated our God for a name and it will be called “Club Jesus”. We will plan around Second Chance Alliance to incorporate this part of our vision within the re-entry program/ministry.

We believe that when these four elements, combined with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, mark our corporate life here at Second chance Alliance, renewal and revival will break out.
Individual renewal is indissolubly connected to the renewal of the whole church.  We cannot attain the fullness of the Spirit without being turned inside out so that our focus is no longer our growth, but the glory of God and the growth of Christ’s kingdom.
Faith is the main root of spiritual growth. Spiritual disciplines strengthen faith by leading us to prayer and by regularly exposing us to truth, as a solar battery is charged through exposure to light … [individual renewal] … needs to be balanced by the awareness we are spiritually renewed as we are refreshed by the gifts of other believers in community and as the Holy Spirit is poured out in answer to corporate prayer. Spiritual growth is not produced by the transfer of information but by responses of faith.
People leave the church. The dropout issue is well known and discussed widely. Perhaps less known is the high rate of young adult dropouts. Our research reveals that over two-thirds of 18-22 year-olds leave the church. In the short, four-year transitional window of teen to adult, the church loses the majority of its students.

Most of the dropouts do not leave their families during this time. Most of the dropouts do not leave their social networks during this time. Most of the dropouts do not leave the educational system during this time. But most of them leave the church.

The excuse that the secular society has more to offer than the church simply does not pass muster. Let’s look at four keys that our research shows are critical to keeping young adults.

1. Keep them with biblical depth

Young adults are more likely to stay in church if they are taught the truths of God’s Word. Biblical depth has a sticky quality. Christians who hear sound sermons each week, who are involved in small group Bible study, and who study the Bible on their own rarely drop out. Biblical depth also has an attractional quality. Spiritual seekers are most drawn to churches that maintain this culture of solid preaching and encouragement to study the Word of God. Go deep. Get excited about diving into the Word. And watch God work in not only the younger generation, but with all ages.

2. Keep them with high expectations

Too much of recent American church history has been one of low-expectations. Because the local church is comprised mostly of volunteers, leadership has been reticent to create an environment and attitude of high expectations. As a consequence, membership expectations have been communicated with extreme caution, if at all, lest the members become offended and leave.

This low-expectation environment has been normative for many of the churches in which young adults have attended. Most of them have heard very little, if any, of what is expected of them as a church member. As a consequence they have seen church as a low priority or even optional.

Creating a culture of high expectations is, in many ways, an intangible process. There are many ways to do it. But churches that have this environment of high expectations attract people who are on board with the purpose and mission of the church. Additionally, these churches are more likely to retain those who know upfront that much is expected.

3. Keep them with multiplication

Regardless of perspectives, two realities are clear. First, evangelism is not an option for Christians or for churches. The Great Commission is a mandate. Second, every church we have studied that is effectively reaching and retaining young adults is highly intentional about evangelism. They have a passion for multiplication. They get the action right. No exceptions. Period.

Churches with an outward focus are successful at retaining and reclaiming church dropouts for two main reasons. First, church dropouts are more likely to return to churches that are reaching out to them. Additionally, active churchgoing young adults have an understanding of what God requires of His people. Both groups have a desire to go to a church that is doing what God commands.

4. Keep them with simplicity

Our research has shown that many young people leave the church because they were never truly discipled. They may have been involved in a plethora of activities, but they weren’t growing spiritually to be more like Christ. A church cannot be essential to people unless there is a clear structure guiding them along the discipleship process.

Biblical depth is more important than the discipleship structure of the church. But churches that do not have a structure in place cannot move people toward an understanding of this depth. A culture of high expectations is more important than the structure of a church. Without this structure, however, a church has difficulty communicating these expectations. A multiplying church is more important than the structure. But without structure, people do not know how to multiply. The right structure is not the most important facet of a church, but most churches cannot carry out their most important purposes because they do not have the right structure.

Churches that keep young adults get the content right-biblical depth. They get the attitude right-high expectations. They get the action right-multiplication. And these churches get the structure right-simplicity.

~Finding The Samaritans Outside Of The Church~

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Testing the boundaries of outreach evangelism.

Yes, to Heal the Abused

In our quest to find the broken hearted and ostracized of life we called upon other ministries that function primarily outside the walls of the church to present the gospel hope of Jesus Christ. We found astonishing evidence that a loving presences of evangelistic workers makes a difference in getting the gospel outside to a dyeing world. I had an interesting event happen in my life in a “Crack House In Perris Ca., I went to deliver some packages and was overcome with remorse and a strong unction to pray for those in that trailer and it reshaped my life and introduced me to the Help Mate I now have in my life.

An out-of-the-way topless bar and club off the highway was a regular Thursday evening destination for Anne Polencheck and her outreach partner. Every two weeks the women faithfully toted gift bags of handmade cards, homemade cookies, earrings, and lotion to the bar and club. With a word of kindness, a prayer, or a hug, they hoped to share Christ’s compassion with women who worked there.

Polencheck, a former software engineer, leads New Name, a ministry to strip clubs, bars, massage parlors, and so-called spas in the western suburbs of Chicago. Volunteers pray together and regularly visit venues. It’s a slow-going ministry that emulates Jesus leaving the safety of the fold to seek the one lost sheep. Often the workers are busy with customers or simply aren’t interested in chatting.

One week, Polencheck met Debbie, a 20-something who recognized the “church ladies” from their previous visits. “I’m seven months pregnant. I need a new job,” she said. After their visit, Debbie stepped outside and prayed: “God, if you’re real, can you help me?”

When Polencheck and her ministry partner returned one week later, they handed Debbie a flier for Refuge for Women, a Kentucky residential program for those choosing to leave sexual exploitation. It usually had a wait list, but it had one opening.

Debbie’s plea came after years of despair. Her childhood was marked by sexual abuse that started when she was 5. At age 9, Debbie was placed in foster care after she showed up at school black and blue from violent beatings. Twenty times, she was shuffled in and out of foster homes in part due to her anger-driven rebellion.

The wounded girl grew to become a broken woman who numbed her pain with alcohol and drugs. Her husband, an abusive drug addict, introduced her to strip clubs. She began exotic dancing and using more drugs. Debbie’s horrific background is not unusual for women working in strip clubs. About 90 percent of women who have received care at Refuge were sexually abused as children.

“Jesus would want us to look at these women as our sisters,” says Ked Frank, director and cofounder of Refuge. “They’re living out of pain and trauma, and our hearts should be broken for them.” At the residential facility, Debbie found family in seven other women with similar experiences as well as a church community and mentors who listened, prayed, and encouraged her.

Before graduating the yearlong program, Debbie gave birth to a healthy baby girl, accepted Christ, and was baptized. She now leads worship at her church and mentors teenagers in the youth group. Debbie holds a job as she raises her 2-year-old daughter and volunteers at Refuge, hoping to help other women who bear the invisible chains of abuse and exploitation.

“God is at work, and his presence is found in the clubs,” Frank says.

So, would Jesus hang out with people in a strip club? I believe he’s been doing just that.

Jesus unconditionally loves us all, including club owners, dancers, and customers. He is still calling us to leave the safety of our church walls and extend a hand of hope to a broken man or woman.

 

Three Views: Would Jesus Hang Out in a Strip Club?

No, He Wouldn’t

Joe Carter

In 1896, Charles Sheldon, a Congregational minister in Kansas, wrote In His Steps, a novel that became an all-time bestseller and spawned the ubiquitous phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Back then it was an open question—as Sheldon makes clear—whether Jesus would condone hanging out at a boxing match. Today, we’re wondering if we can give reasons why Jesus wouldn’t hang out at a strip club. Times have changed.

Initially, I assumed this must be a trick question. Are there Christians who ponder, “What Would Jesus Do?” and think, “Jesus would probably be hanging out at a bar where people go to watch women undress”?

It’s hard for me to believe there are Christians who think Jesus would hang out in a strip club. Are we talking about the Jesus who had a high opinion of women and a low view of lust? Hanging out at a strip club doesn’t sound like something he would do.

But since the question is being asked, I assume there are people who think he would. I have to assume they think that since Jesus ate with sinners, he’d have no problem eating at a buffet next to a stripper pole.

Jesus did sit and eat with sinners (Mark 2:16–17). In Luke 15, we again find the oft-quoted claim made by the Pharisees: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” What is often left out is the lengthy reply Jesus gave. After hearing their charges, Jesus tells three parables—about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a prodigal son. Each of these stories has the same theme: rejoicing over the repentance of sinners. It’s possible, even likely, that some who ate with Jesus—such as during the feeding of the 5,000, or at Simon the Pharisee’s house—left unrepentant. But there is no evidence that Jesus ever ate with sinners or even spent significant time “hanging out” with them without calling them to turn from their sin.

There is no place in Scripture where Jesus was uncritically present when sin was occurring or when an action that mocked God was taking place. In fact, in the most famous example of Jesus witnessing an act where sin was taking place and God was being mocked—a scene recorded in all four Gospels—he made a whip of cords and drove sinners from the temple. Do we think this Jesus would unreservedly hang out in a place where men and women were mocking the dignity of the human body?

I wonder if what many people want to know is not whether Jesus would hang out at a strip club, but whether he’d have an issue if they hung out there. For those people, I’d recommend meditating on the words of Matthew 5:28–29.

Yes, to Shine in the Dark

Strip club? Crack house? Porn convention? Casino? Fill in the blank, and every response of mine is an absolute yes—Jesus would hang out in these places. Here’s why: There is no context, environment, or event that Jesus would choose not to be in.

Our limitations on where he might go are based on not fully understanding the desperate need for Christ in these godforsaken places. There are an estimated 400,000 strippers working in nearly 4,000 clubs in the United States. As followers of Christ, we should hang out in these places too.

In January 2002, Craig Gross and Mike Foster launched a ministry at a Las Vegas porn convention. The organization, XXXchurch.com, is devoted to being the presence of Christ at these events. There, volunteers have handed out thousands of Bibles with the words “Jesus loves porn stars” on the cover. I was taught about the deep and lavish grace of God not by a seminary professor but by the sex industry. In our moments of pride, we say that “those sinful people” have nothing to offer us, that we are there to save them. But a great desire of God is to ruin our spiritual pride. (If you don’t believe this, go to an AA meeting.)

Fear is the core reason why many of us would say “no” to Jesus hanging out in a strip club. Fill in the blank of what you might be afraid of happening: it might look bad; it wouldn’t be very productive to do ministry in that environment; people would be dragged down into a life of sin; someone would have to explain our actions to religious people.

I am sympathetic to these fears and their power. But such comments expose the smallness of our religion. A Christian leader once said to me, “Don’t blame the dark for being dark. Blame the light for not shining in the dark.”

God is the God of “yes” and the God of “go.” We have made our faith too heavy and our walk burdensome and scary. We are so great at making the gospel complex that we forget about the simplicity of Jesus. He is not held down by manmade restraints, restrictions, or rules. He easily strolls into the space of need and the lives that are desperate for healing.

Here is my purely marketing move: If I were acting as brand consultant for Jesus, I would tell him to go to the strip club. No place is off-limits to the gospel. In Luke 5:32 Jesus proclaims, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Everyone is looking for attention and trying to get their message out. Do you want to stand out? Then do what other teachers, religious leaders, and followers refuse to do. In my opinion, light shines the brightest in the darkest places—places like the neighborhood strip club.

~We Are Precious In “His” Sight~

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I felt compelled to share this gift with the world. I received this word for the soul purpose of interviewing for a assistant pastor position that I was fortunate to present to their board and a few of their young adults. I used this video along with some of my testimony to illustrate what it would look like on a Sunday or Thursday night with me as a instrument of God chosen to present the word. It went well, but none of my prerequisites were considered and so I still shine and move in my God to pursue our vision while He harbors us in His nailed scared hands until He exalts us into full operation.

If there is a God, as I believe there is, and if he rules the world in his sovereignty, as the Bible says he does, and if he will bring human history to a close according to his plan and appoint to every person his eternal destiny, as Jesus taught that he will, then two of the most important questions for any human being to answer are these:

1) What is God’s goal in creating and governing the world?

2) How can I bring my life into alignment with that goal?

For if we don’t know his goal and our lives are not in alignment with it, then we will find ourselves at cross purposes with God and excluded from his kingdom in the age to come. It is a fearful thing to be at cross purposes with your maker! But on the other hand, nothing inspires courage and endurance and pluck for daily living like knowing the purpose of God and feeling yourself wholeheartedly in harmony with it. Nothing has nourished the strength of my Christian faith like knowing God’s ultimate goal for creation and discovering how to bring my heart and my behavior into alignment with that goal.

God’s Goal in Creating Israel

So this Thursday sermon and next Sunday I want to talk about these two questions. First, What is God’s goal in creating and governing the world, especially in creating and overruling humanity? Then next Sunday, How do we bring our lives into harmony with that goal?

The text I have chosen to focus on is Isaiah 43:1–7. Let’s read it in context:

But now, thus says the Lord, your creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed even whom I have made.” (NASB)

The main point of the passage is to encourage God’s people not to fear what man or nature can do to them. This is the command repeated in verse 1 and verse 5. After each of these commands not to fear God gives his reasons why his people should not fear. In verses 1–4 God argues like this: You should not fear because what I did for you in the past proves my love to you and my care for you. “I redeemed you (from Egyptian bondage), I called you by name, you are mine!” (v. 1). So you can count on me to help you when deep waters and raging fire threaten to destroy you (v. 2). “I am the Lord your God, your Savior, you are precious to me.” Look, have I not subjugated other peoples in order to save you (vv. 3, 4)? So don’t be afraid of the trouble coming upon you.

That is the first argument why God’s people should not fear. Then verse 5 repeats the command, “Don’t fear,” and gives a new argument in verses 5–7. “I am with you! The judgment of being dispersed into captivity away from your land—this is not my final word. I will gather you again. For you are called by my name, I created you for my glory.”

What is it that at rock bottom moves God to help his people? Verse 4 says, “You are precious in my eyes . . . I love you.” Is that the answer? In a sense, yes. When John said, “God is love,” he no doubt meant that no matter how deep we probe into the motives of God, we will never arrive at a layer which is not love.

But this text lures me down, down, down into the heart of God. It raises a question. In order for Israel (God’s chosen people of that era) to be precious in God’s sight, they had to exist. I have three sons and they are precious to me and I love them. But they were not precious to me and I did not love them in 1970; they did not yet exist, they had not been planned nor conceived. So the deeper question is, Why was Israel even conceived or created? Why did God bring into existence a people whom he could regard as precious? What was his motive before there was even a people to love?

Verse 7 gives the answer: God created Israel for his glory. The existence of Israel was planned and conceived and achieved because God wanted to get glory for his name through her. Before we ask just what it is for God to seek his own glory in this way, let’s see if this goal of God has motivated more than just the election of the nation Israel.

God’s Goal from the Beginning

In one sense we can speak of the exodus out of Egypt as the birth of Israel as a nation. At this point God gave her the law to regulate her life as a nation, and this law and covenant have been the backbone of the nation ever since. But if the exodus was the birth of Israel, then the election and call of Abraham back in Genesis 12 must have been the conception of the nation of Israel, and the period of the patriarchs and slavery in Egypt would then have been the gestation period. So when it says God created Israel for his glory, I take it to mean that the purpose of God to be glorified in Israel was the purpose which motivated God at every step: conception, gestation, and birth.

If this is true then we are put onto an interesting link between the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and the call of Abram in Genesis 12, which will, I think, show us that God’s goal of glorifying himself did not originate at the creation of Israel but that this is what he was up to from the beginning.

Look at Genesis 11. The key phrase to show what caused God to become angry with these tower builders and disperse them comes in verse 4. “They said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.'” Ever since Adam and Eve had chosen to eat of the forbidden tree in order to be like God, independent of him and wise in their own right, the human race has been enslaved to a rebellious heart that hates to rely on God but loves to make a name for itself. The tower of Babel was a manifestation of that rebellion. They wanted to make a name for themselves and reach even to heaven, but God frustrated their designs.

But instead of abandoning the human race God starts a new thing in chapter 12 of Genesis. He chooses one man, Abram, and makes him a promise in Genesis 12:1–3. Listen to what God says and contrast it with what the tower builders said:

Now the Lord said to Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great.”

The people working on the tower of Babel said, “Let us make a name for ourselves!”. God chooses the father of the Jewish nation and says, “I will make your name great.”

Now, what does this show about the goal of God in the world? I think Moses is telling us, as he writes this primal history, that when ancient man refused to align himself with the goal of God, God set about a very different way of achieving that same goal. Man was made to rely on God and give him glory. Instead man chose to rely on himself and seek his own glory—to make a name for himself. So God elected one small person and promised to achieve his purpose through that man and his descendants. He would make Abram’s name great, so that he, and not man, would get the glory.

In other words, the goal of God in creating Israel, namely, for his glory, is not a goal that took effect only at that point in history. It is the goal that guided his creation and governance of man from the start. Man was created from the beginning in God’s image that he might image forth God’s glory. He was to multiply and fill the earth so that the knowledge of the glory of God would cover the sea. And ever since the fall of man into sin, people have refused to align themselves with this divine goal. But all God’s acts have been aimed at seeing it through.

So it is not just Israel but we whom God created for his glory. This is why the New Testament again and again calls us to do all to the glory of God. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). “Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). This is not an admonition to do God a favor. It is a command to align our lives with his eternal goal. He created us for hisglory. God’s great aim in creating and governing the world is that he be glorified. “I created you for my glory. I formed you, I made you.”

What It Means to Be Created for God’s Glory

Now, what then does it mean to say that God created us for his glory? Glory is a very hard thing to define. It is like the word “Beauty.” We all can use it and communicate with it but to try to reduce it to words is very frustrating. It is easier to point to examples. A sunset seen from the top of the I.D.S.—that’s glory. Or the I.D.S. itself almost invisible, like crystal against a grey-blue sky—that’s glory. A perfect performance on the balance beam by Nadia Comaneci—that’s glory. A perfectly executed 30-foot jump shot with one second to go—that’s glory, too.

The glory of God is the beauty and excellence of his manifold perfections. It is an attempt to put into words what God is like in his magnificence and purity. It refers to his infinite and overflowing fullness of all that is good. The term might focus on his different attributes from time to time—like his power and wisdom and mercy and justice—because each one is indeed awesome and beautiful in its magnitude and quality. But in general God’s glory is the perfect harmony of all his attributes into one infinitely beautiful and personal being.

Now when God says that he created us for his glory, it cannot mean that he created us so that he would become more glorious, that his beauty and perfection would be somehow increased by us. It is unthinkable that God should become more perfectly God by making something that is not God. It is a staggering but necessary thought that God has always existed, that he never came into being, and that everything which exists which is not God is from his fullness and can never add anything to him which did not come from him. That is what it means to be God; and it should humble us, O, how it should humble us, when we ponder his reality!

But this means that when God says he made us for his glory, he does not mean he made us so that he could become more glorious in himself. Instead whatIsaiah 43:7 means is that he created us to display his glory, that is, that his glory might be known and praised. This is the goal of God with which we must be aligned in our hearts and actions if we hope to escape his wrath at the judgment.

This becomes clearer as we page through Isaiah. Isaiah 43:20–21 says, “I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 44:23says, “Sing, O heavens for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob and will be glorified in Israel.” In response to her redemption Israel will join the skies and valleys and mountains and forests in singing praise to the Lord. The Lord’s glory will be known and praised and displayed to the nations.

But Isaiah 48:9–11 makes even clearer what it means for God to seek his own glory in creating and redeeming his people:

For My name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of My praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you but not like silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For My own sake, for My own sake I do it,
for how should My name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.

What an amazing text this is! How wonderfully un-modern and anti-21st-century this text is! How ugly and repulsive it must appear to the god of this age, the prince of the power of the air. But how sweet, how clean and high and bright and full of allurement to those who really love God above all else.

Even though this text deals with God’s Old Testament people Israel, we have seen that his motives do not change from era to era and so we can apply at least that aspect of this text to the people of God in our day—those who follow Christ as Savior and Lord. Two things cry out to be stressed in our day. First, our salvation is for God’s sake. “For My name’s sake I withhold my anger. For the sake of My praise I restrain it for you.” To be sure, God will save his people, he will bless us infinitely! But it is for his name’s sake, for his praise, for his glory that he does it. “For My own sake, for My own sake I do it, for how should My name be profaned.” Where this perspective is lost, and the magnifying of God’s glory is no longer seen as the great aim of redemption, pitiful substitutes arise—man centered philosophies that exalt human value in a way that distorts the work of redemption and belittles the primacy of God. And surely I don’t have to tell you in detail that this perspective of God-centeredness has been lost in our day, even in the churches. Man is the star in our contemporary drama and his comfort, his prosperity, and his health are the great goals. Of course God is there on the stage, but only as a kind of co-star or supporting actor to round out the picture for religious and cultural expectations.

What a world apart is Isaiah 48:9–11, and even more so Ezekiel 36:21–32. Parts of this text are very familiar promises of the New Covenant, but O, how we need to read what comes before and after these promises, lest we lose the biblical perspective of our salvation.

But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. Therefore, say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness, and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, that you may not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord God, “Let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!” (NASB)

That’s the first thing that needs to be stressed from Isaiah 48:9–11: our salvation is for God’s sake. He created us for his glory!

The second thing that needs to be stressed is this: God will not allow his name to be profaned indefinitely. Though he is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, he will not tolerate forever those who do not give him glory, but instead regard something else as more glorious, more worthy of allegiance. “My glory I will not give to another.” That’s why I said at the beginning, it is a fearful thing to be at cross purposes with your maker. There is a judgment day and the issue for every one of us will be: Have we been with God in his great goal to glorify himself or has his glory been a matter of indifference to us or even animosity?

We are left with two great questions, which I am to answer next Sunday, if God wills. One is: How do we bring our lives into alignment with God’s goal to glorify himself? What sorts of things must we think and feel and do for God to get glory from us? Is it another weight to make us sigh or is it wings to let us fly? And the second question is: Why is it right for God to seek his own glory when he tells us in his Word we should not seek our own glory? How can it be loving and not selfish for God to create us for his glory?

But even before next week when I try to answer these two questions all of us here need to align ourselves more fully with God’s goal. And my assumption is that some are here who up until this very point in your life have lived it at cross purposes with God. I urge you, do not wait until next Sunday to be reconciled to God. Repent and give your life to God for his purposes now. Any help that I can be in that decision, let me know.

~Are They Forgotten?~

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Addiction can happen at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young.  If your teen continues to use drugs despite harmful consequences, he or she may be addicted.

If an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason––such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem. Parents and others may overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of puberty. Other signs include:

  • A change in peer group
  • Carelessness with grooming
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Missing classes or skipping school
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Trouble in school or with the law
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Deteriorating relationships with family members and friends

Through scientific advances, we know more than ever before about how drugs work in the brain. We also know that addiction can be successfully treated to help young people stop abusing drugs and lead productive lives. Intervening early when you first spot signs of drug use in your teen is critical; don’t wait for your teen to become addicted before you seek help. However, if a teen is addicted, treatment is the next step.

Why can’t some teens stop using drugs on their own?

Repeated drug use changes the brain. Brain-imaging studies of people with drug addictions show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Quitting is difficult, even for those who feel ready. NIDA has an excellent video that explains why drugs are so hard to quit:

It could be helpful to show your teen this video. It helps explain why the inability to stop using drugs is not a moral failing, but rather an illness that needs to be treated.

If I want help for my teen or young adult, where do I start?

Asking for help from professionals is the first important step.

You can start by bringing your child to a doctor who can screen for signs of drug use and other related health conditions. You might want to ask your child’s doctor in advance if he or she is comfortable screening for drug use with standard assessment tools and making a referral to an appropriate treatment provider. If not, ask for a referral to another doctor skilled in these issues.

You can also contact an addiction specialist directly.  There are 3,500 board certified physicians who specialize in addiction in the United States.  The American Society of Addiction Medicine Web site has a Find a Physician feature on its home page, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has a “Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder” on its Web site. you and the physician can decide if your teen or young adult should be referred to treatment.

It takes a lot of courage to seek help for a child with a possible drug problem, because there is a lot of hard work ahead for both of you, and it interrupts academic, personal and possibly athletic milestones expected during the teen years. However, treatment works, and teens can recover from addiction, although it may take time and patience. Treatment enables young people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects on their brain and behavior so they can regain control of their lives. You want to be sure your teen is healthy before venturing into the world with more independence, and where drugs are more easily available.

~Outreach-Giving Sheer Thanks For Our Second Chance~

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In truth, I am just as susceptible to the difficulties and hardships and grief that accompany human existence as the next person. I’m no better, no more worthy of a free pass based on virtue or intelligence or character—or my identity as a follower of Christ. But this also meant that my hardships were in no way an indicator that God did not love me or had abandoned me for all time. I realized that people who are deeply loved by God can suffer deeply as well—and that included my family and me.

The question “Why me?” betrayed the fact that I had bought into a worldview that is based more on karma than the gospel.

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The second question that I asked myself was even more transformative than the first:

“Why me?”

This might seem like the same question that I first posed, so allow me to explain what I mean: When I experience hardship, I am often quick to raise an anguished voice to the heavens and cry out, “God, why me?! Why, out of all people, have I been chosen to suffer in this way?” And when I fail to receive a satisfactory answer – or any response at all – that can only mean that God does not love me, or he doesn’t exist. In fact, many of us probably know people who have lost their faith in this exact manner.

Yet when something good happens to me, when I experience blessedness and providence and protection, I rarely do the same thing, or at least not to the same degree. I don’t raise a shout to the heavens, “God, why me?! Why, out of all people, have I been chosen to receive this blessing and this goodness in my life? Why God, whyyyy?” Instead, I give quiet praise to God as I wear a smile of smug self-satisfaction, certain that my own intelligence and righteousness had something to do with the outcome.

I find that rather revealing, that when I am doing badly, I am quick to complain to God, to pin my misfortunes on him and his incomprehensible ways. But when I am doing well, I am more quiet and reserved. What an unfair contradiction, that God should be so commonly blamed for my hardship, and so anemically praised for my blessings! By all rights, if I am shaking my fists at the heavens, I should also be prepared to raise my hands to them as well. This is only logical and fair.

~My More In Life Is Found Only In Jesus~

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Romans 5:1-11New International Version (NIV)

Peace and Hope

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.
Belonging to God brings boundless blessings.

 

~I’ve Seen Him Work In My Life~

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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 1-12Psalms 78:34-35Romans 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 42:1-17Romans 5:3-5James 1:2-51 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).

~ I Dye So He Can Live In Me~

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The truths gleaned from Romans 6-8 are critical for establishing a strong Christian life. Why is this? What truths are powerfully presented here in Romans?

The Pattern

Paul applies the pattern of Christ’s life to our Christian lives. Paul enables us to get a grasp of this through the picture of baptism – the down and up. Baptism doesn’t mean to sprinkle but to immerse. A Christian does not merely acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, he also follows Christ. He acknowledges both the value of what Christ has done on the cross and the importance on how Jesus redeemed us.

We often focus on what Christ has accomplished through His death. Paul speaks clearly of this in chapters 3 and 4 of Romans. Chapter 5, however, develops the basis of our union with Christ. We are united with Christ by our faith. Starting in chapter 6, we see how this identification with Christ affects our life.

The picture of baptism includes three aspects: the going down, being under and the rising. We might think of rinsing a cloth. We take it from the air, submerge it under water and then bring it out to be used. Humility speaks of the first two steps. Many would like to avoid the implications of these first two important steps. They want to claim to have eternal life with no sense of repentance – no dying. They have not died to themselves. There has been no funeral. This concept is key to living a fulfilled Christian life.

The Problem

Paul seems to have discovered a group of people that claim Christ’s death but deny any real identification with Christ in the death process. Christ merely paid for their sins as some historical fact (which it was of course). They want to forget about their close identification with Christ in this process.

Humility

If we consider Christ’s death to be all so important (and it is), then we need to realize its effect on our lives. When Jesus died, He not only bore our sins, but He also was, in a final way, saying “no” to sin. After death, sin had no part of His life. He had no earthly flesh that begged to be given special preference.(1) So we, as His disciples, must identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. We must say “no” to our former allegiance to sin through our faith and “yes” to our allegiance to Christ. We now have a new focus on life. Because of this new allegiance, we are not to sin but to live for God.

For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, (Romans 6:10-12).

Pride: Hate it!

We will never be able to die to ourselves unless we are convinced that serving the flesh (our old nature) is totally unprofitable. We have to see that it has absolutely no worth. We need to come to detest its very presence. On the other hand, we must come to love the Spirit’s ways. We are to see the glorious work of the Spirit in contrast to the flesh. By seeing their contrasting ways, we hate one and love the other. We refuse to serve our own self’s preferences and become wholly loyal to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

Pride

We cannot rid ourselves of the flesh on this earth. This is what Jesus referred to in 6:10 when he says, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin.” It is still there. If we are not careful, we will serve it. But we don’t have to. By voiding our allegiance to our flesh, we can, by Christ’s grace, be set free to serve Christ. How do we void our former allegiance to our flesh? Paul says death is the only means and explains it carefully in Romans 7:1-6.

The point is that unless we are absolutely convinced the flesh is a destroyer, we will continue to listen and follow it. We will, in essence, continue to serve it. As Christians we are technically free from its ruling over us, but we still could serve the old self. The follow up question is whether we really hate the flesh. Are we really convinced? Paul convincingly set forth this case in the last part of chapter 7 and the early part of 8. Whenever he would go by the old nature, he would serve his own self and bear evil results. But he wanted to serve Christ (Romans 7) which bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5). The flesh always brings about death because it is hostile to God (Romans 8). We ought not live for our bodies. We do not need to live for ourselves.

We need to humble ourselves by stating that serving ourselves is not good. In a sense this is what ‘dying to self’ essentially means. We recognize serving self is no good and so we choose to serve the Spirit. These chapters provide a lot of help in convincing us of the horrible nature of the flesh and the glory of the Spirit.

Commitment to saying “no” to the old nature comes only as much as:

   1) we are sure of the old nature’s total rebellion against God and

    2) we desire to serve the Spirit.

Our growth comes as we recognize the complete rebellious nature of the flesh and power of the new life through the life of Christ.

Dying to self means simply a mental check on our determination not to live for oneself and to live for Christ. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:31 say, “I die daily.” This is a regular battle. A daily battle. Paul, as a veteran apostle, witnessing many miracles, seeing a revelation of Christ, still had to personally die to himself. We do too. We cannot afford not to.

Here is a possible prayer for your early morning meditation.

“Dear Lord, my allegiance to You will be tested today. Right now, I am stating my faithfulness to you. You are the One I love forever. At the same time, I will clearly state that I want nothing to do with serving my self. I have had enough to do with that selfish ego of mine that tries to get all the attention it can. Your principles of love and giving are what I want. Radiate in my life through acts and words of kindness. Forgive me of my sin and cleanse me. I make myself totally empty of self so that You can fill me with your precious Holy Spirit. Lead me forth. I will follow in your humble paths of love.”

The Christian needs to acknowledge the flesh, declare its lousy nature, reject its promptings, acknowledge the Lord’s presence, the beautiful nature of the Spirit and affirm one’s total heart and will to the Spirit’s leading.

Christian life is based on humble living. When we are willing to humble ourselves by looking at the facts of what self-service does, then we are willing to walk in that path.

~Let’s Fight The Policies and Change Our Culture on Drugs and Humanity~

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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.
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~I Want To Go Home~

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As a POW, “I said I want to go home, as an inmate “I said I want to go home, As a free man addicted to fame and fortune and cocaine and the game of life, “I said I want to go home, as a believer in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, “I am saying I want to go home. After trauma and bad choice in life one can only feel empathy for Charlie in this video. I feel so much empathy  for those who are coming home having to adjust to society that isn’t prepared to show forgiveness and any empathy for their plight of life. I saw this tonight as I was watching my Metv channel and I was crushed because my wife and I have spoken to sixteen people who are facing these fears of adjustment that are coming their way as they are getting released with no life skills nor family to assist them. We cry real tears of passion as we entreat God for finances and a building to help instill hope for those ex-offenders who really want to live the rest of their life independent and restored.

What does it take to break the cycle of criminal life and incarceration? Based on the accounts of those who have lived this experience, it requires an intense will to change attitudes and behavior to improve one’s life, a willingness to learn new skills, and an ability to overcome rejection time after time. The obstacles that are in store for the ex-offender who is released into society are enormous.

 

Transitioning from a prisoner number to an adult person expected to take on adult responsibilities can be overwhelming for many ex-inmates, particularly those who were incarcerated for long periods of time. The prison industry is flourishing because America is locking up more people than any country in the entire world – 2 million-plus and counting – most convicted of non-violent offenses.

The subsequent psychological, sensory and physical impact that many of these returnees experience often goes unaddressed and isn’t discussed very often by politicians or mainstream media, even though each day many of us will share space with someone who has spent a significant portion of his life in a cage.

Every one of us should be concerned because these men and women are of us and will be returning to us, our communities, many to our own families. This is dedicated to better understanding the impact of this system’s “corrections” from those who lived it.

Family and supporters

Former prisoners should ideally receive counseling before release and as part of their release plan to help move through the potentially challenging moments they may experience upon re-entry. Likewise the family should – also ideally – be offered counseling before the inmate is released, particularly the children of soon-to-be ex-prisoners. Caretakers of the children during the incarceration need to know the pitfalls that could occur and learn the tools to protect everyone emotionally while remaining as supportive as possible during the readjustment period.

The family members are changed people as a result of the inmate’s incarceration, just as the inmate is, and so things will likely not ever get back to the way they once were. Supporters should always offer encouragement and guidance geared toward smoothing out potentially bumpy transitions and not make the returnee feel as though they owe them something for having supported them while incarcerated nor exacerbate negativity that only serves to further divide and cause pain within the family.

Ex-prisoners may not readily accept the advice of others because they are finally free to not follow anyone else’s orders and so may make errors in judgment when dealing with seemingly simple situations. Opportunists may take advantage of some of these vulnerable returnees, as some can be easily manipulated and led into situations that are detrimental to them. Former friends and dangerous influences may arise and ex-prisoners may even fall into some old patterns.

Ex-prisoners may not readily accept the advice of others because they are finally free to not follow anyone else’s orders and so may make errors in judgment when dealing with seemingly simple situations.

Even when mistakes are made, the last thing returnees need to deal with is ridicule or condemnation, breeding resentment and deterring badly needed support. Many have been terrorized mentally and physically at the hands of guards and other inmates and have deep scarring that no one can see from the outside looking in. Comparing one ex-prisoner’s successes to another’s lack thereof is meaningless because each individual’s journey through their prison years varies greatly and so shall their journey upon release.

“I had a family. I had a house. I had a car. I had a job. … I was making good money. Everything was going well, and now I don’t have the patience for anything. … I have problems with my physical self. I have aches in my body and my legs. … [My] life is a lot harder. No matter how many visits, phone calls and letters you have shared with people, you still don’t know how much they have changed over a lengthy period of time until you’re actually around them regularly, and they feel the same way about you.”

“My son wasn’t a baby anymore and he hadn’t seen me in 10 years. Now he was 12. He wouldn’t let me hug him. He wouldn’t even shake my hand. I’m trying to understand this. I cry every night.”

“I want to prove to myself and those who stuck by me that I can make it right. I’m so scared of letting anyone down after the burden I’ve been.”

“Everything has been taken from me while inside. My mom had been taken from me, my dad has been taken from me, I have no family at all out here and I am completely on my own with $75 and nowhere to go. I was engaged when i got locked up at 18 – now I’m 45, the rest of my teens, all of my 20s, 30s and most of my 40s gone! My only child was born while I was inside and is now himself an inmate and so we’ll never be together.”

“I live with my mother in my old neighborhood. I need a pardon in order to get paid for wrongful imprisonment. After all they’ve taken from me, you’d think they’d at least provide me with my basic needs. I’m embarrassed to depend on my family as a 45-year-old man to have to eat.”

“Every night I pray and pray for the prisoners I left behind. I feel so badly for them living under such horrible conditions and promised many of them I would help them when I got out. My one friend is getting out of prison this week; she has been locked up for eight years. … She was 18 when she got locked up. I want to see her, but part of me wants to leave that part of me behind! I want to help, but how can I help? I barely have my feet on the ground as it is. But I promised I would and she is counting on me for support.”

“I went into a serious depression and was put on a medication that drove me into a prison within myself. It took the program staff several months to realize I wasn’t talking to anyone or eating, that I had lost about 30 pounds. I was ‘gone’ even though I was performing my required duties. After all those years of taking care of myself, to be so strong and resourceful and get myself paroled – by God’s grace – and then not know how to do anything for myself was really difficult.”

The real world

A study of the attitudes of released prisoners in the United States revealed that most expected to be labeled “ex-cons” and treated as failures and pariahs. Getting paperwork together to apply for services such as a birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license etc. is very difficult and yet very urgent in order to become recognized as a person in this system. Learning bus and subway systems or even walking routes may be difficult because of the changes that have taken place in the landscape.

A steady diet of encouragement is necessary in order to try and help them find a new “normal” in their life and set and achieve goals. The feelings of alienation may still be present, no matter how many people may feel that they are close to the inmate.

A steady diet of encouragement is necessary in order to try and help them find a new “normal” in their life and set and achieve goals.

“The dysfunctional consequences of institutionalization are not always immediately obvious once the institutional structure and procedural imperatives have been removed. This is especially true in cases where persons retain a minimum of structure wherever they re-enter free society. Moreover, the most negative consequences of institutionalization may first occur in the form of internal chaos, disorganization, stress and fear. Yet institutionalization has taught most people to cover their internal states, and not to openly or easily reveal intimate feelings or reactions. So, the outward appearance of normality and adjustment may mask a range of serious problems in adapting to the freeworld,” .

“(W)hen severely institutionalized persons confront complicated problems or conflicts, especially in the form of unexpected events that cannot be planned for in advance, the myriad of challenges that the non-institutionalized confront in their everyday lives outside the institution may become overwhelming. The facade of normality begins to deteriorate, and persons may behave in dysfunctional or even destructive ways because all of the external structure and supports upon which they relied to keep themselves controlled, directed, and balanced have been removed. …

“Parents who return from periods of incarceration still dependent on institutional structures and routines cannot be expected to effectively organize the lives of their children or exercise the initiative and autonomous decisionmaking that parenting requires. …

“Those who remain emotionally over-controlled and alienated from others will experience problems being psychologically available and nurturant,” .

“It felt like I was walking into another world again. I couldn’t believe it. Because I’ve been fighting so long, when (my release) eventually came, I didn’t know whether to take it or run back inside.”

“I was very frightened to walk across a street. I couldn’t judge the time, distance and speed of on-coming traffic. I had a problem with my sensory depth perception from bars being right in front of my face. I realized it was a problem after wildly running in an almost panic across the street, only to see the on-rushing traffic to remain still considerable distances down the street. I told myself, ‘You’ve got a problem, so get over it – fast.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I worked and worked on it.”

Inmates in the Last Mile program at San Quentin State Prison prepare to present their startup ideas in San Quentin

If you won’t consider donating to our cause, Then can we solicit your prayers and faith that this vision will not depart from our hearts nor will we faint until it materializes. I want to thank you in advance for whatever you decide to do especially for your time in reading this post.

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~The Indomitable Joy In Jesus~

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Not Playing Games in Corporate Worship

I have tried these three-a-half years to lead my family and all that worship with me in the experience of sorrowful yet always rejoicing. I turn with dismay from church services that are treated like radio talk shows where everything sounds like chipper, frisky, high-spirited chatter designed to make people feel lighthearted and playful and bouncy. I look at those services and say to myself: Don’t you know that people are sitting out there who are dying of cancer, whose marriage is a living hell, whose children have broken their hearts, who are barely making it financially, who have just lost their job, who are lonely and frightened and misunderstood and depressed? And you are going to try to create an atmosphere of bouncy, chipper, frisky, light-hearted, playful worship?

And, of course, there will be those who hear me say that and say: O, so you think what those people need is a morose, gloomy, sullen, dark, heavy atmosphere of solemnity?

No. What they need is to see and feel indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” They need to taste that these church people are not playing games here. They are not using religion as a platform for the same-old, hyped-up self-help that the world offers every day. They need the greatness and the grandeur of God over their heads like galaxies of hope. They need the unfathomable crucified and risen Christ embracing them in love with blood all over his face and hands. And they need the thousand-mile-deep rock of God’s word under their feet.

The Thousand-Mile-Deep Rock of God’s Word

They need to hear us sing with all our heart and soul,

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

They need to hear the indomitable joy in sorrow as we sing:

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

If you ask me, Doesn’t the world need to see Christians as happy in order to know the truth of our faith and be drawn to the great Savior? My answer is yes, yes, yes. And they need to see that our happiness is the indomitable work of Christ in the midst of our sorrow — a sorrow probably deeper than they have ever known that we live with every day. They need to see “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

So let’s put some of that rock under out feet now — the rock of God’s word. What John Piper and Jason Meyer think counts for nothing compared to what God thinks. So let’s go to the Bible and see if these things are so.

Why Emphasize “What the World Needs”

We will focus on 2 Corinthians 6:3–10. Why have I put the emphasis on what the world needs? Why have I framed the main point of this sermon as: What the world needs from the church is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow? The answer is in verses 3 and 4. Paul says, “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.”

In other words, Paul is saying: What I am about do in this chapter is remove obstacles and commend our ministry — our life and message. He wants the church in Corinth, and the world, not to write him off, not to walk away, not to misunderstand who he is and what he teaches and whom he represents. He wants to win them. If you want to use the language of seeker-friendly, watch how he does it.

A Seeker-Friendly Apostle

It’s amazing what he does here. Many savvy, church-growth communicators today would have no categories for this way of removing obstacles and commending Christianity. In fact, some might say: Paul, you are not removing obstacles, you are creating obstacles. So let’s watch Paul remove obstacles and commend his ministry. This, he says in effect, is what the world needs.

He does this in three steps: he describes the sufferings he endures; he describes the character he tries to show; and he describes the paradoxes of the Christian life.

The Sufferings He Endures

First, he describes the sufferings he endures for Christ (2 Corinthians 6:3–5):

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.

So be asking yourself: How is this removing obstacles? How is this commending his ministry? Why is this not putting people off rather than drawing them in?

The Character He Shows

Second, he describes the character he tries to show (2 Corinthians 6:6–7):

. . . by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left [probably the sword of the Spirit in the right hand and the shield of faith in the left, Ephesians 6:16–17].

So instead of being embittered and frustrated and angry and resentful by all the afflictions and hardships and calamities and labors and sleepless nights, by God’s grace Paul has shown patience and kindness and love. His spirit has not been broken by the pain of his ministry. In the Holy Spirit, he has found resources to give and not to grumble. To be patient in God’s timing, rather than pity himself. To be kind to people, rather than take it out on others.

The Paradoxes of the Christian Life

And third, Paul describes the paradoxes of the Christian life (2 Corinthians 6:8–10):

. . . through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

When you walk in the light and minister in the power of Holy Spirit, and speak the truth in “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, and love,” some people will honor you and some will dishonor you (verse 8a); some will slander you, and some will praise you (verse 8b). And that dishonor and slander may come in the form of calling you and imposter (verse 8c). You’re not real. You’re just a religious hypocrite.

Remember Jesus said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Which means that in Paul’s mind a mixed reception (some honoring and praising, some dishonoring and slandering) was part of his commendation. It removed the obstacle: You can’t be a true prophet, all speak well of you.

Outside Perceptions with Some Truth in Them

Then come six more paradoxes. If you aren’t careful, you might take these to mean that Paul is correcting false perceptions of Christians, but it’s not quite like that. Every perception here of the outsider has truth in it. But Paul says, What you see is true, but it’s not the whole truth or the main truth.

Verse 9a: You see us “as unknown, and yet [we are] well known.” Yes, we are nobodies in the Roman empire. A tiny movement following a crucified and risen king. But O we are known by God, and that is what counts (1 Corinthians 8:3;Galatians 4:9).

Verse 9b: You see us “as dying, and behold, we live.” Yes, we die every day. We are crucified with Christ. Some of us are imprisoned and killed. But O we live because Christ is our life now, and he will raise us from the dead.

Verse 9c: You see us “as punished, and yet [we are] not killed.” Yes, we endure many human punishments and many divine chastenings, but over and over God has spared us from death. And he will spare us till our work is done.

Verse 10a: You see us “as sorrowful, yet [we are] always rejoicing.” Yes, we are sorrowful. There are countless reasons for our hearts to break. But in them all we do not cease to rejoice, one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian life!

Verse 10b: You see us “as poor, yet [we are] making many rich.” Yes, we are poor in this world’s wealth. But we don’t live to get rich on things, we live to make people rich on Jesus.

Verse 10c: You see us “as having nothing, yet [we are] possessing everything.” In one sense, we have counted everything as loss or the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8). But, in fact, we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). To every Christian, Paul says, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).

Exactly Opposite of the Prosperity Gospel

Now step back and remember what Paul said in verse 3: “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” He has been removing obstacles to faith and commending the truth and value of his ministry — his life, his message, his Lord. And he has done it in exactly the opposite way that “the prosperity gospel” does it.

What obstacle has he removed? He has removed the obstacle that someone might think Paul is in the ministry for money, or for earthly comfort and ease. He has given every evidence he could to show that he is not a Christian, and he is not in the ministry, for the worldly benefits it can bring. But there are many pastors today who think just the opposite about this. They think that having a lavish house and a lavish car and lavish clothes commend their ministry. That’s simply not the way Paul thought. He thought that such things were obstacles.

Enticing to Christ for the Wrong Reason

Why? Because if they would entice anyone to Christ, it would be for the wrong reason. It would be because they think Jesus makes people rich and makes life comfortable and easy. No one should come to Christ for that reason. Enticing people to Christ with prosperous lifestyles and with chipper, bouncy, light-hearted, playful, superficial banter, posing as joy in Christ, will attract certain people, but not because Christ is seen in his glory and the Christian life is presented as the Calvary Road. Many false conversions happen this way.

So how is Paul commending his ministry — his life, his message, his Lord? Verse 4: “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” How? By showing that knowing Christ, being known by Christ, having eternal life with Christ is better than all earthly wealth and prosperity and comfort. We commend our life and ministry by afflictions. We commend our life and ministry by calamities. We commend our life and ministry by sleepless nights. What does that mean? It means Christ is real to us, and Christ is infinitely precious, more to be desired than any wealth or comfort in this world. This is our commendation: When all around our soul gives way he then is all our hope and stay.

Sorrowful — Yet Always Rejoicing

What does it mean (verse 10) that part of Paul’s commendation to the world is that he was sorrowful yet always rejoicing? It means that what the world needs from the church is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow.

Let me move toward a close with two pictures of this sorrowful yet always rejoicing. One from Jesus and one from Paul.

A Picture from Jesus

When Jesus said in Matthew 5:11–12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,” do you think it is random that the next thing he said was, “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world”? I don’t think it was random. I think the tang of the salt that the world needs to taste, and the brightness of the light that the world needs to see is precisely this indomitable joy in the midst sorrow.

Joy in the midst of health? Joy in the midst of wealth and ease? And when everyone speaks well of you? Why would that mean anything to the world? They have that already. But indomitable joy in the midst of sorrow — that they don’t have. That is what Jesus came to give in this fallen, pain-filled, sin-wracked world.

A Picture from Paul

Or consider Paul’s experience of agony over the lost-ness of his Jewish kinsmen in Romans 9:2–3. Remember Paul is the one who said in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” But in Romans 9:2–3, he writes, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Don’t miss the terrible burden of the word “unceasing” in verse 2. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” because my kinsmen are perishing in unbelief cut off from the Messiah. Is Paul disobeying his own command to rejoice always? No. Because he said in 2 Corinthians 6:10, We are sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

What the World Needs from Us

Is this not what the world needs from us? Picture yourself sitting across the table at your favorite restaurant from someone you care about very much and is not a believer. You have shared the gospel before, and they have been unresponsive. God gives you the grace this time to plead with them. And he gives you the grace of tears. And you say: “I want so bad for you to believe and be a follower of Jesus with me. I want you to have eternal life. I want us to be with Christ forever together. I want you to share the joy of knowing your sins are forgiven and that Jesus is your friend. And I can hardly bear the thought of losing you. It feels like a heavy stone in my chest.”

Isn’t that what the world needs from us? Not just an invitation to joy. Not just a painful expression of concern. But the pain and the joy coming together in such a way that they have never seen anything like this. They have never been loved like this. They have never seen indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of sorrow. And by God’s grace, it may taste like the salt of the earth and look like the light of the world.

So I say one last time: What the world needs from the church — from us — is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow.

Indomitable Joy in Suffering and Sorrow

This was Paul’s commendation of his ministry. May it be our commendation of Christ at His earthly church. It is no accident that Paul concluded the greatest chapter in the Bible — Romans 8 — with words that are designed pointedly to sustain your joy and my joy in the face of suffering and loss.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in [not instead of, but in!] all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39)

So, “Church”, let the world taste your indomitable joy in suffering and sorrow.

~Does Your Leadership Banner Incorporate Accountability?~

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As believers, we recognize the value of imitating Jesus and His leadership style. But if we really think about it, it’s strange that we try to emulate a leader who never developed an organization, regularly encouraged people to stop following Him, and ultimately saw His death as the pinnacle of His accomplishments.

What kind of perspective must a leader have to place high value on these kinds of strategies? Jesus was not a manager. His primary role was to function as a spiritual leader.

Not all leaders in religious organizations are spiritual leaders. This is not a criticism as much as a distinction. Distinguishing spiritual leadership from other forms of leadership can free people from unrealistic expectations of some leaders.

At the same time, making this distinction can help identify who the spiritual leaders in your organization are. Here are six characteristics that identify most spiritual leaders:

  1. They lead others into their own encounters with God. One of the most effective things about Jesus’ lifestyle was that He didn’t switch into another mode to introduce His disciples to the reality of God.Whether standing in the synagogue or picking wheat along the path, interacting with the Father was so natural that others around Him could not help but do the same. Whether a spiritual leader is training a new employee or working through a difficult conflict resolution, his followers will discover their own connection to God more deeply in the process.
  2. They lead others to discover their own purpose and identity. Spiritual leadership is characterized by great generosity. A spiritual leader genuinely wants others to fully discover who they were made to be.Workplace issues and strategic development become tools to help followers discover their own identity and overcome obstacles standing in their way. People functioning in an area of their created identity and strength will always be more productive than those who are simply trying to fill a position or role.
  3. They lead others into transformation—not just production. When the goal is spiritual growth and health, production will always be a natural outcome. People function at their peak when they function out of identity.Helping your followers discover that their own transformation can happen on the job will engender loyalty and a high level of morale. Spiritual leadership fosters passion in those who follow. Passion is the ingredient that moves people and organizations from production to transformational impact.

  1. They impact their atmosphere. While we may not stop a tempest with our words, spiritual leaders recognize that they can change the “temperature” of a room, interaction, or relationship.Changing the atmosphere is like casting vision, only it is immediate. When there is tension, fear, or apathy, a spiritual leader can transform the immediate power of these storms and restore vision, vitality and hope. A spiritual leader can fill a room with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness, even while speaking hard things.
  2. They help people see old things in new ways. Many people are stuck not in their circumstances, but in their perspectives and paradigms. The word “repent” means “to think differently, or to think in a different way.” Jesus called people to look again at old realities through new eyes. Changing ways of thinking always precedes meaningful change.
  3. They gain a following because of who they are—not because of a position they hold. Spiritual leaders can be found in secular organizations, in the same way managers and organizational leaders can be found in religious ones.Spiritual leaders influence more than they direct, and they inspire more than they instruct. They intuitively recognize that they are serving something—and Someone—larger than themselves and their own objectives.

We’re all familiar with liberal do-gooder arrogance — the kind that stems from having the luxury of choosing from a salad bar of causes because none are immediately constraining their lives, or assuming that because you studied an issue in a university, you’re an expert. Avoid being that person: cultivate humility and take direction and leadership from those most affected by an issue.

Because people on the receiving end of great injustices have to live with the consequences of campaigns that seek to address those injustices, they have the most to gain from victory — and the most to lose if something goes wrong. They’re also the best equipped to know, and to articulate, workable solutions to their problems. A campaign that ignores or minimizes their knowledge and voices could easily do more harm than good.

Accepting guidance from another isn’t always easy for people who themselves identify as leaders. Self-identified “leaders” sometimes rush in too quickly, confident they’ve got the answer while their preconceptions and prejudices blind them to the organic answers all around them. We can mitigate these blindspots by being intentional about respecting the process and cultivatingaccountability.

Accountability can be a scary concept for activists, but it’s best to think of it as a proactive process that we walk together, rather than a standard that is either achieved or not.

The booklet Organizing Cools the Planet outlines four basic principles for cultivating accountability:

Transparency means being clear about your politics, organizational structure, goals, desires and weaknesses. The point here is to be as open as possible about your perspectives and motivations.

Participation is about actively and equitably engaging with folks about the decisions that affect them.

Reflection and deliberation means that we actively open up conversation to re-evaluate where we’re headed. It happens after participation, but once it’s begun, it is a continuous thread that is woven throughout the experience.

Response is the ability to make amendments and adjustments to issues raised by Reflection and deliberation.

However, accountability is not our goal; collaboration is our goal. Accountability is the pathway we walk. The cycle above moves us toward increasingly successful collaborations. Don’t be discouraged if collaboration is difficult at first. Trust takes time. Be forgiving of yourself and others; we all make mistakes.

~Is God Sovereign~

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What does the Assemblies of God believe concerning the free will of mankind in everyday choices and its relation to God’s sovereignty and providential care? Can we through our choices or prayers alter what God has ordained? If God has a master plan that will be accomplished, is it not futile to think we can change what will happen?

There is some disagreement in the evangelical world concerning the interrelationship of God’s sovereignty, His providence, and mankind’s free will. To some theologians, the three seem to be contradictory. But the Assemblies of God, having diligently searched the Scriptures for the best correlation of the three indisputable principles, believes that all three can exist in full theological certitude without doing any injustice to the other two.

The term sovereignty of God is not found in the Bible, yet the truth of God’s sovereignty is evident throughout Scripture. God has absolute authority and power over His creation. God is omnipotent; He can do anything He desires to do. But this indisputable fact has caused considerable theological debate about the relationship of mankind to God’s sovereignty. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, is He responsible for all the evil in the world. Is our eternal destiny determined by God’s sovereignty, making meaningless our assumption that we have some choice in the matters that concern our existence?

Human reasoning and logic would say that if God is truly sovereign over all His creation, the human creatures He created have no opportunity to make individual choices. And if they have a free will that can make personal choices, then God cannot be sovereign, because anything He does not control negates His being sovereign. But Scripture emphasizes both the sovereignty of God and the free will of humankind. So instead of judging by human reason that both facts cannot coexist, we must honor the integrity of God’s Word, accept, and explain to the best of our limited human reasoning how both truths can be valid.

First we recognize the biblical statements of God’s sovereignty. Just to mention a few of many: “I know [Job speaking] that you [God] can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, NIV). “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalms 135:6, NIV). “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (Daniel 4:35, NIV). “Who [God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, NIV).

Over against these statements of God’s sovereignty, we have the Genesis account of God’s earliest interaction with human beings. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, God did not excuse them by saying it was His fault they had disobeyed. Instead, He laid the full penalty of the sin of disobedience on them, although at the same time He gave them a promise of salvation and escape from the penalty of their disobedience. In addition to this example of humankind’s responsibility, we also have a direct statement of Scripture: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4,20, NKJV). Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites is a challenge for today: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15, NIV). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God does not force individuals to sin. Yet He has ordained a penalty for voluntary sin that must be paid. Every call to repentance in Scripture is an indication that God has given to humankind a free will which can choose right or wrong.

How do we bring together these two seemingly exclusive truths: God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free will? In God’s great design for His creation, He desired freely given allegiance rather than robotic response to His will. Voluntary love and obedience are much better than automatic, predetermined responses. God created humankind with the option of loving and obeying Him, even though it meant that some would choose not to give allegiance to His rule. Freely given love is more valued than forced or parroted expressions. Since God has chosen to give humankind a free will, His sovereignty is not destroyed.

A related issue that raises a similar question is the providence of God. By definition, God’s providence is His faithful and loving provision for the needs of all His creation, for His own children as well as for those who reject His offer of salvation. To believers, the promise is given, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians. 4:19, NASB). But the Bible also affirms kindness even to those who deny His Lordship: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). If God is good as His providential care for His creation suggests, one might wonder why people, especially God’s children, suffer and experience serious setbacks.

The same explanation serves to answer this question. Desiring voluntary love and obedience from His creation, God provides a free-will choice for all humans. Sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Man is appointed to die because sin reigns in our fallen physical world. Becoming a Christian does not cancel the physical judgment that rests on all humankind. If it did, everyone would become a Christian just to avoid pain and suffering. But one can choose to acknowledge God’s authority even though pain and suffering are still part of our earthly existence. When we accept Christ our free will chooses allegiance to God, believing that He has ultimately overcome Satan, sin, suffering, and death, and believing that the heavenly reward that awaits us makes all the suffering and pain of this life worthwhile. Mature Christians understand that God’s providential care for His creation is not destroyed just because physical laws of sin and death are still part of our temporary earthly existence.

~God Is Doing A New Thing- Isaiah 43:18-19~

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Second Chance Alliance

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live the life of your dreams? To wake up every morning feeling excited, inspired and passionate about your life? If you want to be more engaged in your own life you need to find the courage to pursue your secret hopes and ambitions. Perhaps you want to run a marathon, write a book, give a speech or start your own business. What’s stopping you? What’s getting in your way? Chances are your number one obstacle is you…your shoulds, beliefs and fears. Want to blast away these roadblocks to your happiness? Then it’s time to get out the dynamite and that power is only available in God (Promises)!…..

My Dream

This is a part of my dream also coming to a store near you soon…

God is always on the move. He created us to have goals and dreams, to be reaching for more in our life in Christ. When God gives you a dream, it’s like becoming pregnant: you conceive (think or imagine) a vision of the “new thing” He’s planned for you. Now you have to make it through the pregnancy and get to full-term to birth the fulfillment of it (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Ecclesiastes 5:3 says, For a dream comes with much business and painful effort.… This is why many people abort their dreams before they reach full-term. God plants a seed (dream) in them and they become pregnant. But when they find out it will take effort, be costly and uncomfortable to complete their preparation for the birth, they decide it wasn’t really God’s will after all and go and do something else.

I want to encourage you to go through the hard part because if you give up, you will never be completely satisfied. There will be a part of you that doesn’t feel settled or fulfilled.

So how do we successfully make it through preparation and give birth to our God-given dreams? Here are three keys May & I used to stay motivated.

1. The Power of Putting Your Expectation in God

When a woman is pregnant, we say she’s “expecting.” This is part of what we must do to reach full-term and not give up or abort the dream God put in us. We must keep expecting, be aggressive and talk to God about it, preferably every day because the devil is a thief and he wants to kill, steal and destroy the plans God has for us (see John 10:10).

It’s easy to fall into a passive attitude that says, “Well, we’ll just see what happens…” But we must resist becoming a “wait and see” kind of person. Instead, we need to be focused on God and determined to expect from Him, like David. In Psalm 27:13, he said, [What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living!

Waiting on God is not a static, passive place where you’re doing nothing. It’s a time in your life when you aren’t taking matters into your own hands, trying to do what only God can do. You are waiting physically, but you are active spiritually, seeking His face and putting your trust in Him.

2. The Benefit of a Good Attitude

You can’t please anyone if you have a bad attitude. In fact, if you murmur and complain, people are probably tired of hearing it. And if we’re honest about it, we’re like this because we want others to feel sorry for us, which doesn’t do any good.

I know this from personal experience. I used to be very negative and feel sorry for myself a lot. I would complain to my wife, May, but she would say, “Aaron, you just want me to feel sorry for you, and I’m not going to do it because it won’t do you any good.” At the time, it made me so mad, but I’m glad she responded to me this way because he was right.

Eventually I learned the truth that no matter what is going on in my life, I can choose to have a good attitude. And if you have a good attitude, God will give you favor with people and in circumstances of life. While we can’t always choose our circumstances, we can choose how we react to them.

3. How to Live the Dream

So often our dreams are about us—what we want for our life or what’s good for us. But Jesus, our example of how to live, gave His life not for His benefit but for ours. Shortly before He was crucified, He was in a garden praying and He said, Not My will but Yours be done (see Luke 22). He came from the glory of heaven to earth to give us life. Everything He did was for us.

To really live the dream God has for us, we need to let go of selfishness, or “die to self.” What are some things we must die to? Things like our plan, our timing, our way, our reputation, getting credit for what we do, the need to be in control and the need to be right.

If you will give your life to God like Christ laid down His life for you, God will do amazing things in you and through you. It’s not easy but the reward on the other side is so worth it—the fulfillment of your God-given dream!

 

 

~Who Do You Serve God Or Mammon?~

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Briefly review setting and main theme. We come now to Jesus’ teaching on the relationship between God’s kingdom and material wealth (6:19-34). And the key verse is 6:24 (read)–who will you serve, God or Mammon? “Mammon” refers to material wealth.

The idea that you can serve each in their own context is an illusion. One will be your true master, setting the tone and shaping the course of your life.

Furthermore, unless you consciously choose to serve God you will by default serve Mammon (especially in this culture).

But why should we choose to serve God instead of Mammon? Is it just some abstract theological/ethical argument? Or are there good personal reasons for doing this? In 6:19-23, Jesus provides us with two such reasons by contrasting two treasures and two eyes . . .

2 Treasures

Read 6:19,20. Notice that Jesus is not against laying up treasures for yourself per se. The key issue is what kind of treasures you are laying up. Be sure you lay up the right kind, because the stakes are high.

Serving Mammon is “laying up for yourself treasures on earth.” Before we learn why Jesus warns us not to do this, we need to be clear on what it is and isn’t.

From 1 Tim. 6:17, we learn that it is not making more than subsistence income or enjoying material possessions. Nor is it exercising prudent financial preparation for future needs (Prov. 6:6). (Not that many of us are in danger of rejecting any of these!)

It is seeking increasing material wealth by hoarding large amounts of money and/or by amassing lots of material possessions. It is continuing to amass money and/or possessions way beyond what you really need (pleonexia, the Greek word translated “greed,” means “the desire for more”). According to Jesus, this is serving Mammon, this is idolatry.

In other words, it is the American Dream, as advanced by Walter Williams (professor of economics at George Mason University): “What’s the noblest of human motivations? Some might be tempted to answer: charity, love of one’s neighbor, or, in modern, politically correct language, giving something back or feeling another’s pain. In my book, these are indeed noble motivations, but they pale in comparison to a much more potent motivation for human action. For me the noblest of human motivations is greed. I don’t mean theft, fraud, tricks, or misrepresentation. By greed I mean being only or mostly concerned about getting the most one can for oneself and not necessarily concerned about the welfare of others. Social consternation might cause one to cringe at the suggestion that greed might possibly be seen as a noble motivation. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ might be a preferable term. But I prefer greed since it far more descriptive and less likely to be confused with other human motives.”

Why does Jesus tell us not to do this? Because material wealth is ultimately impermanent.

You may lose it in this life in a variety of ways. Jesus cites corrosion and theft. To this we can add inflation, stock market crashes, bank scandals, war, ill health, government changes, etc. We can mitigate these risks to a certain extent by wise investment, insurance, etc.–but the truth remains that any one of us can be wiped out at any time. It happens all the time.

Even if you avoid the above, you will lose every bit of it when you leave this life. Read Lk. 12:13-21. Let this warning sink into your soul! You cannot take it with you. You came into this world without a penny, and you will go out without a penny. There are no trailer-hitches on hearses. “How much did he leave?” “Why, all of it, of course!”

Would you invest all of your money in stock in a company that you knew was shaky and going to fold? Why would you invest your life in the pursuit of material wealth, which is never secure and will definitely be taken away from you?

 

 

What’s the alternative? To “lay up for yourself treasure in heaven” (re-read 6:20). This is what Jesus in Lk. 12:21 called becoming “rich toward God.”

How can we do this? To answer this question, we must turn to other passages.

First and foremost, by establishing a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16). The moment you do this, you are guaranteed eternal life with God. Have you done this?

By developing intimacy with God and godly character (1 Tim. 4:7b,8) through consistent investment in the means of growth.

By serving other people as representatives of God’s kingdom (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Being “rich in good works” involves evangelism, discipleship, etc. And it involves being generous and ready to share your financial resources to alleviate human need and advance God’s kingdom in the world.

This is a totally secure investment.

No one and nothing can take this from you in this life.

It will be waiting for you (with interest) in the next life.

And you can accumulate as much as you want regardless of your financial resources!

2 Eyes

Read 6:22-23. In this little parable, Jesus gives us another reason why we should serve God and not Mammon.

The eye, even though it is a small organ, is key to the operation of the rest of your outward body (TRY FIXING A MEAL WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED). Just as the condition of your eye powerfully affects the well-being of the rest of your body, the treasure you seek will powerfully affect the well-being of the rest of your life.

The point, then, is this: The treasure you pursue will determine not only your ultimate wealth in the next life, it will also determine the quality of your life in this life.

If you have a “bad eye” (seek material wealth), it will give you the illusion of being enlightened (6:23b), but it will lead you into greater and greater darkness (misery and damage). Paul says the same thing in 1 Tim. 6:9,10 (read).

You don’t even have to believe in the Bible to realize that materialism delivers just the opposite result!

Recommend PBS “Affluenza,” an excellent analysis of the extent of Mammonism in America:

THE RESULT: “We’re filling our lives with things–and telling others that we’re empty inside.”

THE CONSEQUENCES: swollen expectations; shopping fever; chronic stress; fractured families; skyrocketing bankruptcies; social scars; global infection

Or consider these conclusions by David Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (Yale University, 1999), who studies the correlation between material wealth and happiness.

From 1960-1993, real income in America doubled–but during that same time the divorce rate doubled, teen suicide tripled, juvenile violence quadrupled, and unwed births quintupled. Although the average American has more money today, there is “less happiness, more depression, more fragile relationships, less communal commitment, less vocational security, more crime and more demoralized children.”

Some of you could add your own eloquent (and anguished) testimony . . .

On the other hand, you can develop a “good eye” by serving God and pursuing spiritual wealth. If you do this, you will not avoid suffering–but your life will become progressively more integrated and healed and satisfying in the areas that really matter: SATISFACTION OF KNOWING YOU ARE ACCOMPLISHING GOD’S WILL; CLEAR CONSCIENCE; FULFILLING RELATIONSHIPS; CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S CARE; HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.

Conclusion

Repeat 6:24 thesis. At the end of the day, the choice you make about this is huge!

On one level, it’s neither simple nor all-at-once to serve God instead of Mammon. But God will show you how to do it at each step if you ask him to do this.

Self-Assessment Questions

Which treasure are you seeking? Which master are you serving? Which God do you love? Here are some additional questions that may help you answer this question.

What comprises your dreams & aspirations? Are they dominated by material things, or by spiritual growth & service?

Whom do you admire and want to be like?

Who are your closest friends?

What excites you most?

How regularly & how generously do you give of your money to God’s service? Which direction are you moving in this area?

Are you able to be content with what you have materially, or do you always itch to have more because you are bored without more things? One indicator here is how much DEBT you are in from non-necessary acquisitions.

What do you do with your spare time? Do you invest in FAMILY, MINISTRY, SPIRITUAL GROWTH–or is it mostly all spent on MORE WORK, TV WATCHING, SHOPPING, HOBBIES, etc.?

How do you view retirement? As a time to focus on material enjoyment which you have deserved, or as a time of greater freedom to serve God?

Is your excitement about God & your outrage over materialism increasing? Or is your excitement about God dulled, & your critique of materialism vague and filled with qualifications?

 

~Evil Is Always Present: The dangerous facts about ‘legal’ designer drugs~

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A variety of synthetic marijuana products.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

Harriet Tubman

Synthetic “designer” drugs are gaining popularity across the country, particularly with parolees, military personnel, and others looking to get a legal high without worry of failing a drug test. Through sophisticated chemistry, amateur drug makers have found ways to minorly alter the chemical structure of drugs like marijuana and MDMA to make them “street legal” and undetectable in standard drug tests.

“The world of drugs, for controlled substances and toxicology, five or eight years ago used to be about maybe 250 compounds, all of which we understood well,” says Peter Stout, a research forensics scientist at RTI International, when asked about the prevalence of the designer drug trend. “Now, we’re getting 10, 20, 100 new compounds that show up every year.”

In our quest to gain knowledge about the trending issues and drugs that are exposed to our “Youth” and communities May & I positioned ourselves with police and research professionals to learn more about these dangerous and elusive drugs. Here’s what you should know about some of the most popular products:

Spice/synthetic marijuana

THE DRUG 

The term “spice” refers to a variety of herbal mixtures that resemble marijuana in appearance and effect. Spice is touted as a safe, legal alternative to cannabis, and it is sold in many smoke shops and gas stations alongside tobacco products. Some of the most popular names for spice strains include K2, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and others.

A variety of synthetic marijuana products.

Spice is often promoted as being “natural” psychoactive plant material. In truth, the only natural component is dried plant matter that is treated with the psychoactive chemicals, synthetic cannabinoid compounds that simulate the effects of natural marijuana.

THE LAW

All cannabinoids, including the synthetic compounds used in spice, are federally classified with marijuana as a schedule 1 narcotic. Makers of spice have continued to keep their products “street legal” by staying one step ahead of law enforcement, changing the chemical structure slightly in order to create a new compound that has not yet been classified as an illegal cannabinoid.

THE DANGERS

The ever-changing chemical makeup of spice’s active ingredients means that there is little data on the effects of spice on the human body. However, spice abusers at Poison Control Centers across the country have reported rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations. Spice has also been shown to raise blood pressure and, in a few cases, has been associated with heart attacks.

Concerns have also been raised about spice packaging, which some claim markets the drug to children.

AMT

THE DRUG

alpha-Methyltryptamine, or aMT, is a psychedelic and stimulant, initially developed in the 1960s as an antidepressant. It creates feelings of euphoria and hallucinations similar to MDMA or LSD, though the chemicals are structurally unrelated.

THE LAW

While still legal in Canada and the UK, aMT was permanently classified as a schedule 1 narcotic by the DEA in 2004. However the drug can still be easily purchased online under the guise of “health supplements.”

AMT has been illegal in the US for over a decade, but can still be easily purchased online.

THE DANGERS

Reported side effects of aMT include anxiety, restlessness, muscle tension, jaw tightness, pupil dilation, tachycardia, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. There have been few reported fatalities that are directly tied to aMT use, however in several cases, deaths have been caused by excessive doses of aMT or coingestion with other drugs.

Bath salts

THE DRUG

Drugs sold as bath salts are in no way related to epsom salts or other bath products. In fact, these synthetic drugs, also marketed as keyboard cleaner, plant food, and jewelry cleaner, are most similar to amphetamines in their effects and chemical composition.

According to Dr. Zane Horowitz, the medical director of the Oregon Poison Center, professionals believe that the main component of most bath salts is MDPV, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, though “newer… derivatives are being made by illegal street chemists.” Popular types of street bath salts include “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” Vanilla Sky,” and “Bliss.”

Bath salts are some of the most publicized synthetic drugs.

THE LAW

The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 outlawed many of the ingredients used to make bath salts, classifying them as schedule 1 narcotics. However, like spice, the chemical makeup of bath salts is constantly being altered by amatuer chemists to avoid detection, making the drug incredibly difficult for law enforcement to track and monitor.
THE DANGERS

Other than highly-reported (and mostly false) cases of zombie-like behavior, effects of bath salts can include agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, increased pulse, high blood pressure, and suicidal thinking/behavior.

Depression or suicidal behavior can last “even after the stimulatory effects of the drugs have worn off,” Horowitz says. “At least for MDPV, there have been a few highly publicized suicides a few days after their use.”

Meow Meow 'Mephedrone' designer drug, Drug Made Student Cut Off Penis

Meow Meow is the drug that’s in the news because of a bizarre incident that occurred in the UK over the holidays. A college student who was home for the festive season is reported to have stabbed his mother and then cut off his own penis while high on the drug. According to media reports, doctors successfully reattached the man’s penis. A neighbor described as a “lovely lad” who had begun “dabbling in drugs.”

Here’s what you need to know about the crazy drug:


1. French Cops Call It ’21st Century Ecstasy’

Meow Meow 'Mephedrone' designer drug, Drug Made Student Cut Off Penis

The drug was bouncing around Europe through most of the early 2000s. The first recorded cases of the manufacture of the drug occurred in Israel in 2004. This led to the Israelis being the first to outlaw the drug in 2008. A year before, in 2007, the drug was reported in France. Upon investigation by French authorities, a paper was published that determined Meow Meow was the ecstasy of the 21st century.

In 2010, the drug had made it to Australia with 21 percent of users of ecstasy reporting that they had tried Meow Meow. By March 2011, the International Narcotics Control Board had reportedusage of Meow Meow in Europe, North America, Australia and Southeast Asia.

Meow Meow 'Mephedrone' designer drug, Drug Made Student Cut Off Penis

Python is a dangerous animal, in Acts 16:16 it is said that a woman had the Spirit of Python, and based on that this new study we will speak how our enemy crawls around in our spiritual lives and suddenly kills it. Sometimes we don’t feel like worshiping or praying. That’s a sign of our breath being taken away.

So how do we prevent the dangers of spiritual death? What can we do to be aware of when the enemy will attack? Join us to learn how to break the attack and breath life again.

8k7la86586

~Desire To Live Sober In Christ~

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Psalm 119:9-16New International Version (NIV)

ב Beth

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
    and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
    I will not neglect your word.

During a business trip to Philadelphia, I walked down Broad Street toward City Hall each morning to catch the subway. Each day I passed a long line of people waiting for something. They were a cross-section of humanity in age, ethnic origin, and appearance. After wondering about it for 3 days, I asked a man on the sidewalk why all those people were standing in line. He told me that they were on probation or parole after breaking the law and had to take a daily drug test to show that they were staying clean.

This struck me as a vivid illustration of my need to stay spiritually clean before God. When the psalmist pondered how he could live a pure life, he concluded that the key was to consider and obey God’s teaching. “Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes. . . . I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your Word” (Ps. 119:11-12,16).

In the light of God’s Word, we see our sin, but we also see God’s love in Christ. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

By His grace . . . staying clean.

Lord, grant that we may hear You speak As truth within Your Word we seek; And may it show us all our sin And make us clean without, within. —D. De Haan
Read the Bible to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy.

~The Righteousness Of God-Pt-2

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The Righteousness of

God in the New Testament

If righteousness and justice are the heart of the Old Testament Law, they are also at the heart of the dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees.33 At the very outset of His earthly ministry, Jesus set out to contrast His interpretation of the Old Testament teaching on righteousness with that of the scribes and Pharisees. In reality, Jesus did not offer a “new” interpretation of righteousness or of the Law; rather He sought to reestablish the proper understanding of righteousness as taught in the Law and the Prophets. Thus, Jesus repeatedly used the formula, “You have heard it said. . .” (“This is what the scribes and Pharisees teach.…”), “But I say to you.…” (“But the Old Testament was meant to be understood this way.…”).

The scribes and Pharisees thought of themselves as setting the standard for righteousness. They felt that they, of all men, were righteous. Jesus shocked all when He said,

20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

It was clear that if the scribes and Pharisees could not produce enough righteousness on their own, no one could. The standard of righteousness the Law held forth was even higher than that of the scribes and Pharisees. No one was righteous enough to get into heaven. What a shock to the self-righteous who thought they had box office seats in the kingdom.

If Jesus shocked His audience when He said those who appeared to be the most righteous would not make it into the kingdom on their kind of righteousness, He also shocked them as to who would be “blessed” by entrance into the kingdom: those the scribes and Pharisees thought unworthy of the kingdom. Those blessed were not the scribes and Pharisees, but the “poor in spirit,” those who “mourn,” the “gentle,” those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” the “merciful,” the “pure in heart,” the “peacemakers,” and those who are “persecuted” on account of their relationship with Jesus (Matthew 5:3-12).

Jesus taught that true righteousness is not that which men regard as righteous based upon external appearances, but that so judged by God based upon His assessment of the heart:

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

The Scribes and Pharisees, who thought themselves so righteous because of their rigorous attention to external matters, proved to be just the opposite when judged by our Lord:

28 “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? 34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:28-35).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against externalism and ceremonialism.

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

According to Jesus, true righteousness is vastly different from the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. False righteousness is measured by men on the basis of externalism. True righteousness is judged such by God, in accordance with His Word. Because of this, men need to beware of attempting to judge the righteousness of others (see Matthew 7:1). Those whose deeds seemed to indicate they were righteous were those whom God denied ever having known as His children (Matthew 7: 15-23). Those who appeared to be righteous were not, and those who appeared unrighteous by the Judaism of that day may well have been righteous.

It is no wonder then that Jesus was not regarded as righteous by many of the Jews but was considered a sinner:

16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.… 24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He therefore answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:16, 24-25).

The great division which arose among the Jews was over the issue of whether Jesus was a righteous man or a sinner (see John 10:19-21).

The Old and New Testament leave no doubt in our minds whether the Lord Jesus was righteous. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as the “Righteous One” who would “justify the many” (Isaiah 53:11). Jeremiah spoke of Him as the “righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5). When Jesus was baptized, it was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Both Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19) and the soldier at the foot of the cross (Luke 23:47) acknowledged His righteousness at the very moment when men were condemning Him.

The apostles likewise bear witness to the righteousness of Christ:

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him (1 John 2:29).

The righteousness of God is particularly important in relation to salvation. In Romans 3, Paul points out God not only justifies sinners (that is, He declares them righteous), but He is also shown to be just (righteous) in the process:

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:21-28).

Men have failed to live up to the standard of righteousness laid down by the Law (Romans 3:9-20). God is just in condemning all men to death, for all men without exception have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All men are worthy of death because the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God is just in condemning the unrighteous.

But God is also just in saving sinners. As Paul puts it, He is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). How can this be? God is just because His righteous anger has been satisfied. Justice was done on the cross of Calvary. God did not reduce the charges against men; He did not change the standard of righteousness. God poured out the full measure of His righteous wrath upon His Son on the cross of Calvary. In Him, justice was meted out. All of those who trust in Him by faith are justified. Their sins are forgiven because Jesus paid the full price; He suffered the full measure of God’s wrath in their place. And for those who reject the goodness and mercy of God at Calvary, they must pay the penalty for their sins because they would not accept the payment Jesus made in their place.

The cross of Calvary accomplished a just salvation, for all who will receive it. But we also know that only those whom God has chosen—the “elect”—will repent and trust in the death of Christ on their behalf. This raises another question related to divine justice. After clearly teaching the doctrine of divine election, Paul asks how election squares with the justice of God, and then gives us the answer:

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:6-24).

The question assumes that divine election has been taught by Paul as a biblical fact. If it were not so—as it clearly is—the question would not have been raised by Paul. And if there is no such thing as election, Paul could have simply brushed the question aside as illogical and unreasonable. But Paul assumes the truth of election and the possibility that some might object on the grounds that election would make God unjust. Paul first rebukes the one who dares to judge God and pronounce on His righteousness. How presumptuous can a man be? Should God stand before the bar of human judgment? Of course not!

As seen in chapter 3, God is righteous in that He has condemned all, and in Christ, those who are justified have been punished and then raised to newness of life. God is also righteous for judging all those who refuse to accept His offer of salvation in Christ. God would be unjust only if He set aside justice rather than fulfilling it in Christ, whether by His sacrificial death at His first coming or by His judging the unbelieving world at His second coming.

Divine grace, the grace by which God reaches out to save men from their sins, is meted out not on the basis of men’s merits but in spite of men’s sin. Grace, as we shall later emphasize in another message, is sovereignly bestowed. God would be unjust only if He withheld blessings from men which they deserved. Since God is free to bestow unmerited blessings on any sinner He may choose, God is not unrighteous in saving some of the worst sinners, while choosing not to save other sinners. God does not owe salvation to anyone, and thus He is not unjust in saving some and choosing not to save others.

The good news of the gospel is that salvation by grace is offered to all men, and by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, men may be forgiven of their sins and made righteous:

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Conclusion

If sin is the manifestation of our unrighteousness and we can be saved only through a righteousness not our own—the righteousness of Christ—then the ultimate sin is self-righteousness. Jesus did not reject sinners who came to Him for mercy and salvation; He rejected those who were too righteous (in their own eyes) to need grace. Jesus came to save sinners and not to save those righteous in their own eyes. No one is too lost to save; there are only those too good to save. In the Gospels, those who thought themselves most righteous were the ones condemned by our Lord as wicked and unrighteous.

If we are among those who have acknowledged our sin and trusted in the righteousness of Christ for our salvation, the righteousness of God is one of the great and comforting truths we should embrace. The justice of God means that when He establishes His kingdom on earth, it will be a kingdom characterized by justice. He will judge men in righteousness, and He will reign in righteousness.

We need not fret over the wicked of our day who seem to be getting away with sin. If we love righteousness, we most certainly dare not envy the wicked, whose day of judgment awaits them (see Psalm 37; 73). Their day of judgment is rapidly coming upon them, and justice will prevail.

If we realize that true righteousness is not to be judged according to external, legalistic standards and that judgment belongs to God, we dare not occupy ourselves in judging others (Matthew 7:1). We should also realize that judgment begins at the house of God, and thus we should be quick to judge ourselves and to avoid those sins which are an offense to the righteousness of God (see 1 Peter 4:17; 1 Corinthians 11:31).

The doctrine of the righteousness of God means that we, as the children of God (if you are a Christian), should seek to imitate our heavenly Father (5:48). We should not seek to find revenge against those who sin against us, but leave vengeance to God (Romans 12:17-21). Rather than seeking to get even, let us suffer the injustice of men, even as our Lord Jesus, that God might even bring our enemies to repentance and salvation (Matthew 5:43-44; 1 Peter 2:18-25). And let us pray, as our Lord instructed us, that the day when righteousness reigns may come:

10 “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

~AB109 Initiative- New Life Program~

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Understand Addiction In Order to Help Addict

New Life Program

The Public Safety Realignment Act (AB109) makes fundamental changes to California’s correctional system, shifting from the state to counties certain custodial and supervision responsibilities for individuals convicted of low-level non-violent offenses. As of October 1, 2011 those individuals released from prison whose convictions were for non-serious, non-violent felonies and who are not deemed high risk sex offenders will be placed under supervision by Riverside County Probation. Additionally, within Riverside County most individuals sentenced for non-serious, non-violent and non-sex-register-able felony offenses will remain under the jurisdiction of the County – in jail or under supervision -rather than being sent to state prison. In conjunction with Mental Health services, the Substance Use New Life Program offers outpatient groups (16 weeks), MOM’s treatment and residential services.May and I are blessed to have silent partners that have been instrumental in our recovery and realignment within society. New Life and it’s staff are compassionate and well rounded with knowledge about re-entry and substance abuse.

 

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In my deepest, darkest moments, what really got me through was a prayer. Sometimes my prayer was ‘Help me.’ Sometimes a prayer was ‘Thank you.’ What I’ve discovered is that intimate connection and communication with my creator will always get me through because I know my support, my help, is just a prayer away.

Iyanla Vanzant

This is a logical and very necessary first step. Before you can learn how best to help a struggling addict or alcoholic, you need to understand the nature of addiction. There are several models of addiction that attempt to describe what it is and why it affects people, but none of those models are entirely accurate. Many people have heard of the disease model, which does a fairly decent job of describing what we see in the real world. For example, even addicts or alcoholics who have stayed clean for several decades can relapse and be right back to their old level of consumption within a matter of days.

Also note that addiction can affect potentially anyone, including those who:

  • Have no apparent genetic predisposition for addiction or alcoholism
  • Have very little environmental risk
  • Have no moral shortcomings or laziness about them

Even if you do not believe in the disease model, learning more about how it works is a necessary foundation in learning about how you can potentially help a struggling addict or alcoholic. If you want to know how to help alcoholics then you need to learn about the condition.

Get Help Yourself In Order To Help The Addict

We cannot control a drug addict or an alcoholic, but we can control our own behavior, including how we behave in relationship to a sick and suffering (and possibly manipulative) addict or alcoholic. Therefore, the best thing that you can do if you want to help someone in your life is to get yourself to an Al-Anon meeting. The people there can listen to your situation and give you the best specific advice on how to go about handling things. Educating yourself on how to set limits and boundaries is one of the most important things that you can do in this case.

Establish Boundaries And Set Limits With The Addict

One example of setting a boundary is telling a close friend that you prefer they not be around you if they are drunk or high. Notice that it is specific, and you have to sit down and communicate this type of request explicitly with someone. Setting a boundary like this is difficult because there is this tendency to hurt other’s feelings. But that is part of what is keeping you sick, caring more about this person’s feelings than your own personal well being. Setting boundaries is about putting your own personal well being first, and letting that be a guiding example of how to live. You know you are setting effective boundaries when you are taking back control of your own life and starting to regain your own sanity, instead of being all wrapped up in the problems of a struggling drug addict or alcoholic. This is a crucial distance you must learn to keep when learning how to help a recovering drug addict.

The Apostle Paul Struggles with Sin: If anyone could overcome sin, surely it was the great apostle Paul.  He wrote more books in the New Testament and founded more churches than any other apostle.  Even though this great man of faith was a spiritual giant, he struggled with sin too.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you will not struggle with overcoming sin in this life after you are saved.

Romans 7:15-24:

15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”  What Christian has not battled with the flesh?  We end up doing just what we don’t want to do…but we do it anyway.  You are not alone.  You are in good company – with Paul.

16 “And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.”  Paul is saying that I agree with the Law of God…that it is good.  The Ten Commandments say we should not bear false witness, but Christians are still not fully sanctified…..it is a lifelong work of sanctification and we are still prone to lie.

17 “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” What Paul is saying is that it’s not really him anymore, but the old man or woman rearing its ugly head.  Even though we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), we are still not without sin (1 John 1:8).

18  “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”  It’s like Paul said that he knows better, yet he falls into sin.  The only thing is that he doesn’t stay there. He acknowledges it and gets back up.  He has the desire to do the right thing but guess what:  He still can not carry it out…in his own strength that is.  This takes the very power of God:  God the Holy Spirit (Rom 12:2).

19 “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” That is me in a nutshell.  A train wreck, a sinner, a wretch but the good news is that Paul realizes that the good he wants to do is what he is not doing…and he keeps on doing it!  The good news here is the fact that he understands that it’s wrong.  This is strong evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in him, convicting him of his sin.  A person who is not born-again has no true desire to do what is right nor are they convicted when they do evil things.

20 “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”  Paul is cutting himself some slack. He understands that he is battling the old nature.  The pre-conversion person.  The Saul is still in there but Paul is not settling for it now, neither is he allowing to let is slide.

21 “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  This “although I want to do good” is because God has given him His Spirit to show him his sin and even though evil is there with him…he recognizes that he wants “to do good.”  That is hopeful because he understands that the law is at work.  The Law is a mirror, showing us our sins and he recognizes the evil being there with him (James 1:23). He wants to do good and that is a sentence full of hope, not despair.

22-23 “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” There is a battle for the mind…the battle is ultimately through Jesus Christ but it is a war nonetheless.  We might lose battles but the war has truly been won already.  The law was made clear to Paul by his conscience (Rom 2:15).

24 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Paul finally admits defeat in his own frail, feeble, human strength.  He needs rescuing.  He is subject to eternal death without a rescuer.  What can this wretched man do?!  What can we do!?

25 “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Paul falls on his face, being a wretched man and admits defeat (Rom 7:24) and gives thanks to God Almighty, our Mighty Savior, Who delivered him and Who will also deliver us.

How To Overcome Addiction

Victory in Defeat

You can not overcome sin on your own…you can not conquer your marijuana addiction on your own…you can’t overcome the addiction to pornography by your own strength…you can’t defeat the enemy of alcohol, gambling, overeating, depression…just name it:  You just can’t do it…..but God can!  He wants to help you overcome the powerful sins of your life and your strong addictions, the mighty fortress where we have no chance at all.  God desires to help us and He is more than able and He is absolutely willing to.  Imagine the God of the universe.  He created the entire universe, all the stars, the galaxies, the sun…everything!  He knows the 100 trillion times 100 trillion number of stars all by name.  Now is anything really to hard for God?!  No!  We have no power in ourselves but the Holy Spirit is God and the very power of God working in you.   The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge to God that you can not overcome this by your own power.  That is exactly what He has been waiting to hear.   Victory will only come in defeat.  You are in over your head but God is over all things.  When we tell God “I just can’t beat this thing God”, He must say, “Finally…now, maybe I can send my power to help them.“  He will be your strong tower.

Pray day and night for the help you need.  God can deliver you…He did me!  But it took time. Don’t lose heart. You will slip and fall but get back up, pray for forgiveness and ask God to cut off all the sources of your drug addiction, if you are addicted to pornography, get rid of the Internet.  Jesus said, speaking in hyperbole, “If your hand offends you, cut it off“(Matt 5:30).   What He is saying is to cut off the source of your addiction or sin.  If you can’t get rid of the Internet, then have a friend put a password protected filter on it.  If you are addicted to drugs, turn in the illegal drug dealers.  Drastic yes, but this is what it must take.  God can do all things…He created the universe and He can help deliver you and He desires to help you overcome this addiction but you may have to make some painful decisions.  We can do nothing on our own…but we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us”(Phil 4:13).  The converse of that is that we can do nothing in our own strength.

Victory in Christ

Please don’t lose heart if you are battling an addiction or some deeply entrenched sin.  Sometimes these demons are mighty strongholds of the mind. The very fact that you are grieved over your addiction or sin is evidence that the Holy Spirit is not only in you but working in you, for the Spirit convicts us of sin and sanctification is a lifelong process.  The very fact that you searched for this over the Internet is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in you.  Can’t you see that!?  This is no coincidence. God brought you to this article today for a very specific purpose, a reason, to be a path for your feet – a light for your life.  It starts with God and ends with God.  I am a pastor today but let me tell you that I was in prison, hooked on drugs, stole, and was headed down the broad path of hell. It took me years and years to finally get over this, yet God never, ever gives up on me and He will not give up on you.  Like the Prodigal Father, He kept looking down the road for me to come to Him.  He is looking down that road today, waiting, watching, for you.

What I finally did to break the addiction was to pray that all the sources or suppliers of my drugs were removed from me or that they would move…whatever it took.  I prayed hard, “Lord, please help me, I am weak.”  You know what?  It worked.  God heard my prayer and answered it.  It took me a very long time and today I am clean and sober but I am still a train wreck, a sinner and I will never overcome all sin in this life.   Jesus’ blood covers past, present, and future sins of ours….so the very fact that you have a sin or addiction weighing heavy on you should not, I pray, make you lose heart.  The fact that you are grieved over your sin is a great sign that the Holy Spirit is trying to show you your sin.   Once a believer repents, this does not mean that they will not fall back into sin.  No, we will sin again and again…but turning from our sin we will begin to loathe it all the more.  Yes, we need to repent, but we sin every day and every day we can begin and end the day by falling on our face, hands, and knees before God to ask for forgiveness.  You too can declare as Paul did, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25)!


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~Pray For Us: Re-Entry Candidates~

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Prisoner Reentry

As California Releases Prisoners, It Must Confront the Public Health Consequences

The confluence of three events has dramatically broadened the public health implications of prisoner reentry into California communities. First, the state is in the midst of a deep and persistent recession, which has severely strained the resources available for the health care safety net upon which ex-prisoners rely. Second, the state is implementing its 2011 public safety realignment plan, which shifts responsibility for low-level offenders from the state to counties; this will aid the state’s efforts to abide by a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce the prison population. Third, federal health care reform will expand Medicaid eligibility and coverage for some important services, removing a key access-to-care barrier for the prisoner reentry population.

These events argue for assessing the health needs of California’s reentry population, the related public health challenges, and the policy options for improving access to safety net services. In a study sponsored by The California Endowment, a research team at RAND conducted such an assessment and concluded the following:

  • The health care needs of California prisoners are high, but their mental health and drug treatment needs are even higher.
  • Certain California counties and communities are particularly affected by reentry.
  • Ex-prisoners’ access to California’s health care safety net varies across counties, within counties, and by race and ethnicity.
  • Public safety realignment and federal health care reform present challenges and opportunities for improving access to services for this population, all requiring the state and counties to coordinate their efforts.

Parolees Are Concentrated in 11 Counties, Mostly in the South

Numerous Unmet Needs Reported

With respect to physical health conditions, California state prisoners reported a high burden of chronic diseases, such as asthma and hypertension, and infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. Ex-prisoners face a number of barriers to accessing health care, including lack of health insurance. As a result, ex-prisoners returning to communities will largely have to rely on counties’ health care safety nets for the uninsured to meet their health needs.

Self-reported mental health and drug treatment needs are especially high. More than half of California inmates reported a recent mental health problem, but only about half of those reported having received treatment in prison. Nearly 60 percent of California inmates reported having a drug abuse or dependence problem. Given the high prevalence of these reported conditions, the need for county mental health services may be particularly high.

When we interviewed health care providers who deal with the reentry population, their observations confirmed that this population has substantial mental health and drug treatment needs and other health problems — needs exacerbated by neglect or reduced access to care. Providers also noted a range of social services needs — such as transportation, employment, housing, and family reunification — that make treating ex-prisoners for such health conditions even more resource-intensive. For example, if an individual has a wound that requires periodic cleaning and dressing, would there be a hygienic place to do it?

Inadequate discharge planning for prisoners can be another major barrier to continuity of care. Upon release, many ex-prisoners lack medical records to give health care providers; thus, providers have little information about their medical history. For individuals with infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, providers felt it was critical to know what kind of care and education a patient had received while incarcerated. Ex-prisoners without health insurance have limited treatment options. Difficulties navigating the health care and social services systems complicate referrals. Discharge planning needs to take such factors into account.

Budget cuts present further barriers to care. Providers report that they have had to eliminate or curtail HIV, dental, mental health, or alcohol and drug treatment programs. Because of state-level cuts in funding for community-based treatment programs, one provider we interviewed had to close a sober living facility.

Parolees Are Concentrated in 11 Counties, Mostly in the South

SOURCE: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation parolee data, 2005–2006.

Ex-Prisoners Concentrated Primarily in 11 Counties

To understand where ex-prisoners go upon release and which counties and communities are especially affected by reentry, we used parolee data to examine their geographic distribution following release, illustrated here in the map of California. The map shows that certain counties are particularly affected by reentry. Tiny dots represent each of the nearly 140,000 parolees released in 2005 and 2006, with major clusters shown as yellow ellipses. Darker shades of blue indicate counties with higher numbers of returnees per 1,000 residents; lighter shades indicate lower numbers of returnees. As shown, parolees tend to cluster in certain communities and neighborhoods, with implications for targeting resources.

Eleven counties, concentrated around the Bay Area and in the southern part of the state, had the highest rates of return. By far the highest rates were in Southern California, especially Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Also, African-American and Latino parolees tended to return to disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities, defined by high poverty rates, high unemployment rates, and low educational attainment.

We focused on four counties — Alameda, Kern, Los Angeles, and San Diego — that received a third of the state’s total parolees. In Alameda County, almost 45 percent of the returning population was concentrated in five clusters, primarily around Oakland and the northern section of the county. Four clusters within Kern County accounted for almost 58 percent of its parolees, while in San Diego County there were eight clusters accounting for nearly half the parolee population, with the largest in downtown and Southeast San Diego. Unlike the other counties, Los Angeles County had 23 clusters covering a large geographic area but accounting for only 35 percent of the total number of returnees.

Unequal Access to Care

We also wanted to know where ex-prisoners were located relative to communities’ health care safety nets: the hospitals, clinics, and mental health and substance abuse treatment providers that would serve the reentry population. So we overlaid such facilities on our county-level maps and found that the capacity of the health care safety net varies within counties. Many ex-prisoners in the three large urban counties — Alameda, Los Angeles, and San Diego — returned to areas with lower levels of accessibility to safety net facilities than found elsewhere in those counties.

In Los Angeles County, for example, some county supervisorial districts with high concentrations of ex-prisoners tended to have fewer hospital and primary care clinics than did other districts. In District 2, which covers South Los Angeles and has a relatively high concentration of ex-prisoners, there are relatively few clinics. And there is only one hospital affiliated with the Medically Indigent Services Program, which is the county-provided program of last resort for those who are not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), or private health insurance and who meet socioeconomic eligibility standards.

To understand how much access ex-prisoners had to these facilities, we created accessibility measures for each facility based on its capacity, demand, and travel distance. In Los Angeles County, more than half of parolees (53 percent) returned to areas with lower levels of accessibility to hospitals. More African-American parolees (60 percent) lived in areas with lower accessibility than did Latino or white parolees (51 percent and 47 percent, respectively). Alameda County had a similar pattern, but in Kern and San Diego counties, more Latino parolees lived in areas with lower accessibility to hospitals than did white and African-American parolees.

Realignment and Reform

California’s public safety realignment plan and the U.S. federal health care reform represent important opportunities to improve services to the reentry population, and the stakeholders involved in preparing for both policy measures overlap. For realignment, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must coordinate with counties to shift responsibility for low-level offenders; for health care reform, California’s Department of Health Care Services must coordinate with counties to prepare for full implementation and for expanding Medicaid.

Both policy measures present opportunities and challenges for addressing ex-prisoners’ health care and reentry needs. As an opportunity, realignment focuses attention on the need to improve pre release planning for the transition of care from correctional health to safety net providers. As a challenge, realignment dramatically changes how low-level offenders will obtain health care and social services, shifting attention from state parole to county-level supervision.

As an opportunity, health care reform opens up the possibility for many ex-prisoners and others in the criminal justice system to become eligible for Medicaid and to have drug treatment services, prevention services, and wellness programs covered more fully. As a challenge, expanding Medicaid eligibility could lead to increased demand for health care safety net services that are already stretched thin.

There are many steps the state and counties can take. They can develop better estimates of the percentage of the Medicaid expansion population that the reentry population represents. Because the Medicaid expansion population is expected to include individuals with multiple comorbidities and a high demand for mental health care and alcohol and drug treatment, investing in “health homes” (teams of providers) and other integrated case management systems for this population will be an important way to manage their complex care needs.
8k7la86586Expanding pre release planning to more fully include those with chronic medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems makes sense, as does having the state assess options, such as electronic medical records, for easing the transition of care to community health care systems. Also important will be developing strategies to enroll the reentry population in Medicaid or reinstate their Medicaid benefits and to improve the needed expertise and capacity of treatment providers, especially in localities with higher numbers of ex-prisoners, so providers can better meet the expected increase in demand for services.

Both public safety realignment and federal health reform come with funding streams. Some of this money could leverage existing investments in planning for health care reform for the reentry population. For example, some funds could be used to develop “health homes” or other case management systems. Investing in treatment for this population now may help offset criminal justice costs later on, and expanding access to primary care and integrated care may help avoid more expensive and intensive care down the road.

 

~We Are Blessed~

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“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).

 

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Last  year my wife and I fought a case that would determine our future. Not knowing that after we were separated and put into different sections in the same jail that God was working behind the seen just as the enemy was. God situated us near one another in the jail, one floor between us. I hadn’t missed a night in the bed with this woman for 3 years, not a night in the streets or practicing evil, but we were finally separated physically for six days, but we communicated through the toilets in the jail. We prayed still and meditated scriptures and shared our reflections daily still. We came home to a 13 month house arrest in a home we didn’t own. “BUT GOD”!!! He always has a plan to prosper and protect ;

They were living to themselves; self with its hopes, and promises and dreams, still had hold of them; but the Lord began to fulfill their prayers. They had asked for contrition, and had surrendered for it to be given them at any cost, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity, and He sent them thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek, and He had broken their hearts; they had asked to be dead to the world, and He slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him, and He placed them in the furnace, sitting by “as a refiner and purifier of silver,” until they should reflect His image; they had asked to lay hold of His cross, and when He had reached it to them it lacerated their hands.

They had asked they knew not what, nor how, but He had taken them at their word, and granted them all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow Him so far, or to draw so nigh to Him. They had upon them an awe and fear, as Jacob at Bethel, or Eliphaz in the night visions, or as the apostles when they thought that they had seen a spirit, and knew not that it was Jesus. They could almost pray Him to depart from them, or to hide His awfulness. They found it easier to obey than to suffer, to do than to give up, to bear the cross than to hang upon it. But they cannot go back, for they have come too near the unseen cross, and its virtues have pierced too deeply within them. He is fulfilling to them His promise, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

But now at last their turn has come. Before, they had only heard of the mystery, but now they feel it. He has fastened on them His look of love, as He did on Mary and Peter, and they can but choose to follow.

Little by little, from time to time, by flitting gleams, the mystery of His cross shines out upon them. They behold Him lifted up, they gaze on the glory which rays from the wounds of His holy passion; and as they gaze they advance, and are changed into His likeness, and His name shines out through them, for He dwells in them. They live alone with Him above, in unspeakable fellowship; willing to lack what others own (and what they might have had), and to be unlike all, so that they are only like Him.

Such, are they in all ages, “who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”

Had they chosen for themselves, or their friends chosen for them, they would have chosen otherwise. They would have been brighter here, but less glorious in His Kingdom. They would have had Lot’s portion, not Abraham’s. If they had halted anywhere–if God had taken off His hand and let them stray back — what would they not have lost? What forfeits in the resurrection? But He stayed them up, even against themselves. Many a time their foot had well nigh slipped; but He in mercy held them up. Now, even in this life, they know that all He did was done well. It was good to suffer here, that they might reign hereafter; to bear the cross below, for they shall wear the crown above; and that not their will but His was done on them and in them.

 

~Re-Entry Programs Effectiveness; Women and Reentry

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Accomplishments to Date

The Department of Health and Human Services(HHS), in conjunction with other Reentry Council agencies and community partners, sponsored a two-day conference, “Meeting the Reentry Needs of Women: Policies, Programs, and Practices.”
The conference brought together researchers, practitioners, federal employees, and advocates to discuss how federal, state, and local systems can work to improve reentry outcomes for women.

In 2012 and 2013 the Department of Labor (DOL) funded grants to provide employment and support services to females involved in the criminal justice system using a comprehensive case management strategy. In 2012 nine grants were awarded—seven serving adults and two serving youth. , since 2013 eight grants serving adults were awarded.

Like males, females involved with the criminal justice system face a host of challenges when they leave jail or prison and return to their communities. However, the current systems do not always address the specific challenges faced by women, which, if unaddressed,
can contribute to women’s potential risk for further involvement in the criminal justice system. For example,
while many females involved with the criminal justice system struggle with both substance abuse and mental health problems—often linked to their history of physical or sexual abuse beginning in childhood and extending into adulthood—most state and local reentry programs
lack a significant trauma-informed behavioral health component. And while a primary consideration for many justice-involved women who are mothers is to determine when and how to successfully reestablish a relationship with their children when they leave prison, most correctional systems do not focus on this important aspect of reentry. These and many other factors point to the need to better identify effective strategies to help women overcome these challenges as they transition to their communities.

In honor of Annual Reentry Reflections month 2014 The Office on Returning Citizen Affairs is facilitating a Gender Specific Reentry Conference with a focus on understanding the differences in reintegration for men and women. ORCA is committed to providing quality service to help create a seamless transition back into the community. We believe that the experience of incarceration and reentry is different for women than it is for men and therefore the needs of female Returning Citizens are unique and separate from those of their male counterparts. Even though women are the fast growing group of people becoming incarcerated, they are only 10% of the prison population. In an effort to ensure that
women who are returning from incarceration are not neglected in the services that the District provides ORCA has launched the Female Reentry Initiative.

One of the goals of this initiative is to inform the public about how crime and incarceration affects women and how the reentry process for women needs to be specifically designed with gender responsive needs in mind. The Gender Specific Reentry Conference will meet the mission of the agencies in our network system by providing theoretical approaches and first hand insight on how to improve and increase the quality and range of support services for women. The Office on Returning Citizen Affairs hopes that you will join us as we explore this meaningful topic
and explore strategies to address it.
When: November 4, 2014 at 10:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M.
Where: Judiciary Square 441 4th St. N.W. – Conference Room 1107
Please R.S.V.P NO LATER THAN Friday, October 14, 2014
If you need further information, contact Lashonia Etheridge-Bey, Staff Assistant, ORCA
202-715-7670, lashonia.etheridge@dc.gov

How are reentry women similar to people that I’ve worked with and studied? My research participants domestic violence survivors and
people leaving “gangs— have also gone through a difficult life transition that involves leaving and reentry.These findings cut across groups:
Histories include neglect, victimization, exposure to drugs/sex/violence. Populations tend to have higher levels of complex developmental trauma, along with co-occurring conditions like mental illness and substance abuse. All three groups are going through “reentry.” Many are entering newunfamiliar contexts for the first time (e.g., school, employment, new expectations, unfamiliar roles)
Similar developmental opportunities in all three groups:
Lack self-esteem and a sense of self-efficacy.
Trust is an issue, insufficient communication skills.
Inadequately developed self-regulation, self-care, positive coping.
Difficulties with interpersonal attachments and intimacy.
Reality testing –need to develop realistic appraisal, planning, and problem-solving skills.
Difficulties-discerning the difference between love versus “use-based”relationships, may not expect to be treated respectfully.
Lack of adequate or “good enough” parents or parental role models.
Positive social support networks need to be developed.
Not “ready” to take on the practical demands of everyday adult life.
High levels of poverty, lack of education, job skills, and job experience.
Women in all three groups have experienced them selves socially and economically marginalized deemed insignificant
Women are aware of relationship challenges, e.g., family reunification; gender roles in intimate relationships but they are ill-prepared to resolve these during reentry. Social support systems in general are lacking, as is practical support. Many obstacles exist; these are real, not abstract. Reentry women experience a general lack of clarity /actionable plan to take on the overwhelming task of “moving on” and “moving forward”.
Reentry Council agencies have convened seven listening sessions across the country to hear from service providers and justice-involved women on the challenges and successes of returning to their communities and families. These listening sessions will provide input for materials being developed for service providers and women reentering the community from prisons and jails.
DOJ’s National Institute of Corrections (NIC) has developed a Gender Responsive Policy & Practice Assessment (GRPPA) model to assist jails, prisons, and community corrections to: (a) evaluate whether current policy, practice, and programs address the risk, needs, and strengths of women involved in the criminal justice system, and (b) develop strategies to improve both system and women’s outcomes.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is piloting a program developed specifically for women to help them identify, prioritize, and address their reentry needs throughout their period of incarceration. The challenges associated with reentry from jail are daunting—large in scale and
complex in task. Each year, U.S. jails process an estimated 12 million admissions and releases. That translates into 34,000 people released from jails each day and 230,000 released each week. In three weeks, jails have contact with as many people as prisons do in an entire year, presenting numerous opportunities for intervention.
According to BJS, there are 3,365 local jails around the country, processing an estimated 12 million admissions and releases each year.  These 12 million admissions and releases represent about 9 million unique individuals, most incarcerated for brief periods of time, often only a few hours or days. As a result of this rapid turnover, the number of admissions is more than 16 times the 766,010 held in jail at midyear 2006.2
Unlike prisoners in state and federal institutions who are virtually all convicted and sentenced, more than 60 percent of the nation’s jail inmates have not been convicted and are awaiting arraignment or trial.

~I am Aware Of His Presence; That’s Why I praise Him~

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I have found an atonement (Job 33:24, margin).

Divine healing is just divine life. It is the headship of Christ over the body. It is the life of Christ in the frame. It is the union of our members with the very body of Christ and the inflowing life of Christ in our living members. It is as real as His risen and glorified body. It is as reasonable as the fact that He was raised from the dead and is a living Man with a true body and a rational soul today at God’s right hand.

That living Christ belongs to us in all His attributes and powers. We are members of His body, His flesh and His bones, and if we can only believe and receive it, we may live upon the very life of the Son of God. Lord, help me to know “the Lord for the body and the body for the Lord.

“The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty.” (Zeph. 3:17). This was the text that first flashed the truth of Divine healing into my mind and worn-out body nearly a quarter century ago. It is still the door, wide open more than ever, through which the living Christ passes moment by moment into my redeemed body, filling, energizing, vitalizing it with the presence and power of His own personality, turning my whole being into a “new heaven and new earth.”

“The Lord, thy God.” Thy God. My God. Then all that is in God Almighty is mine and in me just as far as I am able and willing to appropriate Him and all that belongs to Him. This God, “Mighty,” ALL Mighty God, is our INSIDE God. He is, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the midst of me, just as really as the sun is in the center of the heavens, or like the great dynamo in the center of the power-house of my three-fold being. He is in the midst, at the center of my physical being. He is in the midst of my brain. He is in the midst of my nerve centers.

For twenty-one years it has been not only a living reality to me, but a reality growing deeper and richer, until now at the age of fifty two years, I am in every sense a younger, fresher man than I was at thirty. At this present time I am in the strength of God, doing full twice as much work, mental and physical, as I have ever done in the best days of the past, and this observe, with less than half the effort then necessary. My life, physical, mental and spiritual, is like an artesian well–always full, overflowing. To speak, teach, travel by night and day in all weather and through all the sudden and violent changes of our variable climate, is no more effort to me than it is for the mill-wheel to turn when the stream is full or for the pipe to let the water run through.

My body, soul and spirit thus redeemed,
Sanctified and healed I give, O Lord, to Thee,
A consecrated offering Thine ever more to be.
That all my powers with all their might
In Thy sole glory may unite.–Hallelujah!

–Dr. Henry Wilson

~Make Sure “Your” Math Equal God’s Standards; Finish “Your Race”~

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“And the Lord said . . . Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:31, 32).

Our faith is the center of the target at which God doth shoot when He tries us; and if any other grace shall escape untried, certainly faith shall not. There is no way of piercing faith to its very marrow like the sticking of the arrow of desertion into it; this finds it out whether it be of the immortals or no. Strip it of its armor of conscious enjoyment, and suffer the terrors of the Lord to set themselves in array against it; and that is faith indeed which can escape unhurt from the midst of the attack.

Faith must be tried, and seeming desertion is the furnace, heated seven times, into which it might be thrust. Blest the man who can endure the ordeal!

Paul said, “I have kept the faith,” but he lost his head! They cut that off, but it didn’t touch his faith. He rejoiced in three things–this great Apostle to the Gentiles; he had “fought a good fight,” he had “finished his course,” he had “kept the faith.” What did all the rest amount to? St. Paul won the race; he gained the prize, and he has not only the admiration of earth today, but the admiration of Heaven. Why do we not act as if it paid to lose all to win Christ? Why are we not loyal to truth as he was? Ah, we haven’t his arithmetic. He counted differently from us; we count the things gain that he counted loss. We must have his faith, and keep it if we would wear the same crown.

~Thinking Matters~

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“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).

What a challenging weekend this has been. I attempted to take on all the concerns of my life all by myself. I wanted to fix everything that was apparently wrong in the natural life I was living by trying to fix matters myself. Having faith means walking in it. Believing God for the things hoped for and the evidence of the unseen. I had to surrender to the natural thoughts I had about my son and daughter never getting out of prison, I had to surrender the thoughts of being unsuccessful in fore-filling God’s purpose for my life, I had to die to the feelings of failing at being an instrument totally used of God to perform the spiritual duties He has purposed for my existence in this life. Lord, I pray you keep me from day to day, show me how to worship and surrender to all the harassing voices of darkness, feed me until I want no more of the natural life style here on this planet. I see myself as He does tonight based off being in community this weekend. I shut all the windows and doors tonight and got before my God and this is what He said:

This is the happy season of ripening cornfields, of the merry song of the reapers, of the secured and garnered grain. But let me hearken to the sermon of the field. This is its solemn word to me. You must die in order to live. You must refuse to consult your own case and well-being. You must be crucified, not only in desires and habits which are sinful, but in many more which appear innocent and right. If you would save others, you cannot save yourself. If you would bear much fruit, you must be buried in darkness and solitude.

My heart fails me as I listen. But, when Jesus asks it, let me tell myself that it is my high dignity to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings; and thus I am in the best of company. And let me tell myself again that it is all meant to make me a vessel meet for His use. His own Calvary has blossomed into fertility; and so shall mine.

Plenty out of pain, life out of death: is it not the law of the Kingdom?

Do we call it dying when the bud bursts into flowers?

“Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
Answer, ‘Yes.”‘

~Accountability Not Exploitation=Integrity For All~

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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.

Nelson Mandela

Police Release Disturbing New Details in NFLs Latest Domestic Violence Case

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.

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What-Dreams-May-Come-poster
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!

~Through us God will take Care of you~

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I find myself being more and more comfortable in relatively complete solitude/isolation.

Before, I longed to have friendships and relationships and felt tremendous sadness that I didn’t, but over the course of the past several months I’m finding myself more and more content with just being alone and not having to face other people. The only true interaction I have is going to the various meetings associated with getting certifications and training to obtain alignment for our Business vision, and even then I try to make myself as small and quiet and unnoticeable as possible, and it seems to work for the most part. Friends I used to see and talk to sporadically have completely fallen by the wayside; they still try to reestablish contact every few weeks, but I systematically ignore their attempts.The only people I actually talk to on a semi-regular basis anymore are my Pastor and selective men of God, and they live over an hour away so I hardly ever have to actually see them. And random texting conversations with my brother who is a pastor in Chantilly Virginia over 3200 miles away.

I think I have just become so numb and so tired of having to climb an Everest of anxiety to have a basic interaction with another person that I have simply given up to take the pressure off. I still have bouts of loneliness sometimes but they are fleeting and usually getting on the internet or resting completely in meditation and expectancy of hearing from the spirit of God on how to move and interact with people in general. Going to church since the hand of God has moved us into Lodebar ( a dry place of isolation) has even become impossible to do. My spirit is tired of dogma’s and traditions that aren’t fostering a loving spirit of unity, but of separatism and divisions within the ranks of theologians and demanding people. My wife and I have been set apart in isolation and we are finding the  joy and purpose of being prepared by God in this uncertain existence.

spiritual-isolation

I don’t know. Is this a bad thing? Should I be concerned? Am I giving in to social anxiety and slowly becoming a complete shut-in? Will I wake up one day in 20 years completely alone with not a soul in the world who knows me or cares about me and have deep regrets about this? I’m not sure what I should be thinking or doing differently. I have this fantasy that someday soon I will move far, far away and start fresh and leave the anxiety behind and be able to make deep lasting connections with people. I know that’s ridiculous and very unlikely to happen, but the fantasy seems to sustain me day after day, and I kind of cling to it.

This is rambly, I apologize. Just trying to organize my thoughts about this to bring up in therapy and hoping to get some perspectives from people who may have similar issues.

“But nobody ever sees how far the things we shouldn’t feel can take us. I just want to walk along the shore for an hour, watch the waves rearranging whatever they can. I like the way the sea encourages me to think about the past, as if I could leave it where it is: the moon on the water, the stars that gleam and are gone.”
Genesis 21:145-21 
In a time of great rejoicing, when everyone else would have been having a good time; Sarah looked over in the midst of the celebration and saw that Ishmael was making fun of her new son Isaac. Paul tells us in Galatians that he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born of the spirit. Filled with rage that her son was being tormented, she immediately told Abraham to send the woman and her son away. But Abraham was a righteous man, and he was unwilling to comply until God assured him that he would care for Hagar and her son. Filled with that assurance, Abraham acquiesced and gave Hagar a skin full of water and a loaf or so of bread and sent her off into the desert. He did the best he could, but after this moment, Hagar would be all alone. Who knows how long they journeyed in the desert, finally the water was gone, and thirst began to set in. Ishmael now greatly humbled by his thirst walked beside his mother until he could go no further. Finally Hagar sat her son down under a scrub of a bush and walked a short distance away. Her heart was breaking because she knew there was nothing left to do but die. She couldn’t walk far away because she didn’t want her son to die alone, but she dare not stay to close lest she be forced to watch her son die. Now in despair she began to sob. And then God showed up. My friends this story for all it’s familiarity is both touching and powerful. For all it’s harshness, it is full of promise and hope for those who would despair at their last moment. Because whether it’s our lives or someone else’s, life itself is hopeless and painfully unbearable until God shows up. Hagar is for us a model representing single mothers everywhere, and her story displays both the problems and the solutions in God’s program for single mothers. In Hagar especially we see God’s love for those women in our world who have been abused and misused, forgotten and forsaken, the single mothers on welfare, the woman fleeing abuse and living with her children in the family shelter. As God loved and blessed Hagar, God will love and bless each of them. They may be forgotten by the world, but not by God. That’s a significant section of our local population which our church should be poised to meet. The struggles that single mother’s face are enormous, and not every one is as fortunate as May to be surrounded by a family that helps and a church that loves and forgives. Many single mothers, struggle alone to fulfill the jobs of both mother and father, a job they were not designed to fill. When troubles mount and hopelessness rears its ugly head it becomes hard to find God in the midst of the struggle. That’s where we come in. There are people in our community from all sorts of backgrounds languishing in depression and need. They need to be reminded by our works as well as our words that God is a very present help in time of trouble. And God can use us; we here at God’s Restoration Church (May & Aaron) -Second Chance Alliance are His hands and feet to lighten the burden of single mothers and disenfranchised individuals.  I’m convinced that we as a church need to be active in our statement of faith. Our God is a living God and He want’s us to be his living hands and feet on this planet. We can make an impact on single mothers and challenged individuals if we accept the restoration of our challenged life and assist those  in our community. We can lift them up, and lead them to Jesus; and we can meet their needs in the name of Christ – and in so doing serve Christ Himself.
 I want to take Hagar’s name as an acronym to show you what we can do to change a life. If there’s one message we need to bring, it’s this: Through us God will take Care of you. 
HOPE – Try to imagine Hagar pushing off into the wilderness, supplies for a day or so at her side, and her son walking beside her. She’s been ousted by the boy’s father – someone she couldn’t even call her husband. Now she’s alone and terrified, wondering what’s she’s going to do when the bread and water give out. Then look at Hagar putting her son under the bush and walking a stone’s throw away to sit and wait hopelessly for her son’s death.
Single mothers often deal with feelings of guilt, real or imagined, combined with tremendous feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. Single mothers are also dealing with the sudden stark reality that this child is going to take the rest of her life to raise, a life some of them had barely begun to live themselves. It doesn’t matter how they got to be single mothers; Teen pregnancy, Divorce, being widowed, or abandoned. They’re often struggling alone, isolated and scared of the future; they need CONSTANT ENCOURAGEMENT. 
Think about the enormous power that hope has to give life where none existed before. Imagine also the overwhelming power of hopelessness to destroy a heart and crush a human being beyond repair. The first thing we can bring to the single mothers in our community is Hope. The Second is Assistance.

ASSISTANCE. Need comes in a hundred different flavors. Sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it’s emotional, or moral, or whatever else we daily rely upon. Just like everyone else, unsaved single mothers need Jesus. Just like any other person, the saved need to be taught solid Christian principles. And just like everyone else single parents need A SUPPORT SYSTEM. God’s design for the family means that at least two people are there to bear the burden of raising a child. But a single mother doesn’t have that luxury. Hagar had no person to turn to, and she despaired. How fortunate that she called out to God for help. And He provided. Do you realize that God’s provision for many single parents is us? James 1:27 says that we should care for widows and orphans. We are God’s hands to take care of those who need God’s help. What that looks like take a thousand different shapes. It might mean some of the men in the church doing maintenance on a car or a home. It might mean the women helping with the children, and giving advice when it’s asked for. Unwanted advice often does more harm than good. And let’s not forget the deep need that every person has to be loved.  And though we sometimes think of assistance as monetary, I believe most people prefer the dignity of earning a living to a handout when given the chance. Sometimes we may need to assist someone financially, and I believe that’s God’s use for us from time to time, but more than that we might be able to help with daycare so that mom can get a secure job. Thirdly they need a strong faith in GOD. GOD A STRONG FAITH. Can you imagine the emotional problems Hagar experienced. First she’s an unwilling partner in a pregnancy, then she’s beaten by her mistress, then she’s ousted by her child’s father at Sarah’s demand. Bitterness, anger and resentment are to be expected, As well as despair, and feelings of rejection. Only God is capable of curing the heart, as we take care of picking up the pieces. We can assist single mothers by encouraging them to hear God’s voice. To be in the Bible and to Pray. Just like Hagar, every parent, even single parents, need a strong faith in God to deal with the inner wounds in the heart. No matter what her reasons for being a single mother: divorce, death, or a child out of wedlock; the reason doesn’t change the result – and the need. With a relationship with God in place, next comes the need for:

 ACCEPTANCE – Far less today, for good or for ill – single mothers are no longer singled out for ostracism and public humiliation. But often there’s still a secret fear that she won’t be accepted, and sadly that feeling is often strongest in relation to the church. How desperate some of these women are to be loved and accepted, and how vital that the people that extend that hand be Christians who along with a kind heart offer words of forgiveness and acceptance – not just from God, but also from us.

 RELIEF. Hope, Assistance, God, Acceptance and finally Relief. Single mother’s need A SAFE PLACE FOR THE CHILDREN. We live in a predatory society. Safety for these children is a top concern. From the church nursery to the homes of some of our members, every mother knows how vital it is that her children are cared for. Hagar put her dying son under a bush so that he could die in what little comfort she could manage, and then she moved to the distance a bit. She didn’t want to see him die, but she couldn’t dare leave him either. If we provide a safe place for a child, we are serving Christ’s most favored people! On top of a safe place for the child, mom herself needs a safe place. John Fuder nails down one of the greatest problems facing Single mothers as ISOLATION. He says, “[single] moms are isolated and alone – living their adolescent years shouldering adult parenting Responsibilities.”  Often, there is no-one to help them. They must be both father and mother, provider and caretaker for the child they are barely equipped to handle.

Eventually the stress needs a release valve: TIME ALONE. Every mother needs some time to herself. And single mothers often have no way of achieving this. Again, time alone is fed by having a baby-sitter available whom they can trust. I’m convinced that if we could get a roster of baby-sitters available to put in the hands of single mothers; we would do much – not only for the child, but also for the mother. Jesus said, “whatever you’ve done to the least, you’ve done to me.” How many of you would be willing to baby-sit Jesus? I’ve had fragments of this message in my mind and in my heart for over a year now. Long before We dealt in some measure with this issue in our own body. But I have waited.  And now even coming to this section on Hagar many weeks ago, I kept finding other topics to cover on Sunday evening. Not for fear certainly – and not for lack of passion either. God has burdened me with a ministry that I am not equipped to carry – a ministry to single mothers and ex-offenders in our community. Today I’m asking God and you to look into your hearts and to find someone who’s heart stirs with a passion to search out these single mothers in our community. Someone willing to have their own hearts broken in the struggle for another woman’s soul.

~I Want To Live An Exceptional Life To Please Only “My God”~

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(Galatians 1:10-2:10)

I can distinctly recall a particular occasion on which I attempted, in vain, to please men. In all honesty, it would be more accurate to say that I attempted to please other men. I was a sea cadet that had choose , SEAL Training. I endured a mental and physical nightmare that lasts for weeks. I had grown up in the inner city of Washington D.C., and I thought I knew all there was to know about swimming. While several of the trainers were watching, I decided to show them how a “pro” would dive. Running full force from the beach and plunging headlong into the water, I discovered to my dismay that the water was exceedingly shallow and my face scraped along the graveled bottom. There was no choice but to come to the surface (only inches above) and to expose my bloody face.

Likely each of you can remember stories about yourself, too. All of us have been guilty of trying to please men. Paul was accused of being a man-pleaser by those who proclaimed a gospel different from that which the apostle preached. This accusation was intended to undermine Paul’s authority and to accredit the “different gospel,” which the Judaizers had been preaching among the Galatian churches. Paul, however, was innocent. The passage which we are to study is a part of Paul’s defense against the charge of being a man-pleaser.

We need first to refresh our memories with respect to the context in which our passage is found. The first two chapters of Galatians are introductory and foundational. The Galatian Christians had deserted God by adopting a perverted version of the gospel (1:6-9). This, we shall see more clearly, was the result of the teaching of the Judaizers, who sought to add the keeping of the Old Testament law to faith as a requirement for salvation. The Judaizers attacked Paul’s apostleship as part of their teaching of a “different gospel,” a gospel different from that which Paul had proclaimed. Chapters 1 and 2 are a defense of both Paul’s apostleship and of the gospel which he had proclaimed. Chapters 3 and 4 expose the theological error of Judaism by turning back to the Old Testament law, demonstrating that it was neither intended, nor able, to accomplish what the Judaizers promised. Finally in chapters 5 and 6 Paul explains how God has made provision for holiness through the grace of the gospel. Thus, it is only grace which supplies the holiness which the law demanded.

The Issue of Paul’s Motives and Message

(1:10-12)

10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. 11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

There is nothing indirect about Paul’s approach in chapter 1. He has already bluntly stated that some of the Galatian saints have forsaken God by following another gospel. Having outlined the false teaching within the church, he hastened to address the problem which the church seemed to have with him. The Judaizers could not attack the gospel Paul preached without attacking him. This they did by an assault on his character. They alleged that Paul had changed not for the better, but for the worse, and that his message was motivated by a desire to win man’s approval, rather than God’s. Such charges are implied by Paul’s statement in verse 10:

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were stilltrying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

The word “now” appears first in the Greek text, underscoring its emphasis. It centers upon the change in Paul since his conversion. Indeed, it almost begrudges his conversion. The charges infer that Paul once sought to please God, but now he only wishes to please men. Paul focuses on this change which has occurred and upon the motive which his opponents are suggesting underlies his gospel. Paul’s opponents charged that he had thrown out the requirements which had been historically laid upon Gentile proselytes to Judaism. Now, he was preaching that Gentiles could be saved apart from Judaism, by mere faith in a Jewish Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. They claimed that he acted not out of integrity, not out of necessity, but out of a desire to gain easy converts who would be indebted to Paul and who would look upon him with favor.

It is very difficult for us to feel the intensity of emotion involved in this issue. Let me attempt to illustrate it in a way that comes a little closer to home. Suppose that you were a white, southern aristocrat who belonged to a very private club. A reason for the club’s exclusiveness was the extremely high initiation fee. For years and years membership had been restricted to only those whom the members themselves chose to admit. The club even had its own religious rituals, all very formal and “high church.” Suddenly, with the change in federal law, such private clubs were now outlawed. Members could not be excluded on the basis of race, creed, or social status. One of the members radically changed his mind and began to bring in new members, precisely those who had previously been purposely excluded. To add insult to injury, this person had the audacity to bring in new members without requiring any initiation fee whatsoever.

There is a mentality, common among religious fundamentalists, which suspects anything which is too easy.31 This mindset distrusts anything that appears to be too tolerant and not sufficiently difficult and demanding. The underlying assumption is the more demanding the duty, the more painful the process, the higher the price of piety, the more likely it is to be of God. Thus, there is an immediate suspicion concerning anything which appears to be too easy. Contradictory to this attitude is the fact that biblical Christianity is founded upon the principles and the processes of grace. The danger of a fundamentalist mindset (as good as this may be), is that it may question the grace upon which salvation and sanctification rest. Paul not only preached grace, he practiced it, and in so doing brought about a strong reaction from the Judaizers who questioned both Paul’s message and his motives.

There is an element of truth in the accusation of the Judaizers against Paul. Paul admitted to changing his conduct depending upon the cultural preferences of his audience. This he did to avoid undue offense to the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23). While Paul was willing to make cultural concessions, he was unbending concerning any concession with regard to the gospel which he preached. He was unwilling to make any requirements of the Gentiles concerning the keeping of the Old Testament law, for this was contrary to grace.

The issue in question is whether Paul deliberately diluted his message to suit his audience in order to gain status among them. Paul’s defense begins with the word “still” in verse 10. He thus turned the tables on his opponents. His conversion was not a change for the worse, but a change for the better. It was not that he had begun to be a man-pleaser since his conversion, but that he had ceased to be so. As a zealous Pharisee he was a man-pleaser. Had he not been converted, he would still be a man-pleaser. In verses 11 and 12 Paul gives a general answer in his own defense: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s motives, according to the Judaizers, were human. They claimed that he desired more to please men than he did to please God. Furthermore they charged that the divine message had been corrupted by Paul’s fallen humanity. Paul insisted that nothing could be farther from the truth. The details of his conversion and growth as a Christian (and an apostle) refute the charge that he was a man-pleaser. What he learned about the gospel, he learned apart from men (vv. 11, 12). No one could claim more independence from human contamination of the gospel than he. Paul buttresses his argument by more specific examples from his experiences: (1) his conversion (1:13-17); (2) his relationship to the apostles in Jerusalem (1:18–2:10); and (3) his confrontation of Peter (2:11-21).

Paul’s Conversion

(1:13-17)

13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

The gospel Paul preached was that same message by which he was saved; thus, his gospel and his conversion were intertwined. In verses 13-17 Paul outlines his conversion experience. Verses 13 and 14 describe him as he was before his conversion. He was devoutly religious as a defender of Judaism.32 Not only was Paul zealous for Judaism, but he was also successful as a Pharisee. He claimed that before his conversion he was “advancing in Judaism” beyond many of his contemporaries (1:14). No one advances in prominence and position unless people are pleased with his performance. Paul, therefore, informs us that it was his devotion to duty which earned him his status within Judaism.

Not only was Paul’s success as a Pharisee the result of pleasing men, but his belief in Judaism was based upon the teachings of men. According to verse 14 Paul was a devotee of Judaism with a zeal for his “ancestral traditions.” Would his opponents charge him with forsaking that which was divine for that which was human? They were wrong, for Judaism was a religion that men had prescribed and promoted. Paul’s zeal to advance within the ranks of Judaism was based upon his desire to win the favor and approval of his contemporaries.

Paul’s new faith came about in an entirely different way, as he describes in verses 15-17. His conversion was initiated by God, rather than by any human agent. God had set him apart, even while in his mother’s womb, for the express purpose of preaching Christ to the Gentiles (1:15-16). God revealed His Son in Paul, not just “to” him (1:16). Specifically, Paul’s conversion was one which took place “within” him through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit who brings the dead to life (cf. John 3:8; Eph. 2:5; Titus 3:5). You will remember that in Paul’s recorded encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus Paul was directly addressed by the risen Lord; however, though Paul’s companions heard the sound, they did not understand Christ’s voice (Acts 22:9). Paul’s conversion resulted from a direct confrontation with the risen Son of God.

To be sure, there was human instrumentality. It was through Ananias that the way of salvation was made known to Paul, along with his calling as God’s instrument to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:10-18). Paul spent several days with the saints at Damascus (Acts 9:19). Apart from these minimal involvements with human instruments, Paul’s conversion and spiritual growth was primarily the result of direct divine encounter. Paul claims that he did not immediately confer with men in general, nor with the apostles in Jerusalem, but instead he grew largely in solitude (1:16b-17).33 During the critical, early formative years of Paul’s life as a Christian, he had few men about him to corrupt the gospel. Paul’s salvation and the gospel he was being taught were remarkably free from human contamination.

Paul’s First Visit to Jerusalem

(1:18-24)

18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying. 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me.

It was not until three years after his conversion that Paul finally went to Jerusalem.34 This chronological fact easily meshes with Luke’s abbreviated account in the book of Acts.35 In Acts 9 we are told that Paul was converted in Damascus (vv. 8-19a), where he spent several days with the believers (v. 19b). We are told that he boldly preached Christ (v. 20), and that after “many days had elapsed,” Paul left Damascus because of a death plot (v. 23) and went up to Jerusalem (v. 26). As a result of a plot to kill Paul in Jerusalem, he was sent to Caesarea and then on to Tarsus, his home town36 (vv. 29-30). Thus we can account for a period of three years from the time Paul was first saved in Damascus to the time he fled “after many days” to Jerusalem, only to flee again after a very brief stay.

Even three years after his conversion, Paul did not seek to formulate his gospel on the basis of apostolic approval. Paul tells us in verse 18 that he went up to Jerusalem “to become acquainted with Cephas.” This expression does not suggest a desire to have his message given the “apostolic seal of approval.” Instead, it conveys Paul’s desire to know Peter better. What a wealth of information Peter could supply about the life of our Lord—matters about which Paul would have intense interest, just as you and I do. The visit with Peter lasted for fifteen days (v. 18). In addition to Peter, only James,37 the brother of our Lord, was seen by Paul.

The gospel which Paul preached had very little human input, especially from those who were regarded to be significant—the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Paul was known more by reputation than by appearance to Christian leaders in Jerusalem. While he was an enemy of the church and trying to destroy it, no one wanted to see him. Once he became a believer, few were able to see him. Nevertheless, the saints in Jerusalem rejoiced at the report that Paul, who had once persecuted the church, now proclaimed the gospel himself (Gal. 1:22-24).

Living exceptionally for Christ requires a real relationship with Him. We all have a tendency to accept those who have come from the same tradition as ourselves much more readily than those who are from another tradition. Let us be content to accept men and women on the basis of the gospel which they profess and preach, rather than on the basis of the denomination or tradition from which they have come.

 

 

 

 

~Am I Hateful? Does Hate Fuel Your Giving Or Lack There Of?~

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“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” -Dietrich Bonheoffer

Bonheoffer wasn’t speaking casually with his statement. As a minister during World War II, he faced the choice to speak out against the Nazi regime, or stay silent and save himself. He chose to speak, ultimately being executed for daring to stand for truth. Injustice demands a voice.

That’s why the issue of HATE is not something we can privately hate but publicly tolerate. It is controversial. The issue of  this event being connected to black and white culture has made it seem that only an intolerant hater could be 100% against racism. While I would agree we are intolerant (of sin, of murder—so was Jesus, by the way), we are not haters. On the contrary, we are lovers of Life. We love people who are destroyed by HATE and want to see redemption. Being outspoken on the issue of HATE might be unpopular, but if it’s rooted in prayer, it’s a hope for a nation when we call on the mercy of God to save. The Bible is clear that when we shed innocent blood it pollutes the land, and there are consequences for this. This officer has the right to be supported. He has the right to be innocent until proven guilty, but even as an officer of the law he does not have the right to kill unnecessarily. I pose the question, Is it HATE of a black man that has fueled these supporters of officer Wilson to be so generous with their money while not being generous with compassion to the woman who has lost her son to a senseless and merciless killing of her child. Am I guilty of HATE  for pondering the question of why my GoFundMe site for the empowering of ex-offenders has not been sewed into like that of “Fatcat” the dog, or for the “Athiest” who raised money for a girl caught in a tornado in Oklahoma, not because he cared for her but only to mock God and Christianity, or because Rhianna helped to raise money for a  broken cellphone? Am I a hater? NO!!! I am a man who sits and watches people donating obscene amounts of money for everything except for the empowering of human life. White supremacist support each other, athiest support each other, animal lovers help each other even after their loved one has been torn to shreds by a shark, they still go out and raise money to study why they eat people and how to stop them but they won’t sew into helping people rebuild their lives. These people I am talking about are EX-OFFENDERS!!!. 

http://www.gofundme.com/SupportOfficerWilson

Thank you so much for all of your continued support! We have received a lot of emails through this site within the last 48 hours. We are attempting to respond to each email as quickly as possible. We also want to address all of the inappropriate comments submitted on our page. We will be refunding the donations from those who are not supporting Officer Darren Wilson. We hope all can understand. We will have all communications responded to within the next 24 hours. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Operation welcome home Fatcat

Raised $7,032 of $5,000 Raised by 168 people in 8 days

Stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope has drawn a philosophical line in the sand by proclaiming that, contrary to popular belief, “hate can help.” The outspoken atheist set out to prove his theory by raising over $125,000 for a woman who identified as an atheist on television after a tornado destroyed her home. But beyond a simple act of generosity, Stanhope is now admitting that his fundraiser was at least as much about proving a point as it was charity.

After Oklahoman Rebecca Vitsmun explained to Wolf Blitzer that she didn’t “thank God” for saving her family from a deadly tornado, Stanhope was so impressed with her bravery in confirming her atheism that he created an IndieGogo fundraiser in the name of Atheists United in order to help Vitsmun, her husband and her baby.

Stanhope, who frequently and brazenly attacks religion in his act — after the Sept. 11 attacks, he quipped about George W. Bush’s appeals to religion: “Your god takes Tuesdays off” — recently released a video explaining why he raised the money.

“If you think [her admission] didn’t take balls, you’ve never been to Oklahoma,” said Stanhope, who resides in Arizona. “Saying ‘I’m an atheist’ in Oklahoma is like screaming jihad at airport security.”

He set the goal at $50,000, but $125,760 was ultimately raised in a few months after the support of other atheist celebrities such as Ricky Gervais and Penn Jillette. In exchange for contributions, donors received gifts such as a “Get Out of Hell Free Card” and a “Phone Call From God.”

Although Vitsmun indeed received the funds from the campaign to help rebuild her life, Stanhope was clear that he did not start the campaign entirely in the name of selfless charity.

“I didn’t do it because I felt sympathy because she got all her shit destroyed by a tornado,” he said. “I did it simply to be a prick to her Okie Christian neighbors, hoping they were all eating off their FEMA trucks when someone drove up and presented Rebecca with a giant cardboard check.”

The commission president saw the broken phone as another chance to raise money for under-served students who want to participate in the LAPD’s cadet program. He is auctioning it on EBay, where bids are running at more than $1,200.

Soboroff saw Rihanna at Sunday night’s game and explained his idea to auction the phone. She wrote, “Sorry! I ♥ LAPD. Rihanna,” on the phone.

The commission president says the singer went a step further and pledged $25,000 to help fund police cadets from underprivileged backgrounds and the families of fallen officers.

[T]herefore, as I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you; since you have not hated blood, therefore blood shall pursue you. (Ez. 35:6)

Hate is a noun that could be a verb. Godly hatred of sin has action just as its ungodly counterpart does;  it takes energy and is passion. Hatred for the act of bloodshed is not hatred for people who are victims in this spiritual war. We hate bloodshed, the acts of darkness so we can love people to walk in light. Prayer is one of the primary ways in which we love people. On our own we are powerless. We may convince one person to change a decision or alter a path by the power of persuasion, but no persuasion is greater than that which is fueled by heaven.

We start with prayer, both privately and publicly, both silently and vocally, but then we carry out that revelation into the world. We vote righteously, for those who stand for Life. We volunteer at Teen crisis centers, not only out our desire to do good but out of prophetic revelation of truth. We give our money to various programs and causes, to those who work in the Life movement full time. Our prayers fuel our prophetic voice and we act.

This is why God holds prayer up as the solution for a nation riddled with the bloodshed of the innocent:

So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ez. 22:30)

 

 

We don’t want to be found not standing in the gap. As the law enforcement of our land is being charged guilty with the senseless killings of men of color and mass incarceration is targeting people of all colors and age groups, but predominantly the black race of our land, literally we are allowing our nation to be polluted with bloodshed. God makes no hesitation on our need to speak out against this injustice, first through our prayers:

 

Therefore He said that He would destroy them, Had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, to turn away His wrath, lest He destroy them. (Ps. 106:23)

 

Then through our vocal actions:

 

Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die. (Proverbs 31:8)

 

Our prayers must be the force that drives our voices on injustice of any kind.  We speak from the place of prayer, but we speak out against the face of evil, against powers and principalities and rulers of darkness (Ephesians 6), on behalf of those for whom Jesus died—especially the those who had no silver spoon or a chance to get an opportunity of equality because of a broken system riddled with HIDDEN AGENDAS and IDEOLOGIES passed down from for fathers fueled with HATE  who never get a voice.


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~Ferguson,Texas, California, New York-America-Your Plan Is Exposed~

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I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential.”

– President Barack Obama, January 28, 2014

“There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement.  And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”

– President Barack Obama, July 19, 2013

A Letter From Ray Jasper, Who Is About to Be Executed

Mr. Nolan,

When I first responded to you, I didn’t think that it would cause people to reach out to me and voice their opinions. I’ve never been on the internet in my life and I’m not fully aware of the social circles on the internet, so it was a surprise to receive reactions so quickly.

I learned that some of the responses on your website were positive and some negative. I can only appreciate the conversation. Osho once said that one person considered him like an angel and another person considered him like a devil, he didn’t attempt to refute neither perspective because he said that man does not judge based on the truth of who you are, but on the truth of who they are.

Your words struck a chord with me. You said that my perspective is different and therefore my words have a sort of value. Yet, you’re talking to a young man that’s been judged unworthy to breathe the same air you breathe. That’s like a hobo on the street walking up to you and you ask him for spare change.

Without any questions, you’ve given me a blank canvas. I’ll only address what’s on my heart. Next month, the State of Texas has resolved to kill me like some kind of rabid dog, so indirectly, I guess my intention is to use this as some type of platform because this could be my final statement on earth.

I think ’empathy’ is one of the most powerful words in this world that is expressed in all cultures. This is my underlining theme. I do not own a dictionary, so I can’t give you the Oxford or Webster definition of the word, but in my own words, empathy means ‘putting the shoe on the other foot.’

Empathy. A rich man would look at a poor man, not with sympathy, feeling sorrow for the unfortunate poverty, but also not with contempt, feeling disdain for the man’s poverish state, but with empathy, which means the rich man would put himself in the poor man’s shoes, feel what the poor man is feeling, and understand what it is to be the poor man.

Empathy breeds proper judgement. Sympathy breeds sorrow. Contempt breeds arrogance. Neither are proper judgements because they’re based on emotions. That’s why two people can look at the same situation and have totally different views. We all feel differently about a lot of things. Empathy gives you an inside view. It doesn’t say ‘If that was me…’, empathy says, ‘That is me.’

What that does is it takes the emotions out of situations and forces us to be honest with ourselves. Honesty has no hidden agenda. Thoreau proposed that ‘one honest man’ could morally regenerate an entire society.

Looking through the eyes of empathy & honesty, I’ll address some of the topics you mentioned. It’s only my perspective.

The Justice system is truly broken beyond repair and the sad part is there is no way to start over. Improvements can be made. If honest people stand up, I think they will be made over time. I know the average person isn’t paying attention to all the laws constantly being passed by state & federal legislation. People are more focused on their jobs, raising kids and trying to find entertainment in between time. The thing is, laws are being changed right and left.

A man once said that revolution comes when you inform people of their rights. Martin Luther King said a revolution comes by social action and legal action working hand in hand. I’m not presenting any radical revolutionary view, the word revolution just means change. America changes as the law changes.

Under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution all prisoners in America are considered slaves. We look at slavery like its a thing of the past, but you can go to any penitentiary in this nation and you will see slavery. That was the reason for the protests by prisoners in Georgia in 2010. They said they were tired of being treated like slaves. People need to know that when they sit on trial juries and sentence people to prison time that they are sentencing them to slavery.

If a prisoner refuses to work and be a slave, they will do their time in isolation as a punishment. You have thousands of people with a lot of prison time that have no choice but to make money for the government or live in isolation. The affects of prison isolation literally drive people crazy. Who can be isolated from human contact and not lose their mind? That was the reason California had an uproar last year behind Pelican Bay. 33,000 inmates across California protested refusing to work or refusing to eat on hunger-strikes because of those being tortured in isolation in Pelican Bay.

I think prison sentences have gotten way out of hand. People are getting life sentences for aggravated crimes where no violence had occurred. I know a man who was 24 years old and received 160 years in prison for two aggravated robberies where less that $500 was stole and no violence took place. There are guys walking around with 200 year sentences and they’re not even 30 years old. Its outrageous. Giving a first time felon a sentence beyond their life span is pure oppression. Multitudes of young people have been thrown away in this generation.

The other side of the coin is there are those in the corporate world making money off prisoners, so the longer they’re in prison, the more money is being made. It’s not about crime & punishment, it’s about crime & profit. Prison is a billion dollar industry. In 1996, there were 122 prisons opened across America. Companies were holding expos in small towns showing how more prisons would boost the economy by providing more jobs.

How can those that invest in prisons make money if people have sentences that will allow them to return to free society? If people were being rehabilitated and sent back into the cities, who would work for these corporations? That would be a bad investment. In order for them to make money, people have to stay in prison and keep working. So the political move is to tell the people they’re tough on crime and give people longer sentences.

Chuck Colson, former advisor to the President once said that they were passing laws to be tough on crime, but they didn’t even know who the laws were affecting. It wasn’t until the Watergate scandal and Colson himself going to prison that he learned who the laws were affecting. Colson ended up forming the largest prison ministry in America. He also foreseen in his book THE GOD OF SPIDERS & STONES that America was forming a new society within its prisons. Basically, that prison would become a nation inside this nation. He predicted that over a million people would be locked up by the year 2000. The book was written in the 8O’s. Now, its 2014 and almost two million people are locked up. It’s not that crime is the issue. Crime still goes on daily. It’s that the politics surrounding crime have changed and it has become a numbers game. Dollars & Cents. You have people like Michael Jordan who invest millions of dollars in the prison system. Any shrewed businessman would if you have no empathy for people locked up and you just want to make some money.

I don’t agree with the death penalty. It’s a very Southern practice from that old lynching mentality. Almost all executions take place in the South with a few exceptions here and there. Texas is the leading State by far. I’m not from Texas. I was raised in California. Coming from the West Coast to the South was like going back in time. I didn’t even think real cowboys existed. Texas is a very ‘country’ state, aside a few major cities. There are still small towns that a black person would not be welcomed. California is more of a melting pot. I grew up in the Bay Area where its very diverse.

The death penalty needs to be abolished. Life without parole is still a death sentence. The only difference is time. To say you need to kill a person in a shorter amount of time is just seeking revenge on that person.

If the death penalty must exist, I think it should only be for cases where more than one person is killed like these rampant shootings that have taken place around the country the last few years. Also, in a situation of terrorism.

If you’re not giving the death penalty for murder, then the government is already saying that the taking of one’s life is not worth the death penalty. Capital murder is if you take someone’s life and commit another felony at the same time. That’s Texas law. That makes a person eligible for the death penalty The problem is, you’re not getting the death penalty for murder, you’re actually getting it for the other felony. That doesn’t make common sense. You can kill a man but you will not get the death penalty……if you kill a man and take money out his wallet, now you can get the death penalty.

I’m on death row and yet I didn’t commit the act of murder. I was convicted under the law of parties. When people read about the case, they assume I killed the victim, but the facts are undisputed that I did not kill the victim. The one who killed him plead guilty to capital murder for a life sentence. He admitted to the murder and has never denied it. Under the Texas law of parties, they say it doesn’t matter whether I killed the victim or not, I’m criminally responsible for someone else’s conduct. But I was the only one given the death penalty.

The law of parties is a very controversial law in Texas. Most Democrats stand against it. It allows the state to execute someone who did not commit the actual act of murder. There are around 50 guys on death row in Texas who didn’t kill anybody, but were convicted as a party.

The lethal injection has become a real controversial issue here of late because states are using drugs that they’re not authorize to use to execute people. The lethal injection is an old Nazi practice deriving from the Jewish Holocaust. To use that method to kill people today, when it’s unconstitutional to use it on dogs, is saying something very cruel and inhumane. People don’t care because they think they’re killing horrible people. No empathy. Just contempt.

I understand that it’s not popular to talk about race issues these days, but I speak on the subject of race because I hold a burden in my heart for all the young blacks who are locked up or who see the street life as the only means to make something of themselves. When I walked into prison at 19 years old, I said to myself ‘Damn, I have never seen so many black dudes in my life’. I mean, it looked like I went to Africa. I couldn’t believe it. The lyrics of 2Pac echoed in my head, ‘The penitentiary is packed/ and its filled with blacks’.

It’s really an epidemic, the number of blacks locked up in this country. That’s why I look, not only at my own situation, but why all of us young blacks are in prison. I’ve come to see, it’s largely due to an indentity crisis. We don t know our history. We don’t know how to really indentify with white people. We are really of a different culture, but by being slaves, we lost ourselves.

When you have a black man name John Williams and a white man name John Williams, the black man got his name from the white man. Within that lies a lost of identity. There are blacks in this country that don’t even consider themselves African. Well, what are we? When did we stop being African? If you ask a young black person if they’re African, they will say ‘No, I’m American’. They’ve lost their roots. They think slavery is their roots. Again, its a strong identity crisis.

You take the identity crisis, mix it with capitalism, where money comes before empathy, and you’ll have a lot of young blacks trying to get money by any means because they’re trying to get out of poverty or stay out of poverty. Now, money is what they try to find an identity in. They feel like if they get rich, legal or illegal, they’ve become somebody. Which in America is partly true because superficially we hail the rich and despise the poor. We give Jay-Z more credit than we do Al Sharpton. What has Jay-Z done besides get rich? Yet we see dollar signs and somehow give more respect to the man with the money.

A French woman who moved to America asked me one day, ‘Why don’t black kids want to learn?’ Her husband was a high school teacher. She said the white and asian kids excel in school, but the black and hispanic kids don’t. I said that all kids want to learn, it’s just a matter of what you’re trying to teach them. Cutting a frog open is not helping a black kid in the ghetto who has to listen to police sirens all night and worry about getting shot. Those kids need life lessons. They need direction. When you have black kids learning more about the Boston Tea Party than the Black Panther Party, I guarantee you won’t keep their attention. But it was the Black Panther Party that got them free lunch.

People point their fingers at young blacks, call them thugs and say they need to pull up their pants. That’s fine, but you’re not feeding them any knowledge. You’re not giving them a vision. All you’re saying is be a square like me. They’re not going to listen to you because you have guys like Jay-Z and Rick Ross who are millionaires and sag their pants. Changing the way they dress isn’t changing the way they think. As the Bible says, ‘Where there’s no vision the people perish’. Young blacks need to learn their identity so they can have more respect for the blacks that suffered for their liberties than they have for someone talking about selling drugs over a rap beat who really isn’t selling drugs.

They have to be exposed to something new. Their minds have to be challenged, not dulled. They know the history of the Crips & Bloods, but they can’t tell you who Garvey or Robeson is. They can quote Drake & Lil Wayne but they can’t tell you what Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton has done. Across the nation, they gravitate to Crips & Bloods. I tell those I know the same thing, not to put blue & red before black. They were black first. It’s senseless, but they are trying to find a purpose to live for and if a gang gives them a sense of purpose that’s what they will gravitate to. They aren’t being taught to live and die for something greater. They’re not being challenged to do better.

Black history shouldn’t be a month, it should be a course, an elective taught year around. I guarantee black kids would take that course if it was available to them. How many black kids would change their outlook if they knew that they were only considered 3/5’s of a human being according to the U.S Constitution? That black people were considered part animal in this country. They don’t know that. When you learn that, you carry yourself with a different level of dignity for all we’ve overcome.

Before Martin Luther King was killed he drafted a bill called ‘The Bill for the Disadvantaged’. It was for blacks and poor whites. King understood that in order to have a successful life, you have to decrease the odds of failure. You have to change the playing field. I’m not saying there’s no personal responsibility for success, that goes without saying, but there’s also a corporate responsibility. As the saying goes, when you see someone who has failed, you see someone who was failed.

Neither am I saying that advantages are always circumstancial. Sometimes its knowledge or opportunity that gives an advantage. A lot of times it is the circumstances. Flowers grow in gardens, not in hard places. Using myself as an example, I was 15 when my first love got shot 9 times in Oakland. Do you think I m going to care about book reports when my girlfriend was shot in the face? I understand Barack Obama saying there is no excuse for blacks or anyone else because generations past had it harder than us. That’s true. However, success is based on probabilities and the odds. Everyone is not on a level playing field. For some, the odds are really stacked against them. I’m not saying they can’t be overcome, but it’s not likely.

I’m not trying to play the race card, I’m looking at the roots of why so many young blacks are locked up. The odds are stacked against us, we suffer from an identity crisis, and we’re being targeted more, instead of taught better. Ask any young black person their views on the Police, I assure you their response will not be positive. Yet if you have something against the Police, who represent the government, you cannot sit on a trial jury. A young black woman was struck from the jury in my case because she said she sees the Police as ‘intimidators’. She never had a good experience with the Police like most young blacks, but even though she’s just being true to her experience, she’s not worthy to take part as a juror in a trial.

White people really don’t understand how it extreme it is to be judged by others outside your race. In the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY Lisa Maxwell paints this picture to get the point across and if any white person reading this is honest with themselves, they will clearly understand the point. I cannot quote it word for word, but this was the gist of it…

Imagine you’re a young white guy facing capital murder charges where you can receive the death penalty… the victim in the case is a black man… when you go to trial and step into the courtroom… the judge is a black man… the two State prosecutors seeking the death penalty on you… are also black men… you couldn’t afford an attorney, so the Judge appointed you two defense lawyers who are also black men… you look in the jury box… there’s 8 more black people and 4 hispanics… the only white person in the courtroom is you… How would you feel facing the death penalty? Do you believe you’ll receive justice?

As outside of the box as that scene is, those were the exact circumstances of my trial. I was the only black person in the courtroom.

Again, I’m not playing the race card, but empathy is putting the shoe on the other foot.

The last thing on my heart is about religion and the death penalty. There are several well-known preachers in Texas and across the South that teach their congregations that the death penalty is right by God and backed by the Bible. The death penalty is a governmental issue not a spiritual issue. Southern preachers who advocate the death penalty are condoning evil. They need to learn the legalities of capital punishment. The State may have the power to put people to death, but don’t preach to the public that it’s God’s will. It’s the State’s will.

If God wanted me to die for anything, I would be dead already. I talk to God everday. He’s not telling me I’m some kind of menace that He can’t wait to see executed. God is blessing me daily. God is showing me His favor & grace on my life. Like Paul said, I was the chief of sinners, but God had mercy on me because He knew I was ignorant. The blood of Abel cryed vengeance, the blood of Jesus cryed mercy.

There are preachers like John Hagee in San Antonio who have influence over thousands of people, who not only attend his church, but also watch his TV program, and hear him condoning the death penalty. Hagee doesn’t see his Southern mentality condones the death penalty, not the scriptures. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that condones the way Texas executes people today.

Southern preachers use scriptures like God telling Noah, ‘Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed’. ‘That’s murder. Under Texas law, you cannot receive the death penalty for murder. There is no such thing as capital murder in the Bible, where murder must be in the course of another felony. Yet, they preach capital punishment is God’s will. Even if you’re guilty of capital murder in Texas, it doesn’t mean you’ll receive the death penalty. People get the death penalty when a jury has judged them to be a ‘continuing threat to society’. ‘That means they are deemed so bad that they have no hope of redemption or change in their behavior. That is the only reason a person gets the death penalty. They are suppose to be the absolute worse of the worse, so terrible that they cannot live in prison with other murderers.

That in itself is contrary to the whole Christian faith that believes no one is beyond redemption if they repent for their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. For a Christian to advocate the death penalty is a complete contradiction.

As easy as it is for a preacher to stand up in the pulpit with a Bible and tell thousands of people the death penalty is right, I challenge any preacher in Texas, John Hagee or any others to come visit me and tell me that God wants me to die. Martin Luther King said, ‘Capital punishment shows that America is a merciless nation that will not forgive.’

Again, Mr. Nolan, this is only my perspective. I’m just the hobo on the street giving away my pennies. A doctor can’t look at a person and see cancer, they have to look beyond the surface. When you look at the Justice system, the Death Penalty, or anything else, it takes one to go beyond the surface. Proper diagnosis is half the cure.

I’m a father. My daughter was six weeks old when I got locked up and now she’s 15 in high school. Despite the circumstances, I’ve tryed to be the best father in the world. But I knew that her course in life is largely determine by what I teach her. It’s the same with any young person, their course is determined by what we are teaching them. In the words of Aristotle, ‘All improvement in society begins with the education of the young.’

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